Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1043 - 1059)




  1043. May I welcome you to the final session of the Committee's inquiry into sustainable waste management. Could I ask you to identify yourselves for the record, please.
  (Mr Cocker) I am Vic Cocker. I am Chairman of WRAP.
  (Mr Georgeson) I am Ray Georgeson, Executive Director of Waste Watch.

  (Mr Dougherty) My name is David Dougherty. I am adviser to WRAP.

  1044. Do any of you want to say anything by way of introduction or are you happy for us to go into questions?
  (Mr Cocker) I would say that we would be happy to go to questions. I would just make the point that Ray Georgeson here will be joining WRAP as its first Policy Director on 1 January; and David Dougherty has a great experience of working on recycling projects, particularly with the Clean Washington, project and internationally, and is our adviser. So there may be occasions on which I would encourage you to listen to what they have to say as well.

  Chairman: We had originally hoped that Ray might say some fairly critical things of you but I understand that he will not now. So if we go to questions. Could I emphasise that if you agree with each other, just one of you say it. John Cummings.

Mr Cummings

  1045. The Committee has received evidence, which indicates that one of the biggest problems faced by local authorities in reaching their statutory targets, is finding markets for recycled materials. Do you think that the situation in respect of markets for recycled targets, is that achievement of the Government's recycling targets likely to lead to gluts in world markets?
  (Mr Cocker) I think there are clearly some problems with the markets side. Indeed, that is one of the prime focuses of WRAP's attention. There is no doubt that where we get price fluctuations—and they are severe in some markets, particularly paper and PET—that these can have a destabilising effect. It can discourage long-term investment. So, yes, we believe that markets are a problem at present, which is one of the prime reasons why WRAP was established, to help to develop new markets. There is no doubt that where markets are fairly thin, that this on occasions can lead to destabilisation of prices. That, in itself, can lead, particularly in the cases of markets for paper and PET, to problems of lack of long-term investment and the smaller recyclers being financially exposed. There are three generic ways in which we can go about trying to deal with that issue of price fluctuation, one of which is to investigate the practicability of hedge mechanisms, which we certainly intend to do, and which has been done successfully in some markets in the United States. We can look in detail at obstacles to supply enhancement, and particularly an approach which involves more long-term contracts between various players in the supply chain; or we can seek to strengthen the demand for recycled materials. We think there are ways in which we can go about this and make good progress initially, and then in the long term develop new markets. So, yes, we think there is a problem and, yes, there are ways in which we can go about tackling it.

  1046. How would you go about tackling it?
  (Mr Cocker) In terms of the overall problem of demand, the first thing to do is to try and create confidence in recycled materials and products by developing a products standards programme, so that there is more confidence in the standard of the products. As I said, to shift the perception of recycled products and materials, working with exemplar companies—and there are certainly some out there—and demonstrating how they have managed significantly to increase their use of recycled materials. To try and remove barriers in standards and products specifications where they exist. This is because sometimes those specifications demand the use of virgin materials and it is not always really required. Finally, and this is an area on which I might encourage you to invite David Dougherty to offer a view, to identify and promote new areas for recyclables. There are certainly some areas in the United Kingdom where our markets and demands are relatively undeveloped compared to those, say, of the United States of America.

  1047. Are you saying this would lead towards a situation where we can counteract price fluctuations?
  (Mr Cocker) If we can broaden and strengthen demand it should certainly help. We have to recognise that some of these demand fluctuations take place on a global basis.

  1048. Have you any practical examples you can give to the Committee where this can be achieved?
  (Mr Cocker) This is where I would like to ask David.

  Chairman: I think this is where we go on to Crispin Blunt.

Mr Blunt

  1049. Do you think, Mr Dougherty, given the basis of your experience, that experience in market development gained elsewhere in the world will be replicable here in the United Kingdom, and what difficulties might there be? Perhaps you can introduce that by saying exactly what the success stories are, since you were working in Washington, and it is obviously applicable there.
  (Mr Dougherty) In 1989, when we began at the Clean Washington Center, there was not a lot of alternative uses for these materials; and we recognised the need to understand the intrinsic and generic value in recycled materials and put these into new applications. We had significant success in doing that. The degree to which this is applicable here, much of the information we have is the knowledge of how these materials perform in different applications and the technologies to accomplish that. That is fairly universal. The economics as to whether it will happen in your market place here is a very different equation, and so it is really the dynamics of the local market which will dictate which materials and which technologies can be successful here, replicated from successful projects in other parts of the world.

  1050. But if you are seeking to establish markets here, where they do not exist now, they may need some bump-starting, obviously with the assistance of WRAP. Could you give some examples of how one might go about establishing these markets in the recycled materials.
  (Mr Dougherty) That is a matter of understanding the higher value uses of some of these materials. If I can give some existing examples, as you have asked. Glass seems to be a significant problem in the United Kingdom. It was a significant problem for us. We were collecting twice as much glass as we could put in the furnace. We developed alternative applications for glass, using it as an industrial abrasive instead of silica or copper slag. Silica in industrial abrasives causes silicosis of the lungs, and glass will not, and it will perform as good if not better as some substrates. It is an excellent filtration medium for water. It has greater uniformities so you get greater through-put of the water. Glass when processed has a negative ion on the surface, so it moves with 25 per cent greater turgidity than silica filtration processes. Therefore, it is when these applications perform equal or better to another material in the market place, that you begin to move these products. Similarly, products for plastic. Although your PET is soluble, in the United States the major market for that is carpeting. Right now, in the United States, the carpet industry cannot get enough PET to put into carpeting. It is also used in fleece-lined jackets or other products because that part can be spun again. Other resins, such as high density, can be compounded with urban wood waste to make a wood power building product such as door frames, window sills that are of high quality. So there is a lot of applications out there. It is a matter of identifying those and discovering new applications which have not been discovered yet; and trying to work with your industries over here in the United Kingdom to try and get these products into process.

  1051. In the United States, how did you get the industries there to take an interest in these things? Did it involve cost form? Savings form? How did you get them interested in order to create the markets for these things?
  (Mr Dougherty) In all cases we had to understand the issues of the business and show them that it was to their advantage to use these materials. We had no law that required that they had to use these firms. We had no law that anyone had to recycle. We had no law that said a certain amount of a product had to be of a recycled content. We worked to find a natural value-added home for these materials, and worked with the industry to move this recycled material into that industry. Typically, it was not the industries that produced the materials—say, the glass industry's responsibility to take glass over to the industrial abrasive industry; the filtration industry, to move that product in. So we performed that role as the catalyst to move the material into new product applications. So even working with main factors of plastic products, say industrial containers, we would work with them to re-define the level of recycled plastic they could use; for example, from 20 per cent to 80 per cent. When the price of recycled plastic was high they would use little or none, and when it was low they would use 80 per cent. So we always worked with them to make sure that it was to their financial advantage. They used the marginal swings on the prices to their advantage in being competitive in the market place.

  1052. Were there particular waste streams that you were not able to create a market for? Where you tried and failed?
  (Mr Dougherty) We focused primarily on the glass, plastic, wood waste. Tyres, we were probably ahead of our time in tyres and were having a difficult time developing markets for tyres. The United States Government did come out with a proposal that 15 per cent of all of their roads receiving Federal Highway Administration funding had to be made of rubberised asphalt, which means a blend of crumb rubber into the surface asphalt.

  1053. Did it make the roads quieter?
  (Mr Dougherty) Much quieter. We performed the tests but we found that the roads did not hold up very well and so we encouraged the Federal Government not to go forward with that policy. Since that time there has been much advancement made by the states of California, Arizona and Florida on the use of rubberised asphalt. They are now using most of their tyres in asphalt roads and the roads last longer, they do not oxidise, they are superior roads, they are much quieter, but at the time we were working on tyres we did not have the answers.

Christine Butler

  1054. Mr Cocker, what level of investment in recycling facilities is really needed, and over what timescale, for the Government's recycling targets to be met?
  (Mr Cocker) I think really I ought to explain about the process that we intend to use. We are going to take each major waste stream and put together a business plan, which we intend to publish at the end of April. A part of that planning process will be to identify for each of the major waste streams the scale of demand, the scale of recycling, and the scale of the investment needed to produce the required result. I cannot give you this right now because, as you probably appreciate, we are an organisation that is only in embryo form, but our target is to have something in place by 1 April of next year, which will be in our business plan.

  1055. So could you name the principal reasons why it is not working at present and what is inhibiting this kind of investment.
  (Mr Cocker) In part, we identified through Mr Cummings' question that part of the problem to do with the fluctuation in prices, but part of the problem as well is the lack of demand. So what we have to do—and this is going to be part of the business plan—is see how can we increase the level of demand for these recycled products: partly by identifying the people in industry who are already making significant use of recycled products, and using them as exemplars, and improving the standards and specifications.

  1056. Do you envisage working principally with the independent financial sector in supporting some of these aims with industry? Are you placing more reliance on Government funding?
  (Mr Cocker) Clearly there can be no investment without some sort of cash flow. If we can create new demands, then the cash flow comes from those demands or increased demands for existing recyclables, in which case that is private sector funding. However, to the extent to which we need better separation of the waste products, (and this is coming from the municipal sector), then clearly part of that investment or funding for it is going to have to come through that route one way or another, even though it might be provided by private collection firms.

  1057. How do you rate the efforts so far of Government to that end?
  (Mr Cocker) I think one would have to say that we have an extremely efficient local government waste collection scheme, in terms of the cost of it, to the people who live in the local authority areas. They are getting most of their waste taken away for 50 pence a week per household, which says a lot for the procurement methods of local government. What we have to do is to convince people of the need for the recycling targets. They have to understand about the commitment to this and the investment then has to follow.

  1058. Do you think that Government centrally should be putting more money into that side of the equation: separation at a local or district level in the collecting authorities?
  (Mr Cocker) That is a political question. Where the money comes from is not particularly a view I have.

  1059. Is WRAP's plan to carry out strategic research and development not fulfilling a role which might be done better by a Government Agency, say the Environment Agency or the DETR itself?
  (Mr Cocker) You say, WRAP?

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