Opposition to DoE plan to scrap special waste controls

Waste management businesses and regulators have told the Department of the Environment (DoE) that they are wholly opposed to its proposals to abolish existing controls over hazardous waste movements. Their stance has put the DoE on the spot as it attempts to respond to the Prime Minister's demands for the abolition of red tape.

The DoE's proposals were made public in May (ENDS Report 220, pp 28-29 ). They would involve scrapping controls which were introduced in 1972 in response to a series of fly-tipping incidents, and modified in 1980 to cover a more limited list of the most hazardous "special" wastes.

The rules require pre-notification of special waste movements to waste regulation authorities (WRAs), together with a further notification when the waste reaches its destination. The DoE wants to replace them with a simple duty on producers, carriers and disposers to fill in and keep a waste identification form. Self-regulation, coupled with the recent legislation on registration of waste carriers and the "duty of care" on all parties in the waste management chain, will provide additional safeguards over illicit disposal, the DoE claims.

But both sides of the waste management community have made it plain that they will oppose any significant changes to the regulations.

The National Association of Waste Disposal Contractors (NAWDC) has told the DoE that it "does not support any weakening of the present system", and in particular the proposal to abolish pre-notification of waste movements.

According to NAWDC, "the regulations are well established, and are well understood by operators, producers and regulators alike. They represent an important and effective control mechanism over the handling and consignment of wastes which are particularly hazardous, and are not unnecessarily onerous or bureaucratic."

One of NAWDC's main concerns is that the DoE's proposals would undermine safeguards operated voluntarily by many disposal facilities. Because the Government rejected NAWDC's pleas in 1980 that the regulations should require pre-notification of disposal sites as well as WRAs, many operators have introduced the same requirement as a condition in their disposal contracts.

There has been little opposition to these contractual terms from waste producers and carriers precisely because pre-notification to WRAs is a statutory requirement, NAWDC says. Its concern is that if this was abolished "there would be increasing resistance to such 'voluntary' arrangements."

Meanwhile, the National Association of Waste Regulation Officers (NAWRO) has told the DoE it is "convinced that there would be tragic environmental consequences" if it goes ahead with its plans. The DoE's thinking, it says, appears to be based on "short-term financial implications rather than longterm consequences for both industry and the environment and long-term cost to the public purse."

NAWRO regards as "alarming" the DoE's intention to rely on self-regulation, "especially when one considers the lack of awareness of duty of care that currently exists among waste producers in spite of both national and local publicity campaigns."

What the DoE has overlooked, says NAWRO, is that the present system protects waste producers against "exploitation by criminal elements," yet the burden it imposes on industry is "little more than the cost of a postage stamp." And the suggestion that scrapping the notification system to release resources for spot checks and inspections, it argues, will result in a "much less effective, more labour-intensive, time-consuming and costly" system of control.

NAWRO has nevertheless endeavoured to meet the DoE half-way. Its key proposal is that pre-notification of waste movements to the waste producer's WRA could be abolished. And paperwork could also be reduced by an extension of the existing "season ticket" arrangements, under which repeated consignments of the same waste to a specific disposal site over an agreed period are covered by a single form, to "the vast majority of waste movements", so that only "the occasional, one-off single load" would still have to be pre-notified to the disposer's WRA.

However, the latter idea has been greeted with scepticism by waste businesses. One leading company told ENDS that more than half of the special waste it receives is already covered by season tickets. Most of the remainder consists of one-off consignments, wastes from production campaigns, factory clear-outs and redundant chemicals which are not "regular arisings" of the kind that would qualify for season tickets. Likewise, an incineration business said that most of its repeat loads are already covered by season tickets.

NAWDC's warning about the consequences of abolishing statutory pre-notification was underscored by one company. Requiring pre-notification under the terms of a contract, it said, "provides a credible legal way of turning away loads which arrive unexpectedly. But if we don't have pre-notification, we will be caught in a commercial dilemma about whether to turn it away, possibly to be fly-tipped somewhere, or let it in not knowing enough about it."

One of the reasons why the DoE has made its proposals is that a forthcoming EC Waste Catalogue could result in a five-fold increase in consignments of waste to be treated as "special", with a corresponding increase in administrative costs for industry and regulators. However, NAWDC says that rather than scrap the existing regulations wholesale, the DoE could avert this extra burden by revising the regulations to retain pre-notification for only the most hazardous wastes.

NAWRO points out that since the EC Catalogue has yet to be completed there are no solid grounds for believing that the five-fold increase will occur. In any event, it says, many WRAs are moving to from manual to computer for handling consignment notes - a move which has been shown to reduce administrative costs by 50-75%.

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