Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Fifth Report


  During my evidence session on 21 December I agreed to follow up four points in writing. The first of these related to composting standards (Q1210, page 145 of the transcript). The second related to separated doorstep collection schemes (Q1217, page 146 of the transcript). The third related to the National Household Waste Analysis programme (Q1246, page 149 of the transcript). The fourth related to emissions from cement kilns (Q1276, page 152 of the transcript).

  I am pleased now to be able to provide the following information.

  Composting standards; the differences between proposed EU directive standards and self-imposed standards.

  The Commission's waste management unit have proposed statutory standards for composting, which would determine the amount of material that may be applied to agricultural and other land, and at what frequency. They suggest there should be three classes, or levels, based on heavy metals content, amount of organic material, and contaminants.

  We fully support the development of quality standards, as this will help support and develop the market for green waste compost, giving consumers added confidence in the product. As I said to the Committee, however, we would prefer standards to be drawn up on the basis of end use and fitness for purpose, rather than merely as a soil protection measure. This is a more efficient approach, as producers would not be required to reach inappropriately high standards for the use their customers have in mind. This in turn will mean lower prices and an increased commercial viability of compost generally.

  In the UK, there is already a non-statutory quality standard for compost, developed and operated by the Composting Association. It is broadly equivalent to the Commission's proposed intermediate class. Producers are entitled to use the given trademark if their product meets the requirements of the Association's standard and use it in their marketing. We are liaising closely with the Association and other stakeholders over our discussions with the Commission.

  The percentage of households that currently have access to a separated doorstep collection scheme.

  In England and Wales 43 per cent of households (about 9.3 million) are served by kerbside separated recycling collection schemes. [These are mainly served by separate collection schemes with a few integrated schemes.]

  When results can be expected from the National Household Waste Analysis Programme.

  The National Waste Analysis Programme Phase 3 will deliver its final results in about two years time. The main study will not start until a pilot study, in Wales, has been carried out in order to finalise sorting methods and classification systems. The National Waste Analysis Programme will include a week on week tracking study, therefore data collection and analysis will necessarily continue for at least a year.

  The comparability of emissions from hazardous waste incinerators and from cement kilns burning hazardous waste.

  The Environment Agency advises me that in applying the Hazardous Waste Incineration Directive (HWID) to cement plants burning hazardous waste, the Agency has imposed the same emission limits on the flue gas generated by hazardous waste as it would if the waste was burned in a dedicated hazardous waste incinerator. In other words, the emissions from a cement kiln burning hazardous waste would be apportioned between those emissions arising from the burning of waste and those arising from the combustion of conventional fuel: the HWID limits apply to the former, and the latter are regulated in accordance with BATNEEC.

  The method of doing this is prescribed by the HWID. The Agency is aware of recent claims in a European Environmental Bureau-commissioned report that co-incinerators (such as cement kilns) have less stringent controls than dedicated incinerators. The Agency is currently studying these claims and will be reporting to my Department shortly.

  The Agency rightly points out that it is not possible to prove absolutely that emissions from the burning of hazardous waste in a cement kiln are in practice greater than or less than the emissions from a dedicated hazardous waste incinerator. This is because the gases from calcination of the raw materials in a cement kiln are intimately mixed with the combustion gases derived from burning the waste and conventional fuel. However, because of the temperature at which the gases are burned and the duration when they are at that temperature (approximately 1500C for six seconds), the alkaline atmosphere in cement kilns, and the low solid levels in substitute liquid fuel, the Agency considers that burning hazardous waste in a cement kiln would not result in a breach of the HWID limits for the proportion of the gas derived from hazardous waste burning.

  The Agency also comment that burning of hazardous waste in cement kilns achieves energy recovery in-line with the Government's waste hierarchy. As long as the same limits are applied to emissions from this waste stream as would be applied to waste incineration plant the Agency sees no reason to modify its regulatory approach.

Rt Hon Michael Meacher MP

January 2001

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