Agency faces fresh criticism of POPs guidance

The Environment Agency faces further calls to rethink its guidance on persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and soft furnishings after another local authority group questioned large parts of the rules.

An investigation found large levels of POPs in upholstered waste domestic seating such as sofas

An investigation found large levels of POPs in seating textiles and foams. As such, the Agency told councils that they must incinerate all upholstered waste domestic seating and that this stream must not be mixed with other non-POPs wastes (see letsrecycle.com story).

The Agency says it will undertake an assessment of compliance “across the sector” from January 2023.

In a wide-ranging interview with letsrecycle.com last week (23 September), the National Association of Waste Disposal Officers (NAWDO) said it struggles to see the “environmental benefit” of separating upholstered waste domestic seating from other streams.

NAWDO is the primary network for senior waste managers within local authorities with statutory responsibilities for waste disposal. During the interview, Sam Horne, NAWDO’s chair and strategic manager for waste and resources at Hampshire county council, discussed issues around the guidance in relation to space at household waste recycling centres (HWRCs), cost and timescales.

He emphasised that NAWDO’s members were “100% up for dealing with POPs” and that the Agency had been “supportive” in looking to ensure local authorities achieved compliance.

However, Mr Horne said the “key area” was the issue around separation and mixing. He said he struggled to see the “environmental benefit” of requiring the separation of waste when it was “ultimately going to be mixed at a further location”.

‘Displacement’

Once shredded, Mr Horne said, upholstered waste domestic seating would be incinerated with other streams at an energy from waste (EfW) plant, despite separation during haulage, transfer or storage.

I think [separation] has implications for all our services

  • Sam Horne, chair of NAWDO

“I think that has implications for all our services,” Mr Horne said of the requirement. “Ultimately it probably means displacement of other materials. And in an HWRC scenario, that’s probably a recycling stream that has to be removed from some of the sites.”

This would therefore have “negative implications in terms of recycling” because it would push potentially recyclable waste into the residual waste stream.

Costs

Elsewhere, Mr Horne suggested the ways in which the regulations contributed to the financial burden on councils were myriad, “at a time when most local authorities are making really difficult decisions about how they deliver services because of cost pressures, inflationary measures, all the other things that are going on in society at the moment.”

Sam Horne is chair of NAWDO

Among the issues Mr Horne cited were greater haulage costs, alongside the need for some councils to build an additional shredding facility with the suitable emissions abatement systems. And, councils on “maximum tonnage contracts” may need to buy extra disposal capacity, he said.

“We haven’t done all the numbers, but it’s going to be six to seven figures for an authority like Hampshire,” Mr Horne said.

“We were planning to move to a fully 100% diversion from landfill mechanism, but it starts to become difficult to invest in more infrastructure, to process the rest of the bulky waste in a different way. So, we’re probably going to have to continue to send that to landfill for the foreseeable future until such time as we can find a more cost-effective way.”

Compliance

Mr Horne said NAWDO has had a representative on the Defra and Environment Agency working group on POPs for the last 18 months.

NAWDO called on the Environment Agency and the government to continue to work with local authorities and the private sector

He said NAWDO “totally recognised” there was not much “wiggle room” on potentially harmful substances such as POPs with regard to compliance.

However, calling on the Environment Agency and the government to continue to work with both local authorities and the private sector, Mr Horne said: “It’s going to need some recognition or some pragmatism on issues like mixing and separation.

“We’re going to need some pragmatism around timescales because even getting an environmental permit for a new facility at the moment, in the current climate, it’s probably around 12 months, maybe a bit less if you’re lucky.

“That doesn’t align very well with a 31 December deadline for compliance or indeed even a year from now.”

Concerns

NAWDO is not the only local authority organisation to express concerns about the Environment Agency’s guidance. Last week, the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport, the organisation representing the local authority ‘place directors’ responsible for providing day-to-day service, said it had “serious concerns” (see letsrecycle.com story).

And, in the private sector, the ESA wrote an open letter to the Agency with concerns that there are currently “very few” EfW facilities with the dust abatement techniques required (see letsrecycle.com story).

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