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



Examination of witnesses (Questions 560 - 579)

TUESDAY 14 NOVEMBER 2000

MR PETER TOOMBS, MR BOB LISNEY, MR MARTIN EASTEAL and MR DAVID TUTHILL

  560. You have been set a national target of 33 per cent, what have you planned for? Are you planning for 33 per cent target or have you already conceded that is not achievable and go on for something lower or are you going for something higher?
  (Mr Tuthill) We are in discussion with the districts, as you have heard, and we have been since 1994 trying to find an agreed way forward. We do see the need to accelerate that process and bring matters to a conclusion in the next year or so in order that whatever replaces the existing contractual arrangements stands a chance of being there on the ground when the current arrangements expire. It is necessary for the districts to implement kerb-side separation, not only of dry recyclables but also of organics, if we are to stand any chance of getting to these challenging recycling levels that have been set for us by the Government. As we outlined, the infrastructure at the kerb-side and the revenue costs to run those schemes and, indeed, the capital costs of the processing plants have to be found from somewhere. Unless that investment comes forward I do not think that we are going to achieve these high recycling levels.

  561. Can I ask why your authorities have problems finding those financial resources when the London Borough of Sutton has already got that scheme up and running, it is rolling out the programme at the moment?
  (Mr Tuthill) I can only answer the question in this way, as a waste disposal authority, Essex's budget for waste management has gone from £7 million in 1993, when I first came on to the scene, currently to £22 million. We see that it will finish up in excess of £30 million and that has to be found from an Essex County Council cake, which the politicians advise in real terms is not getting any larger. We have made massive investment. We have improved the civic amenity service. We are doing much by way of education. We have the largest home composting scheme in the country, where we issue subsidised composters. We have made moves but more needs to be done.

  562. Can I ask the LGA, you just heard the problems that there are in Essex in terms of meeting targets and the problems with resourcing, this is a general issue across all local authorities in the country. Yes or no?
  (Mr Toombs) It varies from authority to authority. You have pointed out the high levels of the London Borough of Sutton, equally there are many other good examples in the best value performance indicators in the appendix (to the recent DETR consultation document in Best Value Performance Indicators for 2001/02. The situation does vary, as you will see from those figures, from virtually zero to about 30 per cent or so in certain authorities. Therefore, the difficulties faced will vary from area to area.

  563. Is this not really down to a political will? If the local authority decide this is going to be a priority, they can achieve significant recycling rates. If they choose not to, they achieve zero.
  (Mr Toombs) It is down to local choice, taking account of local circumstances and the demands of other service areas.
  (Mr Lisney) If I might add to that, one of the issues is that the changes around the country are very different. In Hampshire we have the same systems that might apply in Sutton and will be in Essex, and so on. The difference in collection rate varies from five per cent at kerb-side to 33 per cent. That is quite substantial for basically the same system. We have been doing a lot of research on attitudes and where people live and work, and so on, and you get information on the targets up and down the country. These things vary. The issues are that lots of authorities are trying to work together to do their managing and get this information to know what is best for their area. They have to do that, knowing their communities and engaging their communities and that takes a lot of time. They also have to determine the best practical environmental option. That is also an area of difficulty because of the various solutions that are available to communities these days and the cash then follows that.

  564. The way of cutting through all of those deliberations is to provide some incentives for local authorities to meet the targets or to provide some penalties if they do not.
  (Mr Lisney) One of the issues is if we were able to charge. Certainly behaviourial changes come about substantially if people are charged more directly and see more directly the price they have to pay.

  565. Would you like to charge people for domestic waste collection?
  (Mr Lisney) It is not the sole solution, however that has changed behaviour very quickly in areas in Europe and abroad, in Canada and the US, where that has been brought in in a very short period of time. I am not saying that is necessarily a solution that is acceptable and/or deliverable in the United Kingdom.
  (Mr Tuthill) I can add to the comment I made on funding. In the first five months of this year we experienced an 8.5 per cent increase in waste, despite an extensive home composting campaign, that is despite a fairly extensive education campaign going on in Essex. That means there is another one million which has to be found halfway through the year.

Chairman

  566. Are you saying that in Essex the build-up of waste makes an incinerator practical?
  (Mr Tuthill) I would hardly look at it in that way.

Mrs Ellman

  567. What effect has the landfill tax on local authorities?
  (Mr Tuthill) It is costing Essex £9 million a year. In terms of what we are getting back into better waste management in Essex it is a minute fraction of that through various environmental trusts, as a local authority we are a net loser. One thing it has done, of course, is to increase the recycling credit which we pay to the districts, so there is an additional sum of money that has gone to support district recycling. There is also evidence that material prices have been reduced as a consequence, so district councils, in particular, are really no better off with the funding for their recycling.
  (Mr Toombs) Can I just add to that? It is fair to say, in general, so far the landfill tax has not brought a lot of benefits to local authorities from a waste management perspective, although we agree with the sentiment of the landfill tax. What it has done is it has drained significant resources away from other service areas. What we feel is that if this is a genuine environmental tax those monies should be going back into alternative forms of sustainable waste management. It concerns us that of the 20 per cent that can be raised from the tax credit scheme only a fairly small percentage goes directly in respect of recycling. It certainly cannot go into the immediate benefit of local authorities themselves, which is something that we would like to see changed, and we said in our evidence to you earlier. Secondly, if it is a genuine environmental tax why is only 20 per cent returned to waste management? We feel a much higher sum should be coming back. If it did it could overcome a lot of the infrastructure problems we anticipate.

  568. How would you like to change the way the landfill tax credit scheme works?
  (Mr Toombs) These are the two things essentially, to see some means of directing the monies to assist local authorities for improving the recycling infrastructure and such like. Secondly, to see a greater percentage of the tax being available for the credit scheme.
  (Mr Easteal) It has been very slow to filter through in Essex, and I am sure elsewhere as well, that is despite the fact that the main environmental trust has a good record and is certainly helping us on the high diversion trials we spoke of. If a lot of this is to do with transitional costs to make this step-change, which is the point I am trying to argue at my end of the table then, surely, there should be a major source of money to enable us to make this step-change. I think it is unfortunate that more money is not directly available to these trusts to help us make this step-change.

Mr Benn

  569. Are the packaging regulations working?
  (Mr Lisney) I think from the local government perspective the answer is that in some areas some authorities have been able to derive some benefit by working with packaging obligators. In the majority of cases the local Government have not found this a substantial benefit of that particular system.

  570. Why not?
  (Mr Lisney) Mainly because the obligations can be met from most of the industry sectors without the requirement for material from the domestic waste stream, and because that material at the moment is collected and probably all sorted and is a lower quality. In future those obligations will require more material from the domestic waste stream and there might be more meaningful dialogue between mutual sectors.

  571. How would you like to change the current position to help you in the job you are doing?
  (Mr Lisney) The situation is changing with different Directives coming from Europe. There is a lot more focus on eco-design for recovery and take-back schemes, which will include local government collection systems. By the time that feeds in hopefully the United Kingdom will have systems in place and there will be greater synergies. There is a difference between the local government system of budgets and financing and the private sector. We have to find the means to link those two and we do not have that at all yet.

  572. In principle you strongly support those Directives that are on their way from Europe. You will have heard from the questions this morning there is quite a bit of debate about the extent to which the increase in the waste stream of 3 per cent is a "real increase" as opposed to—you were referring to a larger figure as far as you own authority is concerned—the diversion of other waste disposing in the past and to what is part of the municipal waste stream. Do you have a view on where the truth actually lies?
  (Mr Tuthill) I think an increasing affluence, certainly in Essex, the increasing population and smaller numbers of persons per household all contribute to additional waste. Indeed, as we go to higher recycling activities inevitably wheelie bins are introduced. There is plenty of evidence around the country to suggest that wheelie bins actually generate waste.

Chairman

  573. It grows inside them.
  (Mr Tuthill) I think it grows in people's gardens and finds its way into the bin, whereas in a black sack system the soil and garden waste generally gets left in the corner of property, not with a strong wheelie bin. Indeed in Essex our own statistics say there is something like 15 per cent extra waste in those districts that have wheelie bins.

  574. Could we have smaller wheelie bins?
  (Mr Easteal) We are one of those councils which, for no doubt good reasons at the time, decided to introduce wheelie bins some years ago. They are greatly loved, for reasons you are very aware of. When we go to a bi-weekly collection then we shall reduce the scale of wheelie bins for each of those.

Mr Benn

  575. Domestic separated collection is one approach that can lead to progress, can I ask in relation to amenity sites in Essex, what proportion of the waste that arrives there is recycled and what is the potential to increase that?
  (Mr Tuthill) We introduced new contracts 18 months ago with various incentives for the contractors to perform in the way we wanted them to. That had the result of increasing the recycling rate from 19 per cent, as it was under the old contract, to 43 per cent last year. We are now on 58 per cent. We have a best and worst performance, 70 per cent best and about 48 per cent worst. All green waste that comes into the sites gets recycled. What we are left with is the people that cannot be persuaded to recycle their waste that insist on dumping it in the first container they find, despite an army of people employed on the site to encourage people to separate their waste. Of course there are some wastes which are a mixture of materials which are not cost-effective for the contractor to temporarily recycle.

  576. Do you think there is any potential for saying to people, "You can dump it in this first available bin here but it will cost you, but if you assist the people working here to put it in these other bins and to separate it out then it will not"? We talked earlier about the extent to which fiscal incentives might make a difference. At a civic amenity site you have the advantage that people are choosing to go there to get rid of their waste.
  (Mr Tuthill) We are in process of designing a civic amenity site as one of the high diversion trials in Essex, where we are going to make it very easy for people to separate materials for recycling. If they insist on putting waste in a waste container then they are going to have to look for it at the far end of the site and climb the steps. We are making it easy for recycling. Charges would have a similar effect.

Chairman

  577. Is that not discriminating against people who are physically less robust?
  (Mr Tuthill) No, because in all of our sites we offer a service where if the elderly and disabled request assistance, assistance will be given.

Mr Benn

  578. Those recycling rates you described for Essex, can I ask your colleagues, the LGA, how do they compare with the local authorities generally?
  (Mr Lisney) They are probably higher. In Hampshire we are about the same level. It does require good leadership in the contract management. Around the country I think you will see different levels. There are some very good practices, the average would be about 15 per cent or 20 per cent.

  579. In other words, in view of what we have been told there is considerable potential for a big improvement as far as recycling is concerned?
  (Mr Lisney) In terms of the overall recovery, the CA sites, whatever they are called around the country, can provide as much, if not more, than recovery from kerb-side collection systems because they are very effective. Generally construction waste, green waste is heavier stuff. They are very, very pivotal to the massive amount of recovery. One of the areas that we have been talking about is making them more available to the small and medium sized companies in order to recover material which we need from that sector as well.


 
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