Green code for aggregates industry

The aggregates industry has joined the chemical industry in setting up a mandatory code of environmental practice. The new code, drawn up by the British Aggregate Construction Materials Industries (BACMI), obliges members to establish environmental management systems and to report publicly on the results of site audits. But it has been criticised for not attempting to constrain the forecast increase in new quarries.

The code was drawn up by BACMI following last summer's head-on clash with conservation groups over official forecasts that national demand for aggregates would virtually double within 20 years (ENDS Report 196, pp 14-16). The Council for the Rural Protection of England (CPRE) and others were quick to highlight the damage this would cause to the countryside.

The Department of the Environment (DoE) has since been attempting to reconcile these conflicting pressures in a new mineral planning guidance note. This has now been delayed until late 1992. Restricting the number of quarries through the planning system and increasing the consumption of secondary aggregates are options to lessen the environmental impact of quarrying. Another is to improve the environmental performance of quarry sites.

It is the latter which BACMI is attempting to achieve via its code of practice. The CPRE, however, argues that "the best operating and aftercare standards imaginable will be a paltry palliative in the face of such a level of demand."

The code of practice is mandatory on members of BACMI, which represents 80% of the hard rock industry and 60% of the sand and gravel sector. The code applies to quarries, coating plants and depots, but not marine dredging areas. Specifically, companies will have to:

  • Produce a corporate environmental policy by June.

  • Conduct an environmental assessment of all new sites by January 1993 and of existing sites by January 1994.

  • Introduce a system of environmental monitoring within this timescale to check compliance with legislation and to provide a picture of site environmental performance.

  • Conduct regular environmental audits to assess the success of the above.

  • Report to local interested parties the summarised findings of the environmental audits.

    Members will also have to carry out a visual assessment of sites, identify unsightly features and set a timetable to complete remedial measures, albeit while bearing "in mind the economic viability of individual units."

    The code does not refer to the environmental benefits of switching aggregates from road to rail, although this may be embraced by BACMI's advice on energy efficiency. Members are also asked to minimise production of waste and "where appropriate" to consider recycling it.

    BACMI itself will police only the publication of environmental policies. Checking members' compliance with the remainder of the code will fall to the public, mainly through local liaison groups.

    BACMI says that if these find a firm to be slacking, it will respond to complaints by employing "quiet persuasion" on the owner of the offending site, then "less quiet persuasion". Ultimately, it says, "a member who consistently flouts the code cannot expect to retain membership."

    One striking contrast with the chemical industry's "Responsible Care" programme (ENDS Report 194, pp 16-18) is that BACMI has not instituted procedures for members to measure and report on their environmental performance.

    The code is also extremely vague in parts. For example, it says that "wherever possible", firms should "take into account" the need to maintain ecological quality and "as appropriate" create new habitats. However, BACMI intends to follow up with best practice notes in areas such as environmental monitoring schemes and environmental assessments.

    Meanwhile, the DoE hopes to publish several reports on the aggregates industry this summer. These include a review of specifications for aggregates used in the construction industry and their role in inhibiting or facilitating uptake of secondary aggregates, studies on the potential for coastal superquarries and marine sand and gravel, and an assessment of the effectiveness of restoration conditions and the need for bonds.

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