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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160 - 179)



  160. What are the implications of that, could you just sketch out for us what the implications of that are, particularly in relation to the use of incineration?
  (Dr Leinster) I think, as you say, the important thing within any waste strategy is that you take account, first of all, of minimisation, recycling, reuse, then you come to energy from waste and landfilling. And what we need to make sure is that the energy from waste and the high-temperature incineration options are not allowed to distort options higher up the waste hierarchy. So we would believe that, within an overall waste strategy, incineration can have a role to play, and in some circumstances we would believe that, for particular waste streams, it can be the best practicable environmental option for that. If incinerators are operated to the stringent requirements that are in place now, we believe that it is a valid waste management option. And so we believe that it can be a valid disposal option; the number that you would require is going to be a commercial decision based upon the waste arisings, for which high-temperature waste incineration is the best practical environmental option.

  161. You suggested the Environment Agency has a view that there are some waste streams for which it may be the best option; could you just say a little more about that?
  (Dr Leinster) We would have to have a look, but certainly for some wastes with high calorific value, for some of the organic wastes, which will no longer be able to go to landfill, then incineration, or co-incineration, may be the best option for those.

  162. We have had some written evidence from the cement industry, I think from the British Cement Association and from Lafarge Cement, and the Committee heard last week from Shanks, and they commented on this as well, and there does seem to be a view, on the part of the cement industry, that they have, in their kilns, the kind of kit, as it were, that could be of great use in that process of incineration, but that are perhaps not treated in quite the same way by the Environment Agency, in terms of guidance and regulations, etc., as those companies which are operating incinerators per se. Do you think they are right?
  (Dr Leinster) No.

  163. Is it an unlevel playing-field?
  (Dr Leinster) I think it is a level playing-field. For that material which is defined as hazardous waste which is going to a cement kiln, then for the proportion of the waste that is burned in the cement kiln we would apply the same incineration-type emission limits to that proportion of the waste; for the proportion of the emissions from the cement kiln which arise from the normal fuels which are used within the cement kiln we would apply the cement kiln emission limits, and so you come together and you have a composite limit. But for the material for the hazardous waste which is burned within a cement kiln then the limits that we apply would be the same limits as we would apply if it were burned in a high-temperature incinerator.

  164. But is there a future for the cement industry in incineration, or for incineration in the cement industry, I am not sure which way round it should be?
  (Dr Leinster) Again, we need to take it waste stream by waste stream. I would believe that there will still remain certain wastes which will be substitute fuels within cement kilns.

  165. Whether it is landfill or whether it is incinerators, as Paddy Tipping suggested earlier, our constituents do not particularly want it near them, thank you very much. But you have said, in your written evidence to us, I think you have made a comment, in paragraph 7.1, you talk about the need for, and you referred to it this afternoon as well, changes, I think, in the development control system in this country as an essential part of that overall planning process, which, again, has been a major theme of what you have talked about. Could you just say a little more about the Environment Agency's view about the need to change the development control system?
  (Dr Leinster) Certainly. As you say, many people do not want either a landfill site close to them or an incinerator close to them, nor will they want necessarily a large-scale composting unit close to them, nor a recycling unit close to them. And when we look at all the waste management techniques which are around, there is no risk-free option for the management of waste. All activities, recycling, composting, incineration, have the potential to release emissions into the environment; what is important is that those risks are properly managed, through the permitting and then through the compliance enforcement and the normal site operations. In terms of the different planning aspects, it applies to both the hazardous waste strategic plan, that we believe should be national, or for the regional or more localised strategic waste management plans, what those plans look at is the numbers and types of facilities that should be provided. The difficulty is that they do not deal with locational issues, and the locational issues are local planning matters. And there is a disconnect just now and somehow there needs to be a connect between, we believe, to manage this waste, we need these types of facilities, and where are those facilities actually going to be constructed; and just now there is that disconnect.

  166. Are the proposals in the Government's Green Paper on Planning helpful in this respect, if they were to be implemented?
  (Dr Leinster) This is one of the areas where we have submitted the Agency views on the consultation, that we believe that they have actually missed this particular issue, and we believe that it should be addressed in further drafting.


  167. Can you just clarify one point for me. I am getting the impression that cement kilns seem to be the sort of panacea for all problems, you can bung anything into a cement kiln, and, whoof, up the chimney it has gone. But what can you put into a cement kiln and what cannot you?
  (Dr Leinster) What you need to do is work out what the emissions are going to be and then make sure that those emissions meet either the Waste Incineration Directive emission limits or the cement kiln operation limits; but if it was a waste that was going in then it would have to be for that proportion of the total emissions that arise from the waste that it will meet those waste incineration emission limits.

  168. As I am not the detailed keeper of the expertise in that, I wonder perhaps, if not necessarily now, I do not want to go away with the wrong idea that the cement industry has all the answers to incineration, I may be totally wrong on that, but it would just be quite helpful to know technically what you can put into a cement kiln? I have never visited a cement kiln, so I am not fully conversant; and whilst it was still in full tilt neither would I want to, because I might go up the chimney myself. And so it would be helpful to know what you can and what you cannot actually put into one of these things, and what has to be done?
  (Dr Leinster) Yes, we can supply that.

Paddy Tipping

  169. Can we just go back to how you are going to dispose of all this hazardous waste, because you told David Lepper, a minute or two ago, that it is going to be hard to build new incinerators, because there are planning issues, and the rest; now you told me a moment ago that the number of landfill sites is going to fall dramatically, maybe to two dozen. We are on a pretty tight timetable here, are we not; is there going to be enough capacity to go round?
  (Mr Lee) The provision of any waste treatment and disposal capacity is almost entirely in the hands of the private sector in the UK, that makes us really quite different from most of the other European Member States. So, as the regulator, of course, I cannot guarantee you that the type, quantity and distribution of required sites is going to be there. I said earlier on there were two things that could help. First of all is clarity of the controls and the rules, and the second is the time for the private sector to react within, to make sure that the other facilities are developed. So, as the regulator, no, I cannot guarantee you that the right facilities will be there.

  170. But you have a responsibility, if the capacity is not there, and the material that is being dealt with inadequately, where, presumably, you must be doing a bit of thinking about this?
  (Mr Lee) We are doing a lot of thinking, I can guarantee you; some of the thinking is along the lines that hazardous waste production will become more costly, in terms of its responsible future management. That will have an upside, and that is: it will persuade a lot of hazardous waste producers not to produce it in the first place; that is a good outcome. One of the potential downsides is that it may increase the inducement to either misdescribe or manage the waste illegally, which is something that all of the regulators have got to be alive to. What we cannot have is the Environment Agency in support for increased costs for responsible hazardous waste management, without any action to make sure that we can detect and prosecute when we find illegal waste management. As part of our reaction to that, we are building into the Agency intelligence-gathering, and using networks. We will never be able to flood the streets with regulators in fast cars, just looking for misdemeanours, we have to target our finite enforcement resources where we think they are going to have maximum effect, and one sure way to do that is to gather evidence as to where we think misdemeanours could happen.

  171. I buy all that, I think that is right, is it not; costs are going to go up, so people produce more, costs are going to go up so there are more effective ways of treating them, and I accept what you say about this being a private sector activity. But, in fairness to the private sector, they are on a pretty short timetable, and there is a set of definitions, at the moment, which, although you have explained to us very adequately, I am still not clear about, I do not think anybody is clear about. And what I am really quite worried about now is that, 2006 onwards, there just is not going to be enough capacity to go around. Now you can do all the policing you want, and all the intelligence-gathering, but if there are not the facilities, what is going to happen then, who is responsible for that?
  (Dr Leinster) I think, sat where we are now, there is an opportunity to make sure that that does not happen, and I think it is beholden on the regulators, on Government, on the waste producers and the waste management industry to take the opportunity that is now, to make sure that we do have those required facilities. One of the things that we should note is that the technologies for treatment of these wastes exist, they might not exist in this country but they certainly would exist in other Member countries, and so it is possible to get hold of the technologies. The issue that we have is, one, that we have a strategic view of what we need, and the second important one is a planning issue. Because I believe that the market would supply the required treatment facilities, as long as they can build them in time, which is the issue, which is the planning issue and the locational planning issue; and that is, I believe, one of the key areas that we really do need to focus on, is getting that right. So the first bit is making sure that we have a clear strategy, and we need to do that soon, to provide as much time as possible, in a phased manner, because different wastes will come in at different times, and I am sure that we can predict that timing and phasing, and then we need to make sure that the facilities phase in with it. But there will be very difficult planning issues, because, we talked about the possibility of a network of incinerators, or a network of specialist treatment facilities, whatever those specialist treatment facilities will be, there will be a limited number of particular types of facility which the UK, and certainly England and Wales, requires. It would not be one within every planning authority. So therefore that makes the locational decisions even more difficult.

  Paddy Tipping: Now who is driving this forward, because these are big issues, difficult issues, over a tough timetable, who is sorting it out, let me put it like that?


  172. So who is the UK waste supremo, who is the person we have to finger, if a wheel comes off?
  (Dr Leinster) We believe that this is a matter for Government.

  173. Who is the person in Government who is responsible for this little lot; who is Mr Waste, or Mrs Waste, or Ms Waste?
  (Dr Leinster) The Secretary of State, ultimately.

  174. And who, in administrative terms, is responsible for this, because, you are quite right, in political terms, the Secretary of State takes the ultimate responsibility, or we hope so, for their Department's work, but who, in the pecking order of the civil servants working within DEFRA, is IC this great project?
  (Dr Leinster) Waste is headed up, ultimately, it will be the Permanent Secretary.

  175. You are ever so careful in answering my questions. It is the Permanent Secretary; very good?
  (Dr Leinster) Yes, but getting down to the most senior civil servant who has waste in their title is Richard Bird, who is the Grade Three.

  176. Right; so he really ought to be the person in the control room, steering the ship?
  (Dr Leinster) He will be responsible for ensuring that this strategy comes to fruition.

Paddy Tipping

  177. When did you last meet him?
  (Dr Leinster) Most probably, about two weeks ago.

  178. How often do you meet him?
  (Dr Leinster) Officially, we have a series of bilateral meetings every six weeks, but we meet in-between that as well.

  179. And he knows there is a problem, does he?
  (Dr Leinster) He is fully aware. Steve will meet with the waste folk who report into Richard on a more frequent basis; and, in fact, when it comes to policy discussions, we are in daily contact, and there will be multiple daily contact going on, discussing the wide plethora of waste issues which are around just now.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 26 July 2002