Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 99)



  80. But if I heard you right earlier on, I got the impression that you were saying landfill is an out-dated technology and that incineration is the way forward. We have experience of that in northern Europe, you were saying, but there are problems with that, are there not?
  (Mr Averill) Indeed there are. I was only giving that as one example. There are a huge number of alternative technologies depending on the exact characteristics of the waste you are talking about. Incineration was just one example. Incineration, I believe, is probably suitable for no more than 10-15 per cent of the nation's hazardous wastes.

  81. I am just trying to look forward to five years on and what this framework for hazardous waste is going to look like. There will be a lot of landfill sites closed down, and there will perhaps be a bit more incineration. I just have a worry there will be stock-piling going on.
  (Mr Averill) I doubt it. In France and the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries it is very easy to see exactly what does happen when you get a regime operating in that way.

  82. So it will be a mixed regime.
  (Mr Averill) Very definitely, as it is in all of those countries that I have just described.

  83. I asked the CIA about the Environment Agency and the consistency of response from the EA across the country. W hat is your relationship with them? How do you find working with the EA?
  (Mr Averill) We have seen significant improvements in that area with the Environment Agency re-organised towards the end of last year. They were putting in specialists covering particular areas that cut across the regional structure that was there before. I think that is a major step forward to give consistency. Obviously, it is not perfect or ideal, but I believe that the Environment Agency is aware and is working on the problem.

  84. But until fairly recently the EA has operated in each of its regions and there has not been consistency of approach; you might get a permission in one region that you would not get in another.
  (Mr Pointer) We have to be clear about what level of the Environment Agency we are working with. In terms of implementing new regulations, I have been working very closely with the Agency for the last two years, looking at the practicalities of these regulations, and they have had a very consistent approach to doing this. They have been frustrated by DEFRA. The main hold-up in terms of producing a lot of the guidance which we would have wished to get out earlier has been the negotiations between the Environment Agency and DEFRA. In terms of the day-to-day interface with the Agency, yes, there has been historically a problem with the regions. That is getting better.


  85. A couple of points arising from your exchange with Mr Tipping. When you were talking about the process of deciding which of the current landfill sites will be able to accept different forms of waste in the future, is that a responsibility for you as a provider of a service, and if so, how do you decide which tips are in and which are out for different types of hazardous waste?
  (Mr Averill) Yes, it is a decision for us, and we do it on a market-based approach. We have customers and we are trying to serve them.

  86. So you will just look at your facility and say, "This one's OK for this, and that is OK for that"?
  (Mr Averill) There are obviously technical characteristics that are important, particularly geological characteristics, and we take those into consideration when making our decisions.

  87. Earlier the CIA said, and you indicated too, that market forces would sort out any imbalances, and yet there is a lot of pressure on the availability of areas which could be used for landfill. If anything, the impression I am getting is that that is going to be restricted even further by this classification process. Are we going to have two things coinciding: the 2004-08 question mark and a lack of capacity?
  (Mr Averill) I think it is most unlikely that you will have a lack of landfill capacity. If there were a lack of landfill capacity in this country, it would not be so cheap.

  88. We talk about hazardous waste without actually talking about individual streams of waste. I have no knowledge of what is actually going on in the world of hazardous waste. Is the total amount to be disposed of increasing? Are there any trends which show that more hazardous materials are needing the services of expert disposers like you?
  (Mr Averill) What you can say is this. Absent changes in the regulation which broaden the scope of the net, hazardous waste volumes are coming down. You have heard that also from the CIA, how their members have reduced the quantities of hazardous waste that they generate.

  89. Is that universal across all types of waste that are described as hazardous?
  (Mr Averill) Yes. In many ways the hazardous waste processing industry ultimately will be a victim of its own success. It will succeed in raising the standards, charging higher prices for its services, which gives the producer a very strong disincentive to then manufacture it.

  90. You make an interesting point in paragraph 3.4 of your evidence. You say, "The focus of regulatory action is on the waste processor, not the waste producer." You have just given an indication that costs of disposal have the effect of re-balancing that argument. But do you think there ought, even now, at this stage, to be further legislative effort to put the responsibility for minimising hazardous waste streams on the producer as opposed to the processor?
  (Mr Averill) I do not think you need any more legislation. The legislative instruments are already there, for example, IPPC. At the moment it just seems crazy to me that we are regulated, perfectly properly—this is not meant in any way to be a complaint—by the Environment Agency, which says these very strict standards, again using the example of incineration, must be adhered to, whilst at the same time the potential customers of this activity are allowed to send their waste to landfill.

  91. So the only constraint on them is the question of cost of disposing of it.
  (Mr Averill) Exactly. I am not suggesting for a moment that anything illegal is happening, but most waste producers will choose the minimum legal disposal option. If the whole IPPC regime was applied to waste producers, where they have to dispose of their waste according to the best practical environmental option rather than the minimum legal, you suddenly change the whole thing overnight.

Paddy Tipping

  92. What would that do for your business?
  (Mr Averill) It would add an awful lot to our industry. Landfill pervades because it is cheaper. It therefore follows that anything that follows will be more expensive. You heard the CIA say that this is not really an economic argument; it is about capacity, and this is just the movement forward of the environmental agenda. As I often say, there was no good economic reason to abolish the slave trade; it was the advancement of society. There is no good economic reason for an awful lot of the clean air legislation that we have already had, and I believe that when we have this waste-based regulation whereby producers are required to take the most responsible option with their waste, in a number of years' time it will just be a cost of business to them like health and safety regulation is now.

  93. So your slogan would be "Reduce quantity, improve quality."
  (Mr Averill) Absolutely, and I think you would automatically get that. This is again where we have a slight issue with the CIA. I think you would see that their waste would come tumbling down when they were paying the new higher rates associated with the higher quality facilities. At the moment there is insufficient disincentive because landfill is too cheap.


  94. One of the problems that besets any solution to waste disposal is our planning laws. You must have studied the Green Paper on planning. Is there anything in there which gives you hope for the future in terms of the provision of facilities to deal with hazardous waste disposal in the future?
  (Mr Averill) Certainly planning applications for processing facilities for hazardous waste will always be contentious, but if there is a proper framework whereby local waste plans are implemented and there is a presumption of granting a permission providing the need for the facility has been rigorously established as part of a plan, then I think it is possible that we could have a quicker planning system.

  95. It is said that our continental counterparts do not suffer from some of the problems in this area that we do, and you said in your introduction to the company that you had experience outside the United Kingdom. I wonder if you could just give us a flavour of your experience, particularly with other European Union countries, about how they handle the regulatory framework and compare and contrast it with the way we do it here. The main message you have got across to us already is that landfill is the cheap UK alternative; other people use a more sophisticated approach.
  (Mr Averill) We have a number of these higher order technologies that I was describing—and, incidentally, not incineration in continental Europe. We have high temperature processes for the cleaning of contaminated earth which otherwise would go to landfill here. We have oily sludges which just go to landfill here, we have a sophisticated plant for separating out the oil and water and the oil is re-used as a fuel. We have a pyrolysis plant for dealing with paint waste—old paint tins, half-used paint tins—where those materials currently go to landfill. We have another plant which stabilises hazardous waste in concrete so that it is at this Final Storage Quality, it is in an environmentally benign state before it is deposited in the landfill. We have other programmes where we take wastes of high calorific value and blend them together in a carrier and use them as an alternative fuel for industrial processes, whereas most of those wastes in this country would go to landfill. There is a wide range of examples of different technologies that we already employ in-house to deal with a spectrum of different wastes when they can no longer to go landfill.

  96. Talk me through some of the factors that this regulatory hierarchy impose on you when it comes to your investment decisions. Clearly, the regulatory framework determines the level of business that you are going to get. That determines the level of revenues, and that ultimately determines what you are prepared to invest. Do I read you correctly that you perhaps find the mainland European regime more conducive to investment than in the UK? One of the queries that comes at this early stage of the inquiry is, because of the uncertainty about the regulatory regime, question mark, are people going to be willing to make the necessary investment against a background of uncertainty. What you seem to be saying is that there is greater certainty on the continent, and you have already given some examples of pretty hefty investment into sophisticated equipment which is not currently in use here.
  (Mr Averill) Correct, but we would be prepared to make corresponding investments here, providing you had the certainty of market that you do there. If you take the big macro-economic picture, I think the UK is missing out on very significant quantities of capital investment to implement these technologies, and certainly, as these technologies become more commonplace, you can develop an industry in these environmental technologies that we can further export to other countries as they in their turn catch up.

  97. One of the arguments that we are often confronted with as a Committee is the term "gold-plating"; in other words, we go over the top with the detail here compared with our continental counterparts. The picture you paint is slightly different in the sense that what you are saying is mainland Europe has a different approach than the UK. Are we missing out on these more sophisticated techniques to the detriment of waste disposal? Is it just the fact that they do not have landfill available that they have had to go down those routes, or is it that they are ahead of the game in terms of their environmental responsibilities?
  (Mr Averill) I believe it is the latter, that what has happened, as we described before, is you have a scenario where unacceptable environmental alternatives are outlawed and that generates the market for the emerging technologies. Naturally, of course, we invest in these at our own risk—we are a commercial company—and if we get it wrong because somebody else has a better technology, or we invest in it at the wrong level and our capacity is too small or too big, then we risk our returns.

  98. What is your view about the way that DEFRA/Environment Agency are implementing European-based legislation in this area? Is it sensible, is it practical or does it go over the top?
  (Mr Averill) I do not believe it goes over the top at all. You heard the CIA themselves saying that the costs of waste disposal for them are much lower than they are for their continental counterparts, so it is very difficult to say that we are "gold-plating" in this country when the costs are so much lower than they are overseas. I believe again that we do not need new legislation. The regulatory instruments are already there; they just need to be used in the same way that they are on the continent, ie to outlaw the environmentally unacceptable disposal routes.

Paddy Tipping

  99. You need to use fiscal routes too. You talk about landfill tax. To get the kind of change that you would like, what would you do with the landfill tax? The present escalator is not adequate, is it?
  (Mr Averill) You have to be very careful here, because, of course, the landfill tax is applied to all wastes, not just hazardous wastes. Even if you were to double the landfill tax today, it is not material in the context of many hazardous waste processing charges. It is highly material in the scheme of municipal solid wastes. So you do need to be very careful here, and I believe that the landfill tax instrument is a very good instrument with respect to municipal solid waste, and with respect to industrial and commercial non-hazardous waste, but regulation is a much better instrument with respect to hazardous waste.

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