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Pollution incidents fall but poor performance rises

The waste sector recorded fewer serious pollution incidents involving permitted sites in 2014 but the Environment Agency (EA) has reported an increase in the number of persistent poor performers.

The details come in a report, ‘Regulating for people, environment and growth’, which sets out waste produced, emissions to air, discharges to water, and pollution incidents.

The report says there were 614 serious pollution incidents in 2014, down from 688 in 2013, although the 2012 total was 503.

Farming and water companies account for a quarter of these but the next largest permitted facilities were non-hazardous waste treatment (8%), biowaste treatment (6%) and landfill (6%).

There was a decrease in incidents for all three: 41% down for non-hazardous waste; 31% down for landfill and down 27% for biowaste. Odour is said to be the biggest complaint.

The EA rates compliance with permits from A (good) to F (poor). In 2014, 96% of 13,581 regulated sites were rated A-C, bands which are considered acceptable. Those in band A fell 15% (from 9,496 to 8,078) but the EA attributes this to applying more rigorous requirements around record-keeping.

The number of “persistent poor performers” - those in the D, E or F bands for two years - rose from 183 in 2013 and 2012 to 229 in 2014. Of these, 109 were in non-hazardous waste and 52 in landfill.

The EA said: “We have established a programme designed to clamp down on persistent poor performers and sites which cause pollution incidents and negative impacts on communities”.

Another aspect of the report is reduction in costs and EA efficiency. It says that 99.7% of permit applications were processed within 13 weeks and there has been a 6% reduction in charges across all schemes.

It adds: “We are targeting our regulatory effort more effectively. In 2014-15 we carried out around 22,000 site inspections. In 2002, we carried out more than 100,000.

There were 81 successful prosecutions against registered companies in 2014, down from 118 in 2013.

In 2014, the landfill sector reported 197,000 tonnes of methane emitted. The sector’s methane emissions decreased by 15% between 2013 and 2014 and by 60% since 2002.

Almost 900,000 tonnes of methane was collected and combusted in engines and flares at landfills in England in 2013. Of this 86% was burnt to generate electricity.

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