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What a waste

The waste management industry is under increasing legal and moral pressure in the disposal of hazardous waste. Bernadette Redfern reports.

Civil engineers are feeling the impact of new waste sector legislation in the form of increasing workload. Following the ban on co-disposal of hazardous and non-hazardous wastes, and with the cost of landfill rapidly rising, local authorities are turning to consultants for new waste management strategies.

Waste contractors and other process engineering companies have their eyes on designing and supplying new technologies to sort, treat and reclaim some of the UK's detritus.

'We need an incredible amount of infrastructure in the UK to handle the municipal waste we produce. That includes transfer stations, recovery facilities and new facilities to further treat waste, such as gasification plants and mechanical biological removal plants, ' says Atkins head of waste Keith Rogers.

It is these new advanced technologies that are going to be needed if the UK is to meet its obligations under European Union law to reduce the volume of biodegradable municipal waste sent to landfill by 65%, based on 1995 figures, by 2020, Rogers believes. 'Some councils will get to the interim 2013 targets (50% reduction on 1995 levels) using material recycling and composting, but most won't meet the 2020 goals without new technologies, ' he says.

Getting new plants up and running is proving to be a challenge. ICE president Gordon Masterton points out the pitfalls associated with the government's chosen method of procuring new facilities, the private finance initiative (PFI).

'The rst problem is the prescriptive nature of Treasury guidelines for standardised PFI contracts. Contract negotiations become extended, ' says Masterton. 'The second is the lack of direction from central government on the most appropriate technology. There also needs to be more help with planning.' ICE Waste Board vice president Peter Gerstrom also sees problems with PFI. 'PFI is intended as a mechanism to attract capital investment into building but we are verging on market failure, ' he says.

'The problem is affordability. Local authorities' expectations in terms of cost are too low. They are now confronting the reality that these schemes cost more that they thought.' On site, contractors are starting to recognise that waste reduction and recycling save money, as well as being environmentally responsible.

'This industry is fiercely competitive, so any factor that can be maximised to create a better return will be pursued, ' says Costain group health safety and environment director Peter Fisher. 'Recent investigation by [construction industry research body] CIRIA astonishingly revealed that about 10% of material delivered to a site ended up as waste. We like to think we are quite thrifty, but saw there was scope for huge improvement.' In January this year, Costain launched an initiative called 'Save It', designed to educate personnel on good practice with regard to waste management.

'It is about being sensible and designing to maximise resources. We are also trying to encourage better control of hazardous wastes. Employees understand that mercury or cadmium are hazardous wastes, but when it comes to an oily rag or half a tin of paint they are not always so aware, ' he explains.

Contractor Balfour Beatty is also striving to reduce waste and recycle materials as far as possible.

'It has always been our policy, but legislation is pushing it forward, ' says Balfour Beatty head of waste strategy John Fergusson. The company's efforts to recycle materials generated on site won the company the award for best industry recycling initiative at the national recycling award last month.

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