Hazardous waste strategy "not working"

17th January 2013

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Contaminated soils and oily sludges are being sent to landfill when recovery options are available and in direct contradiction of the UK's hazardous waste strategy, says industry

In a new report, the Environmental Services Association (ESA), which represents the UK’s waste sector, claims it has found evidence that a portion of the UK’s hazardous waste is not being treated in line with government guidance and calls on the Environment Agency to review existing permits.

The ESA cites examples of waste contaminated with tar being mixed into soils, paints being mixed into compost materials and oily sludges being exported to Europe and burned. Under the UK’s hazardous waste strategy, such materials should not be diluted or mixed with other substances, and the EU waste hierarchy must be applied when disposing of them. The rules also require that hazardous organic wastes are treated using best available techniques.

The ESA argues that while recovery options are available, through thermal separation for example, some firms are opting for cheaper, less environmentally-sound ways of disposing of hazardous materials, and that the relatively small amount of data available means that regulators cannot accurately track the fate of such wastes.

“It is difficult to see how regulators are able to confirm to their satisfaction that the wastes are being managed in the optimum manner,” states the report.

The body calls on Defra and the Environment Agency to urgently enforce the UK’s legally-binding guidance on applying the waste hierarchy to hazardous waste, and to review all existing environmental permits for hazardous waste treatment to ensure that they reflect best available technologies.

“The government’s 2010 strategy for hazardous waste management says all the right things, but there is evidence that it is not taking effect on the ground, and that some of the UK’s hazardous waste is not being handled at state of the art facilities, as the strategy intended,” commented Alex Gazulla, chair of ESA’s hazardous waste strategy group.

“This undermines the investment companies have made in best available technologies for dealing with hazardous wastes, and if unchecked could pose risks to the environment.”

The ESA also urges action at the EU level, in a bid to prevent hazardous waste being exported to other member states and treated in less-environmentally friendly ways.

In 2011, around 173,000 tonnes of hazardous waste was exported from England and Wales, according to provisional figures from the Environment Agency, with the bulk heading to Germany, Belgium, and France.

Of the 4.3 million tonnes of hazardous waste moved in England and Wales in 2011, around 20% was landfilled, 7% was incinerated, and 28% was recovered, recycled or reused.

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