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The voice of the skip hire, recycling and waste industries in the UK & Ireland.

A New Approach?

WASTE’15 is almost with us and I, for one, am looking forward to the Panel Debate which sees representatives from the Environment Agency, Defra, CIWM, WAMITAB and UROC joining in the discussion.  Whether my questions or comments are relevant to poor performing sites or will get an airing on the day is not the issue, but that key speakers are able to hear the view of our readers and hopefully the most pressing matters that affect the skip hire and waste management industry today.

As many of you know I’m not in favour of the ‘points make prizes’ approach inspection where the regulator can influence the fees they charge by the use of an inspection form that is subjective and which does not have an effective right of challenge or arbitration.  When subsistence fees can triple it’s a serious matter.  The question is who could actually perform that function and does it need to be an independent body such as the Planning Inspectorate?  With the draft plans to increase band F sites to a 500% hike in subsistence fees – this is far more pressing than we realise.  The 2014-15 fees and charges scheme in England has rolled over to 2015-16, so the change has not yet been approved and Wales will be setting its own fee scheme, which will no doubt follow the main themes in the existing one.  The additional 400% could go some way to solving problems at a Band F site, rather than feeding the regulators’ coffers.  The ‘polluter pays’ principle appears to have been become somewhat disjointed.

The use of standard rules permits was welcomed when they came in, not only for the reduced fees but for the simplified conditions.  However, we are regularly seeing permit condition breaches recorded for non-compliance with the operator’s own management system.  Am I being thick – but isn’t a management system the document which sets out how a site will operate, what happens when problems are encountered and how those problems are solved?  So, if a breach is only a breach relating to the management system and no other conditions are breached – how on Earth can it be attributed a score on a par with a permit breach?

I am all for drawing attention to issues with a management system, but criminalising a person or company because of a perceived inadequacy of the management system, which hasn’t resulted in a breach of any other conditions is bizarre.  A simple but effective solution would be to continue with any comments relating to the management system on the compliance assessment report forms, but not enter a CCS score to the issue or score it as a C4.  At present the scoring system allows multiple breaches to be recorded for a single event or issue.

We need to encourage operators to have a detailed management system that evolves with the site.  With the current scoring system I almost want to see a bare bones approach to drafting management systems.  That way the scores reflect actual breaches and not contrived breaches which do not encourage the industry to work with the regulator.  That way we may have a charging scheme that reflects the actual environmental performance, rather than the ‘go out and get some points’ approach that is very real in some operational areas.  I can feel the ire from some regulators out there that have spoken to me about the issue and disagree, but others have confirmed it to be true.

One of the other main problems for me has always been that standard rules permits for non-hazardous waste transfer stations did not have a condition imposing storage limits on all waste types (apart from tyres), which meant that the volume stored could impact upon the site’s ability to recycle waste and remain unregulated to an extent.   With less frequent inspections taking place at many sites, in a difficult economic climate, it isn’t hard to predict what could and did happen.  The requirement for a Fire Prevention Plan (FPP) in the standard rules may solve some of the issues, but doesn’t cover all wastes on site.  Is there a need for an upper storage limit on standard rules permits or a requirement for the regulator to vary the permit to make it bespoke by imposing storage limits?  It is possible to make changes to rules sets, so imposing limits could be a way of providing an alternative or addition to the FPP requirement.

I have always been in favour of regular site inspections, which generate intelligence and build better working relationships.  But even if the system of inspection allowed more frequent visits, the current charging system and the way inspection outcomes are managed needs to change drastically as well to enable the regulators to gain the trust of the industry.  I receive complaints daily about the subjective nature of inspection report comments.  So, if we are to reduce poor performance in the industry, we also need to reduce poor performance from regulators as well, whether that be on an individual level or by improving the way individuals are forced to work.  I know it won’t be a popular comment with some outside the industry, but there are many regulators we work with who will agree and have commented as such.  What’s good for the goose…

Marco Muia BSc (Hons) MSc MCIWM is the Managing Director of Oaktree Environmental Limited. He specialises in all aspects of waste planning and regulation consultancy. He also holds the level 4 COTCs for Hazardous Waste Treatment and Transfer. You can contact Marco on 01606 558833 if you have any questions about this article or e-mail him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @wastechat.

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