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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 119)




  100. As I said, we are new to this area. Given a free hand, how would you tweak the regulatory approach to achieve the policy objective that you have just defined?
  (Mr Averill) By outlawing the environmentally unacceptable treatment of hazardous waste.

  101. That would be possible within UK law because it would simply mean you are going beyond the minimum that is required within the current regulatory framework.
  (Mr Averill) Yes. You can use the IPPC Directive. When a waste producing industry is being analysed for an IPPC permit you can say with respect to waste production, "Sorry, chaps. This used to go to landfill but we are not going to allow it any more."

Paddy Tipping

  102. Can I pick up this point that the CIA were talking to us about, this notion of an industrial waste forum.
  (Mr Averill) We are always happy to cooperate in such things, and it would certainly add value, in as much as it would give our industry a clearer idea of the size of the opportunity. If we could get some good data on the waste that they are producing, it would help us with investment. But, as I said, I believe that the primary thrust here must be regulatory.

  103. So it is helpful but it is not a key driver?
  (Mr Averill) It would not be a key driver, no. My belief is that we need to get the waste acceptance criteria in for landfill to make sure that they outlaw landfill for unacceptable wastes and the market will do the rest.


  104. I want to move on to an area which causes enormous controversy. In your own paper you indicate in the area of incineration and you give us a very helpful example about what has happened in Pontypool. On the one hand you are saying that incineration deals with about 10 or 15 per cent of hazardous waste. On the other hand, as soon as anybody suggests building an incinerator for any purpose in the United Kingdom, you can guarantee there will be a huge campaign against it; people do not, for whatever reason, like incineration. Why do you think it is so difficult to convince people that modern incinerators are "safe"?
  (Mr Averill) Because there is an intense amount of opposition from the likes of the NGOs on the subject. That is why I think what incineration capacity we have is relatively precious and should be preserved, because getting new permissions is not going to be easy.

  105. What are the factors at this Pontypool plant?
  (Mr Averill) It has no work.

  106. It is as simple as that?
  (Mr Averill) It is as simple as that. We announced on the Stock Exchange 10 days ago our results for the year. I had to concede to our shareholders a £4 million loss in this area.

  107. That is simply because the cheaper alternatives for disposing of waste.
  (Mr Averill) Yes. It goes to landfill.

Paddy Tipping

  108. And you cannot import.
  (Mr Averill) No. You used to be able to import, but under the government regulation of the early Nineties that was stopped. As I indicated when the forerunner of this Committee looked at the issue of hazardous waste under Sir Hugh Rossi back in the late Eighties, it came up with this distinction—in my opinion a good distinction—a differentiation between waste disposal and waste destruction, and because waste is destroyed in the incineration process and the hazardous content is destroyed to 99.9999 per cent and beyond as a minimum, the Committee decided that that was waste destruction, and therefore it was a good industry, just like the rest of UK plc, and it should be allowed to operate overseas. I heard from the CIA that perhaps this waste would be exported.

  109. You cannot do that.
  (Mr Averill) No, you cannot do it, but personally, I do not see why you cannot. I believe in high standards, but then I believe in free competition between all of the people who are qualified to those high standards. I am sure the gentleman in question is facing some fierce competition from European and other overseas companies. Why should you not have the same competition in this industry?


  110. Was there an energy output from the Pontypool facility?
  (Mr Averill) Energy in many areas is beneficially re-used in exactly the same way as it is in, say, a cement kiln. Not all hazardous waste for incineration has a high calorific value, so you use the heat generated from that which has to destroy that which has not.

  111. In your evidence in appendix 1 you have an interesting paragraph. You say, "Whilst we recognise that co-incineration is an important option, a level playing field needs to be established. Recovery of energy during the destruction of waste by HTI is of equal value to the recovery of energy during cement manufacture." Could you just explain that?
  (Mr Averill) It is back to one of these idiosyncracies of the legislation. Mr Tipping quite rightly points out that we are not allowed to import for incineration, because that is classified as a disposal activity. If you were to import the self-same waste to a cement kiln, where you are "re-using the energy" to make cement, that is classified as re-cycling. So you are allowed to import it into a cement kiln but you are not allowed to import it into an incinerator, even though the use of energy is identical.

  112. When you talk about cement kilns, I would hate people to think there was illicit incineration going on in cement kilns. Are you suggesting that that is what is going on?
  (Mr Averill) I am not alleging for a moment that anything illegal is happening but an awful lot of hazardous waste is burnt in cement kilns. Cement kilns are not interested in burning hazardous waste; they are interested in mitigating their fuel costs. The fuel cost in cement manufacture is one of the greatest costs. If instead of burning fuel for which they have to pay they can burn waste for which they are paid, they can greatly improve the economics of their process.

Paddy Tipping

  113. There are some cement kilns burning tyres and some secondary liquid fuel.
  (Mr Averill) I am not saying that is an activity which should stop. Many of these secondary liquid fuels, although waste-derived, are to quite a tight standard, and are in many ways cleaner than the coal which they substitute. My complaint is this: the re-use of the energy is exactly the same in the case of incineration as it is in a cement kiln, but we get completely different regulatory treatment.


  114. In terms of hazardous waste incineration capacity, do we have enough in the UK if what we have currently were to be fully utilised?
  (Mr Averill) That depends entirely upon the regulatory regime which forces the waste towards incineration. At the moment there is a surplus of incineration capacity for hazardous waste—I am talking exclusively hazardous waste—and that is why we have had to take the action that we have taken to cease operations at Pontypool, because there is no work.

Mr Todd

  115. I was going to ask you to explain why it certainly appears that other people are investing in incineration, but presumably their proposals are focussed on the broader marketplace of incinerating household waste.
  (Mr Averill) Yes. You must not confuse the two. The temperatures in the incineration of hazardous waste are far higher than the temperatures for the incineration of municipal solid waste. The plants technically speaking are completely different. They share the name "incinerator" and that is where it begins and ends. The problem we have is not shared by a municipal waste incinerator.

  116. Presumably you have those sorts of operations elsewhere yourselves?
  (Mr Averill) We do not as a company have municipal waste incinerators, no.

  117. You touched on re-cycling and indeed outlined some interesting developments that you were involved in in other parts of Europe. What scope do you think there is for increasing the amount of re-cycling that can be generated from this particular form of waste disposal?
  (Mr Averill) Again, very simply, by adjusting the regulatory regime.

  118. So that you would place an obligation for a proportion of specified waste to be re-cycled in some way. How is it done in Europe?
  (Mr Averill) It almost happens as an automatic consequence. We have a high temperature soil cleaner for polluted soils containing oil contaminants in the Netherlands. In the UK all of that simply goes to landfill. Here what we do is we use the oil from our oil-water separation plant to provide the heat for the soil cleaning. So the oil is completely re-cycled into the thermal process, and the interesting bit is the output is the clean soil which goes back for beneficial re-use.

  119. So there is not a regulatory obligation to re-cycle a particular item; it is just that there is an economic advantage attached to it.
  (Mr Shaughnessy) Absolutely. Economically delivered innovation.

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