Examination of Witnesses (Questions 63
MONDAY 10 JUNE 2002
63. Welcome to the second part of questioning.
I wonder if you would give us a brief summary of Shanks to put
you into context.
(Mr Averill) First of all, thank you
for the opportunity to present our evidence to you. Shanks is
the second largest independent waste management company in Europe.
We do not do anything else other than waste management. Our activities
are broadly split 50-50 between the UK and outside the UK on continental
Europe. We employ some 4,500 people. We have revenues of just
over £500 million per annum and profits around £45 million
per annum. Within the waste disposal arena we do most things.
It is probably easier to describe to the Committee the waste sustainable
technologies we do not employ. We do not do very much in the medical
arena and we only do very limited quantities of radioactive waste,
related principally to medical isotopes, not to things like power
generation, let alone weapons-grade. Otherwise, we do possess
nearly all of the waste management technologies to handle the
full range of municipal and household waste as well as industrial
and commercial waste.
64. Having been brought up in Yorkshire, there
was a wonderful phrase, "Where there's muck, there's brass."
You are the personification of that. I was grateful for the fact
that your evidence had a three-point executive summary, and I
would like to start with the first part, where you say, "There
is a clear need for a new national framework for the management
of hazardous waste." Why?
(Mr Averill) Because we have a real disconnect at
the moment, as I say elsewhere in the evidence. The regulatory
framework has been very good at ensuring that high-quality hazardous
waste disposal facilities are to the requisite standard, but lamentable,
sadly, at getting them used. Waste processing really has no natural
market. The market accrues solely from regulation and its enforcement.
History has proven and continues to prove in many countries of
the world that while waste can be treated indiscriminately, that
is exactly what happens to it. So there is no point in just enforcing
high standards on the waste processor; you also have to have high
standards imposed on the waste producer to make sure that these
high-quality facilities are actually used.
65. You will probably have gathered that we
are feeling our way into this subject. We have a plethora of regulations,
directives, national legislation and rules which seem to currently
define how waste should be treated. Some areas are going to be
improved in terms of better implementation of the waste directive.
We have an enormous cascade of further refinement in terms of
the way the Landfill Directive operates. That to humble legislators
suggest that there are an awful lot of rules, but if I have your
drift correctly, what you are saying is rules are one thing, but
there is a difference in the quality of the way that disposal
takes place. Maybe I misunderstood, but I was getting a message
that there is a cheap way of disposing of waste under the rules
and a more expensive way of doing it. Would you like to enlighten
us about the interaction between the quality of the exercise of
disposal and the regulatory framework which surrounds it.
(Mr Averill) This may perhaps be a roundabout answer
to your question, but I will try and be brief. In European legislation,
if you are dealing with a single market, you have common legislation.
So if this plastic cup I have here is saleable in the UK, it is
saleable in every other member state, because regulations are
common. In environmental legislation it is not so; what you have
is minimum standards, beyond which member states can go to follow
their own environmental agenda. So you never have this famous
or infamous level playing field with respect to environmental
legislation. To give you an example with which most people can
identify, that is why, say, in Denmark you have bottles with deposits
on them in the old-fashioned way. This is an area where they have
gone beyond the minimum to follow their own environmental agenda.
It is widely recognised, and I believe generally accepted, that
incineration, say, for a wide range of hazardous waste is a better
technology than landfill, but in this country we still allow a
very wide range of waste to landfill which would not be allowed
to landfill 22 miles across the English Channel in France, where
they have, say, six or seven times more incineration capacity
than we have in the UK, and it is all used, whereas we are closing
incineration capacity because none of the regulatory framework
pushes any waste towards it.
66. Do you think there are too many different
pieces of legislation affecting this area?
(Mr Averill) I think you can almost inevitably conclude
that. There is a huge plethora of different rules and regulations
and laws which surround the industry, and I have a great deal
of sympathy with my colleagues from the CIA, who were talking
earlier about some of the perverse things which can happen at
the margin when some of these rules are enforced in perhaps a
way that defeats what most people would regard as common sense.
67. You would not advocate a general principle
of good standards of disposal as opposed to the almost waste by
waste analysis which seems to be pervading this legislation, defining
how for different types of waste you will have a different disposal
(Mr Averill) No. I think you can classify waste into
broad categories, and these are quite helpful.
The Committee suspended from 5.55 pm to 6.07
pm for a Division in the House.
68. I want to move on to paragraph 3.6 of your
recommendations, where you say, "There must be a national
hazardous waste plan which prohibits inappropriate treatment for
hazardous wastes." Why? Who would draw it up? Would it give
the unification of approach throughout the industry which you
perhaps feel there ought to be in terms of imposing best practice?
(Mr Averill) To answer your question why, simply to
protect the environment. There are many examples of who and why.
It has been done many times in continental Europe, where standards
for waste disposal, particularly for hazardous waste, are higher.
Here, as we heard from the CIA, we rely on landfill, and this
is a key point of our evidence. At the moment we have this practice
called co-disposal within a landfill, where you co-dispose hazardous
and non-hazardous waste. There is then a bio-reactor, which over
a long period of time, say a generation, reduces these wastes
to an environmentally benign state. The more common practice in
Europe, especially in the northern Europe states, is to say, "We
don't like this practice. What we would rather do is reduce the
waste to an environmentally benign state before we even put it
in the landfill." In that way you are more certain, and you
do not rely on this practice over time, which is difficult to
monitor, to give you the result that you desire. The position
that we have here in the UK is the one which, frankly, frightens
us most, that in 2004 we have the end of the practice of co-disposal,
but between 2004-08 we are in no-man's land and we do not know
what the criteria are, and we hope and expect that in 2008 we
will be required to treat waste to this Final Storage Quality,
this environmentally benign state, before it goes into the landfill.
But between 2004-08 you risk putting hazardous waste into a hazardous
waste landfill, with no means of reducing it to an environmentally
benign state. Co-disposal will be outlawed, but you will not necessarily
require it to be benign before you even deposit it into the ground.
69. Who is to blame for that situation?
(Mr Averill) Again, as referred to by our colleagues
from the CIA, the Technical Adaptation Committee, which is the
committee in the Commission associated with the Landfill Directive,
which should be opining on these waste acceptance criteria, have
yet to do their work, even though they are well over a year late.
70. Have you had any direct contact with them?
(Mr Averill) Yes, I have.
71. What would your analysis be of the fact
that they are unable to deliver what they should do on time?
(Mr Averill) I do not think it is acceptable that
the delay has been allowed to endure for so long.
72. Have you come to a conclusion as to why
they have been taking so long if you have had direct contact?
What do they say to you when you say, "What is going to happen?
Are we going to get any clear guidance?" Do they say, "We
are working very hard on it?"
(Mr Averill) It is a frustration that even the Minister,
Michael Meacher, has alluded to on a number of occasions, saying
that it is very difficult to get the result that we all know we
need such that we can plan properly. This is the bit that really
bothers us most: that we risk having an unsustainable period environmentally
73. To go back to what the Chemical Industries
Association were saying earlier, what you have just referred to,
the real rub for us is this question of our dependency on landfill
as opposed to other forms of disposal.
(Mr Averill) Yes, I think they have a strong point
there, but I personally am not quite as frightened as they are.
We are a waste disposal company. As I indicated in my introduction,
we have facilities on the Continent where we are operating in
this regime already, where the minimum landfill is allowed for
hazardous waste. We in our own companyand we are by no
means exclusive in thishave many technologies to apply
to these wastes once the regulatory framework is clear.
74. The Government have got the Performance
and Innovation Unit, as you heard earlier, hard at work in this
area. Do you think they are actually going to contribute anything
to the type of problems you have been highlighting?
(Mr Averill) We shall have to wait and see, but I
know that they have been examining in some detail both technical
and economic arguments put forward by our industry. They have
actually been looking at first hand at some of the facilities
that may be required in this arena post the Landfill Directive
beginning to bite.
75. I gather you are on the list of people who
will provide outside expertise. Are you busy providing that at
(Mr Averill) I have facilitated a series of visits
to these technologies so that they can see at first hand exactly
what would be required to be done in the event that we accept
these requirements to reduce hazardous waste to an environmentally
benign state before it is deposited in landfill.
76. Just to be clear, in terms, you are providing
a window on the practical world of disposal as far as the PIU
is concerned. What do you think they ought to do in terms of work
in this area? Are there certain things you think they really ought
to be looking at? You have given us the medium-term scenario of,
question mark, 2004-08, but are there other issues which the PIU
ought to be looking at, in your judgement?
(Mr Averill) Of course, the PIU's study is very wide-ranging,
and it is certainly not limited to the issue of hazardous waste.
In fact, as I understand it, they are far more concerned about
the issue of municipal solid waste for the balance of this decade.
I would not say hazardous waste was a side issue, but it is one
that is of lesser concern to them, and obviously, there are many
issues to study with respect to the non-hazardous waste, particularly
municipal solid waste, including economic arguments such as what
should happen to the landfill tax.
77. You told us that the crunch period was 2004-08,
when there is no co-disposal, but in a sense the clock is ticking
a bit more quickly than that because in July you as an operator
have to say which sites are for hazardous waste and which are
not, so that is one driver. A second driver that has more immediate
import is the DEFRA consultation at the moment upon the Special
Waste Regulations. What is going to be the consequence of those
new regulations? They will bring more hazardous waste into disposal,
will they not?
(Mr Averill) First of all, with respect to the deadline
next month to classify sites as hazardous or non-hazardous, I
have an expert here, and I am sure he will correct me if I am
wrong, but whatever decisions we make, we can then revisit for
the July 2004 deadline. So the July 2004 deadline is the real
crunch, although you can only revisit it one way.
(Mr Pointer) It is not quite as simple as that. July
16 this year we will classify the sites either as inert hazardous,
which is an interim classification, or non-hazardous. That decision
is really based around if we classify it as a hazardous site,
we stop accepting liquid wastes and we can carry on accepting
a limited range of hazardous wastes. Some hazardous wastes will
be prevented from going into landfill, full stop, such as flammables,
explosives, oxidisers. With regard to explosives, fortunately
the industry does not accept explosives into landfills and never
has. There is a limited amount of corrosive waste going in and
there are more flammable wastes. So each one of those is being
displaced this year in a month's time, but co-disposal continues
then until 2004. We are then faced in 2004 with those sites that
have been classified as interim hazardous we either continue as
a hazardous classification and stop taking non-hazardous waste
or we stop taking the hazardous waste and change the classification
to a non-hazardous site. We also then have the option of developing
a separate area within those sites which can take stabilised hazardous
wastes, and it is only very recently that we have been able to
get what we now believe is going to be the acceptance criteria
out of the TAC to allow us to start making decisions about how
we will have to treat those wastes to meet those acceptance criteria.
78. That seems an awful lot of work for individual
companies. Mr Averill was saying we need a strategy on this, because
you want a framework that works across the country. The market
is operating here driven by regulation, and one is not quite sure
how things are going to fall out at the end of the day.
(Mr Pointer) That is correct.
79. So what are you saying about that to DEFRA?
(Mr Averill) What we have consistently said is that,
in common with many other countries, what we want to do, instead
of trying to prescribe what should happen, is to proscribe the
unacceptable alternatives, and you can quite easily classify wastes
into different groups and say, "For this group of wastes
landfill is no longer required." They do not say what you
must do; that is up to the market to decide, and I personally
do not believe that you should have too prescriptive a regime,
because if you do, you stifle innovation. This is what you have
to do with it, and if somebody comes up with a better idea, it
simply is not allowed. It is far better just to outlaw the unacceptable
and let the market develop the best techniques and technologies
to take care of the wastes that can no longer go to landfill.