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Thursday, 20 June, 2002, 08:12 GMT 09:12 UK
Row over 40m fridge 'mountain'
Fridge store in Newport
Old fridges are now banned from household tips
The government has hit back at claims it was "entirely responsible" for the "mountain" of old fridges stacked up across the UK.


The overwhelming responsibility for mishandling the implementation of the regulation lies with the government

House of Commons Environment Committee

About a million old appliances have had to be stockpiled at local authority dumps because the correct technology is not in place to recycle them properly.

The House of Commons Environment Committee says the debacle will cost the taxpayer 40m.

It criticises the government for not acting quickly enough and European bureaucrats for not explaining clearly enough the requirements of their recycling directive.

'Warnings'

Michael Jack, the Tory MP who chaired the committee which produced the report, said ministers should have "got the detailed practicalities of this matter sorted at the beginning".


I entirely agree that the implications of this should have been sorted out before it went through

Michael Meacher, Environment Secretary
"There were warnings by the retailers and, indeed the waste industry, as long ago as 2000 and later in 2001 that this particular regulation applied to domestic fridges," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

But Environment Minister Michael Meacher said there had been "considerable doubt" about the practicalities of the legislation despite repeated attempts to seek guidance from the European Commission.

"We raised it at every formal meeting with the Commission - no less than nine times over a two and a quarter year period from February 1999 to June 2001," he said.

The Commission was "wholly responsible" for the problem, Mr Meacher said.

"I entirely agree that the implications of this should have been sorted out before it went through," Mr Meacher said.

But officials should have raised the matter with ministers at an earlier stage, he added.

Special equipment

Any fridge which is six years old is likely to have an insulation lining impregnated with CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), the chemicals which have been blamed for thinning the ozone layer over the South and North Poles.

A European law which came into force at the beginning of this year requires that this gas be extracted and destroyed before the rest of the fridge is recycled.

This means the appliances can no longer be exported to developing countries or buried underground - the fate that once befell most of the two and a half million fridges Britons throw out every year.

But treating them properly needs specialist kit. The UK only has about one tenth of the recycling capacity needed, and failed to build more in time for the 1 January deadline for the introduction of the new directive.

'Lack of clarity'

Any fridge disposed of since the beginning of 2002 has either been stacked by a local council or sent to an approved facility abroad - both expensive options.

Thursday's report chronicles how the regulation emerged from the European Commission and how it confused the British Government.

The committee says the EC regulation was not explicit about the fate of the foam in fridge linings and it took the government more than two years to understand it.

The Commons committee reaches this conclusion: "Whilst the European Commission must accept some blame for the lack of clarity, the overwhelming responsibility for mishandling the implementation of the regulation lies with the government."
Fridges in Newport
The fridge stockpile is growing

It goes on to criticise government officials: "They argued about the phrase 'if practicable' when in fact the practicality of dealing with the foam was abundantly demonstrated by practice in other European countries."

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: "We welcome the select committee's report, and the prominence it gives to the lessons identified by the government in its submission to the committee.

"We are already taking forward action on many of these lessons."

More dedicated disposal and recycling plants are being built and the backlog should be cleared by the end of 2003, the government says.

In Newport, the stockpile has grown to 30,000 in six months.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Richard Bilton
"Today's report condemns the British government for not being prepared"
Environment Minister Michael Meacher
"Officials should have raised the matter with ministers at an earlier stage"
Conservative MP Michael Jack
"There were warnings by the retailers as long ago as 2000"
See also:

20 Jun 02 | UK Politics
23 Nov 01 | UK
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