The chief executive of the Environment Agency (EA) has made a robust defence of the UK’s emphasis on Quality Protocols (QPs) and risk assessment rather than more formal regulation of ‘end-of-waste’ materials.
Paul Leinster said few materials were covered by specific regulations as they were difficult to develop. Instead, the UK uses QPs to demonstrate good practice around assessing the risk of materials not meeting end-of-waste criteria as set out in the Waste Framework Directive while other EU countries rely on greater regulation.
“They want strict limits with little risk assessment. We are seeing that in some chemical work and other areas. They want to make sure that across Europe as whole standards are being met and it is easier to do that on a strict limits basis than relying on a multiplicity of risk assessments.”
Leinster was speaking in Westminster this week at the launch of the IsItWaste tool being introduced by the EA to help operators assess the status of waste or surplus materials.
Some in the industry have been worried that, although the intention of the UK approach was to reduce the burden of leglislation, inadequate attention to QP requirements would encourage crime or, at best, lower the quality of the materials concerned.
Leinster said EA staff assessed sites under criteria around how well they were managed: A, B or C was the preferred grades while D,E or F were “could do better”. Anything less was probably criminal and he accepted that crime was a challenge in the sector.
“There is organised crime, there is deliberate crime. Over 96% of business operate at the ABC level so the question is: do you regulate for the good or the bad?”
“Or do you make sure there is sufficient resource to drive out the bad? It is bad regulation to regulate everybody as though they were bad.
“We will continue to promote good risk assessment as the appropriate way forward,” he said.
In 2012 an assessment of QPs by Veolia said: “Our view is that the criteria set within the QP must be absolutely and rigorously applied… We believe that a QP should control the materials used, set constraints on how it is processed, control the final quality of the materials produced and its end destination.”
The IsItWaste tool was welcomed by Veolia’s vice-president for emerging markets Gary Crawford, who pointed out that the PAS100 QP standard had allowed the company to successfully market compost from biowaste as a quality consumer product.
Leinster said the EA had to make sure that legitimate business was supported so there was a level playing field and that waste crime did not undermine the business opportunities with a less regulated regime.
He was upbeat about the EA’s record in tackling illegal waste activities, saying it had recorded quarter-on-quarter reductions in recent years.
Former environment secretary Caroline Spelman, who chaired the launch event, praised the IsItWaste tool and said the industry needed to be involved with developments in regulation.
“We have to make sure that regulation is set in a way that does not stifle the changes that need to take place,” she said. “Maybe some countries have not quite evolved to the point they feel comfortable about risk assessment in relation to regulation.”
Leinster said 10 other EU countries had shown an interest in the new tool and he hoped they would adopt it.
“Wider take up will bring benefits in consistency, transparency and international trade,” he said.