The concept of integrated prevention and minimization of environmental pollution has gained precedence in Europe. As a result, policies have been drafted to replace the sector-by-sector approach with a coordinated system.
Integrated prevention considers potential environmental impacts jointly rather than separately for each of the media-air, water and land.
The European Union (EU) is deliberating a 1993 proposal for a directive that would integrate the permitting of facilities with high pollution potential. Waste management is one of six categories addressed in the directive.
A key element of the proposed directive is the setting of emission limits, initially by each member state, based on the use of Best Available Technology (BAT) as appropriate to the ambient environmental quality. "Best" presupposes an appropriate balance of benefits and costs; "Available" means capable of being procured somewhere in the world; and "Technologies" include methods of operation. The definition of emissions encompasses the release of potentially polluting materials, heat and noise into the air or water and the storage, landfilling or other disposal of materials in or on land.
The European Union directive aims to equally control air, water and soil emissions to avoid harming the environment and to promote rational energy and raw material usage.
On a regular basis, member states will exchange information on technological developments and revise the best available technology accordingly. Permitting documents must be accessible to the public and contain clear, direct, appropriately detailed information since public participation is crucial to successful permitting.
Many European Union member states have already implemented certain aspects of integrated pollution prevention without the European Union's proposed directive.
France, which was reportedly the first EU member to apply the integrated concept, has consolidated the agencies that are responsible for air, waste and energy and raw material consumption into a single agency.
In the United Kingdom, a 1990 environmental protection law requires options to be evaluated based on their effect on the environment as a whole. The law also requires the best available technology, insofar as economically feasible, to prevent emissions to the extent possible.
Denmark already introduced the integrated concept in 1974 and, through a 1991 law, has emphasized technologies that protect the air, water and soil by minimizing resource consumption and waste generation. A cyclic economy will be achieved by coupling maximum waste prevention with material recycling.
Even in Germany, where most of the laws still apply to environmental media individually, integration has gained ground since the mid-1980s. Similarly, the Netherlands has traditionally followed the sector-by-sector approach but, in 1992, expanded its environmental protection law to form a foundation for the integrated concept. Provisions have been included to coordinate the emission protection law with various clauses of other Dutch environmental laws.
In 1992, Ireland passed a law that established an integrated system of permits to limit water and air pollution, wastes and noise. The newly created environmental protection authority now grants permits based on evidence that economically justifiable best available technology will be applied to maintain environmental quality standards.
In the Flanders region of Belgium, an integrated permitting system for large-scale industrial facilities has gone into effect. Luxembourg also has reportedly taken the integrated track for several years now.
Supporters of the integrated approach claim that it leads to the best overall option and eliminates contradictions caused by uncoordinated regulations. An integrated approach also can prevent environmental impacts from being passed from the more rigidly regulated media to the least protected medium. Time, money and effort can be saved by initially planning for pollution prevention rather than reacting with "end-of-pipe" technologies.
The directive, which would mostly affect industry, energy producers and waste management firms, would create a basis for reducing industrial pollution far into the next century. Investments in BAT can bring savings in material usage, waste disposal costs and energy consumption in addition to an improved product quality and company image.