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

Examination of witnesses (Questions 420 - 439)



  420. So has any authority actually measured, say, one hundred houses and the amount of rubbish which was produced ten years ago, and what has happened in each year since then?
  (Mr Fielding) No.

  Chairman: So, basically, they have not got the information.

Mr Olner

  421. May I ask whether the survey will be done at exactly the same time as you did it last time. Obviously it is very seasonal as to what is in the refuse bin.
  (Mr Fielding) Absolutely. It is very seasonal. It is also affected by other things. Yes, we are aware of that limitation. One of the problems we face is funding that kind of research in future. The project we undertook last year was funded through the Landfill Tax credit system. If we want to repeat that exercise we are subject to the same bidding process.

Mrs Ellman

  422. What is the potential for minimising waste?
  (Mr Fielding) The potential for minimising waste, in terms of a figure, I would not like to put a handle on it. We need to define what we mean by minimising waste. As I said, at the beginning, waste minimisation—if we mean by that reducing the amount of waste that waste disposal and waste collection authorities have to deal with—might not necessarily be sustainable waste or sustainable resource management. What is needed is focusing up-stream at the consumption of resources in production and product design, that can then cascade through the system.

  423. What about the skill of minimisation so far?
  (Mr Fielding) The skill is in the product and design industry. Designing a sustainable product, in sustainable manufacturing, and looking much further up-stream at how you minimise the amount of resources within the products that are cascaded down. Ensuring that those products, which end up in the waste stream, can be dealt with in a more sustainable way. Waste minimisation is something which is very easy to talk about but very difficult to define.

  424. Yet the whole thrust of your evidence is that you put great importance on that. At the beginning of your evidence today you said that you did not accept the position of sustainable waste management as it was presented. You thought we should look into the waste management scheme. If you regard that as so important, surely you must have some idea of what you mean: what could be done and what we should be doing to further it?
  (Mr Coulter) I think it is further in the background. It is really the manufacturing industry. There is something like ten times as much resource going into the production of a product as goes into the consumption and the end part of the product's life. That is what we feel the main thrust of waste reduction should be. That leaves us, as managers, with the need to deal effectively, with what remains as the Strategy says. The Strategy says that there are two elements. Firstly, to reduce the waste we produce; and, secondly, then to make the best and most effective use of that waste which is produced. We see the first element as being more in the sphere of the manufacturing industry, and the second element comes to us when we are actually managing the waste stream itself.

  425. Who should be responsible for minimising the waste?
  (Mr Coulter) I would have thought, in practical terms, that it should be Government and manufacturing industry together who would have that primary responsibility. We can only do so much. In a sense, we should not promise more than we can deliver on this. We can do some education. There is the control of the bin size which does, to some extent, affect what people produce in a limited way, as Ian suggested. However, we do not have much we can deliver there. What we can deliver is managing that waste effectively but it is further up the pipeline where the real changes need to be made.

  426. In your evidence you talk about a "sustainability levy". Who would make that levy? How would you get the revenues?
  (Mr Fielding) I recognise all sorts of problems with implementation but it is an example which we felt was appropriate to make in terms of how to get consumers to make choices that will lead to waste minimisation or to better use of resources. The problem, at the moment, is that to incentivise a consumer is extremely difficult. They are faced with a lot of choices. If you walk round a supermarket the choices are between maybe bad sustainability products, better ones, and good ones. There are also a whole host of price variations associated with that. The suggestion was that a sustainability levy could go some way to addressing those price balances and bring each individual consumer choice down to a very, very limited number of options. To make choices now, you can make choices on high sustainable grounds but it is very, very difficult. You need to know a lot about the product; its manufacture. You need to rely on information you are given at the point of sale. You are not always confident that you are making the right choice anyway.

Mr Brake

  427. No-one wants an incinerator, waste recycling plant, tip, at the bottom of their garden. How can the planning process change to enable these decisions to be taken more swiftly, or should it change to enable the decision to be taken more swiftly?
  (Mr Coulter) We live in a democracy based on consensus, so even stream-lining planning permission, if there is not a consensus in the population it is not going to be effective because it is not part of that consensus process. What practically can be done is that if there are appeals, they can be dealt with speedily by the Civil Service or the Minister and decisions taken. The appeals themselves will build up a sense of how the Government sees the decision. If the Government does want to support, for example, incineration, it can support it by supporting the appeals which would come to it. You can have a mechanism but it will still need a public consensus for what you are doing.
  (Mr Fielding) Decisions need to be fitted into a framework. What would be useful would be to establish that framework at national level. Have guidance perhaps on the production of statutory land use plans; maybe to make them, for instance, site specific. There is no requirement to do that, at the moment. This means that an application for an incinerator, if it is not based on a specific site, land use planning is complicated. There is an argument for greater leadership in terms of the technologies to be used. For instance, to know that the technology being promoted fits into a national framework would be very useful. Government could identify a notional minimum level of capacity of certain technologies that need not go beyond reasonable grounds, but could be 40 per cent of the residual waste after recycling targets have been met. That would then send a very clear message to say that there is support for that kind of technology, which would help speed up the planning process enormously.

  428. Presumably, Mr Coulter, it would be preferable to have the guidance now as opposed to relying on a series of appeals to establish where the Government is going?
  (Mr Coulter) Yes, it would. Inevitably there will be appeals, and inevitably they will have to be determined. It does take quite a while to take them through the process. There is also the issue of scale. I come back to that. It may be that development of smaller scale decentralised technologies would be more acceptable. This is because we do have the boundary issue, which is that people may be willing to accept dealing with their own local waste, they may accept facilities specific to that, but they may be reluctant to have larger facilities to take waste from other places because it is not their waste. So the technology may help to speed up the planning process.

  429. In your evidence you have said that one of the solutions might be for the decisions on incinerators to be taken at a regional level to remove the potential for local sensitivities: to override issues of the common good. That sounds as though local communities are going to have no say in what happens in their own backyard.
  (Mr Fielding) That certainly would not be the impression which we would wish to give. It is an option or an alternative that is proposed. The overriding constraint must be for local determination and the involvement of the community in establishing its own solutions to the problem. Regional approach may be appropriate for certain issues and not for others. There is perhaps a long way to go to determine that.

  430. Do you think there is any mileage in trying a shadow plan for the incineration facility? In other words, put in place everything that is necessary should that incineration plant be needed, so that it can happen quickly?
  (Mr Fielding) There would seem to be advantages in that process but on reflection—this is something we have debated internally—it does present its own unique set of problems. The overriding difficulty I would grapple with is how that would receive or not receive public support. The public needs certainty. They need to know where they are going; what is going to be delivered. A shadow type plan, for instance, for an incinerator that might be needed in certain criteria, might be perceived publicly as an easy option out.


  431. It would be shadow blight, would it not?
  (Mr Fielding) It could be.

Mr Brake

  432. So you do not see shadow plans as being a sensible route to go down?
  (Mr Fielding) Depending on the detail it would need a lot of thinking about. Personally, just from a very preliminary discussion we had earlier in preparation for this, our view at this stage—it is not more than that because it has not been debated within the organisation—I would not necessarily support that.

Mr Blunt

  433. How effective is the WISARD tool in establishing what is the Best Practical Environmental Option?
  (Mr Coulter) We welcome this because it is a consistent methodology, so at least we are talking about the same methodology right across the country for the Strategy delivery. Clearly it can only go so far. It is very often the assumptions underlying that, where you draw the boundaries of the system. There will always be debate about that. At least it represents a single consistent methodology so we welcome that. We would like to see it used.

  434. A sort of black box into which the decisions go and it spits the answer out. If you do not understand—as most of the public will not—the sensitivity analysis of all the factors involved, it is going to be completely impenetrable to the public, is it not?
  (Mr Coulter) It could be. We have used the system. It is relatively transparent actually, but you are quite right, it will need to be interpreted. It will need experts input. It will not get away from the need to talk to the public about the political issues really. It is not going to solve that. It is just a tool which will help. At least we will not be faced with half a dozen different methodologies, with people trying to assess the different options.

  435. You would strongly recommend that it should not be relied upon as producing the answer in any shape or form? It is merely one of the guides.
  (Mr Coulter) It is just one of the guides. I honestly do not think that the professionals see it as more than that actually.

  Mr Brake: Thank you.

Mr Olner

  436. Do you think there should be a standard approach to charging for garden waste collection and deliveries to civic amenity sites?
  (Mr Fielding) I think there should be—whether it is a national or a local standard, I do not know—but there should be some standardisation in terms of green waste management and integration of the way it is dealt with. One of the dangers we face from the recent recycling and composting targets is an increased divisiveness in their nature. That collection authorities are likely to lean towards the collection of green waste in order to meet their targets, without having regard to the integration of that within the rest of the waste management policy.

  437. Should the charge remain?
  (Mr Fielding) They may charge. Some charge, some do not. Some have different collection policies as to whether that is acceptable in the residual container. There is then the whole issue about centralisation through CA sites. The fact that we are not, as disposal authorities, allowed to make any charge, despite there being a high collection type cost. The collection authorities are able to charge. That needs addressing.

Mr Brake

  438. Is there not a problem with green waste collections in that what they actually do is to take waste that people were previously composting at home, and they put it into the waste stream with all the transport problems that are associated with it?
  (Mr Coulter) Yes, absolutely.
  (Mr Fielding) There is evidence of that.

Mr Olner

  439. Does your Association talk to industry and commerce about their waste generation?
  (Mr Fielding) We have some links. We do not have the strong links we would like to have. This is partly because we are a relatively new organisation but we are striving to increase our links and that is one we want to increase.

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