Examination of witnesses (Questions 400
TUESDAY 14 NOVEMBER 2000
FIELDING and MR
400. What about the divided function of financial
responsibilities between waste collection and waste disposal?
Could you just detail or list the main problems in the present
(Mr Coulter) The delivery of an integrated strategy
requires them to work together. To some extent that is happening
now. But there are a number of obstacles which we feel should
be removed if possible. One of the obstacles is the legislation
itself, which is the Environmental Protection Act 1990. There
are very clear distinctions between the roles of collection and
disposal authorities. For historical reasons we understand that
but we feel it needs to be reviewed really. There is the question
of the separate funding where we have to operate in compartments.
We would like to see the money flowing more freely between disposal
and collection authorities. At the moment, that is not easy. The
SSA is directed separately to each authority. Perhaps there is
some role for some form of SSA funding directly for waste management.
We would like to see more of a unified approach in terms of the
structure of how we work together. Things like joint boards and
so on. We would really like to encourage that. Also, the abolition
of recycling credits because we feel recycling credits came from
a different time. They had their use but, at the moment, they
are not a help towards the integrated funding.
401. How then would you suggest we alter or
amend current legislation, bearing in mind what you have just
(Mr Coulter) I think it needs to be recognised that
the distinctions which existed some years ago are, in a sense,
no longer fruitful.
402. They are not working?
(Mr Coulter) We are working round them but they are
not working. They are not contributing.
403. They are not working. They are not going
towards the main objective that we have before us today?
(Mr Coulter) Yes.
404. Could you say a little about the joint
board and the idea of having waste collection and disposal together
on that. If we did have such a board, how might that engage with
the private sector?
(Mr Fielding) I will do my best. There is, of course,
no hard and fast model for this at this stage. A lot of work is
going on at an early stage throughout the country. The feeling
is that the current legislation is, in some cases, divisive and
various mechanisms have been outlined. What is needed is a mechanism,
through review of legislation or new legislation or powers, which
enables more sharing of power in decision making. Decision making
is often carried out now in boxes. We need to be able to make
those decisions together.
405. How might that board engage with the private
sector in terms of better contracting?
(Mr Fielding) Ultimately, in the longer term, I can
see a case for saying that we will be talking possibly about a
unified authoritynot unitary authority but almost a waste
management authority. It does not necessarily need to go to that
extreme to begin with, to deliver some benefits through joint
co-operation, joint working, at a board level. There are existing
provisions within existing legislation to enable authorities to
delegate powers and responsibilities to joint bodies. That would
be a useful model to try and get all that running and see how
it would work in practice. That is the problem. It is this compartmentalisation,
lack of unified decision making.
406. Mr Coulter, earlier you said the figure
of 3 per cent growth in domestic refuse. Do you actually believe
(Mr Coulter) Just personally in our authority alone
we keep very accurate records. We weigh all waste throughout every
year. We have been doing that for a long time. The figures we
are getting, at the moment, it was 2 and a half per cent last
year. We would say that it is an accurate figure for us. The figures
from colleagues in other local authorities are somewhat higher
or lower than us. But, at the moment, we would say that is fairly
407. So over a six-year period, at that rate
of growth, you are talking about an almost 20 per cent increase?
(Mr Coulter) Yes. The difficulty is that the environment
is very unstable, so it is difficult to project forward. With
other initiatives like producer responsibility and so on being
thrown into this situation, it is difficult to know what impact
that will have. But we have to project on the best we can.
408. So in terms of the calculation, what have
you taken into account as far as commercial disposal of waste:
transferring that waste to the calculation that you are using
for domestic waste?
(Mr Coulter) So leakage into the system really?
(Mr Coulter) There is evidence that due to the cost
of Landfill Taxthat householders, where they might have
had commercial waste in the past from large DIY projects, take
that through our civic amenity route, so waste is coming in that
410. You do not have any estimate as to what
that figure is?
(Mr Coulter) I have not. Have you, Ian?
(Mr Fielding) No. We have attempted in our authority
to isolate those figures. It is incredibly difficult, if not impossible.
Over the last five years we have very, very accurate data. We
know exactly how much waste we have dealt with and how much it
has grown in that time. We are round about the 3 per cent in our
authority. The Landfill Tax has clearly had an impact. We have
seen significant 20 per cent increases at recycling centres, amenity
sites. This is not necessarily illegal or improper disposal of
waste. It is as a result of people wanting to find a cheaper way
of getting rid of their waste. In the past they would have hired
a skip or made other arrangements. They are now hiring lorries
to bring material in because it is cheaper and more cost effective
to do that. Current legislation requires us to take that material
unless we can prohibit it on the grounds of health and safety
or similar provisions, but basically we have to take the material.
We do not yet know, because of the relatively small amount of
data we have, what impact weather has on all of this. We know
that September of this year was a very low month for us. That
may be coincidence, because of the fuel crisis, I do not know.
There are major influences over which we have no control. We do
not know yet the exact level of that impact. All that concludes,
in my mind, is that there is absolutely no statistical basis for
making forward projections beyond a very, very short time periodcertainly,
I would argue, not to 2010 or beyond. So the questions of: how
much do we deal with now? How much we deal with now and how much
we deal with in the future? are fundamentally not known.
411. Have you taken into this calculation the
needs of your authority? If your authority provides, say, wheelie
bins, you are growing your waste by almost 20 per cent over six
years, and you are going to find that your wheelie bins are not
big enough because you are going to have an immense amount. Will
that not be a difficulty, a problem?
(Mr Fielding) Yes.
412. So what are you taking into account?
(Mr Fielding) This is the point. There are often allegations
that wheelie bins will increase the amount of waste collected
and, therefore, they are bad. I do not necessarily believe there
is any empirical evidence to suggest that the mere provision of
a waste container will alter purchasing and consumption habits,
which is the inference of that statement to do with wheelie bins.
There is an issueand I would agree with the disposal of
green garden waste. That is the one area where waste disposal
authorities and collection authorities can make a very significant
impact on the amount of waste we are collecting, arising from
our policies. However, I do not believe that we can have a significant
impact on consumer choices and purchasing behaviour through the
provision of a waste container.
413. There are so many imponderables that you
have to put up with, that to plan is almost impossible, is it
(Mr Coulter) It is very difficult, that is right,
because we have to deliver a service. As I have said, we have
to make sure that the bins are emptied every day. That is critical,
yet we are operating in an environment which is very, very fluid;
which, as Ian, my colleague said, is consumer driven. The fashion
for doing your garden over has led to a great increase in waste.
The use of disposable nappies is now 4 per cent of the waste stream.
So it is about consumer choices and fashion. We have to deal with
what comes out of that.
414. Fundamentally, you do not have any decent
statistics, do you? I do not think any local authority has been
doing a survey from a selection of households of how much waste
they are producing. All you are doing is measuring the amount
that comes in from the bin round and from the civic amenity sites.
(Mr Fielding) I would question that. We do have some
very, very good statistics. What we do not have are good statistics
over a length of time, which would enable us to interpret what
a base line figure would be. That will come with time. What really
messes up the system is other interventions, such as we have seen
with the Landfill Tax. It makes trying to measure the base line
415. No-one in the country is doing a survey
of a selection of houses to see how much rubbish is coming out
of those houses?
(Mr Fielding) No.
416. All you have is the amount you collect
in, which is then weighed.
(Mr Fielding) On the contrary. In my own authorityand
I know this has been replicated in other authoritieswe
have spent some considerable time on this.
417. You cannot do that accurately. If people
are taking waste to their communal areas or are dumping it in
skips, you do not need to be a rocket scientist to work out that
some of this is waste that should be commercial waste.
(Mr Fielding) That is an interesting statement because
what should or should not be commercial waste needs clarification.
As a local authority we spend a lot of time trying to determine
what waste should be or should not be commercial waste.
418. If you do not have a definition as to what
is or is not commercial waste, are any of your calculations of
any use to anyone then?
(Mr Fielding) Our calculations are very useful, based
on our policies. The difference is in interpretation around the
country, for instance, as to how you apply a policy to collection
of waste from housing associations or schools. There are a number
of such examples. They have come up with a long list of these.
The difficulty is that this interpretation does tend to vary.
The definition of what is commercial waste and what is not commercial
waste is subject to local interpretation. Again, from my own local
authority's perspective, we can map that out. Whether or not we
change our policy, we will know what is happening with our waste
stream. We do that in quite a lot of detail. We have attempted
to identify, for instance, any ACORN classification variations.
We have gone into that kind of detail. The problem is: how do
we make projections? We have good information but I do not think
we have the basis for a projection. This does come back to the
fundamental question again, in my mind, as to whether or not it
is appropriate to adopt a "predict and provide" approach
to waste facilities in future, when that same approach is being
discredited in other fields.
419. You have just said that there are some
households in your authority where you have been measuring, over
a consistent period, the amount of waste arising. What is the
percentage increase for those selected households?
(Mr Fielding) I am sorry, if I gave that impression
this was not my intention. We have not measured over a period.
The first attempt to do that was last year. We now have to revisit
that. We have to do exactly what you are saying and understand
how that changes over time and what the influences are on that.