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Welsh government fails to respond to new waste rules

Regulations will hit firms in Wales, says William Graham AM.

Speech to the National Assembly for Wales

"The Welsh Assembly Government has failed to respond to the problems arising from new rules on the disposal of hazardous waste.

It must be fully aware that, proportionately, Wales produces more hazardous waste than any other region of the United Kingdom.

On 16 July, it will become illegal to co-dispose of hazardous and normal waste in a landfill site. Hazardous waste is currently co-disposed at around 250 landfill sites throughout England and Wales.

On implementation of the landfill directive, it is forecast that just 10 to 15 landfill sites will be registered to dispose of such waste. There will be no registered sites within Wales, and the nearest site to south Wales will be in Gloucestershire.

While environmental organisations, farmers' unions, the Confederation of British Industry Wales, hauliers and waste contractors have been calling for Government action, the Welsh Assembly Government has failed to respond and ensure a process for the safe disposal of hazardous waste.

The Minister for Environment, Planning and Countryside claims—and I quote from his answer to Nick Bourne—that,'Although the Assembly Government has a role in ensuring a smooth transition into the new disposal regime, treatment of hazardous waste is primarily a commercial matter for waste producers and the waste industry.'

We know that these directives were first adopted in April 1999 and that the regulations transposing them into UK law came into force in June 2002. The Minister must acknowledge that the waste acceptance criteria came into force in January 2003 and that the Labour administration is still deciding how and when they will apply.

As David Rosser of CBI Wales recently outlined:

'This has made it extremely difficult for landfill operators and waste producers to assess changes and investment needed for their own landfill sites or waste disposal routes. The issue has been further compounded by the on-going delay in publishing vital guidance notes.'

In those circumstances, how can the waste producers and waste disposal industry make plans?

A year ago, David Rosser raised these concerns, saying, 'Imagine trying to prepare a business plan based on a high up front investment of several million pounds, with a 30 year revenue stream and a further 50 year duty-of-care period. Difficult, but possible. Then factor in the risk of legislation changing over that 80 year period, changing your cost base in ways that cannot be accurately predicted.'

He said that the costs are guaranteed to be upward. He went on to say: 'And finally set that against the current UK planning system which provides no predictability of outcome, cost or timescale, but can guarantee you a fight with local residents and their elected representatives, a political storm, and frequently personal and corporate vilification.

And that is why…Wales will have no sites licensed for the disposal of hazardous waste unless our governments in London and Cardiff Bay step in now and act'.

Landfill issues go beyond registration for handling hazardous waste, post-implementation of the directive. There are recognised problems with many landfill sites throughout Wales, for example, those at Nantygwyddon, Trecatti, Penrhos and Penhesgyn.

We welcome measures introduced to improve the environment around these sites, and we seek the Minister's assurance that these sites will continue to be monitored to ensure that improvements are attained.

This Assembly Government has also been fully aware, since 1999, that the implementation of this directive will have wide-ranging implications across several key industries in Wales. Its effect reaches far beyond the environment portfolio and will have a major impact on economic development, rural areas, tourism and transport.

However, nothing has been done. Has the Minister for Economic Development and Transport queried non-action that will impede economic development in Wales?

Has the same Minister, with his transport responsibilities, queried the potential additional road traffic and the implications of transporting hazardous waste across Wales? Has the Minister with responsibility for the countryside queried the potential increase in the incidence of fly-tipping on farmland and the potential effects of hazardous waste being dumped?

Perhaps the Minister with responsibility for tourism queried the potential illegal dumping of hazardous waste on hill walking routes, bridle paths or our coastlines.

A hazardous waste sub-group of the Wales waste forum has been set up, but the Minister again failed to listen to CBI Wales when it warned:

'Businesses in Wales will be forced to transport waste over long distances, assuming capacity can be found elsewhere, or will have to relocate part or all of their operations to avoid breaking the law.'

He failed to listen to the farming unions when they highlighted their concerns about the dramatic rise in the volume of fly-tipping. They fear, rightly, that hazardous waste will be illegally tipped on their land and that they will then have the problem of being responsible for its disposal.

This problem will have to be addressed as well by local authorities, who are also landowners, and are often the victims of fly-tipping.

Last week, the chair of the Environment Agency told the associate parliamentary sustainable waste group 'that a lack of general public awareness and acceptance for the reasons for the new rules could fuel an increase in fly-tipping.'

Perhaps more importantly, the Environment Agency's chief executive warned that

'The agency will not tolerate illegal waste activities when the new hazardous waste rules come into force. Many businesses are unaware they have a legal duty of care to ensure that they pass waste on to a legitimate waste carrier, and could end up in the dock themselves if their waste is subsequently fly-tipped by unscrupulous criminals.'

In 2002, 40 per cent, broadly, of hazardous waste went to landfill; two-thirds of this was construction and demolition waste, much of which was asbestos contaminated.

In my region, the Corus sites at Ebbw Vale and Llanwern, together with the LG Philips plant, are being regenerated. Each of these sites produces huge amounts of hazardous waste. Where will this be disposed of?

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs figures show that 90 per cent of such waste went to landfill.

With no registered sites in Wales, all this waste material will be required to be transported to England for disposal. It is likely therefore that substantial amounts of waste will be transported long distances to increasingly rare treatment and disposal facilities.

This increased haulage will lead to increased road traffic, air pollution, and will add to the risk of incidents occurring during transport and all that entails for the environment.

It currently costs £10 to £12 per tonne, plus £13 tax, to dispose of waste by landfill. It is estimated that the shortfall in handling capacity, together with tighter restrictions for treating hazardous waste, could add at least 100 per cent to the extra costs, let alone additional transportation.

Why are we again, just as we were when new legislation on the disposal of refrigerators was introduced—which my colleague, David Davies, highlighted some years ago—left waiting for the Assembly administration to react to a problem that has already arisen, instead of anticipating, directing and planning a solution?

The Welsh Assembly Government's failure to take the lead on this issue is deplorable.

It should have directed local authorities to identify suitable sites, gained planning permission for hazardous waste facilities and tackled the not-in-my-back-yard factor head-on.

The problems identified are furthermore generated by the problems identified by the Environment Agency, which notes in its publication, 'Hazardous Wastes: A Growing Challenge', that, in the near future, that is in the autumn this year, every household will be affected, as everyday items such as televisions and fluorescent tubes are soon to be classified as hazardous waste.

The problems of managing hazardous waste are of epic proportions, as the Environment Agency explained in a presentation to the Welsh Assembly Government's planning for hazardous waste seminar.

We can all look back to the fridges fiasco of last year, and wince a little. However, that will seem as nothing compared with the challenge that hazardous waste presents."

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