Rising trend in cross-border special waste traffic

Trade in "special waste" across local authority boundaries has increased throughout Britain in recent years, according to statistics given in a series of parliamentary answers in July. The figures pose the question whether trends in special waste traffic are consistent with Government and EC policy to encourage localised disposal of waste.

Statistics for special waste generation, exports, imports and disposals by WRA area were given in separate parliamentary answers for England, Wales and Scotland during July.1The figures indicate an apparent upward trend in special waste arisings since the late 1980s, to about 2.85 million tonnes in 1991/92. However, they need to be interpreted with caution. The English data are particularly affected by one massive clean-up project in Kent from which several hundred thousand tonnes of contaminated soil per annum were exported to a Shanks & McEwan landfill in Bedfordshire at the end of the period. Improved enforcement of the special waste regulations, especially in Scotland, may also have raised the totals for later years.

The figures for Wales, which show exports exceeding waste arisings within Wales, probably reflect imports of special waste into the UK for disposal in England.

The overall picture is one of growing flows of special waste across WRA boundaries, possibly reflecting tighter controls on landfilling of some special waste and increasing transfers to more remote specialised facilities.

The strength of the underlying trend towards increased exports in England is difficult to gauge because of the distorting effects of the Kent clean-up project.

However, it is clear that only a small proportion of the special waste generated in Wales continues to be disposed of within its borders. In 1991/92, 38,184 tonnes of special waste were disposed of in Wales, or 37% of arisings within Wales.

The position in Scotland is similar, with 36,942 tonnes of special waste being "retained for disposal" within the WRA area within which it was generated in 1991 and another 17,145 tonnes being imported from other WRAs. This suggests that 54,087 tonnes of special waste were disposed of in Scotland in 1991/92, or 59% of the total generated in Scotland. However, the Scottish Hazardous Waste Inspectorate's latest report puts the figure at 40,000 tonnes (43%).

The majority of WRA areas are net exporters of special waste. In almost every case in recent years more than 90% of the special waste generated in each of the Welsh WRAs has been exported. In Scotland, only eight of the WRA areas generating any special waste were net importers in 1991, while 45 were net exporters - of which 36 exported every tonne of their special waste arisings. The proportion in England is somewhat lower, with 29 of the 46 WRA areas being net exporters in 1991/92.

The main exporting areas in 1991/92 were Kent (net exports of 743,819 tonnes), Hertfordshire (136,672 tonnes), Greater London (110,967 tonnes), West Yorkshire (72,000 tonnes) and Cleveland (45,264 tonnes).

Major importers were Bedfordshire (net imports of 893,266 tonnes), Greater Manchester (107,812 tonnes), which has several specialised treatment facilities, Essex (97,288 tonnes), where Cleanaway operates a major co-disposal landfill at Pitsea, Cheshire (89,206 tonnes) and the West Midlands (72,947 tonnes).

The question suggested by these statistics is whether the apparent trend in special waste movements is running counter to the Government's policy, announced three years ago and since underpinned by EC legislation, to ensure that each region becomes self-sufficient in disposal capacity, subject to the need to move some wastes across regional boundaries to specialised disposal facilities.

Without more detailed statistics on special waste movements across regional, as distinct from WRA, boundaries that question cannot be answered - but it would be helpful if the Government published the figures at its disposal.

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