Examination of witnesses (Questions 1260
THURSDAY 21 DECEMBER 2000
ELLIS and MR
1260. Before Sue Ellis comes in, can you deal
with the other point at the same time because it is a departmental
process. What has happened to the draft changes to the waste management
licensing regulation put forward by the Environment Agency over
a year ago?
(Mrs Ellis) We are still looking at the details of
changes to the exemptions. They will be going to ministers to
look at shortly. I hesitate to use that word again. The intention
is to get the consultation paper out.
1261. Tell us when they are going to ministers?
(Ms Ellis) We are expecting to put them out in the
next few weeks. The intention is to get the consultation paper
out. I have spoken recently to the Community Composters. I understand
their concerns at the delay because the intention of revising
the composting exemption is to actually encourage further small
Community Composting exercises. We are very conscious of the fact
if we are going to deliver the type of targets which are in the
Waste Strategy we must hurry up.
Mr Blunt: You have emoted nicely on the need
to do it, when is it going to happen?
1262. It is a pity for us to put in our report
that we are appalled at the slowness of the Department's working
if you have actually by then done it.
(Ms Ellis) As I said, we are intending to put detailed
proposals to ministers in the next few weeks.
(Mr Meacher) I take the point that the Committee is
making fairly that this has taken too long, and on behalf of the
Department I apologise. We will try to deal with this very rapidly.
1263. Why are there no statutory targets for
the reduction of commercial and industrial waste to landfill?
(Mr Meacher) The figures suggest that overwhelmingly
the problem is municipal waste, which is about 28 million tonnes
a year, 83 per cent of which is landfilled and only 17 per cent
recovered, recycled or composted. In the case of industrial waste
the figures are very different: 48 million tonnes, it is a much
larger amount, but 47 per cent only is landfilledI say
"only" by comparison with 83and 45 per cent is
recovered, recycled or composted. The Waste Strategy has concentrated
on the waste stream which is most seriously at variance with the
objectives of the Waste Strategy, which is to reduce landfill
massively and to increase recycling dramatically. I agree with
you that we do need to have increased pressures. In answer to
Mr Benn at the beginning I did spell out the pressures that there
are on industrial and commercial waste and by and large those
are operating more effectively. We have seen, for example, a reduction
in inorganic waste, inert waste, going to landfill in the last
four years down from ten million tonnes to six million tonnes
1264. Are you satisfied with the current pressures
on industrial and commercial waste disposal?
(Mr Meacher) I am not satisfied until those figures
do dramatically begin to turn round. We are at the cusp of where
I think that is beginning to happen. As I say, in terms of inert
waste that is changing already. In the case of the great majority
of other waste, organic, biodegradable waste, this is not yet
apparent in the figures. I do believe that the combination of
all those drivers, plus the trading permits system that we are
introducing with regard to landfill, are sufficient. In other
words, if it is X million tonnes this year, next year it is going
to be X million minus five per cent or whatever and the trading
permits will be issued in order to ensure that minus five per
cent is achieved because they are the only permits which will
be available. If you achieve a ten per cent reduction then you
can sell the five per cent in excess of what you need to other
companies who are not so good, so it is a market oriented way
of achieving an environmental objective and I think that is going
1265. What about producer responsibility measures?
(Mr Meacher) I am extremely keen on producer responsibility
measures, mostly they have come from the EU, I have to say. Packaging
Waste is the most obvious one but also
1266. It does not work, does it?
(Mr Meacher) It is only next year that the 50 per
cent target comes into force in April 2001. It is touch and go
whether we shall meet it, it is a statutory EU target and there
will be consequences if we do not. I have increased the targets
to 56 per cent in order to provide any leeway against failure
at the last moment to achieve. I believe if we do not achieve
them we will get very close. I believe the momentum is building
up where those figures should climb. There are also end of life
vehicles and the issue which we discussed at the beginning of
this week in the Environment Council, waste electrical and electronic
equipment and hazardous electrical and electronic equipment, batteries.
There are many of these measures and I am sure there will be more
still. I am strongly in favour of producer responsibility.
1267. What obstacles, apart from some intransigence,
are there to green procurement by the Government and in what main
areas are there scope for this apart from paper?
(Mr Meacher) We did say in the Waste Strategy that
we would pilot a scheme to require Government departments to purchase
recycled products. Initially, of course, we concentrated on paper,
that is the most obvious one, and we said if the results were
positive then we would extend that to other products, and that
is exactly what we will do. I have to say, however, just as one
caveat, that even when you take account of whole life costs as
opposed to short-term costs, and I am talking about acceptance
to the Treasury because recycling can cost more, the difference
in the cost is reduced. Even when you take account of that in
some cases there is still a green premium and it is a question
as to how far it is value for money. We want to press that as
far as we can get agreement with Treasury about costs.
1268. There is a big question about setting
a good example in resource efficiency for the sustainable world.
(Mr Meacher) Yes.
1269. The Government must lead on that.
(Mr Meacher) Yes.
1270. I am hoping it might take note of that.
Because of time I will have to move on Minister. Can I just put
this to you. Would it be better to increase the costs of incineration
and landfill in order to meet the objectives of a truly sustainable
Waste Strategy management?
(Mr Meacher) We are increasing the costs of landfill.
1271. To a lot more, a bigger factor?
(Mr Meacher) Well a lot more. It is £12 per tonne
and there are many people who think it does need to be significantly
1272. 20 or more.
(Mr Meacher) I accept that. We agreed when it was
£10 that there would be, as you know, a £1 per year
increase up to 2004 and the matter would then be reviewed. I have
a lot of sympathy with what I think is the thrust of your question
that if it is going to achieve that major reduction in landfilland
do not forget that 2020 is the end of the derogation period we
have got under the Landfill EU Directivewe have to shift,
if we have continuing three per cent growth per year, an amount
of around 40 million a year away from landfill.
1273. What does that look like, 40 million tonnes
(Mr Meacher) It is a hypothetical figure based on
saying if landfill levels remain where they are, if we have three
per cent growth in arisings, then something like 52 million tonnes
on that basis will be landfill in 2020. The target we have to
reach, which is no more than 35 per cent of 1995 levels by 2020
is about 11 million tonnes. There is about a 41 million tonne
gap. When you say what does it look like, those are all the things
which are currently being landfilled but it will be on a far bigger
Chairman: I just wondered how much of London
would be covered by landfill.
1274. All of it.
(Mr Meacher) Well, that is a very good question, Chairman,
because, of course, it is nearly all taken by lorry or by barge
down to the Essex Marshes and the Essex Marshes now are filling
up. There is not much further room. So it cannot actually continue
physically, let alone in regard to EU targets.
1275. Do you not think much higher costs to
landfill would actually improve the competitiveness in terms ofgoing
back to itresource efficiency and long term sustainability?
These are watch words of Government. Do you think that actually
would help as a driver?
(Mr Meacher) I think it would help as a driver. As
I say I have a lot of sympathy with what you say and we have,
however, agreed in Government that we would have this one pound
per year increase and review that in 2004 but I think the pressure
is building up for a more significant increase if we are going
to achieve that massive shift away from landfill that we need.
In one sentence in answer to your question about incineration,
I have always said, and I repeat again, that the overwhelming
thrust of the Waste Strategy is a dramatic increase in recycling
but it cannot exclusively be carried out through recycling, given
the totals and give the fact that there are some elements in the
wastestream which cannot properly be recycled. Therefore there
is a place for incineration and I do not believe it would be right
for Government itself deliberately to increase those costs.
1276. Could I just ask the Minister for an assurance
on one very specific point that you will not allow a significant
shift of waste to be incinerated in cement kilns, particularly
hazardous waste, as opposed to being properly incinerated in incinerator
(Mr Meacher) This is a major issue because the discharge
of the emissions from cement kilns, particularly where there is
hazardous waste, is of course a matter for the Environment Agency.
It is a matter of acute concern. This is secondary liquid fuels.
Chairman: Is there not a very simple principle
that it should be the same if it is coming out of an industrial
process as if it is coming out of an incinerator, the emissions?
(Mr Meacher) That seems reasonable to me.
1278. It is not appropriate.
(Mr Meacher) It is the sort of highly technical question
which I think may have a lot of What a relief, I am told
it is the same.
1279. I am not sure that it is the same, perhaps
you would like to send us a note on that.
(Mr Meacher) I will, yes. I would be much happier
to do that.
1280. On my promise that we would not go on
beyond 45 minutes this morning I think we ought to finish there.
I am assured that this rubbish that we were just talking about
would be a four and a half mile column on top of Oldham Athletic
football ground. That would be a pretty frightening sight. On
that note, can I wish you all the best for the Christmas season
and hope you have a peaceful Christmas and a well earned rest.
Can I thank everybody else.
(Mr Meacher) That is really very kind of you and I
reciprocate that. I just have to tell you, Chairman, you have
made the front page of the Oldham Chronicle yet again.