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Thursday, 20 June, 2002, 04:24 GMT 05:24 UK
Q&A: Fridge mountain
MPs on Thursday laid the blame for the UK's "fridge mountain" on the government.

BBC News Online explains the background to the problem.


How big is the fridges problem?

There are thousands of old chill cabinets lying discarded in the country which local councils have been unable to bury in landfill sites or export.

Councils say they are running out of storage space for the fridges.

The government has already spent 6m on tackling the problem and says it may cost 40m - with others estimating up to 64m.

Some experts think the stock piles will not be removed until the end of next year.

How have these fridge mountains sprouted up?

European Union laws, which came into force in January, make it illegal to dispose of fridges unless substances like CFCs which eat through the ozone layer are removed first.

These rules were passed in 1998 but the UK fell behind in preparing the sites needed to recycle the fridges or burn them at the high temperatures.

No recycling kit was available in the UK when the rules came into force and incineration could only be done at two sites only capable of disposing of 8,000 fridges each week between them.

The fridges can, however, be sent to plants abroad.

As well as the storage problems, has fly-tipping of fridges also gone up?

Yes. Major kitchen retailers used to operate "take-back schemes" where they would take old fridges off people's hands for free when they bought a new one.

The old fridges collected in those schemes used to be exported to Third World countries but that practice too is banned under the EU rules.

With many people unaware that local councils will dispose of waste appliances free-of-charge, they have increasingly just dumped old fridges where they can.

Who is to blame for the fridge mountains?

Thursday's report from MPs says the government has "overwhelming responsibility" for mishandling the new regulations.

Do ministers accept that?

The government instead argues the fridge problem has come about because the EU rules just were not clear enough.

They say they did not want to commit money for preparing for rules which could have been interpreted in a different way that meant the spending had been a waste of money.

So while Germany, Austria, Sweden, the Netherlands and Finland were busy setting up recycling plants, UK officials were trying to resolve the ambiguous wording.

There were mixed messages from the EU and Environment Minister Michael Meacher says the UK had to ask for clarification nine times.

Once the confusion was sorted out in June last year, the UK only had six months to get ready for the rules.

How has that defence gone down with the MPs?

The environment committee complains the new EU rules were pushed through Parliament at "breakneck" speed.

The EU must accept some blame for the lack of clarity, it says, but if the practical implications of new rules are not clear, the government should not agree to them in the first place.

See also:

21 Jan 02 | UK Politics
23 Nov 01 | UK
31 Oct 01 | UK Politics
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