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The environment and the ceramics industry
Study carried out by ECO SAVE
Environment Watch and Action

All manufacturing industries are subject to ever-changing regulatory, competitive and standards controls which force them to address many environmental questions. In this context, the ceramics industry impacts on the environment in a number of specific ways: energy consumption, waste production and atmospheric emissions.

Although many industrialists view regulatory controls as extremely restrictive, others have opted to embrace the issue of the environment and to turn it to their advantage. Therefore, beyond just the conservation of the natural environment by reducing pollution (atmospheric emissions, solid waste, aqueous discharges, noise pollution, etc.), the problem can be considered from an economic and strategic point of view. From an economic viewpoint, financial savings can be brought about by a reduction in energy and raw materials consumption, a reduction in the cost of waste disposal or even, in many countries, a reduction in the tax on polluting activities. From a strategic viewpoint, benefits can be achieved through the positive image presented of a company that is concerned with the environment.

Using these approaches and with the input of a centre of excellence in environmental issues, the Limousin region in France has developed its local industrial fabric with a focus on the image of a region concerned with environmental protection. Before addressing how the Limousin Region deals with environmental concerns, the pertaining legal and regulatory situation will be outlined.


Because every industrial plant is unique and because only an individual audit can give a real picture of the situation in any particular company, the difficulties that environmental regulations create for the ceramics industry are not always easily defined.

The systems used to regulate industrial activity vary in complexity from country to country in the European Union. Community environmental law applies on the level of environmental standards through directives and regulations. These harmonise the national policies of the member states of the EU, whilst the means of control and policing of the regulations remains the responsibility of the individual member states.

In France, a specific legal system organises the supervision and control of industrial activity: Policing Classified Facilities for the Protection of the Environment, established by law (ICPE) in 1976. Under this system an industrial site may be termed a « classified facility » if it satisfies certain criteria and thereafter its existence is regulated by an administrative licence called a « prefectural order ».

When an industrial unit is not « classified », common law applies through different controls operated by local authorities. In this case, another system of administrative policing applies: Policing of Water, which regulates facilities that extract water directly from, or which discharge wastewater directly into, the natural environment.

In addition to these two systems of administrative policing, the ceramic industry is also affected by other legislative and regulatory systems relating to waste disposal, air pollution and noise pollution.

1. Administrative Policing Systems Applicable to Industries in the Ceramics Sector

As outlined above, two systems of administrative policing can affect a company in the ceramic sector in France: Policing Classified Facilities (ICPE) and Policing of Water.

In order to simplify procedures, a single submission for authorisation, covering all the requirements of the two systems is made to the Prefecture (local authority). The submissions are supported by appropriate studies, including impact studies, describing the consequences of the activity on the environment and the compensatory measures that will be taken to reduce these consequences. In addition, a 1996 European Union directive « IPPC », which has been transcribed into French law, anticipated that major polluting facilities would be subjected to authorisation with a view to controlling and reducing air, water and soil pollution.

With all these regulations in place, how does one determine if a facility should be classified or not, whether it is to be authorised or just simply declared, and whether the policing of water applies?

Classification. The answer to some of these questions can be found in the nomenclature of classified facilities. A classification identifies activities (manufacturing, storage, etc.), substances (products, chemicals, raw materials, etc.) or installations (machines, cisterns, etc.), which correspond to numbered categories. These determine the system applicable (authorisation or simple declaration), according to thresholds that take into account the level of activity of the site. For industrial ceramics, the following nomenclature categories are important:

  • category 2523 (former category 358): Ceramics and refractories (product manufacture), where production capacity is more than twenty tonnes per day – prior authorisation system.
  • category 2940 (former category 406): Varnish, paint, primer, glue, coatings, etc. (application, firing, drying) – different systems applicable according to the techniques used.
  • category 2575: Abrasives (use of materials) for engraving and frosting, for example, when the total power of the concurrent machines in operation at the facility is more than 20 kW – simple declaration.
  • category 2640: Colorants and organic, mineral and natural pigments (use of), total quantity of material used: 200 kg to two tonnes per day – simple declaration, more than two tonnes per day – prior authorisation.
  • The presence of facilities linked to general industrial activity (operation of kilns, etc.) or the use of certain substances (storage of combustible materials, use of dangerous substances for manufacturing or cleaning) is taken into account when determining the applicable ICPE system. It is also worth noting that the toxicity of lead and of cadmium has resulted in a tightening of international regulations aimed at the total elimination of these elements in industrial products. However, in ornamental ceramics or those used for foodstuffs, they are tolerated provided that they are stable and cannot become soluble in contact with food.

    Once the legal qualifications have been settled, the operator should know the situation relative to the policing of classified facilities. He must then either declare his activity or demand authorisation to operate, or to conclude possibly that he is not subject to this regulation.

    Water. The operator of an industrial plant must know his obligations regarding the policing of water. The only question to be answered is: does the plant extract water directly from, or discharge water directly into, the natural environment without using the public utilities infrastructure?

    If the answer is affirmative and the operation is a classified facility, the legal requirements concerning water will be taken into account as part of the authorisation relating to classified facilities.

    If the answer is affirmative and the operation is not a classified facility (a rather exceptional situation in the ceramics sector), a declaration or demand for authorisation must be registered with the local Prefecture. A list of operations subject to declaration or authorisation is defined in the law itself.

    In most cases, companies use public utilities to provide drinking water, sewage disposal systems and collective sanitation facilities. In these cases a « connection authorisation » is required for the discharge of industrial wastewater in order to put in writing the obligations in relation to the characteristics of the discharged effluent. This authorisation is granted by the local authority responsible for the utilities, independent of all authorisations relating to classified facilities. These rules are particularly important for the ceramic industry as it discharges large quantities of wastewater.

    Legal Sanctions. Three types of responsibility apply in relation to the industrial environment: administrative responsibility, civil responsibility and criminal responsibility. Since the implementation of criminal sanctions are relatively rare and concern only extreme cases of negligence, the first two systems of responsibility will be discussed in further detail.

    The implementation of administrative responsibility and the corresponding sanctions are mainly enforced by the local Prefecture. In cases where companies do not comply with the decisions outlined in individual orders (for example, following a failure during an audit by Classified Facilities Inspectors) the Prefecture can give formal notice to an operator to comply with his obligations. If this notice has no effect, the Prefecture can have the remedial work carried out at the operator’s cost or force him to deposit a sum equal to the cost of the necessary work with a public accountant. In the case of an operation that is working with neither an authorisation nor a declaration, the Prefecture can order the temporary suspension or the definitive closure of the premises. It is also important to note that the Prefecture can be solicited by third parties (residents, associations for the protection of nature, etc.) to force an operator to comply with regulations.

    Civil responsibility arises from common law. The manufacturer could be civilly responsible following pollution from his operation, independent of an assignment of fault, insofar as he is responsible for that which is under his control.

    Contrary to accepted wisdom, the different systems of responsibility (administrative, civil and criminal) are independent and cumulative. Many operators believe that in complying with instructions from the Prefecture, they are not liable to other sanctions. However, this is not correct as an incident which causes damage to a third party could lead to a civil case if a link between the damage and the company is established, even if the operator has satisfied all orders or instructions of the Prefecture.

    2. Disposal of Solid Waste Generated by the Ceramics Industry

    General principles for France. The combined application of the ICPE law and of the 1975 law relating to Waste Disposal and the Recycling of Materials enables industrial waste management to be controlled. A distinction is made between « ordinary » industrial waste and « special » industrial waste, the latter being considered dangerous and classed in different nomenclatures described in Community and national standards. Local authorities can collect ordinary industrial waste on the payment of a special charge by the manufacturer. Special industrial waste must be collected by an authorised private contractor who is specially licensed to transport and/or dispose of the waste.

    Prefectural orders define the measures that must be taken for waste disposal. If these measures are not followed, for example if on-site disposal, use of unauthorised contractors or unlicensed dumping takes place, the industrial producer is held responsible.

    Refractory Ceramic Fibres (R.C.F.). Those manufacturers affected by waste containing R.C.F. (high temperature insulating products), must pay particular attention to its storage and transportation before disposal. The waste must be packaged in hermetically sealed containers to ensure that dust cannot escape. Although waste containing R.C.F. is not considered dangerous under Community law, specific arrangements exist in some countries to protect public health. A « Guide to the use of Refractory Ceramic Fibre (R.C.F.) based products » dated April 1998 has been published by the European Association for the R.C.F. Industry and this outlines the principles and legal requirements for the disposal of waste containing R.C.F..

    3. Air and Noise Pollution Generated by the Ceramics Industry

    Air pollution. In France, laws concerning air pollution and the conservation of energy pursue the objectives of prevention, monitoring, reduction and elimination of polluting emissions. Prefectural orders relating to ICPE regulate polluting emissions into the atmosphere and integrate the requirements of the general regulatory system on air pollution with Community standards relating to atmospheric pollution.

    Particular attention must be paid to R.C.F., as its use could lead to the emission of harmful dust into the atmosphere. In fact, a number of national regulations require the use of R.C.F. in industrial processes to be justified for this reason.

    Noise pollution. Because each industrial site has its own characteristics (geographical location, production volume, etc.), noise pollution is assessed on an individual basis. Clearly the significance of noise pollution varies depending on the local context including the presence of residential areas.

    4. Ceramics and the Environment in Other Countries of the European Union

    Legislation in EU countries requires manufacturers in the ceramics sector to operate detailed systems similar to those applicable in France. A number of examples demonstrate the extent of these environmental obligations, which are particularly demanding on the ceramics industry.

    In Luxembourg, the law relating to « classified facilities » organises the regulation system while the Rules of the Grand Duchy organises the definitions and requirements. Industrialists in the ceramic sector must verify if their activities subject them to certain regulations before undertaking the development of activities in the country.

    Authorisation prior to construction or commencement of production is standard for all member states. For example, in Germany the law relating to water systems, called « Wasserhaushaltzgesetz » (1974), lays down the regulations for the intake and discharging of the industry’s water. In Holland, attempts have been made to extend the range of the system to all industrial establishments. On the other hand, Austria contented itself, with a fragmented system of administrative authorities and authorisations covering various environmental aspects, which does not clarify matters for ceramics manufacturers.

    Lastly, policing and control systems differ depending on the country. In the UK, since the Environment Act of 1995, the spheres of control are divided between the « Environment Agency » and the local authorities.

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