Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 384 - 399)




  384. May I welcome you to the fourth session of this Committee's inquiry into delivering sustainable waste management. May I ask you to introduce yourselves for the record, please.
  (Mr Fielding) My name is Ian Fielding. I work for Hampshire County Council. I am a member of the Policy and Advisory Committee for the National Association of Waste Disposal Officers.
  (Mr Coulter) My name is Patrick Coulter. I am Head of Waste Management for Oxfordshire County Council. I am a member of the National Association of Waste Disposal Officers Strategy Committee.

  385. Thank you very much. Do you want to say anything by way of introduction or are you happy for us to go straight into questions?
  (Mr Fielding) We are happy for you to go straight into questions.

Christine Butler

  386. To what extent do you think the document Waste Strategy 2000 has taken us towards the objective of sustainable waste management?
  (Mr Fielding) First of all, we would generally welcome the document as an attempt to deliver sustainable waste management. As an organisation, perhaps we would question whether sustainable waste management is the right direction to be proceeding in; whether we should be trying instead to look at delivery of sustainable resource management or sustainable consumption.

  387. You have a problem with the word?
  (Mr Fielding) The concept of sustainable waste management implies, to my mind, an end of pipe approach. Waste is a function of the consumption of resources. The problem we face is more to do with consumption of resources rather than generation of waste. There is an argument that suggests that the amount of weight produced could, in fact, be greater rather than less; and the document does strive towards trying to reduce or minimise the amount of waste that we produce. The sustainable resource management approach—ultimately, the amount of waste we handle—could, in fact, be more; provided it was used and managed in a more sustainable way.

  388. Do you think there is a danger of over-ordering incineration capacity nationally?
  (Mr Coulter) I think there are a number of drivers to increase the amount of incineration and make provision for incineration. For a start, even with all the recycling and composting which this Strategy encourages, there is still a great deal of residual waste left to be dealt with. Of the options for dealing with that residual waste at the moment and in the future, the only secure option is incineration. It is the only proven technology apart from composting and recycling. So if, as managers, we have to make secure plans for the service, to ensure the bins are emptied in the future, we do have to go for secure proven technologies. However, because those technologies have long lead times, then it is possible that we will be adopting the worse case scenarios at the moment because we do not have alternatives. The drivers against over-provision are the fact that there is no political support, as far as I can see at the moment, for further incineration. None of the major parties seem to be backing it. Certainly the environmental groups and even the public are very anxious about it, so in a sense that will provide a check on over-provision anyway.

  389. How does what you say fit in with your colleague's statement about resource sufficiency?
  (Mr Coulter) It is a dilemma we face because incineration can be the Best Practical Environmental Option with energy recovery. The difficulty we do face is operating in a political environment, which we have no control over. Therefore, whilst we can make strategies until the cows come home, the delivery of the strategies is difficult. We have to deliver them in a political environment. I think that is the problem we face.

Mr Brake

  390. You said that none of the political parties support incineration but a number of experts have been before us to say that Waste Strategy 2000, the logical outcome of this, is something like 100 new incinerators.
  (Mr Coulter) Yes. There is a dichotomy or a logical break somewhere there because that may be the message of the Strategy. However, it is certainly not what we hear from spokespersons, from different parts of the political spectrum, so there does seem to be a problem there. It does need to be resolved politically. We do feel that there needs to be some form of strong political leadership on this subject.

Christine Butler

  391. But what in your opinion, as experts, are you suggesting as alternatives that could manage resource better?
  (Mr Coulter) At this stage, if we are not able to plan to increase the incineration capacity, because at the moment we feel there is no other technology, we would like to see Government investing in far more large-scale trials of alternative technologies. At the moment, we do not have alternative methods that we can rely on. That is a role for Government: to actively intervene in that and conduct large-scale trials.


  392. Large-scale trials in what?
  (Mr Coulter) In other treatments such as gasification, pyrolysis, small-scale incineration. The resistance to incineration is partly due to the scale of the technology. As it decreases in scale, and if it becomes more modular in its format, then it may gain greater public support.

Christine Butler

  393. Have you done any work on how it might be useful to go in this particular direction? Is that not something which should be fed into the equation?
  (Mr Coulter) I am sorry?

  394. Have you thought in detail what might go to incineration? That is something which could be fed into the equation. What have you found?
  (Mr Coulter) If growth continues at the present rate, take my county of Oxfordshire alone, at the moment we produce 300,000 tonnes of household waste per annum. If growth continues at the present 1, 2, 3 per cent rate, even if we achieve all the targets for recycling and composting by 2010, which is the year of the first Landfill Directive target, we will still have probably almost as much waste as we have at the moment to deal with beyond that. We will have something like 200,000 tonnes of waste to deal with. So, in a sense, the recycling and composting is keeping up with the growth but it is still leaving a great deal of waste to be managed.

  395. That is not what I asked. I asked about the type of material fit for incineration. You did not tell me that. You did not answer any of those points.
  (Mr Coulter) I think I suggested that if we take out the materials which are more suitable for recycling and composting, which are the compostible materials and the paper and cardboard and so on, we are left with the residue which is made up of quite a lot of the waste of paper and cardboard but in a rather contaminated form, and this is hard to recover and hard to recycle. This is part of the fraction which is still quite combustible, which we would say was residual waste but which could be incinerated.

  396. Do you not think that one of the problems of incineration is to do with the residue of heavy metals and dioxin emissions?
  (Mr Fielding) First of all, I would like to clarify that The National Association does not support nor discourage incineration. Incineration, in our view, is inevitable at this stage, given the lack of credible alternatives. The amount of waste that will need to go to incineration will be a function of how successful we are in meeting our recycling objectives and the amount of waste that will be in the waste stream. Given the issues that have been raised about growth, it is inevitable that we will need to process some material in some way. Recycling will not deliver probably more than about 40 to 50 per cent of waste avoidance. We still have to deal with at least about 50 per cent of the waste we currently deal with, and 50 per cent of the waste we will have to deal with in future years. The problem is knowing how much we will have to deal with in future years. The planning horizon to deliver, whether it is incineration or anything else at this stage, is upward of ten years. We have no credible basis on which to make projections in ten years' time as to how much waste we will have to deal with. Your original question about over-ordering incineration capacity is a danger, although I do not necessarily think that it is something which will happen. What is more likely to happen at this stage is that with the lack of knowledge of where we are going in waste growth; with the lack of knowledge and lack of political leadership which we have already referred to; we are more likely to see a stagnation: people not doing anything until some of these unknowns are clearer.

Mr Olner

  397. You mentioned anaerobic digestion, incineration, gasification. Surely all of these things depend on separation of materials you have to get rid of?
  (Mr Fielding) To some degree, yes.

  398. Is it to a large degree or a small degree?
  (Mr Fielding) There are technologies that can deal with segregation to a lesser degree. They are inherently more problematic in the fact that you are then dealing with a more uncontrollable waste stream. Where you are segregating, clearly you have a higher degree of control over the material.

  399. Who should be responsible for that waste collection or waste disposal?
  (Mr Fielding) As things are currently drafted in existing legislation, collection is obviously a responsibility of the collection authority. It is a matter for local determination how waste will be segregated: whether it is at the point of collection or thereafter; how that will be shared between the relevant authorities. How you should do it is a matter for local determination.

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