Friday, July 16, 2004

The fly-tipping nightmare

The story is at last out of the ghetto of the Booker column and the business pages, as Charles Clover, Environment Editor of The Daily Telegraph, picks up on the start date of the EU regulations which are about to turn hazardous waste disposal arrangements into chaos.

Clover starts his reports by citing a government spokesman bemoaning the fact that, "there will be nowhere to dispose of more than a million tons of toxic waste from today because of a drastic reduction in legal landfill sites to contain it". The material, including chemicals, electronic equipment and contaminated soil, will have to be recycled under a new European Union regulation.

As reported previously on this Blog, the number of landfill sites licensed for dangerous material falls today from 200 to about 12… More than five million tons of such waste is produced every year, with two million tons going to landfill. The Government estimates that after today there will be capacity to dispose of only one million tons. The cost is expected to more than double.

But what Clover also brings into focus – which has not been done before – is a warning by developers that the new regulation was likely to reduce house building. "They estimate that the cost of using brownfield sites will increase by £2.6 billion over the next 12 years because of the extra cost of landfilling or recycling contaminated soil, which represents 60 percent of all hazardous waste". "The extra cost - about £3,000 a home - is likely to counteract the increased spending on affordable homes and roads and rail links for new housing announced this week by John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister".

Clover does also note that the problem "follows the EU landfill directive agreed in 1999 banning disposal of hazardous with non-hazardous waste", but he does not go into any detail. The point here is that 60 percent of the so-called hazardous waste is contaminated spoil and the like from brownfield sites which are being developed. Since the toxicity is a factor of the concentration of pollutants found, mixing the material with high volumes of domestic waste is a perfectly adequate means of diluting the toxins, and has been proved over term to be perfectly safe when managed properly.

In other words, there is absolutely no justification at all for banning this practice – known as "co-disposal".

Needless to say, environment minister Elliot Morley is trying to put a brave face on this government-inspired disaster, saying that he wanted "…this country to end its 'dump and forget' culture." His idea was that: "the public and industry alike need to understand that we cannot continue to dump hazardous waste in holes in the ground." Individual firms would have to reduce and recycle their waste rather than rely on landfill if they were to keep their bills down.

For some reason, he complains that prices as low as £6 a ton had been the reason why 60 per cent of hazardous waste was contaminated soil, which could have been treated and re-used.

As always, he completely misses the point. Firstly, it is difficult to the point of being impossible to recycle contaminated soil – but secondly, the material is actually useful to tip managers who have to deal with putrescible household waste, and prevent wind-blown debris spreading outside the boundary of the tip. The technique, therefore, is to layer the material and then cover it with a blanket of heavy, inert material, for which purpose the contaminated soil is ideal.

However, having allowed the EU completely to screw up a perfectly adequate system, the Environment Agency and the police are now going to set up road blocks in areas such as the West Midlands, London and Leeds to catch "waste cowboys and fly-tippers" – i.e., those people who in desperation cannot dispose of waste and are tempted to get rid of it by other means.

Tim Yeo, the Tory environment spokesman, has it in one. "This (law) will lead to even more fly-tipping and expose the countryside to dangerous, hazardous waste". But then he spoils it all: "We need to see much stronger penalties to deter fly-tipping; for example making it an arrestable offence." No, Mr Yeo. Get rid of the f*****g law.

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