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

Memorandum submitted by Essex Friends of the Earth

  There was a sad absence of our state-of-the-art British reprocessors represented in the PIU or Strategy Unit's recent team looking at the Government's Waste Strategy. Why was this? Yet the waste disposal industry was heavily represented. For example, Hampshire's Onyx Aurora "Project Integra" Chief Executive, Graham Tombs, was a member of this Waste PIU team, but discreetly labelled as New Forest Council.

  Hampshire's Onyx "integrated waste management" contract includes three incinerators, with expensive centralised MRF to sort "commingled" recyclables. Hampshire's costs were shown to be 50 per cent higher than Essex's costs in the October 2001 ECC Best Value Audit report. Yet their recycling in 2001-02 only reached 22% compared to Essex districts' 24% recycling (see Annex). Hampshire said they will not be able to achieve their statutory recycling requirement.


  Aylesford Recycled Paper mill reprocesses 480,000 tonnes per year of newspaper and magazines into newsprint in their state-Of-the-art mill which opened in 1996. They had wanted to double capacity ever since they opened. However, they are now surrounded by incinerator contracts in Kent including a 500,000 tonne incinerator approved at Maidstone. Their parent company have now invested in Spain instead of here. What a loss to Britain.

  There was a rumour in Essex that Aylesford was only running at 35% capacity because of contaminated paper. I have just had the response below from Ian Broxup, of Aylesford mill, which fortunately refutes the rumour. However Ian brings up the problem of "commingled" (mixed up) dry recyclables (which have to exclude glass), collected in plastic sacks or wheelie bins to be sorted at major MRFs.

  For example, Southend and Babergh councils and councils feeding the new £4.5million Rainham Cleanaway MRF already operate plastic sacks for "commingled" recyclables. These are called "survival sacks" because of their poor survival rate. Recycling rates are not high. Rumours are also rife that many of the white sacks end up in landfill.

  However, in 2001-02 the 12 Essex districts averaged 24.25% (see Annex), with Brentwood council top recycler with 31.8%. The best of three recycling trials—the Mersea area of 4,500 households—recycled 58 per cent for over two years with separated collections for garden waste, paper/card, bottles, cans, textiles and plastic bottles using suitable vehicles. Colchester council achieved Beacon status last year with 29 per cent recycling including Mersea.

  The lowest two Essex districts, Chelmsford and Basildon, recycled 20.4 per cent and 20.1% respectively with separated kerbside collections, whereas the unitary authority Southend only recycled 14.5 per cent with commingled recyclables collected in plastic sacks by Cory.

  It is generally recognized that there is about 40% contaminated recyclate wastage with commingled collections in plastic sacks or wheelie bins. The London Borough of Sutton thought they were recycling 44% with a wheelie bin collection, whereas it was discovered that much of this was being dumped. An inquiry ensued and it was calculated the real rate was around 25 per cent in fact.

  This wasted tonnage may in fact be double-counted when dumped and account for some so-called "rising waste" figures. Indeed, detailed Essex district waste audits and others elsewhere have shown an almost level waste tonnage per household over a period of four years. Other well-known sources of so-called "rising waste" figures are from commercial and business operators using the free domestic waste kerbside or civic amenity sites.

  The British paper reprocessors made a recent plea to councils not to commingle recyclables because paper becomes contaminated and unusable. It is rejected and subsequently landfilled or burnt. As paper and card is the largest fraction and mainstay of the kerbside collection at around a quarter of MSW by tonnage, this is a serious wasted opportunity.

  At the Essex FoE latest "Zero Waste—How To Do It" seminars in Chelmsford and Colchester on 7 September we invited the recyclate reprocessors to advise us. We were looking at best kerbside collections and what to avoid.

  Ian Broxup of Aylesford Recycled Newsprint Mill, Terry Marks of Alcan, the aluminium can reprocessors, and Andy Simmons of Recoup, plastic bottle recyclers, all disapproved of "commingled" collections and supported separated kerbside collections for clean valuable recyclate. Matt Pumfrey, of Orrtec invessel composting had the same message.

  They pointed out that as well as producing a large percentage of contaminated recyclate which is rejected and dumped in landfill or burnt, commingling requires capital-intensive centralised MRFs which means this is by far the most expensive method overall. I attach the Alcan presentation.

  As mentioned above, the Essex districts' average recycling was 24.25% for 2001-02. The separated kerbside collections are baled locally and do not require major capital-intensive MRFs (Materials Recycling Facilities).

  Wheelie bins have been or are being introduced in some other counties for collecting "commingled" recyclables in "integrated waste management" 25 year contracts for Onyx, SITA etc., which include building MRFs and incinerators, such as the Hampshire Onyx Aurora "Project Integra" scheme. These schemes can have two or three wheelie bins per household—to collect rubbish/"commingled" dry recyclables/green waste.

  While the best recycling trial in the Mersea area recycled 58% with 98% satisfaction with flexible collections and no wheelie bins, the other two less successful trials recycled 45% and 50%, and included two wheelie bins per household. The Witham trial had a lot of resistance and public opposition to the two cumbersome wheelie bins which also required separate plastic bags for recyclables to store in their kitchens.

  Yet the Government have given Chelmsford council one and a quarter million pounds to roll out two wheelie bins per rural household, and Braintree council three quarters of a million pounds for these less successful and cumbersome inflexible slow systems.

  The QMW Public Policy Seminar on 13 December entitled: "Effective Delivery of the Waste Strategy" was on the disappointing and unambitious PIU study. The audience was mainly waste disposal industry representatives. They were talking about colour-coded wheelie bins right across Britain, with three per home. Inflexible, slow and expensive waste disposal mentality to feed major MRFs and incinerators at great cost to the taxpayer.

  The Government has been doling out millions of pounds to councils including Essex districts to fund wheelie bins and wheelie bin trucks. This is a crucial issue as the major waste incinerator companies take over 25 year county contracts for collection and disposal across Britain to build MRFs such as in Hampshire and the £4.5million MRF at Rainham.

  The Rainham MRF opened in May to sort out 40,000 tonnes of mixed recyclables at great cost—the latest news was that it was taking in black bag waste to sort as a "dirty" MRF. As a recycling comparison, last year the twelve Essex districts recycled, composted and baled 169,000 tonnes locally, separated at the civic amenity sites and at the kerbside. The Rainham MRF is on the site of a 1998 NFFO-approved incinerator for 600,000 tonnes.

  The new Government Strategy Unit (SU) report "Waste not, Want not", is extraordinarily bereft of vision or ambitious targets, and features "Project Integra" (p, 109, Box 31). Graham Tombs, Chief Executive of Onyx Aurora Project Integra was on the SU Advisory Group as mentioned above. He is now Essex County Council Head of Waste, Recycling and Environment.

  When you look at the surfeit of waste disposal industry personnel on the SU team and the Advisory Group, and the well-known old guard on the Business As Usual gravy train SU study it is no surprise. But the Policy & Innovation Unit (PIU), as it started out, was meant to be "blue sky thinking". I haven't found a mention of Zero Waste yet. It doesn't appear in the Glossary of Terms. 45% recycling by 2015 is their most ambitious recommendation. Yet Austria, Switzerland, Germany and Holland recycle more than this already.

  Not just in Essex, but right across Britain we must be aware of the drive to mass collect "commingled" recyclables, where the householder carefully separates the recyclables at home and then kindly mixes them all up again in a plastic sack or wheelie bin for the operator to mass collect and then try to sort out again at a capital-intensive central MRF along with the incinerators in confidential "integrated waste management" contracts.

  It not only costs more, but the 25 year countywide contracts will tie councils into huge contracted tonnages to burn. There will be subsequent hazardous and toxic ash to dispose of which will be between one third and a half by tonnage of the waste burned.

Finally: what is wrong with wheelie bins?

    —  They increase waste collected and contamination—contents are hidden. Chelmsford council were shown to have higher tonnages, higher costs and lowest recycling per household than other districts, after having the wheelie bin system for many years run by SITA, who were later replaced by the council DSO inhouse collection team.

    —  They lock local authorities into the inflexible capital-intensive wheelie bin truck system.

    —  They are cumbersome and have to be picked up individually at each home.

    —  There are more injuries to binmen from wheelies than from black sack collections.

    —  They are unsuitable for terraced or Victorian housing, narrow, bumpy paths or steps.

    —  They are hideous in heritage towns, left all week on pavements and front gardens.

    —  They encourage and continue the disposal "out of sight" rubbish mentality.

Why aren't wheelie bins suitable for separated kerbside collections?

    —  Residual waste: where recycling and composting already reduces "rubbish" by 60% as in the Mersea area, the small light black bags of residual rubbish (mainly mixed plastics and Tetrapaks) don't require a wheelie bin—binmen can save vehicle time by collecting them in piles for a compactor truck—a wheelie bin invites more waste. As residual waste reduces further, when the EU Biowaste Directive requires food waste to be collected separately at the kerbside, and when waste exchanges become commonplace, black rubbish bags can be restricted and rubbish collections reduced.

    —  Recyclables: paper/card, glass bottles (colours and clear), cans, plastic bottles and textiles etc.—should be collected as separated materials, sorted at the kerbside and baled locally. They should not be "commingled" in sacks or wheelie bins, which will not be able to achieve the 55% to 65% statutory recycling which will be required by 2006 in the EU Packaging Directive. This will cover all packaging materials: paper, card, glass, metals and plastics. The average recycled across the EU now is 55%.

    —  Garden waste: householders should be encouraged to compost garden and kitchen greenwaste at home, and a close local site available every week to take their excess garden waste to be centrally windrow composted; if a kerbside collection is provided as in the Mersea area, then a wheelie bin is not suitable, because garden waste doesn't come in wheelie bin sized weekly or fortnightly batches—in practice at Mersea it comes in occasional large batches of about eight or ten reusable sacks or bags;

    —  Kitchen foodwaste: we should be preparing for the EU Biowaste or Composting Directive to start separate kitchen bucket collections of all meat, fish and bones kitchen foodwaste (which can't be composted in garden compostbins) for local invessel composting. The Italian foodwaste bucket collections by electric trucks are hugely successful across Italy and Spain and starting here in Britain now. We must be flexible and ready for real changes in kerbside collections as we strive for Zero Waste for saving resources, energy, pollution, transport costs, global warming gases and towards a sustainable planet.

Essex Friends of the Earth,

7 January 2003


AreaDistrict Re-cycling Tonnes % C/A Site Waste Tonnes ** C/A Site Re-cycling Tonnes **% Total Waste TonnesTotal
Re-cycling Tonnes
Basildon10,46514.0   14,442  7,440 51.5  88,978  17,905 20.1
Braintree  7,13213.9   11,775  5,947 50.5  63,258  13,079 20.7
Brentwood  2,73311.8   17,18110,08958.7   40,376  12,822 31.8
Castle Point  6,102 17.5    8,084  3,995 49.4  42,913  10,097 23.5
Chelmsford  8,02911.1   17,87310,33257.8   89,900  18,361 20.4
Colchester11,78420.6   17,78710,08856.7   74,933  21,872 29.2
Epping Forest10,00120.3   17,706  8,890 50.2  67,064  18,891 28.2
Harlow  2,512  8.9   12,706  6,249 49.2  40,902    8,761 21.4
Maldon  2,94114.0   12,333  7,161 58.1  33,274  10,102 30.4
Rochford  2,595  8.0   12,269  6,904 56.3  44,804    9,499 21.2
Tendring  5,02010.6   26,48914,71855.6   73,716  19,738 26.8
Uttlesford  5,27116.2     5,294  2,985 56.4  37,902    8,256 21.8
Fridges * 321 321
TOTAL74,58514.2 174,27194,79854.4 698,352169,38324.3
* Fridges collected by Districts are included in their Waste Tonnes figures
** Figures include recycled hardcore

previous page contents next page

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

© Parliamentary copyright 2003
Prepared 22 May 2003