Ministers blamed for fridge mountain

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The Independent Online

A withering report into Britain's fridge-mountain fiasco has criticised ministers and civil servants for ignoring a host of warnings about recycling rules that led to the crisis.

A withering report into Britain's fridge-mountain fiasco has criticised ministers and civil servants for ignoring a host of warnings about recycling rules that led to the crisis.

Members of the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee called the affair a debacle yesterday and said that John Prescott, the Environment Secretary at the time, had rushed through "at breakneck speed" European regulations requiring fridges to be recycled.

Their report criticised his department for arguing over the meaning of the rules while failing to come up with plans for dealing with disused fridges, up to three million of which are dumped each year.

No recycling plants had been provided when rules demanding fridges be recycled – to dispose of ozone-damaging CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) safely – came into force on 1 January, two years after the rules had been agreed. This led to fly-tipping and huge stockpiles of old fridges.

The report said ministers should not have agreed to the regulations before their implications were understood. The Labour-dominated committee said that doubts had been expressed over the rules months before they came into effect.

"We find it extraordinary that the minister was unaware that there was a potential problem until July 2001 and that his officials had sought clarification of the regulations on nine occasions without referring the matter to him," the report said.

The MPs said that while the European Commission had to accept some blame for the affair, the "overwhelming responsibility for mishandling" the implementation of the European regulations lay with the Government.

They also criticised the Environment minister Michael Meacher for his "ill-judged" comments in January, in which he claimed the Government had been "badly let down" by the European Commission.

Officials had argued about the semantics of the rules, the MPs said. "Despite requesting clarification on so many occasions they failed to resolve the issue. They apparently ignored or reacted very slowly to a host of warnings from interested parties and despite those warnings ... they failed to put in place contingency plans to cope with the problem," they said.

Fridges are now being exported to Germany for disposal and three recycling plants have opened, while several more applications "are in the pipeline".

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