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

Examination of witnesses (Questions 1260 - 1280)



  1260. Before Sue Ellis comes in, can you deal with the other point at the same time because it is a departmental process. What has happened to the draft changes to the waste management licensing regulation put forward by the Environment Agency over a year ago?
  (Mrs Ellis) We are still looking at the details of changes to the exemptions. They will be going to ministers to look at shortly. I hesitate to use that word again. The intention is to get the consultation paper out.

  1261. Tell us when they are going to ministers?
  (Ms Ellis) We are expecting to put them out in the next few weeks. The intention is to get the consultation paper out. I have spoken recently to the Community Composters. I understand their concerns at the delay because the intention of revising the composting exemption is to actually encourage further small Community Composting exercises. We are very conscious of the fact if we are going to deliver the type of targets which are in the Waste Strategy we must hurry up.

  Mr Blunt: You have emoted nicely on the need to do it, when is it going to happen?


  1262. It is a pity for us to put in our report that we are appalled at the slowness of the Department's working if you have actually by then done it.
  (Ms Ellis) As I said, we are intending to put detailed proposals to ministers in the next few weeks.
  (Mr Meacher) I take the point that the Committee is making fairly that this has taken too long, and on behalf of the Department I apologise. We will try to deal with this very rapidly.

Mrs Ellman

  1263. Why are there no statutory targets for the reduction of commercial and industrial waste to landfill?
  (Mr Meacher) The figures suggest that overwhelmingly the problem is municipal waste, which is about 28 million tonnes a year, 83 per cent of which is landfilled and only 17 per cent recovered, recycled or composted. In the case of industrial waste the figures are very different: 48 million tonnes, it is a much larger amount, but 47 per cent only is landfilled—I say "only" by comparison with 83—and 45 per cent is recovered, recycled or composted. The Waste Strategy has concentrated on the waste stream which is most seriously at variance with the objectives of the Waste Strategy, which is to reduce landfill massively and to increase recycling dramatically. I agree with you that we do need to have increased pressures. In answer to Mr Benn at the beginning I did spell out the pressures that there are on industrial and commercial waste and by and large those are operating more effectively. We have seen, for example, a reduction in inorganic waste, inert waste, going to landfill in the last four years down from ten million tonnes to six million tonnes a year.

  1264. Are you satisfied with the current pressures on industrial and commercial waste disposal?
  (Mr Meacher) I am not satisfied until those figures do dramatically begin to turn round. We are at the cusp of where I think that is beginning to happen. As I say, in terms of inert waste that is changing already. In the case of the great majority of other waste, organic, biodegradable waste, this is not yet apparent in the figures. I do believe that the combination of all those drivers, plus the trading permits system that we are introducing with regard to landfill, are sufficient. In other words, if it is X million tonnes this year, next year it is going to be X million minus five per cent or whatever and the trading permits will be issued in order to ensure that minus five per cent is achieved because they are the only permits which will be available. If you achieve a ten per cent reduction then you can sell the five per cent in excess of what you need to other companies who are not so good, so it is a market oriented way of achieving an environmental objective and I think that is going to work.

  1265. What about producer responsibility measures?
  (Mr Meacher) I am extremely keen on producer responsibility measures, mostly they have come from the EU, I have to say. Packaging Waste is the most obvious one but also—


  1266. It does not work, does it?
  (Mr Meacher) It is only next year that the 50 per cent target comes into force in April 2001. It is touch and go whether we shall meet it, it is a statutory EU target and there will be consequences if we do not. I have increased the targets to 56 per cent in order to provide any leeway against failure at the last moment to achieve. I believe if we do not achieve them we will get very close. I believe the momentum is building up where those figures should climb. There are also end of life vehicles and the issue which we discussed at the beginning of this week in the Environment Council, waste electrical and electronic equipment and hazardous electrical and electronic equipment, batteries. There are many of these measures and I am sure there will be more still. I am strongly in favour of producer responsibility.

Christine Butler

  1267. What obstacles, apart from some intransigence, are there to green procurement by the Government and in what main areas are there scope for this apart from paper?
  (Mr Meacher) We did say in the Waste Strategy that we would pilot a scheme to require Government departments to purchase recycled products. Initially, of course, we concentrated on paper, that is the most obvious one, and we said if the results were positive then we would extend that to other products, and that is exactly what we will do. I have to say, however, just as one caveat, that even when you take account of whole life costs as opposed to short-term costs, and I am talking about acceptance to the Treasury because recycling can cost more, the difference in the cost is reduced. Even when you take account of that in some cases there is still a green premium and it is a question as to how far it is value for money. We want to press that as far as we can get agreement with Treasury about costs.

  1268. There is a big question about setting a good example in resource efficiency for the sustainable world.
  (Mr Meacher) Yes.

  1269. The Government must lead on that.
  (Mr Meacher) Yes.

  1270. I am hoping it might take note of that. Because of time I will have to move on Minister. Can I just put this to you. Would it be better to increase the costs of incineration and landfill in order to meet the objectives of a truly sustainable Waste Strategy management?
  (Mr Meacher) We are increasing the costs of landfill.

  1271. To a lot more, a bigger factor?
  (Mr Meacher) Well a lot more. It is £12 per tonne and there are many people who think it does need to be significantly increased.

  1272. 20 or more.
  (Mr Meacher) I accept that. We agreed when it was £10 that there would be, as you know, a £1 per year increase up to 2004 and the matter would then be reviewed. I have a lot of sympathy with what I think is the thrust of your question that if it is going to achieve that major reduction in landfill—and do not forget that 2020 is the end of the derogation period we have got under the Landfill EU Directive—we have to shift, if we have continuing three per cent growth per year, an amount of around 40 million a year away from landfill.


  1273. What does that look like, 40 million tonnes a year?
  (Mr Meacher) It is a hypothetical figure based on saying if landfill levels remain where they are, if we have three per cent growth in arisings, then something like 52 million tonnes on that basis will be landfill in 2020. The target we have to reach, which is no more than 35 per cent of 1995 levels by 2020 is about 11 million tonnes. There is about a 41 million tonne gap. When you say what does it look like, those are all the things which are currently being landfilled but it will be on a far bigger scale.

  Chairman: I just wondered how much of London would be covered by landfill.

Christine Butler

  1274. All of it.
  (Mr Meacher) Well, that is a very good question, Chairman, because, of course, it is nearly all taken by lorry or by barge down to the Essex Marshes and the Essex Marshes now are filling up. There is not much further room. So it cannot actually continue physically, let alone in regard to EU targets.

  1275. Do you not think much higher costs to landfill would actually improve the competitiveness in terms of—going back to it—resource efficiency and long term sustainability? These are watch words of Government. Do you think that actually would help as a driver?
  (Mr Meacher) I think it would help as a driver. As I say I have a lot of sympathy with what you say and we have, however, agreed in Government that we would have this one pound per year increase and review that in 2004 but I think the pressure is building up for a more significant increase if we are going to achieve that massive shift away from landfill that we need. In one sentence in answer to your question about incineration, I have always said, and I repeat again, that the overwhelming thrust of the Waste Strategy is a dramatic increase in recycling but it cannot exclusively be carried out through recycling, given the totals and give the fact that there are some elements in the wastestream which cannot properly be recycled. Therefore there is a place for incineration and I do not believe it would be right for Government itself deliberately to increase those costs.

Mr Brake

  1276. Could I just ask the Minister for an assurance on one very specific point that you will not allow a significant shift of waste to be incinerated in cement kilns, particularly hazardous waste, as opposed to being properly incinerated in incinerator plans?
  (Mr Meacher) This is a major issue because the discharge of the emissions from cement kilns, particularly where there is hazardous waste, is of course a matter for the Environment Agency. It is a matter of acute concern. This is secondary liquid fuels.

  Chairman: Is there not a very simple principle that it should be the same if it is coming out of an industrial process as if it is coming out of an incinerator, the emissions?

Mr Brake

  1277. Indeed.
  (Mr Meacher) That seems reasonable to me.

  1278. It is not appropriate.
  (Mr Meacher) It is the sort of highly technical question which I think may have a lot of— What a relief, I am told it is the same.


  1279. I am not sure that it is the same, perhaps you would like to send us a note on that.
  (Mr Meacher) I will, yes. I would be much happier to do that.

  1280. On my promise that we would not go on beyond 45 minutes this morning I think we ought to finish there. I am assured that this rubbish that we were just talking about would be a four and a half mile column on top of Oldham Athletic football ground. That would be a pretty frightening sight. On that note, can I wish you all the best for the Christmas season and hope you have a peaceful Christmas and a well earned rest. Can I thank everybody else.
  (Mr Meacher) That is really very kind of you and I reciprocate that. I just have to tell you, Chairman, you have made the front page of the Oldham Chronicle yet again.

previous page contents

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 9 February 2001