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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1080- 1100)



  1080. What are you going to do when the commercial markets can go and buy quarries all over the place, and there is no money going into the Tax Credit Scheme because they are dumping waste into quarries?
  (Mr Georgeson) I am not sure I follow the question. Can you repeat it, please.

  1081. These guys who are in the landfill business. They have worked it out that they do not pay any tax whatsoever if they buy a quarry and dump all their waste into a quarry. That is becoming more predominant—in my part of the world anyway.
  (Mr Georgeson) We are talking specifically about the issue of unlicensed tipping?

  1082. No, no. This is licensed.
  (Mr Cocker) How can there be a licence if they are dumping landfill into it?

  1083. They do not pay any tax if it is into a quarry. They tell me that.
  (Mr Cocker) You cannot dump it if it is an unlicensed site. They must be behaving illegally.

  Mr Donohoe: They say not.

  Mrs Dunwoody: That makes them fairly unique, does it not!

Mr Donohoe

  1084. If you can just tell me in a broad sense. How do you convince a board of directors that they should pay any attention to you or to the industry?
  (Mr Cocker) There is an issue here of carrot and stick. The good thing is that there is a tremendous amount of interest amongst the FTSE 100 companies now in the whole issue of sustainable development. If you look at the Business in the Environment Index of Corporate Environmental Engagement -this is the thing which is published in the Financial Times each year, when companies are marked—70 per cent of the FTSE companies are involved in that. Those companies are very keen to demonstrate and enhance their reputation by showing that they are actively involved in this area. Now there are several questions they are asked on waste within that overall survey. I think we can build on that level of interest and enthusiasm amongst the large corporations and bring waste out.

  1085. But where you are in a high value area of manufacturing, the last thing you worry about is throwing rubbish into a skip. Is it really not a case that on the waste management side you have to look at how they encroach into the business of these high value product manufacturers?
  (Mr Cocker) It might have been the case at one time that the last thing people worried about was their waste but there is a lot more evidence now that companies and large groups are getting strategically interested in waste. We intend to raise the profile of this by certainly drawing it to the attention of the chairmen and chief executives. We will use the CBI and IOD but also we will use our own personal contacts. A particular problem is going to be the SMEs. There, I think, we need certainly to try and adopt a route of putting together packages which are helpful to them.

Mrs Ellman

  1086. How much public understanding would you say there is of issues of waste generation and waste disposal?
  (Mr Cocker) I suspect the level of public understanding is probably not as high as it is in some places where recycling has been very successful. We certainly believe that public education will need to be improved and at different levels: at the local level, where it clearly has to fit whatever the local arrangements are, but also, of course, understanding the value of recycling in its broadest context. This is because people have calculated that if these targets are going to be hit by 2015, we have to have an 80 per cent participation rate amongst households. Then, of course, education about buying recycled products. Targeting the corporations and public entities and, of course, the public at large. This is an area that Mr Georgeson has quite a lot of experience in so it might be worthwhile to hear what he has to say.

  1087. I wanted to pass to Mr Georgeson for this answer and ask how he intends to improve the level of awareness.
  (Mr Georgeson) Waste Watch conducted research over a year ago with NOP Research, a very general public attitudes survey on waste. It is very clear from that, that the level of public knowledge of what happened to their waste, their rubbish, once it was put in the bin, was very, very low. Something like 30 per cent of the survey said they had any idea at all of what happened to it (or indeed cared) until a planning issue appeared on their own doorsteps. That is one of those constant issues that we face. Waste Watch is involved with many other organisations in the development of a National Waste Awareness Initiative: in many ways, hopefully along the lines of large scale advertising promotion—for example, like the clunk click campaigns that ran in the 1970s—in order to raise public awareness and understanding of the problem and tied in with local and regional variations. This is because the way that we treat waste is different on a local and regional basis. To encourage people to engage in what they can do locally: whether it be user kerbside recycling schemes, or getting involved in home composting, or whatever is appropriate, or combinations of measures that will be appropriate on a local level. I can also say to you that we can demonstrate the effectiveness of investing in public education and information. In many ways, Waste Watch has been involved in a number of projects that have worked very intensively with consumers, with householders, and showed demonstrable increases in the levels of recycling or recomposting over any fixed period of time. I would be happy, if the Committee is not in receipt of this evidence, to submit to you any further evidence you would like in this area, which demonstrates how we can increase participation in recycling and reduce waste going to landfill.

  1088. Are you satisfied with the progress that is being made?
  (Mr Georgeson) No, I am not satisfied.


  1089. Is that why you are leaving Waste Watch?
  (Mr Georgeson) No, it is not, Chairman. I am very, very sad to be leaving Waste Watch but after five years as director it is time for me to move on. In 20 years involved in community recycling, we have gone from 1 per cent domestic recycling to 9.4, so we have made some headway, but you and I know that there is a lot further to go. I feel now that we have made some inroads recently with waste management companies and local authorities, in understanding how the education and the communication side of our work needs to be fully integrated into the operations that are managed on the ground. There is no point in having high quality kerbside recycling schemes, if the way you communicate to the public is to put one tatty leaflet in their letter box.

Mr Benn

  1090. Just going back to your research programme and the business plan, to what extent have you assumed that you might give fiscal incentives or grants for demonstration products in order to encourage waste management and to kick-start programmes and so on?
  (Mr Cocker) At this stage we have not made any assumptions. I will be able to tell you better when we get to April and when we have had a look in detail at each of the market segments. If we identified specific areas where we think that would be the appropriate approach, then obviously we would point that out.

  1091. You would. Just going back to Mr Donohoe's earlier question about partnerships, where people have a good idea, where you are a non-profit organisation is there anything to stop you entering into joint venture arrangements to generate some income for use in other areas of your work?
  (Mr Cocker) There may be some cases where it is appropriate. Certainly we would have to be very careful about opening ourselves up to significant liabilities in that area. But if it was appropriate and if we could manage that, then there may be one or two cases. However, I do not see that as being necessarily the general approach we would adopt.

  1092. How do you plan to measure your success?
  (Mr Cocker) I think we are going to have to measure this at two levels. First of all, we are going to have to measure our direct actions, things that we identify that we are going to do in the business plan; and then subsequently whether we have achieved these particular things that WRAP said it would do. Secondly, there is a measurement in relation to the targets that we would like to set for each of the waste streams and whether they have been achieved. Clearly, we need to keep under constant watch whether the actions we are taking, and others are taking, are moving us in the right direction. If they are not, we would see it as part of our job to comment on that.

  1093. Is there any particular target that you have in mind so that you could measure the success in, say, five years?
  (Mr Cocker) For instance, we should be able to see, as a result of our intervention, things like the volumes of materials which have been processed, and increases in volume and value of end market applications where we have had a direct involvement. They clearly are measurable things. They are the specifics as far as that is concerned.

  1094. Finally, do you see a role for WRAP in working with local authorities as they develop their waste management practices? You referred earlier to the efficiency with which local authorities collect waste. Do you see that as an area on which you would be spending a lot of time?
  (Mr Cocker) Certainly it is such an important part of the overall scene that we should play a part there. If we can help with disseminating best practice and commenting on that, then we will. It is clear that our initial focus is on the industrial and commercial markets and on developing those. But certainly we do not want to exclude local government and I hope we will get not only lots of members of WRAP who are involved in local government, but also have somebody on the board with that sort of background.

Mr Blunt

  1095. Mr Dougherty, you have experience of this area overseas and you are an adviser to WRAP rather than being intimately associated with them. Looking at WRAP and how the Government have set it up, do you think they are going to achieve what the United Kingdom needs to achieve in terms of achieving recycling targets, perhaps on the scale which have been achieved in Oregon and Washington?
  (Mr Dougherty) I would like to be optimistic at this point—

  1096. I know you would like to be but I would like you to be realistic in answering the question.
  (Mr Dougherty) I think until it gets further down the road—but there is no reason why building on ten or 12 years' experience elsewhere they cannot work effectively with industries here to develop the new markets, the new applications, using the best processes in technology.

  1097. I know there is no reason why they should not develop but you have already seen, brutally exposed by Mrs Dunwoody, the vacuousness of the business plan of this organisation in its early stage. It is easy for Ministers and Government to see a problem and say, "We are going to set up a solution," and then pass the problem to someone else; set aside some people in an organisation (inadequately funded) to achieve a task; and then when they are asked, "What are you doing about it?" say, "We set up WRAP. Do not look at us." Then watch it fall flat on its face three or four years later when it is unable to achieve the target. Do you think it has sufficient focus on what it ought to be doing and is there sufficient political ownership behind it, from what you have seen, to succeed in driving forward recycling targets in the United Kingdom towards 50 per cent?
  (Mr Dougherty) I think WRAP is one piece of the waste strategy. It cannot achieve the targets for local authorities without collecting the volume of materials necessary, so it is one piece which calls for diversifying the demand and increasing the value, but there are other pieces in the waste strategy that all have to come into place for the United Kingdom to achieve its targets.

  1098. But is not the truth, at the moment, that the way it is set up is that it is too widely drawn, with too few resources, over too many targets? Should not the simple focus of WRAP be on market facilitation, given your experience in the United States—in fact, leave everything else out because everything else is secondary—so that if we can achieve the market in recycling and recyclables, then the United Kingdom will achieve a target. Is that not the case?
  (Mr Dougherty) Mr Cocker and the staff are on the right path, it has to be materials specific. As Mr Cummings said, the paper and plastic, particularly PET, are global in the markets; but if you look at organics—glass, wood waste—those all have to have markets within 60 miles of the city they are being collected from. So the ability to develop those markets throughout the United Kingdom is not the sole responsibility of WRAP. WRAP is there to make that happen but other people have to get engaged in those many processes in order for the United Kingdom to achieve those targets, and to achieve the diversification of these local markets which are going to be important to achieve those targets.


  1099. Just cheer us up this morning. Convince us that something is going to happen to these markets and you are not going to suffer from bureaucracy.
  (Mr Cocker) The last thing I am interested in doing is setting up a bureaucracy.

  1100. Come on, convince me that you are really going to do something dynamic.
  (Mr Cocker) As I have said, I have always been involved in long-term projects. I have always recognised that you have to put together a plan and in order to do that you have to include people. There are many players here. It would be very tempting to have put out a very detailed plan, which had come out just from WRAP, but we have to involve everybody who is involved in this sector in producing that. This is going to take time. I think you have to recognise that when it comes out there will be specific targets. We are prepared to stick our necks out and do that. We are convinced that this is a big opportunity. Everybody who is involved in this is convinced that there is an opportunity and there is a solution. Why should we be one of the few countries that cannot actually solve this problem?

  Chairman: On that note, thank you very much for your evidence. Thank you very much indeed.

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