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Industry questions funding plans for illegal site clean-ups

A joint consultation on waste regulations and enforcement by Defra and the Welsh Government has received cautious support from the industry, but there are concerns about the financial implications for operators.

MRW has been gauging the reaction of the UK’s largest waste companies and there is a general acceptance that more has to be done to counter waste crime but the regulators must ensure that financial proposals are fair and do not stifle the industry.

The consultation, which closed earlier this month, covered the key areas of:

  • enhanced powers for regulatory authorities such as the Environment Agency (EA)
  • fixed penalty notices for fly- tipping
  • compulsory bonds for all operators to fund site clean-ups
  • a ‘superfund’ backed by operator contributions to deal with abandoned or orphaned sites
  • operators’ technical competence

Veolia’s chief corporate officer Robert Hunt backed suspension notices which could be imposed on an operator when it failed to comply with enforcement notices, provided that sufficient safeguards and guidance were in place.

He told MRW: “The emphasis has got to be on those who are not complying with the rules and focusing resources on them.”

“Paying into a superfund does not take the ‘polluter pays’ principle into account”

Simon Rutledge

Suez Environment agreed with boosting the EA’s regulatory powers, although it wanted a more robust, independent appeals process. In its submission to Defra, the company said: “Currently the appeals process offered by the EA is limited and, in our experience, not always entirely objective.”

Responses to the fly-tipping proposals were not as positive. The Environmental Services Association (ESA) said it did not believe that fixed penalty notices would be a significant deterrent.

Veolia argued that, although the proposals might affect localised fly-tipping, it would not tackle the “big, bad and nasty” incidents, while Suez wanted sentencing guidelines to be amended so that the costs to the regulator could be recovered from offenders.

There was notable divergence, however, in responses to the proposals for financial provisions.

The consultation suggested that compulsory bonds should be levied on site operators to cover the cost of remediation should an accident occur without sufficient funds to pay for the clean-up operation. But Biffa suggested that such a fund could exacerbate waste crime.

“Increasing the regulatory burden and operating costs on legit­imate operators, thereby compromising their ability to provide those essential, legal services, risks increasing waste crime as a consequence,” it said.

jeff rhodes biffa

The company’s head of environment Jeff Rhodes (right) told MRW: “If you are tying up funds in bonds, there are fewer funds to invest in facilities and operators.”

Hunt said that although Veolia did not welcome a monetary burden, the regulator “has to be resourced enough to address these problems and clear them up”.

The ESA and Suez praised these proposals, and said that the granting of permits should be based on the ability to contribute to a fund.

But the introduction of a ‘superfund’ to cover abandoned sites was widely rejected on the basis that legitimate operators would be funding the criminal activities of unscrupulous operators.

“Waste crime is one of the areas seriously threatening the sector’s potential as a growth industry for the UK economy”

Dan Cooke

“Paying into a superfund does not take the ‘polluter pays’ principle into account,” said Simon Rutledge, Biffa’s sustainability manager.

Veolia said that such a fund would not be necessary if compulsory bonds were introduced.

FCC Environment communications director Kristen Dales (below) made an alternative proposal to ease the cost for the regulators in the event of an expensive remediation operation.

kristian dales fcc

“The tax revenue generated by high landfill taxes should be directly invested into more resources to catch illegal waste operators,” he said. “We believe it is not more powers the EA needs, it is more manpower.”

The United Resource Operators Consortium, which represents smaller businesses, expressed concern that the consultation would increase the cost of compliance for waste managers, resulting in smaller operators being squeezed out of the market. It said the proposals would “provide greater opportunity for the big players to further take over the market”.

Viridor appealed for a National Resources Council to oversee UK waste policy and resource management. This has been repeatedly called for by industry leaders in recent months.

Director of external affairs Dan Cooke said: “Waste crime is one of the areas seriously threatening the resources and waste sector’s tremendous potential as a growth industry for the UK economy.

“We hope the new Government will put tackling waste crime front and centre of its priorities.”

The ESA Response

  • Regulatory framework should be tightened to enable rigorous enforcement of waste crime, poor practice and poor performance at regulated waste management sites
  • The proposed changes to regulations should help the regulator to deal more robustly with poorly performing sites and those permitted facilities which blatantly disregard their permit requirements
  • Additional scrutiny of financial provision should be dependent upon a revised risk profiling of the sector and an understanding of the impact on tying up capital and potentially constraining investment
  • We do not support the proposed revisions to financial provisioning for landfills
  • Legitimate operators should not be required to subscribe into a fund, which is then used to correct the misdemeanours of rogue operators, or to remediate abandoned/orphaned sites

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