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Hazardous waste: happy anniversary?

As dawn broke on Friday July 16 this year, the UK waste-management industry awoke to the unknown. Overnight, the ban on co-disposal had come into force, slashing the number of landfill sites taking hazardous waste from 240 to 12. A few days earlier, the Government had admitted it had no idea how much waste would be made homeless by the ban. But there were plenty of people with an opinion.

The British Metals Recycling Association predicted mountains of dumped vehicles. The Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) said it was concerned that the massive reduction in available facilities may result in hazardous waste being illegally disposed. Akros Chemicals put a 100% increase for the cost of hazardous waste disposal in its budget. And the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors warned the prohibitive cost of demolition waste would force development on a rural area the size of a typical market town.

The fear stemmed from the UKs decision to delay full implementation of the Hazardous Waste Directive until July 2005. With classifications, standards and treatment methods not set to come into force until then, few landfill sites were willing to commit to taking only hazardous waste.

And with the Landfill Directive classing more wastes as hazardous, no-one was sure how much capacity would be needed anyway. A report handed to the Hazardous Waste Forum days before the ban estimated hazardous waste capacity at 1.1 million tonnes a year, and arisings between July 2004 and July 2005 at anywhere from 1.2m to 3.7m tonnes.

The Environment Agency (EA) wrote to businesses warning them that the annual cost of hazardous waste disposal could rise from £150m to £500m. The law-enforcement body also put an extra 10% of its officers on hazardous waste duty, but still it insisted there was no cause for concern.

Head of waste regulation Liz Parkes said: Evidence is that there will not be materials homeless from July 16. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) director of waste Neil Thornton added: We are determined there will not be mountains of waste on the streets.

Amid the confusion, hyperbole and conflicting messages, everyone involved crossed their fingers and held their breath. Forget Friday the 13th. This year everyone was petrified of Friday the 16th.



Crisis

The foreboding only grew when car scrappers got to work on the Friday morning to announce they were not accepting vehicles. Landfill operators were concerned the residue from vehicle shredding machines could not conclusively be defined as hazardous or non-hazardous. This left them open to prosecution for breaking the co-disposal ban, so they refused to accept shredder waste, leaving scrap firms unwilling to turn on their shredders.

There were six days of crisis meetings before the EA released a statement late on the Wednesday afternoon. This said that refuse from vehicles depolluted to Government standards would be non-hazardous. Shredders were turned back on and end-of-life cars could be handed in again.

This drama highlighted that the immediate effect of the co-disposal ban was disruption to normal working practices. It caused many short-term crises but most of these were ironed out quickly as the marketplace adjusted to the new rules.

During August, the headlines died out and the situation appeared calmer. But some voices claimed this masked a deeper malaise that was rumbling underneath and would only become visible with time. Two months on, we can see the hazardous waste situation more clearly.

National Household Hazardous Waste Forum (NHHWF) manager Roland Arnison said this week: The biggest impact from the Landfill Directive regulations has been with asbestos. That is one of the main household hazardous wastes that local authorities send to landfill sites. It has been very hard to get rid of asbestos since July 16 and where it has been possible, it has been very expensive.

Leeds City Council has faced four-fold increases in the cost

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