Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1043
TUESDAY 12 DECEMBER 2000
1043. May I welcome you to the final session
of the Committee's inquiry into sustainable waste management.
Could I ask you to identify yourselves for the record, please.
(Mr Cocker) I am Vic Cocker. I am Chairman of WRAP.
(Mr Georgeson) I am Ray Georgeson, Executive Director
of Waste Watch.
(Mr Dougherty) My name is David Dougherty.
I am adviser to WRAP.
1044. Do any of you want to say anything by
way of introduction or are you happy for us to go into questions?
(Mr Cocker) I would say that we would be happy to
go to questions. I would just make the point that Ray Georgeson
here will be joining WRAP as its first Policy Director on 1 January;
and David Dougherty has a great experience of working on recycling
projects, particularly with the Clean Washington, project and
internationally, and is our adviser. So there may be occasions
on which I would encourage you to listen to what they have to
say as well.
Chairman: We had originally hoped that Ray might
say some fairly critical things of you but I understand that he
will not now. So if we go to questions. Could I emphasise that
if you agree with each other, just one of you say it. John Cummings.
1045. The Committee has received evidence, which
indicates that one of the biggest problems faced by local authorities
in reaching their statutory targets, is finding markets for recycled
materials. Do you think that the situation in respect of markets
for recycled targets, is that achievement of the Government's
recycling targets likely to lead to gluts in world markets?
(Mr Cocker) I think there are clearly some problems
with the markets side. Indeed, that is one of the prime focuses
of WRAP's attention. There is no doubt that where we get price
fluctuationsand they are severe in some markets, particularly
paper and PETthat these can have a destabilising effect.
It can discourage long-term investment. So, yes, we believe that
markets are a problem at present, which is one of the prime reasons
why WRAP was established, to help to develop new markets. There
is no doubt that where markets are fairly thin, that this on occasions
can lead to destabilisation of prices. That, in itself, can lead,
particularly in the cases of markets for paper and PET, to problems
of lack of long-term investment and the smaller recyclers being
financially exposed. There are three generic ways in which we
can go about trying to deal with that issue of price fluctuation,
one of which is to investigate the practicability of hedge mechanisms,
which we certainly intend to do, and which has been done successfully
in some markets in the United States. We can look in detail at
obstacles to supply enhancement, and particularly an approach
which involves more long-term contracts between various players
in the supply chain; or we can seek to strengthen the demand for
recycled materials. We think there are ways in which we can go
about this and make good progress initially, and then in the long
term develop new markets. So, yes, we think there is a problem
and, yes, there are ways in which we can go about tackling it.
1046. How would you go about tackling it?
(Mr Cocker) In terms of the overall problem of demand,
the first thing to do is to try and create confidence in recycled
materials and products by developing a products standards programme,
so that there is more confidence in the standard of the products.
As I said, to shift the perception of recycled products and materials,
working with exemplar companiesand there are certainly
some out thereand demonstrating how they have managed significantly
to increase their use of recycled materials. To try and remove
barriers in standards and products specifications where they exist.
This is because sometimes those specifications demand the use
of virgin materials and it is not always really required. Finally,
and this is an area on which I might encourage you to invite David
Dougherty to offer a view, to identify and promote new areas for
recyclables. There are certainly some areas in the United Kingdom
where our markets and demands are relatively undeveloped compared
to those, say, of the United States of America.
1047. Are you saying this would lead towards
a situation where we can counteract price fluctuations?
(Mr Cocker) If we can broaden and strengthen demand
it should certainly help. We have to recognise that some of these
demand fluctuations take place on a global basis.
1048. Have you any practical examples you can
give to the Committee where this can be achieved?
(Mr Cocker) This is where I would like to ask David.
Chairman: I think this is where we go on to
1049. Do you think, Mr Dougherty, given the
basis of your experience, that experience in market development
gained elsewhere in the world will be replicable here in the United
Kingdom, and what difficulties might there be? Perhaps you can
introduce that by saying exactly what the success stories are,
since you were working in Washington, and it is obviously applicable
(Mr Dougherty) In 1989, when we began at the Clean
Washington Center, there was not a lot of alternative uses for
these materials; and we recognised the need to understand the
intrinsic and generic value in recycled materials and put these
into new applications. We had significant success in doing that.
The degree to which this is applicable here, much of the information
we have is the knowledge of how these materials perform in different
applications and the technologies to accomplish that. That is
fairly universal. The economics as to whether it will happen in
your market place here is a very different equation, and so it
is really the dynamics of the local market which will dictate
which materials and which technologies can be successful here,
replicated from successful projects in other parts of the world.
1050. But if you are seeking to establish markets
here, where they do not exist now, they may need some bump-starting,
obviously with the assistance of WRAP. Could you give some examples
of how one might go about establishing these markets in the recycled
(Mr Dougherty) That is a matter of understanding the
higher value uses of some of these materials. If I can give some
existing examples, as you have asked. Glass seems to be a significant
problem in the United Kingdom. It was a significant problem for
us. We were collecting twice as much glass as we could put in
the furnace. We developed alternative applications for glass,
using it as an industrial abrasive instead of silica or copper
slag. Silica in industrial abrasives causes silicosis of the lungs,
and glass will not, and it will perform as good if not better
as some substrates. It is an excellent filtration medium for water.
It has greater uniformities so you get greater through-put of
the water. Glass when processed has a negative ion on the surface,
so it moves with 25 per cent greater turgidity than silica filtration
processes. Therefore, it is when these applications perform equal
or better to another material in the market place, that you begin
to move these products. Similarly, products for plastic. Although
your PET is soluble, in the United States the major market for
that is carpeting. Right now, in the United States, the carpet
industry cannot get enough PET to put into carpeting. It is also
used in fleece-lined jackets or other products because that part
can be spun again. Other resins, such as high density, can be
compounded with urban wood waste to make a wood power building
product such as door frames, window sills that are of high quality.
So there is a lot of applications out there. It is a matter of
identifying those and discovering new applications which have
not been discovered yet; and trying to work with your industries
over here in the United Kingdom to try and get these products
1051. In the United States, how did you get
the industries there to take an interest in these things? Did
it involve cost form? Savings form? How did you get them interested
in order to create the markets for these things?
(Mr Dougherty) In all cases we had to understand the
issues of the business and show them that it was to their advantage
to use these materials. We had no law that required that they
had to use these firms. We had no law that anyone had to recycle.
We had no law that said a certain amount of a product had to be
of a recycled content. We worked to find a natural value-added
home for these materials, and worked with the industry to move
this recycled material into that industry. Typically, it was not
the industries that produced the materialssay, the glass
industry's responsibility to take glass over to the industrial
abrasive industry; the filtration industry, to move that product
in. So we performed that role as the catalyst to move the material
into new product applications. So even working with main factors
of plastic products, say industrial containers, we would work
with them to re-define the level of recycled plastic they could
use; for example, from 20 per cent to 80 per cent. When the price
of recycled plastic was high they would use little or none, and
when it was low they would use 80 per cent. So we always worked
with them to make sure that it was to their financial advantage.
They used the marginal swings on the prices to their advantage
in being competitive in the market place.
1052. Were there particular waste streams that
you were not able to create a market for? Where you tried and
(Mr Dougherty) We focused primarily on the glass,
plastic, wood waste. Tyres, we were probably ahead of our time
in tyres and were having a difficult time developing markets for
tyres. The United States Government did come out with a proposal
that 15 per cent of all of their roads receiving Federal Highway
Administration funding had to be made of rubberised asphalt, which
means a blend of crumb rubber into the surface asphalt.
1053. Did it make the roads quieter?
(Mr Dougherty) Much quieter. We performed the tests
but we found that the roads did not hold up very well and so we
encouraged the Federal Government not to go forward with that
policy. Since that time there has been much advancement made by
the states of California, Arizona and Florida on the use of rubberised
asphalt. They are now using most of their tyres in asphalt roads
and the roads last longer, they do not oxidise, they are superior
roads, they are much quieter, but at the time we were working
on tyres we did not have the answers.
1054. Mr Cocker, what level of investment in
recycling facilities is really needed, and over what timescale,
for the Government's recycling targets to be met?
(Mr Cocker) I think really I ought to explain about
the process that we intend to use. We are going to take each major
waste stream and put together a business plan, which we intend
to publish at the end of April. A part of that planning process
will be to identify for each of the major waste streams the scale
of demand, the scale of recycling, and the scale of the investment
needed to produce the required result. I cannot give you this
right now because, as you probably appreciate, we are an organisation
that is only in embryo form, but our target is to have something
in place by 1 April of next year, which will be in our business
1055. So could you name the principal reasons
why it is not working at present and what is inhibiting this kind
(Mr Cocker) In part, we identified through Mr Cummings'
question that part of the problem to do with the fluctuation in
prices, but part of the problem as well is the lack of demand.
So what we have to doand this is going to be part of the
business planis see how can we increase the level of demand
for these recycled products: partly by identifying the people
in industry who are already making significant use of recycled
products, and using them as exemplars, and improving the standards
1056. Do you envisage working principally with
the independent financial sector in supporting some of these aims
with industry? Are you placing more reliance on Government funding?
(Mr Cocker) Clearly there can be no investment without
some sort of cash flow. If we can create new demands, then the
cash flow comes from those demands or increased demands for existing
recyclables, in which case that is private sector funding. However,
to the extent to which we need better separation of the waste
products, (and this is coming from the municipal sector), then
clearly part of that investment or funding for it is going to
have to come through that route one way or another, even though
it might be provided by private collection firms.
1057. How do you rate the efforts so far of
Government to that end?
(Mr Cocker) I think one would have to say that we
have an extremely efficient local government waste collection
scheme, in terms of the cost of it, to the people who live in
the local authority areas. They are getting most of their waste
taken away for 50 pence a week per household, which says a lot
for the procurement methods of local government. What we have
to do is to convince people of the need for the recycling targets.
They have to understand about the commitment to this and the investment
then has to follow.
1058. Do you think that Government centrally
should be putting more money into that side of the equation: separation
at a local or district level in the collecting authorities?
(Mr Cocker) That is a political question. Where the
money comes from is not particularly a view I have.
1059. Is WRAP's plan to carry out strategic
research and development not fulfilling a role which might be
done better by a Government Agency, say the Environment Agency
or the DETR itself?
(Mr Cocker) You say, WRAP?