Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Fifth Report



186. There is an awkward split in the responsibility for collection and disposal of household waste. Collection is carried out by the Waste Collection Authority (which is formed by the Borough or District Council, or the Unitary Authority). The Waste Disposal Authority is formed by the County Council or Unitary Authority. Of course, this means that where a unitary authority exists, it forms both the Waste Collection and Disposal Authorities. Elsewhere, witnesses told us that co-operation was sometimes limited between the two arms and that they were often operating with very different agendas.[285] The flow of funding to the different types of authority can also be a problem.

187. United Waste Services wrote that "the major obstacle of divided functional and financial responsibility for waste management in some local authority areas should be resolved...".[286] Similarly, the National Association of Waste Disposal Authorities talked of their desire to see "more of a unified approach", possibly through the use of joint boards and ultimately the establishment of a single waste management authority in each area.[287]

188. The Government is certainly aware of this issue, noting that "the current division between Waste Collection and Waste Disposal Authorities can work against an integrated approach to waste management" before going on to reassure that it "will promote policies and initiatives aimed at improving cooperation and collaboration between authorities."[288] In particular, the Government has made clear its plan to make the drawing up of Municipal Waste Management Strategies mandatory and has now issued guidance.[289]

189. Measures must be taken to ensure greater co-operation between Waste Collection Authorities and Waste Disposal Authorities. Although the Government has now issued guidance for the drawing up of statutory Municipal Waste Management Strategies, we are concerned that these should be prepared and agreed as quickly as possible. If these strategies do not prove to be successful, the Government should give consideration to the use of single waste management authorities with responsibility for both collection and disposal.[290]


190. The main sources of funding available to local authorities for waste management are:

  • million of challenge fund money specifically for local authority waste and recycling;

  • million from the New Opportunities Fund for Community Recycling.(although this is still being consulted upon); and

  • increasing the council tax.

The additional funding for 'environmental, protective and cultural services' (EPCS) must cover sports, leisure and library facilities and other functions as well as waste management. It is entirely up to local authorities to decide how to divide up this money between the various functions. Friends of the Earth noted that waste management takes less than one quarter of the total EPCS block[292] although Mr Meacher said he expected at least half of the additional money to go to waste management.[293] We hope that the Government will monitor spending to ensure that this proportion is actually spent on waste management. These amounts of money should be considered against the targets which local authorities must achieve on recycling and diversion from landfill. Local authorities expressed their disappointment with the funding made available and the Local Government Association wrote that the £1.127 billion is:

    "disappointing, as it only provides modest additional funding for waste management, which is patently inadequate to meet the changes demanded by the National Strategy and Landfill Directive."[294]

191. The LGA went on to call for "further substantial investment in local government."[295] Indeed, although the amounts of money being made available look sizeable, Biffa Waste Services suggested that around £500 million would be taken up by increases in the Landfill Tax, inflation and the growth in waste.[296] We have already noted the need to develop comprehensive systems of kerbside collections to achieve higher rates of recycling and composting and the costs which are associated with this. Friends of the Earth, for example, estimate that a maximum of £10 per household per year is necessary to provide an efficient kerbside recycling service. FoE went on:

    "The extra funding announced by the Spending Review will be inadequate to fund the development of source separated kerbside collections across the country, or support the infrastructure, publicity and education needed to drive councils to recycling-intensive strategies."[297]

Indeed, we have already noted our disappointment that the Government has not published any detailed costing of kerbside collections or any other of the actions they expect local authorities to take. Biffa Waste Services Ltd have estimated that the costs of meeting the targets in the Waste Strategy 2000 "are unlikely to exceed a further £3-£4 billion per annum in total."[298]

192. Although many witnesses expressed deep concern that the funding available would be inadequate to meet the targets or secure a transition of waste management practices,[299] we did not attempt to come to a conclusion on this matter. However, we did identify one aspect of the funding issue as particularly important: if a step-change is to be achieved (in levels of recycling particularly), there are likely to be quite high transitional costs. It is not clear to what extent the costs of setting up better waste services will diminish as they become established since this depends on a range of factors, not least the adequacy and stability of markets for recycled materials. The method and efficiency of collection of materials will also play a big part. Nevertheless, it is likely that costs will fall over time and, for now at least, we should concentrate on how to fund the transition. This point was emphasised by the Consortium of Essex Waste Collection Authorities:

    "the important thing about that [the funding required] is it is essentially transitional. What we have to do in terms of waste collection is to make a step-change from what is still primarily, not totally, a traditional method of collection to one that allows us to have kerb-side collection ... What we need help on is to get us from one method of collection to another."[300]

Robin Murray noted that, once the initial change had been made, "the costs reduce, mainly because markets pick up, so market prices are better, more people participate..." He went on to estimate that the total cost for the country of starting-up kerbside recycling schemes would be approximately £2billion. As we have already made clear earlier, we are recommending that considerable amounts of revenue from an increased Landfill Tax and a new Incineration Tax be made available to local authorities wishing to pursue sustainable waste projects. This mechanism should ensure that there is no shortfall of funding, even for those local authorities with ambitious waste management plans which go beyond the targets set in the Waste Strategy 2000. By allowing local authorities to bid up to half of their Landfill Tax and Incineration Tax liability, it could be ensured that the funding is used by those authorities which are in transition.


193. Planning for waste management facilities is posing many problems. Witnesses told us that it is becoming increasingly difficult to get planning permission for any waste management facility, even a composting or recycling depot.[301] One witness suggested that part of the problem was in the name 'waste'[302] and the image that the word conjures up. The scale of the problem is worth acknowledging. With a little interpretation of the DETR's own table, the most likely estimate is that between 200 and 450 new facilities will be required to meet the targets.[303] The mix of facilities needed varies according to the approach taken but includes material recycling facilities, composting stations and incinerators. But it is apparent that, whatever mix of technologies is selected, a large number of new facilities will need to be developed. Although incinerators are the least popular facility, it will require local authorities to work very hard to gain the public's trust and engage them with the hard choices of planning for waste management. The problems were illustrated by the work of Waste Watch which found from a survey of public attitudes to waste that:

    "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."[304]

194. Witnesses were concerned that the planning system may seriously hinder the achievement of the targets in the Waste Strategy 2000.[305] For example, the Composting Association told us that:

    "the concern the Association has is that the Government have set statutory performance standards for 2003, but we are not going to have anywhere near enough infrastructure in place by then to be able to deal with the projected quantities of organic waste that will need to be composted."[306]

Similarly, the Royal Town Planning Institute noted that "the town and country planning system will be unable to deliver the necessary facilities in time to meet Waste Strategy 2000's targets."[307]

195. Many witnesses stressed the need for better public information (led at national level) and much greater use of local consultation.[308] The case for extensive and detailed public consultation makes itself: a sceptical public will not be convinced by simply being told that such facilities are required and planning for waste facilities can easily stagnate if proper consultation is shirked. It will take real consultation with a better informed public to achieve a consensus on local waste strategies and the facilities required to implement them. We were particularly impressed with the evidence of the Planning Officers Society on this matter in stating that they:

    "... would wish to see a more open, transparent dialogue with local communities, well in advance of any waste management proposal being formally submitted ... we need to move to a situation where the submission of the planning application is the final stage of a process which has extended over some months if not years, possibly emerging from the development of a local waste management strategy owned by all sectors of the community..."[309]

With an open and courageous approach to consulting on waste management, waste planning could become less adversarial. Unless this process is started soon, many authorities will risk missing their 2003 targets.


196. The role of regional planning was a question raised in our inquiry. The National Association of Waste Disposal Officers suggested that:

197. This statement illustrates a problem which became clear during our inquiry: there is the potential for tension between the 'bottom-up' approach embodied by the Best Value initiative and others as against a more 'top-down' approach (in which an 'expert' opinion may be imposed upon an unwilling local population). We consider that the 'top-down' approach will not work with the current public attitude and level of knowledge about waste. It amounts to a short-cut and in the longer-term, the public must be convinced of the need to change their own practices as well as the local authority's. We were, therefore, reassured by the Government's response to our last Report on Sustainable Waste Management, in which they stated that:

    "The Government does not believe that waste management decisions should be approached by seeking to
impose a 'technically correct' solution on local communities, regardless of their views ..."[311]

198. The Government has backed the setting up of Regional Technical Advisory Bodies (RTABs) which will advise Regional Planning Bodies and provide specialist advice on options and strategies for dealing with waste that will need to be managed within each region. Although the concept of RTABs is a good one, it is not clear how effective they are likely to be with their current make-up. They neatly illustrate the potential for a 'top-down' approach to alienate other groups. For example, the Composting Association criticised their composition because they "primarily comprise planning officers" and the Association went on to call for a balanced membership of the RTABs.[312] We are concerned that the role of Regional Technical Advisory Bodies (RTABs) will be to aid the development of large-scale landfill and incineration sites. The RTABs should, instead, focus on the need for new facilities for options further up the hierarchy, such as re-processing capacity for particular materials. We believe that the RTABs will be better able to fulfil this role if they have a broader membership which includes representation from the local community and are seen to be clearly part of Regional Chambers, which is already happening in some areas. This would also help to ensure that they do not fall into the trap of trying to impose their 'expert' point of view upon local people. The regionalisation of waste management decisions should not result in the loss of community ownership of such decisions.


199. The role of business is three-fold: most firms are involved in the direct creation of some waste; those that manufacture products control the amount of packaging and other types of waste resulting from the use of the product; and there is the 'waste management' sector of business which we charge with dealing with our waste.

200. Given the breadth of this responsibility, one might expect that business groups would be well-informed and passionate about the importance of waste policy. It is difficult then, to understand why the umbrella group, the Confederation of British Industry, failed to submit written evidence in the first instance and, when pressed into giving oral evidence to the Committee, turned in an empty and lack-lustre performance. Some estimates put UK business expenditure on waste disposal at just 0.1% of its turnover: this single fact rather undermines the oft-repeated claim that business is already doing everything it can to minimise the amount of waste produced because it is expensive to deal with.[313]

201. Although some individual firms are taking a more ambitious and thoughtful approach to the problems of waste, the attitude of the CBI is symbolic and represents many of the problems of achieving a step-change. For example, the CBI told us of that measures which had been successful in Germany would not be successful in England and Wales because of "cultural differences".[314] Such statements reflect one of the main problems with waste policy discussions: more energy is expended in discussing unreal barriers to change than is ever spent considering what we could change for the better. We are extremely disappointed with the inertia and negative attitude of the CBI to changing the way the UK deals with its waste. Rarely has the old phrase 'if you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem' been more apt. At present, it seems that the CBI represents the least ambitious of its members at the expense of the most forward-looking and ambitious firms. There is a need for leadership from the CBI to show its less aware members the business potential that exists in change whilst also reminding them of their civic responsibilities in this regard.


202. The waste management industry is ultimately responsible for handling much of the waste produced and is, therefore, one of the main 'agents of change' in the waste management system. The most clear-cut example of where some members of the waste management business can make a difference is in their use of the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme, as it currently stands. We have already noted that there is, at present, no mechanism to influence the way that the credits are spent, and this has led to just one-third of the credits being spent on projects which have a more sustainable waste management system as their goal. We have recommended radical changes to the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme. In advance of these changes, we urge the waste management industry to make positive use of their control of the landfill tax credits by shifting their use from general community-based projects towards those which further the aims of sustainable waste management. This should be the first step in this industry rising to the challenge of a dramatically different waste policy agenda.


203. Some witnesses, particularly environmental groups, argued that the Strategy adopted a "weak" approach to industry. Friends of the Earth argued that the targets for industrial and commercial waste "cannot be described as challenging"[315] and suggested that this displays "an unwillingness in Government to challenge industry and commerce to improve its performance." Certainly, against the range of targets which are being set for local authorities, there is only one for industrial and commercial waste in the Strategy and this is non-statutory:

  • by 2005 to reduce the amount of industrial and commercial waste sent to landfill to 85% of that landfilled in 1998

204. The main routes for challenging industry to act are through producer responsibility initiatives, taxation and more widespread green procurement. We have already discussed the importance of producer responsibility initiatives but a couple of examples help to illustrate the potential and the problems. First, the problem of junk mail leaves few members of the public with anything less than frustration at the scale and regularity of a wasted mail-out. Although we were told that the Government is in talks about voluntary controls to regulate junk mail, we are concerned that these should be introduced as soon as possible. Any unsolicited mail should be clearly marked with a freephone telephone number which can be used to halt further unwanted mailings. Such mail should also be easily returnable at the expense of the mailer and this should be made clear on the envelope.

205. Another example is provided in agriculture: around 81,000 tonnes of plastic waste are generated by farmers and growers each year.[316] At present, these materials are mostly dealt with on the farms themselves and are usually burnt. A scheme to collect and recycle such plastics was set up in 1988 but this collapsed twice, apparently for financial reasons.[317] Successful schemes have, however, been set up in other countries and these appear to rely upon a deposit and return basis.[318] There is no good reason why a similar scheme should not work here in the UK.[319] It is, therefore, a classic case where producer responsibility could have quick and effective results. Also within agriculture, we were told of the development of farm waste management plans, with limited guidance from MAFF. Currently, these deal with manures and slurries. There is an opportunity, as agricultural waste comes under the waste management licensing system, for MAFF to offer broader advice on how to develop a comprehensive farm waste management plan covering both natural and non-natural wastes.

206. Our earlier recommendations that the landfill tax be increased and a tax on incineration be introduced should play the major role in encouraging businesses of all descriptions to look at their waste performance. One particular requirement may help to fix waste in the consciousness of UK business. For many years, there has been talk of environmental reporting and recently, the Government has encouraged businesses to do this voluntarily. However, this has not been particularly successful and in our Report on UK Biodiversity last year, we recommended that companies be required to draw up environmental accounts.[320] The voluntary encouragement of environmental accounting has not been successful. It is now time to introduce a statutory requirement on businesses to produce environmental accounts. Amongst other things, these accounts should provide full details of the firm's waste performance.

The Community Sector

207. The Community Sector is now a large player in the waste sector, being particularly significant in recycling and composting. Around 1.2 million homes have community-run kerbside collections of recyclable materials and community groups are working with between 20% and 30% of local authorities.[321] This is all the more impressive when one considers the limited encouragement which this sector has received. The potential advantages, however, are clear-cut and particularly apparent to a public which is sceptical about the traditional waste management industries. The Community Recycling Network related their own experience:

    "On the most basic level, we have fewer overheads because we have no shareholders. We are better trusted by the community often than the private sector or indeed sometimes the local authority. Because we are not for profit, any surpluses we make are invested within the community, usually in further waste management provision..."[322]

Similarly, the Recycling Consortium told us that:

    "We have an enormous amount of experience. The organisations involved in the consortium have been around for 20 years doing this sort of work. The waste management companies are very new to this and have only been dragged kicking and screaming often. We are also very innovative ... our sole rationale is the promotion and development of waste reduction, reuse and recycling. The waste management companies are driven largely by the profit motive and will put their investment wherever it is going to make the most profit. If that is recycling, so be it, but it might not be. It might be energy from waste."[323]

208. The Recycling Consortium suggested that further work needs to be done on how to foster partnerships between local authorities and community groups.[324] They also noted the threat posed by authorities letting long-term integrated waste contracts which can tend to shut-out community groups. This point is echoed by the Community Recycling Network:

    "Integrated waste management is an important concept, but does not mean that one large waste management company can or should attempt to do everything within a local authority area."

Joint tendering for refuse and recycling collection contracts poses a real threat to the continued involvement of the community sector.

209. The Community Sector must be encouraged to take a greater share of the waste management business:

  • Local authorities must be encouraged to recognise the worth of community activities: a single, well-organised community activist can often be more inspiring than a local authority employee given the task of enthusing the local public;

  • The Local Government Association should work to ensure that best practice of working with community groups is spread to all local authorities;

  • The Government should urge local authorities not to preclude separate contracts for recycling collections so as to allow the community sector to bid. Integrated waste management does not require single large contracts, just integrated thinking in the structuring of waste contracts;

  • We welcome the Government's intention to make landfill tax credits available to community groups and we believe that this should be incorporated into the changes we recommend for the operation of the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme.

285   Ev p49 (HC 903-II) Back

286   Ev p54 (HC 903-II) Back

287   QQ400-405 Back

288   Waste Strategy 2000, Part 2, page 63 Back

289   Ev p158 (HC 36-II) Back

290   Ev p51 (HC 903-II) Back

291   Ev p211 (HC 36-II) Back

292   Ev p162 (HC 36-II) Back

293   Q1230 Back

294   Ev p94 (HC 903-II) Back

295   Ev p94 (HC 903-II) Back

296   Ev p101 (HC 903-II) Back

297   Ev p36 (HC 903-II) Back

298   Ev p100 (HC 903-II) Back

299   See, for example Ev p15 (HC 903-II) Back

300   Q531 Back

301   See, for example, Ev p52, p70, p136, p167, p190 (HC 903-II); Q169 Back

302   Q172 Back

303   Waste Strategy 2000, Part 2, Table C8, page 194 Back

304   Q1087 Back

305   Ev p184 (HC 36-II) Back

306   Q241 Back

307   Ev p227 (HC 36-II) Back

308   See, for example, Q553, Q173 and Ev p167 (HC 903-II) Back

309   Ev p70 (HC 903-II) Back

310   Ev p128 (HC 903-II) Back

311   The Government's Response to the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee's Report: Sustainable Waste Management, Cm 4058, September 1998, page 4 Back

312   Ev p166 (HC 903-II) Back

313   Q593 Back

314   QQ627-630 Back

315   Ev p36 (HC 903-II) Back

316   Ev p223 (HC 903-II) Back

317   Ev p217 (HC 36-II) Back

318   Q255 Back

319   A point emphasised by the Farm Film Collectors Group (Ev p217 (HC 36-II)) Back

320  UK Biodiversity, Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee, HC 441 (1999-2000), Paragraph 102 Back

321   QQ667-668 Back

322   Q665 Back

323   Q665 Back

324   Ev p195 (HC 903-II) Back

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