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There is absolutely no prrobelmm at all…

Posted by Richard Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Regular readers of this Blog might have detected a certain interest in what has been described as the growing waste crisis, not least the increasingly vexatious abandoned car mountain brought about by insane EU landfill rules.

But never fear. After an article in the motoring section of The Times earlier in July, which raised precisely the fears that had been rehearsed in this Blog, Baroness Young, erstwhile Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, has today come to the rescue with a letter back to the Times.

According to the fragrant Baroness, who writes from her equally fragrant address in one of the nicer – bijou even – parts of Bristol, there is absolutely no problem at all. Anyone who has to dispose of their faithful old car, it should be a "comfort" that "her properly depolluted and shredded remains can still rest legally in peace in an appropriately licensed landfill site, just as they could before the change in waste disposal rules on July 16."

"Car breakers have not shut up shop and clogged the streets with abandoned vehicles", the Baroness chirps. "Used cars are being taken away and dismantled. Vehicle dismantlers have been required since last year to remove batteries, mercury, fuel, oil and other hazardous substances from old cars."

She does, concede that "It does cost more", but the Baroness does not find that a problem. "Given our love affair with our motor cars, it is the price we have to pay to prevent them remaining a pollution risk in death as they are in life", she purrs.

If this was not a civilised, family Blog, one would be tempted to observe that this complacent, patronising garbage might impel someone less restrained than myself to rip out the fair Baroness’s lungs, chop them, mix them with her verbal excrescences and feed them back to her, line by line until she choked. But, as this is a family Blog, we could not even think of saying such a thing.

Nevertheless, we can observe that the Baroness has not exactly addressed the points of concern, and is being more than a little disingenuous in her bland assurance that "properly depolluted and shredded remains can still rest legally in peace in an appropriately licensed landfill site, just as they could before the change in waste disposal rules on July 16."

Furthermore, in deconstructing her text, we can learn a great deal about how the official mind works – if that is the right word. In the above section, the key words are "properly depolluted" and "appropriately licensed", and they tell the tale.

For a start, the confusion and difficulties lie in the definition of what constitutes "properly depolluted". The problem is that it is the Baroness's own organisation, the Environment Agency, that decides and, so far, they have not been able – or willing – to tell the breakers exactly what it means. The breakers must guess and hope they get it right, in the knowledge that if they do not – and fall foul or some retrospective definition – they will be prosecuted.

Then there are the weasel words "appropriately licensed". If the shredded, un-recyclable remains are, by some definition as yet not known, classed as non-hazardous, they can be disposed of in a normal "appropriately licensed" landfill site (for the moment – until the increased recycling quotas kick in, but that is another story).

If they are hazardous waste (because of residual pollutants, at a level as yet unspecified, according to a test which has not yet been specified), then they must be buried in an "appropriately licensed" hazardous waste site – of which there are now far too few to meet demand.

The trouble comes if (or when) the breakers get it wrong. It is an offence to dispose of hazardous material in a non-hazardous site, but it is also an offence to dispose of non-hazardous material in a hazardous site – damned if you do, damned if you don't.

For the moment, however, there is an uneasy truce which has prevailed since 21 July when the Environment Agency issued a statement offering a "three month window" during which "a simplified de-pollution checklist" can apply, to allow breakers time to develop "the capability to comply" with EA guidance.

But it was precisely that guidance with which compliance was impossible, or impossibly expensive. For now, though, the breakers have gone back to work, but the problem will re-emerge later in the autumn when, no doubt, Baroness Young can write another soothing letter to The Times.