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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240 - 259)



  240. Finally, tell me what the LGA thinks about the Planning Green Paper as it relates to hazardous waste. Is there something in there that is going to help you? Is it going to be easier to deliver these sites in future? A wish, possibly?
  (Mr Fielding) Perhaps I should have stated at the beginning that Stephen and I are waste managers are not planning experts. Unfortunately, the LGA would normally wish to be represented at this event by a member of the executive, but it has not been possible today, for which they apologise. Consequently, I am probably not best able to comment on issues of the Planning Green Paper, being a waste practitioner not a planner.

  241. Will you write to us?
  (Mr Fielding) Yes.


  242. Following on that important point Mr Tipping has raised, there may be a greater need in the future for incineration, for example. That seems to be persona non grata. Whenever you say the word "incinerator" a vast army of people who disagree with incineration immediately forms. What are your views about dealing with issues like that in the future?
  (Mr Fielding) Again, I think we need to draw the distinction between the management of hazardous waste and the management of municipal waste.

  243. But thinking of hazardous waste, what are your views?
  (Mr Fielding) High-temperature incineration is the normally established disposal route for the most hazardous materials. Those plants are not without their objections and issues that come with them. I think that the process has been clearly demonstrated as an appropriate technology, and through the IPPC permitting system the Environment Agency will doubtless consider applications and approve them on their merits. Whether or not we will see a move to further incineration is probably best left to the waste industries to comment on.

  244. Perhaps when you respond in writing to Mr Tipping's question about the planning side—and I do appreciate that you are not an expert on that—some words on the planning issues that surround the establishment of and subsequent operation of incinerators might be quite helpful to the Committee.
  (Mr Fielding) Certainly.

Mr Lepper

  245. You have already referred this afternoon, I think, to the uncertainties brought about by the Government's review of the Special Waste Regulations. There was a consultation paper issued by the Department in the spring of last year, I think. Could you tell us what the LGA has to say about the likely impact on local authorities of some of the proposals in that consultation paper?
  (Mr Fielding) Perhaps I need to start by saying that the LGA, as you are probably aware, has gone through some changes in the last year, and I have asked the question myself as to what response the LGA made. I was not personally involved, and I am unable to quote from that response. What we can perhaps do is outline to you what will be the implications for local authorities.

  246. That would be helpful, so would you do that?
  (Mr Didsbury) There are various aspects of it. One of the things we are talking about is stopping pre-notification. That would be probably an advantage, because where we have special skips at waste sites, they do not necessarily fill up at a standard rate, therefore we do not know three days in advance which skips are going to be full. With the extension of the "special waste" definition to other areas like fridges we looked at gauging the likely cost, assuming that there is going to be a cost for transfer modes, and it was somewhere between £¼ million and £½ million just on fridges alone, if they become special waste. That is excluding the stuff we have already paid for. In my authority we are a fairly small disposal authority. We have two waste sites which work out at about £20,000 just on asbestos being transferred and disposed of. This is where we have got waste oil and batteries. As more things get included, it is likely that a lot of the waste—When the waste oil and asbestos got added into the "special waste" definition we had to pay consignment costs, and a lot of local authorities actually took special skips out of their local sites, because the cost of the site licence went up from something like £400 or £500 to between £1,500 and £2,000 per site. We have two sites, so we decided it was the best that we could make. Some authorities have 20-plus sites and they could not do that on all their sites because of the sheer costs alone and all the costs of actually disposing of it. If other items—fridges, television sets—are included, eventually these sites are probably going to have to be charged, they are going to have to go for the higher licence. That also means that their potential competence needs to go up from level 3, from civic amenity sites, to a level 4, a special waste transfer establishment. That costs about £4,000 or £5,000 to get somebody through that with the qualifications. Obviously a lot of that will have an outcome on the private sector who will be running the sites on our behalf. So there are the additional licence costs, the additional costs of higher training for the staff. Then if you are segregating waste out, the sites have to be bigger, and you have lots of pressure to increase recycling levels on a continuing basis, so theoretically you are looking for any space there is to increase recycling. So it is even going to affect our recycling levels because we will have to reduce the areas for recycling and for hazardous waste opportunities. So there are a lot of small costs, but when they are added together all over the country you get to quite large scales.

  247. Has the LGA attempted to work out a global figure?
  (Mr Didsbury) I understand it is difficult, because there is uncertainty about what might or might not be included.
  (Mr Fielding) No, because I think one of the main issues is uncertainty, as I say, about whether or not we will continue with blanket exemptions from the hazardous waste definition of household waste. If we do, then the implications from the review of the Special Waste Regulations probably on their own are fairly incidental, they are issues mainly to do with additional haulage costs, I would imagine. The difficulty will be presumably when they are compounded with other issues like the Landfill Directive, the WEEE Directive, and these things start perhaps to have a multiplying effect. Also another important point is that a number of local authorities are trying to do the best we can with hazardous household waste at t the moment and incurring significant additional costs beyond our statutory obligations to do so—for instance, either by offering some form of kerbside collection for hazardous waste or, in my case, offering a bring-bank (for want of a better description) at CA sites.

  248. What is a "bring-bank"?
  (Mr Fielding) It is slightly more than just a dump or bank. It is a container that has layers in it. Hazardous waste, or materials that householders believe to be hazardous, is placed in it and then is regularly inspected by a contractor, a qualified chemist, to identify what the product is, if they know what the product is, and then to arrange for it to be sent for onward destruction. That is at some significant cost, and typical unit rates will probably be over £1,000 per tonne. This is, compared to the costs of municipal waste disposal, not just of an order of magnitude but an order of magnitude on that as well. What we need to be mindful of and perhaps I am concerned about is the potential perverse incentive that may come through the review of the regulations with the other compounding effects such that it becomes easier and cheaper for local authorities not to go out on a limb and incur those additional costs because doing so would be prohibitively expensive. I think we need some way of managing the risks associated with hazardous household waste to the degree that we can collect more of it more efficiently rather than what I am fearful of at the moment, which is that we will be in a position where we do not want to segregate it because of the problems that that creates.

Mr Lepper

  249. Uncertainty seems to be the besetting problem here. Obviously you would hope that the Government would end that situation as soon as possible and give you some certainty. Cost is one thing. Planning to deal with changes in definition and so on is another. From where they are now how long a period would local authorities need to prepare for those changes if they are to happen?
  (Mr Didsbury) The longer the notice the better. We have coped with the fridges at truly short notice but we would prefer probably a couple of years' notice. If we have to go out and do a proper tender process, under the Environment Protection Act and the European regulations to do it properly it takes nine months to a year. Before that we have to think it through, prepare documents, so realistically 18 months to two years would be ideal, or perhaps slightly longer than that because of our own budgetary cycles. Our chief finance officers prefer to know three years in advance on prices so that they can build it into the local budget.

  250. In the LGA's written submission, paragraph 12, in relation to possible changes in Special Waste Regulations, the LGA says they have considerably increased expenditure for local authorities, and we have dealt with that, "with little or even negligible benefit in terms of reducing pollution or environmental risks". How do you come to that assessment? It sounds as if the LGA is saying that this could be a great deal of additional expenditure, a great deal of re-education of the public in fact, supposedly to benefit the environment and to reduce pollution, and yet the LGA seems to be saying in terms of what is proposed in the consultation paper, I take it, that it would have "little or even negligible benefit".
  (Mr Fielding) That is probably more in context with the risk approach that is at the beginning of that paragraph, the proposal that if a risk based approach were taken particularly to hazardous household waste, going back to my earlier point, we would hope to be able to develop a system that could produce environmental benefit at no cost rather than a system which means adopting maybe a bureaucratic procedure, for instance, consigning fridges at significant additional cost, with no additional benefit.


  251. Can I just stick with paragraph 12 because I am a little bit concerned? We have talked about the problems that are going to be encountered for sorted and non-sorted household waste. First of all, how long have we got to get that sorted out so that somebody does not turn up at their civic amenity site to find a damn great sign saying, "We will not accept the following. Take them elsewhere", because that seems to be a sure fire route to fly tipping, dumping and uncontrolled disposals of waste. That is a bit of an Armageddon paragraph as far as the citizen is concerned.
  (Mr Fielding) It comes back to the point that we do need clarity. I totally agree. The situation we want to avoid is one where all of a sudden the regulation gives us no option but to either stockpile fridges or just refuse waste. The example given there of, for instance, treated timber, if treated timber is to be banned from landfill and it is not part of the blanket exemption for household waste, then the only options open to us would be to either send it to high temperature incineration at the moment or to arrange for it somehow to be treated. I am not aware of the technology that would be able to deal with that at this time. We need clarity as soon as possible on what wastes are configured or excluded from this blanket exemption.

  252. What is the deadline that you are working to? When do you expect to get that information? Have you any idea? Just say no if it is easier because we are very happy if you do not know.
  (Mr Fielding) The deadline will be determined by when the regulations on disposal systems take effect. We would need to know before then.

Paddy Tipping

  253. Tell me a bit about costs. Your evidence is very strong on the "polluter pays" principle and the cynics would say that that is because they do not want the treasurer or the finance officer picking up the cost for the council tax payer. As you say, this is about defining your budget and being clear where your budget is. That is right?
  (Mr Didsbury) Yes.

  254. And that is difficult?
  (Mr Didsbury) Yes. It is difficult when you do not know what is coming in the future. With the fridges no-one was prepared. On the things we currently send for specialist disposal we have contracts, we know what the costs are. Costs mean round about £120 a tonne for asbestos sheeting disposal. Waste oil breaks even; it does not cost us anything. Batteries are another thing that do not cost us anything. For things like treated timber, because currently we do not separate it and there is not really any suitable disposal outlet unless it happens to go to an incinerator already, it is very difficult to work out what sort of costs we are talking about, especially as garden furniture and timber are seen to be one of the growth areas being sold in-do-it-yourself shops and therefore it does not take too long for that to start turning up at our end. Timber recycling usually excludes treated timber.

  255. In that case it is quite hard to define the producer to make them pay for it.
  (Mr Didsbury) Yes.

  256. Whereas for larger bulk items clearly you can establish a link and charge back. Are there indications that the market is going that way, that the producer will pay in the end?
  (Mr Didsbury) The indication is that producers will try to avoid paying for as long as possible. With end of life vehicles that has been put back to the last possible date before they can do it. Systems which were mooted for fridges, where it would be ideal perhaps to bring in producer responsibility earlier, were not progressed. That was probably for very sound business reasons and supporting British industry but from our end of it it is a bit more difficult. The costs are quite high. We have joined a system for all 33 London boroughs where we have a household hazardous waste collection service and the City of London co-ordinate it and therefore we buy in bulk effectively, so it works out at £40 or £50 a collection, but we are talking about hundreds up to £1,000 a tonne for the specialist chemicals which does mean that this morning when we were fly tipped with 30 kilos of acid we were fortunate that we had somebody we could ring up and it has been dealt with.
  (Mr Fielding) If I can pick up on the ELVs, you are probably aware that the LGA has expressed a wish to register its disappointment at the fact that the producer responsibility element of the directive in the UK has been put back to 2007 and it was the LGA's view that that should have been brought forward to at least 2005 or as early as possible. To put that into context, coming back to costs, I know that the Government's view is that the abandoned vehicles element of that is going to be addressed through changes to the way we identify owners but, given the market situation with end of life vehicles that is likely to happen, if we were to retain the existing numbers, which will be some achievement, the likely bill to local authorities would be in the order of the current bill for fridges, if not more.

  257. Remind me what that is.
  (Mr Fielding) The LGA's estimate is between £60 million and £65 million per annum, although I think the Government's estimate is £40 million.

  258. You have an involvement in end of life vehicles. You said 2005. The small point is that you were in a sense dismissed?
  (Mr Fielding) Yes.

  259. What you are saying to me now is that all local authorities think this is a big problem, that the final owner has the responsibility up to 2007 and you think that there is going to be a cost burden in the region maybe of £60 million?
  (Mr Fielding) Yes.

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