Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Fifth Report


(a)The majority of those involved with waste in this country appear to be guilty of thinking without imagination and planning without ambition, of finding problems instead of solutions and aiming for short-term goals without a vision of the system of resource use and waste management which we should be striving for. The failure to implement real and ambitious change in waste management is all the more disappointing since the Government has had almost two full years between our previous Report and the publication of the Waste Strategy 2000. It is obvious to us that the Strategy fails to reflect the thrust of that Report and that many of our recommendations have been disregarded (paragraph 5).
(b)The Waste Strategy 2000 fails to offer an inspiring vision of sustainable waste management. It sets some useful short and medium term targets, but without the inspiration provided by a longer-term vision of what we are trying to do, it risks succeeding in its own narrow terms whilst failing to provide a foundation for a more sustainable system (paragraph 21).
(c)We remain extremely disappointed with the data available on waste arisings: the data available is incomplete, unreliable and often published too late to be of use. This situation has hindered the development of both national and local waste strategies. Only with adequate data will we able to tell whether policy measures are successfully influencing people and businesses' waste decisions and determine what further measures are necessary. We recommend that the Government make sure money is made available to the Environment Agency to enable it to carry out continuous monitoring of waste. We also urge the Environment Agency to process the information more speedily than they have thus far managed (paragraph 24).
Selection Techniques for Waste Management Options
(d)Although we recognise that computer models such as WISARD provide a consistent methodology for helping to determine the Best Practicable Environmental Option, we are concerned about a number of aspects of the use of these models. The temptation to use computer models as prescriptive devices to provide 'the answer' must be avoided: no model can ever provide the solution to a complex and partly judgement-based process such as determining BPEO. Further, the determination of BPEO must not be allowed to become a technocratic process which takes place in isolation from other interested parties, the output of which is then used to steamroller a sceptical public into options which they dislike or distrust. The definition of BPEO is that it is a "consultative decision-making process" and this must be adhered to, including making the use of any model available to the general public wherever practicable. The Government should issue clear advice to local authorities on the role of computer models in determining the BPEO and the need to accompany their use with comprehensive public information and involvement (paragraph 32).
Minimisation and Resource Efficiency
(e)The Government does not appear to be taking waste minimisation seriously. There are few significant measures aimed at minimising the amount of waste and the Strategy embraces the current and future growth of municipal waste, rather than challenging it. We were told that the Government had not yet "broken the link between economic growth and waste" but it does not appear to be trying to do so. This acceptance of waste growth without challenge demonstrates our prime criticism of the Government's approach to resource use and waste management: that it lacks depth and ambition. The Government must set a target for reducing the rate of growth of waste and consider with some urgency precisely how it can drive waste growth down and ultimately reverse it (paragraph 39).
(f)We are sceptical about the Government's projections of future growth of municipal waste. The combination of predicted increases of between 1% and 3% and the 'gap' between targets for recycling and recovery may be providing a green light for excessive incineration capacity. The Government must work to determine the reasons which underpin the growth of municipal waste arisings and use this analysis to drive its minimisation efforts, rather than accept the growth as a fait accompli which must be accommodated (paragraph 42).
Re-use and Recycling
(g)The kerbside collection of source-separated waste is a necessity if we are to transform waste management. It must be ensured that the Best Value regime works to increase the proportion of households covered by kerbside collections. A prerequisite of an authority being awarded beacon council status should be that at least 50% of its households be covered by kerbside collections. We also recommend that the Local Government Association develop in consultation with other appropriate bodies a best practice guide for local authorities wishing to introduce (or improve) kerbside collections (paragraph 51).
(h)The role of civic amenity sites in increasing recycling rates must not be neglected. The Government should ensure that best practice in designing and operating such sites for maximum recovery is widely disseminated (paragraph 52).
(i)The national targets for recycling and composting provide a real challenge for the year 2005 (25%) but the targets for 2010 (30%) and 2015 (33%) are depressingly unambitious and appear implicitly to accept that there is a 'ceiling' on the proportion which can be recycled. These later targets fail to build on the significant efforts which will be required to meet the 2005 target and could result in a loss of momentum in recycling. We recommend that new targets be set of 50% by 2010 and 60% by 2015: these targets will ensure that vigorous efforts to recycle are maintained (paragraph 56).
(j)Although the national targets for recycling and composting cannot be considered ambitious, the derived targets for local authorities may prove to be more than challenging within the confines of the funding available. To enable the true situation to be determined, we recommend that the Government publish clear costings of how local authorities will be able to achieve the recycling targets using the funding made available to them (paragraph 62).
(k)We agree with Robin Murray that the problem of markets for recycled materials is "a challenge for innovation, it is not an argument against the broad strategy proposal [to expand recycling]".[330] Nevertheless, there are problems with markets and in our previous Report on Sustainable Waste Management, we concluded that the Government would need to intervene in markets to secure stability.[331] This continues to be the case and the problems of markets for recycled materials must not be allowed to threaten the development of recycling. We are encouraged that the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) is planning to tackle this area. Where considered appropriate, WRAP should be able to recommend with confidence the introduction of subsidies for particular markets, or other measures requiring Government action (paragraph 68).
(l)Producer responsibility is one of the strongest mechanisms to transform waste management but the Government appears to have a rather sluggish attitude to developing it and applying it to more product streams. Unless this instrument is used more extensively and effectively, the costs of transforming waste management will fall predominantly on the taxpayer in general, rather than industry and the consumers of specific products. In this area, the 'strategy' appears to be to implement any relevant EU Directives whilst paying lip service to developing voluntary initiatives. The stated reliance on a voluntary approach is unlikely to deliver improvements in any but the most straightforward product streams. We await the extension of producer responsibility initiatives to a much broader range of products within the waste stream, including cars, batteries, tyres and chewing gum (paragraph 78).
(m)Source separation remains the key to a better waste management system: an expansion of composting, like recycling, will be of greatest merit if it makes use of materials which are separated out by householders. The use of mixed waste to make a compost-like material is a poor alternative which must not be allowed to prosper at the expense of schemes based on source separation and a higher quality product (paragraph 83).
(n)We are pleased that the Composting Association has established a system of standards for the quality of compost but are baffled and disappointed that the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions did not actively assist the Association in doing this. We expect the DETR to take an active role in implementing these standards and ensuring that they become established. If the standards fail to be accepted, we recommend that the Government act to make the standards for compost statutory (paragraph 85).
(o)Although we appreciate the difficulties of counting home composting towards local authority targets, its exclusion is unacceptable. If it is not counted, there is no incentive for local authorities to encourage this, the most desirable form of composting. The Government, the Local Government Association, the Composting Association and the Community Composting Network should work together to find an acceptable proxy for the amount of home composting in the targets for local authorities (paragraph 86).
(p)We urge the Government to publish the consultation document on revised exemptions from the Waste Management Licensing system. This has now been promised for more than two years but has yet to appear. These delays pose problems for many, not least those involved in community composting (paragraph 87).
Energy from Waste
(q)The arguments about the health effects from incinerators are complex and are based on incomplete knowledge. There are, however, some truths which can be drawn from the debate over the health impacts of incineration. Firstly, that the health effects which result from an incinerator's emissions are not yet fully known. Secondly, that the regulation of incineration to date has been rather poor and that this has resulted in poor practices developing in some incinerators. This, in turn, has raised the levels of anxiety amongst the public. Regulation must encompass emissions, the handling of the ash and all other aspects of the operation. Lastly, the lack of pre-separation of potentially hazardous materials, such as PVC, treated wood and batteries, increases the risk of emission limit values being exceeded (paragraph 97).
(r)The Environment Agency must provide a better standard of inspection of incinerators if the public's confidence is to be regained. The Agency will also need to examine its strategy for communicating the risks from incineration to the public. In addition, continuous monitoring of the emissions from all incinerator stacks should be carried out and the data made freely and easily available to the public. Where recurrent breaches of limit values are found to occur, the operator should be fined. If breaches continue to occur, the plant should be closed down. Only with the combination of better, more rigorous regulation and greater transparency will it be possible to convince a sceptical public that incinerators need not pose a major risk to human health (paragraph 98).
(s)The nature of incineration is such that it can 'crowd out' recycling: if a significant number of large incinerators, operating on long contracts, are allowed to be built, the long-term prospects for recycling will be diminished. The real challenge, then, is to keep the contribution of incineration to a reasonable level. For this reason, the Government should consider how to ensure that incineration is used only for sorted waste from which materials of value have been reclaimed. Further, the average size of incinerator currently planned is too large and the Government must offer a clear signal that the building of incinerators above a capacity of 100,000 tonnes per annum is unlikely to be approved (paragraph 106).
(t)We are concerned that incinerators may end up being built according to the 'path of least resistance' rule. If allowed to happen, this may mean that poorer areas of towns and cities are left effectively blighted by the presence of a large incinerator. This must not be allowed to happen. If incineration is safe then a sceptical public must be convinced and incinerators should then be sited in the most appropriate places which could be out-of-town shopping centres or adjacent to town-halls and other offices, rather than the poorest areas. When siting incinerators, the main factor should be the existence of a suitable local demand for the hot water and electricity produced (paragraph 110).
(u)An increase in incineration must not be allowed to be imposed by any 'back door' route, such as Lawful Development Certificates. In particular, the conversion of existing industrial facilities to incinerators to deal with the remains of BSE-infected cattle should only be allowed if sought through a full application for planning permission (paragraph 113).
(v)We welcome the Government's amendments to the rules for Private Finance Initiative funding and expect these to be fully enforced to ensure that incineration plays only a moderate role in most bids. Further, the Government should examine whether the PFI rules can be changed so that long-term improvements in recycling and composting facilities can be funded from this source. If not, we recommend that the role of PFI funding for waste management be progressively reduced (paragraph 116).
(w)We recommend that PFI approval not be given until planning permission has been granted for the facilities required (paragraph 117).
(x)We do not accept that energy from waste incineration is a renewable form of energy. Even if one considers that it meets the technical definition of renewable energy, it utterly fails to meet what might be called a 'common-sense' interpretation. A waste stream is only 'sustainable' in the most twisted definition of the word since sustainable waste management has as its cornerstone the minimisation of waste, and the explicit maintenance of waste streams for the purposes of incineration is in complete contradiction of this principle. By classifying energy from waste as renewable energy, a signal is sent to the public and business that it is acceptable to continue producing waste because 'renewable energy' is generated from it. We therefore recommend that:

  • energy from waste incineration be excluded from counting towards the target for 10% of electricity to be generated from renewable sources;
  • the Government's exclusion of energy from waste incineration from the Renewable Energy Obligation proposals be maintained;
  • the exemption of energy from waste incineration from the Climate Change Levy be withdrawn (paragraph 121).

(y)Despite some changes to the various measures, we are very concerned that incineration may be being favoured by the structure and nature of fiscal instruments. There must be no subsidy to the growth of incineration. If fiscal instruments favour the development of incineration, then the result in 20 years time could be a large and overbearing incineration industry which effectively crowds out the more attractive options of minimisation, re-use, recycling and composting (paragraph 122).
(z)We recommend that the Government introduce a tax on incineration. This tax would ensure that waste management did not simply shift from being a landfill-dominated system to an incineration-centred one. It would help shift strategic thinking from end-of-pipe solutions to materials recovery. Hazardous waste should be exempt from the tax. In the first instance, the incineration tax should be set at the same level as the landfill tax and the revenues from this tax should be hypothecated along with landfill tax revenues to help transform waste management (paragraph 124).
(aa)The Government has dodged difficult questions on incineration and has failed to offer a sufficiently detailed vision of the way in which incineration should play its role. It has changed its tone between draft and final strategy, and seems to be avoiding the issue of how many incinerators will need to be built, what scale they should be or indeed any other characteristic of their use. The Government has also failed to rise to the challenge of analysing and communicating the risks from incinerators (paragraph 125).
(bb)Incinerating waste will only ever play a limited role in a system which aims for efficient resource use and sustainable waste management. Nevertheless, we accept that some increase in the amount of waste incinerated is inevitable. We are extremely concerned that the facilities which are being planned are, on the whole, large-scale mass-burn facilities for which it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to gain public acceptance, and which risk undermining efforts to increase reduction, reuse and recycling. Government should make clear that:

  • smaller incinerators are preferred and that these must be used to provide Combined Heat and Power wherever possible;
  • incineration is only acceptable where it is used to burn sorted, post-recycled waste, not mixed household waste (paragraph 128).

(cc)We recommend that the number of pilot schemes for new techniques such as pyrolysis, gasification and anaerobic digestion be expanded. The aim of these schemes should be to assess the environmental credentials of the different techniques against those of incineration (paragraph 129).
The Landfill Tax
(dd)The landfill tax at its present level is too small an incentive to change established behaviour significantly: it is little more than an irritant to those making provision for waste management. We are disappointed that the Government are using the 'wait and see' argument before acting to raise the landfill tax to an effective level. The Government should have the courage of its convictions and use the landfill tax to provide a strong incentive to move away from a landfill-based system of waste disposal. We recommend that the landfill tax be increased to at least £25 per tonne over the next 5 years with all funds from the increased tax rate going into the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme. This recommendation cannot be seen in isolation and must be implemented together with those we make for the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme and our proposal for an incineration tax (paragraph 136).
The Landfill Tax Credit Scheme
(ee)The Landfill Tax Credit Scheme provides a convoluted and, to date, ineffective method of funding sustainable waste management. Rather than attempt reform of the existing system whilst protecting its status as 'private expenditure', we recommend that this charade be abandoned. The new system should consist of a fund which takes a given percentage of the revenues from the Landfill Tax (and the incineration tax which we propose) and is bid for by those wishing to undertake work. The landfill operators would no longer control the destination of any of the funding. Community schemes and general environmental projects (categories D and E) should be restricted to a smaller portion of the credits than they receive at present, and we expect all the additional credits raised by the increased landfill tax and the new incineration tax to be put directly towards minimising, re-using and recycling waste. There would be no bar on those wishing to apply for funding and the eligibility of local authorities should be related to their ambition and performance in meeting targets for improving recycling and composting. The fund should be seen, in particular, as a way of covering the transitional costs, for example, of setting up a kerbside recycling scheme. The revenue should also be the source of funds for WRAP to meet its essential task in establishing markets for recycled products (paragraph 145).
(ff)If Entrust is to remain as the regulator, it must work with Ebco to enable the council to form a representative and effective users group. This will require greater co-operation and professionalism from both Entrust and Ebco. We expressed disappointment with the nature and progress of Ebco nearly two years ago: it is simply unacceptable that Ebco is not established and working well by now (paragraph 151).
(gg)On reflection, we conclude that the best interests of the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme will be served by the replacement of the regulator, Entrust. The new regulator should be closer to Government and will be required to play an active role in steering the credits available into the most appropriate projects (paragraph 155).
Players: Government
(hh)We remind the Government of its commitment to expanding the use of environmental taxation. We urge it to take a considered and holistic look at the fiscal regime for waste management. This should, in particular, consider what instruments will be required to achieve the necessary long-term transformation of waste management. Without a consistent and coherent set of fiscal instruments in this area, we risk shifting waste from one technique to another without reference to any overall strategy (paragraph 162).
(ii)We are concerned that the Waste and Resources Action Programme could fail due to inadequate resources or lack of persuasive powers. The Government must monitor the performance of WRAP and step in if the organisation is struggling to reach its objectives. We also suggest that our successor Committee conduct an inquiry into the work of WRAP during the next Parliament. Further, setting up WRAP should not be seen by the Government as solving the problem of markets and any proposals emanating from WRAP which require Government action must not simply be sidelined (paragraph 166).
(jj)The Government's plans to 'green' procurement practices are woefully inadequate. We urge the Government to press ahead with a more ambitious and rapid program of greening its procurement practices. Buying recycled paper is a simple first step: if Government is to set other businesses an example and help provide stable markets for recycled materials, it will need to be dramatically more ambitious than is currently planned. We suggest that Government take the Environment Agency's procurement practices as a starting point from which to work. A web-site should be established so that central and local Government, along with the various agencies can share information on greening procurement practices (paragraph 170).
Players: Environment Agency
(kk)We recommend that the Environment Agency work with the Department of Health to produce an information pack on the health risks which can be associated with waste management facilities. It is vital that the Agency work with the public to ensure that they are enabled to make informed contributions to the debate about waste management facilities. The costs or charges which are made for this information should be low enough to ensure that there is no impediment to a full debate taking place (paragraph 174).
(ll)Fly-tipping continues to be a problem and it is clear that better enforcement and greater punishment are required. To ensure that perpetrators are caught, we recommend that the Government fund the Environment Agency's proposal for an Environmental Crime Unit. So that a true deterrent is offered, we also urge magistrates to make full use of their powers to fine and, where necessary, to pass cases to the Crown Court (paragraph 176).
(mm)The Environment Agency must crack down on illegal avoidance of the landfill tax. On average, an exempt site will currently be inspected every ten years. Such a low frequency will do little to deter those aiming to cheat the system. We recommend that exempt sites be visited at least once every year and on any occasion when a complaint is made. We expect the Government to make available the resources necessary to enable the Agency to do this (paragraph 179).
(nn)From the content of the Waste Strategy 2000, it is clear that the Environment Agency is still failing to take a convincing and persuasive approach to influencing environmental strategy. Although we note some recent improvement in the Agency's performance, it is vital that it become a champion for the environment and sustainable development. It must aim to persuade Government of the merits of adopting a more ambitious waste strategy which is based around the pursuit of sustainable waste management (paragraph 182).
Players: Local Authorities
(oo)We urge local authorities to pursue the greening of procurement policies through the application of environmental principles via the 'Best Value' initiative (paragraph 185).
(pp)Measures must be taken to ensure greater co-operation between Waste Collection Authorities and Waste Disposal Authorities. Although the Government has now issued guidance for the drawing up of statutory Municipal Waste Management Strategies, we are concerned that these should be prepared and agreed as quickly as possible. If these strategies do not prove to be successful, the Government should give consideration to the use of single waste management authorities with responsibility for both collection and disposal (paragraph 189).
(qq)With an open and courageous approach to consulting on waste management, waste planning could become less adversarial. Unless this process is started soon, many authorities will risk missing their 2003 targets (paragraph 195).
(rr)We are concerned that the role of Regional Technical Advisory Bodies (RTABs) will be to aid the development of large-scale landfill and incineration sites. The RTABs should, instead, focus on the need for new facilities for options further up the hierarchy, such as re-processing capacity for particular materials. We believe that the RTABs will be better able to fulfil this role if they have a broader membership which includes representation from the local community and are seen to be clearly part of Regional Chambers, which is already happening in some areas. This would also help to ensure that they do not fall into the trap of trying to impose their 'expert' point of view upon local people. The regionalisation of waste management decisions should not result in the loss of community ownership of such decisions (paragraph 198).
Players: Business
(ss)We are extremely disappointed with the inertia and negative attitude of the CBI to changing the way the UK deals with its waste. Rarely has the old phrase 'if you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem' been more apt. At present, it seems that the CBI represents the least ambitious of its members at the expense of the most forward-looking and ambitious firms. There is a need for leadership from the CBI to show its less aware members the business potential that exists in change whilst also reminding them of their civic responsibilities in this regard (paragraph 201).
(tt)We have recommended radical changes to the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme. In advance of these changes, we urge the waste management industry to make positive use of their control of the landfill tax credits by shifting their use from general community-based projects towards those which further the aims of sustainable waste management. This should be the first step in this industry rising to the challenge of a dramatically different waste policy agenda (paragraph 202).
(uu)Any unsolicited mail should be clearly marked with a freephone telephone number which can be used to halt further unwanted mailings. Such mail should also be easily returnable at the expense of the mailer and this should be made clear on the envelope (paragraph 204).
(vv)The voluntary encouragement of environmental accounting has not been successful. It is now time to introduce a statutory requirement on businesses to produce environmental accounts. Amongst other things, these accounts should provide full details of the firm's waste performance (paragraph 206).
Players: The Community Sector
(ww)The Community Sector must be encouraged to take a greater share of the waste management business:

  • Local authorities must be encouraged to recognise the worth of community activities: a single, well-organised community activist can often be more inspiring than a local authority employee given the task of enthusing the local public;
  • The Local Government Association should work to ensure that best practice of working with community groups is spread to all local authorities;
  • The Government should urge local authorities not to preclude separate contracts for recycling collections so as to allow the community sector to bid. Integrated waste management does not require single large contracts, just integrated thinking in the structuring of waste contracts;
  • We welcome the Government's intention to make landfill tax credits available to community groups and we believe that this should be incorporated into the changes we recommend for the operation of the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme (paragraph 209).

Players: The Public
(xx)At present the public are ill-informed and misled about what happens to their waste. If we are to be successful in moving waste from the bottom to the top of the hierarchy, a major public programme is required to educate, persuade and involve the public in waste management issues. If such a campaign is to be successful, the public must be convinced that Government and business are also working to change things (paragraph 213).
Our Vision
(yy)We need stronger leadership from Government on waste. Central Government, local Government and business must examine their attitudes and policies on waste. It is not good enough to shuffle along in a laggardly fashion behind European Union Directives. There are sufficient examples from here and abroad which show what can be done and how to do it. Nothing will change until everyone in waste starts to believe that things can be changed. We, and many others, believe they can. It is time for the rest to join us (paragraph 216).

330   Q7 Back

331   Sustainable Waste Management, Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee, HC 484-I (1997-98), para graph 100 Back

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