HL Deb 15 June 1994 vol 555 cc100-1WA
Lord Gainford

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will provide policy guidance on waste imports and exports.

The Earl of Arran

Last month a new control regime on waste shipments was introduced. The EC Waste Shipments Regulation and the UK's associated Transfrontier Shipment of Waste Regulations 1994 came into effect on 6th May. This legislation enabled the UK to fulfil its obligations under the Basel Convention, to which the UK became a party on 8th May. These obligations are based on the principle of national self sufficiency in waste disposal. This principle is the means by which countries can be encouraged to take responsibility for disposing of the waste they generate. Thereby they are encouraged to minimise wastes—especially hazardous wastes—and to reuse and recycle, and to pursue policies of sustainable development.

We must also have regard for other environmental responsibilities arising from our membership of the European Union and the global community. In implementing the Basel Convention, we should not lose sight of these wider considerations.

As a developed country, with ample disposal facilities to meet our waste, we ourselves will have no need to export wastes for final disposal in other countries. The EC regulation prohibits such exports to countries outside the EC and EFTA. We shall go further by proposing a complete prohibition on such exports to all countries.

There is no equivalent case for a general ban on exports of wastes for recovery. But special considera-tions apply to the export of hazardous wastes for recovery in developing countries and countries in transition. At the second conference of the Basel Convention in March, it was recognised that there is a high risk that such exports will not be managed in environmentally sound ways in the country of receipt. It was decided that, except in exceptional circumstances, transboundary movement of hazardous wastes from OECD to non-OECD states for the purposes of recovery should be prohibited. In the Government's opinion this decision has now taken effect.

Our policy towards imports is based on similar principles. In future, the presumption will be that wastes should not be imported for final disposal in this country. This applies both to landfill, either directly or indirectly, and to incineration, and also to disposal under the guise of recovery—so called "sham recovery". However, imports for genuine recovery operations, including energy recovery, will continue to be allowed.

For most wastes all other countries should now develop adequate final disposal facilities and there seems to be no reason to delay a prohibition of imports. There may, however, be special circumstances where imports of certain wastes for specialist disposal processes—and in particular for high temperature incineration—might be justified on wider environment-tal grounds for very limited periods and quantities. This would apply on a transitional and reducing basis where a country had not yet completed specialist disposal capacity or was dealing with a backlog inherited from a former communist regime in eastern Europe. We propose to develop strict criteria which would regulate any such continued imports. Our criteria would take account of the technical and environmental character-istics of the waste stream, and the circumstances of the exporting country. Except for small quantities particularly from developing countries, we would propose that the transitional period should not exceed three years at most.

We do not contemplate importing from countries in a position to develop their own disposal facilities, but taking no action to do so. That would be quite contrary to our policy towards self sufficiency. Nor would we allow imports which could not be safely handled and managed within the existing disposal capacity in the United Kingdom.

We shall be making more detailed proposals on exports and imports in the form of a draft waste management plan. Associated with the plan will be technical guidance designed to assist competent authorities in making decisions. There will be a full opportunity for consultation on the draft plan and technical guidance before it is issued.