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



Examination of witnesses (Questions 480 - 499)

TUESDAY 14 NOVEMBER 2000

MR JOHN LEA and MR ANDREW GILBERT

  480. Definition: you smash them to pieces.
  (Mr Lea) No, we do not smash them to pieces, whereas a hammer mill pulverisation process does. It then spreads those metals within the waste stream. Certainly wet pulverisation, as it was originally entitled, enables the steady break-down of materials, particularly the organic fraction: the baffles within the drum allow the bags to be opened and attrition takes place waste-on-waste, but not necessarily this demolition of hazardous particles.

  481. How good is the soil which is produced and what is it used for?
  (Mr Lea) We are currently recovering something in the region of 100,000 tonnes of this material a year.

  482. Could you put that in perspective. What percentage of waste is being dealt with in that manner? 5 per cent of Manchester's total waste stream?
  (Mr Lea) We try to put most of the household waste processes through those pulverisation drums, which represents something in the region of 60 per cent at this moment in time. However, we are looking towards more materials going through the drum. From that 60 per cent we are extracting something in the region of 18 to 20 per cent as an organic fraction, which effects the recycling figures, as we calculate them, and turns out at a 14 per cent recycling rate. This material is then used on derelict land to improve the topsoil. It is a soil manufacturing process, which is a soil making material. Because of its basic composition of organic fraction and inert fractions, it enables a substantial development of soils.

  483. Could I ask whether the Environment Agency regulate your process? And how do they do it, if they do?
  (Mr Lea) Certainly, for the last two years, the Agency have been looking at our process to see how it is developing. We see it as a product. Materials arrive from these processes and it is ideally suited for the purpose. There are various academics who have said that it is an actual process which produces a soil resource that is needed on an awful lot of derelict sites.

  484. You have got to accept, with the best will in the world, that some could cause odour, methane emissions, probably leach into the water table.
  (Mr Lea) These things are more of a quality control process.

  485. Exactly. How do you quality control? It is very difficult to get waste streams of identical standards coming in.
  (Mr Lea) We analyse the material as we are processing it and as it leaves our site. We consistently have levels well below soil contamination levels: ICRCL levels and MAFF standards.

  486. So how often does the Environment Agency check what is coming out of your soil? Do they check it daily, weekly, monthly, once a year?
  (Mr Lea) They are constantly looking at the operation of the waste management site and the site we are putting the material over.

  487. How often is that? Do they check the quality of this soil?
  (Mr Lea) Quite frequently.

  488. What is quite frequently?
  (Mr Lea) They turn up on site. They check the details and they take the information.

  489. So it is a haphazard inspection?
  (Mr Lea) There is a regular inspection of our sites but there is a haphazard inspection to ensure we have compliance.

Chairman

  490. Is that inspection by people who live near to the sites? I have seen the stuff going on at Risley and I could not see any problems with it. I understand that you put quite a lot on the site at Droylsdon. The local residents were not happy. They could identify far too many remains of disposable nappies and things like that in the material.
  (Mr Lea) Certainly our process does not allow for materials less than 25 millimetres.

  491. That was not the question I asked you. I asked: what was the perception of the people who lived round the site?
  (Mr Lea) We have had one or two people who have looked at our material on the site and have had an adverse opinion of it. We have constantly kept them fully aware of the processes that this material is going through. We get them involved in a community liaison and we try our best to go out and take exhibitions into the community to show exactly what we are doing. Occasionally, because there is a lack of amenity, on some of these sites, although quite derelict, they are used for taking dogs for a walk and things like that, so whilst you are spreading you are taking that amenity away for a period of time.

Mr Brake

  492. May I ask you to clarify something you said. You said that out of this drum 18 per cent organics, because of the way it was recycled, was calculated at only 14 per cent. Could you explain that.
  (Mr Lea) We recover 18 per cent from the household waste stream. We try our best not to put bulky waste through the processes. The recovery material is within the household collected waste stream. We have 600,000 tonnes roughly going through that process at the moment. We are handling something in the region of 1.4 million tonnes of which possibly 1.1 or 1.2 million tonnes is the denominator in the calculation of recycling targets. You are putting a larger figure below to establish the recycling rate.

  493. Can I ask, in the production of this sort of soil have you had any discussions with the water authorities to see whether their waste could be used in the process?
  (Mr Lea) We have certainly had a number of consultations with a number of bodies, because they see a valuable resource in the material and they feel that combinations of some of their materials and ours could be of beneficial use. We are currently trying to use our material for the beneficial use of the authorities in the area.

  494. As you said before, you invested considerably in this programme, are you happy with the Draft EU Directive on Biological Treatment of Biodegradable Waste products? If that is adopted is that going to be money well spent or money wasted?
  (Mr Lea) I have looked at the document in detail and it seems to concentrate on the composting processes and on the stabilisation of biodegradable waste. The unfortunate thing about stabilisation of biodegradable waste is they put it back to landfill. You have to use a resource once you have stabilised it and approved it. Some of these processes should really highlight opportunity for innovation.

  495. While yours is, perhaps, not landfill it is spreading it out over the land, is it not? In ten years' time are these derelict areas going to finish up 15 feet higher than they are now?
  (Mr Lea) The great problem with these derelict sites is that the topsoil is quite thin. Although trees could grow on them for a short period of time they need a substantial depth of soil to grow for long periods and have a sustainable future, and for that you need topsoil. You either buy that topsoil and use the virgin resources you have at the moment or try and use waste as a resource.

Chairman

  496. The only trouble with that is that several of the sites you are trying to put them on have been reclaimed to a high standard. If you take Jet Amber Playing Fields, that was done very well by Greater Manchester Local Authority, with very good topsoil put on from motor way cut, and you are trying to cover up what was a good reclamation scheme by putting this material in. Does that not suggest you have not got enough places to put it where it is needed?
  (Mr Lea) Obviously the assessment of some of these sites is done by the Forestry Commission, and they assess the topsoils. After they assess them they say that a certain level of soil is required on these sites and we provide that material. However, I appreciate that we do need land to improve throughout the area. There is something like 1,600 hectares of derelict land and former landfill sites in the Mersey Valley area and also the Red Rose Forest area that need improvement, really this material could be used on those sites.

  497. Are you confident that it is not really just a cheap way of doing composting without all the safeguards that other people have to put in for composting?
  (Mr Lea) I would not say it is significantly cheaper, but it is certainly a process for recovering materials direct from the waste stream that is offered to us.

  498. Composting would be much more expensive, if you had to compost this material so that you got a reasonable level of heat in it to kill off bacteria and things like that.
  (Mr Lea) Compost is used to ameliorate soil and improve it. We are talking about replacement soils that need an inert content. It is an important factor in its own right.

  499. There is a fairly substantial organic fraction in this.
  (Mr Lea) It is something like 60 per cent.


 
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