Examination of Witnesses (Questions 940
TUESDAY 28 NOVEMBER 2000
940. But not ordinary people; only those people
who can afford a very substantial fee.
(Mr Lee) We have made sure, through the agreements
with the private sector, that we kept the cost of the software
package down. The price is under a thousand pounds and that price
includes updates to the software, it includes training of the
users, and it includes live support for the users. That is a very
impressive package which is more than comparable to systems that
you would normally expect to buy on the software market.
941. Do you think that sort of price is compatible
with public access to information?
(Mr Lee) It is certainly compatible with the tier
at which we would like to see Life Cycle Assessment applied to
development of waste strategies. That is at a Waste Disposal Authority
(or roughly county) level.
942. So it is not about the public?
(Mr Lee) I think the public will obviously be interested
in the use and the output from Life Cycle Assessment and WISARD,
or other systems. There are other packages that are available.
I would expect a member of the public who was interested in Life
Cycle Assessment and the development of least environmental cost
strategies to work through or with their Local Authority and I
would hope and expect that their Local Authority would have access
to something like WISARD.
943. So you think a local authority should make
it freely available to any community group who might be challenging
waste strategy in their area?
(Mr Lee) You are asking me to commit resources for
individual local authorities and of course I could not make that
decision, but I would be disappointed if the benefits of life
cycle assessment were not available to the general public.
944. Then why do you not make it available freely?
(Mr Lee) The Environment Agency and the Department
did look into the purchase of the intellectual property rights
for the WISARD software. In view of the cost we have not chosen
to progress with that. That is an option that we could follow
but we would have to discuss the cost of the purchase with the
945. The Environment Agency talks a lot on its
website about waste minimisation. Why did you fail to get the
Government to put anything about waste minimisation into the Waste
(Dr Leinster) We believe that the Waste Strategy outlines
high level principles for waste minimisation but we would agree
that it does not explain how they are implemented in practice.
There is potential confusion and duplication of responsibilities
between, for example, the Agency, local authorities, the new Waste
and Resources Action Programme and Envirowise in terms of waste
minimisation. We are working with those groups through discussion
and with the DETR to seek to clarify that position as to how we
take waste minimisation forward. For those facilities which will
be coming under the new Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control
regime the Agency will be able to require them to have and to
develop and implement waste minimisation programmes so we will
have control through IPPC over a number of waste minimisation
programmes as those facilities come in. One of the lacks that
we would see is that there do not appear to be any similar levers
available to influence minimisation of, for example, municipal
waste. There is a lack there.
946. Is not the truth of the matter that the
Environment Agency is not committed to waste minimisation? I understand
in your paper to the Agency Board of 12 July you were planning
forward on the basis of continuous growth of three per cent in
the waste stream.
(Dr Leinster) We are committed to waste minimisation.
We are trying to co-ordinate that much more and there are a number
of initiatives that we have ongoing, for example, we have a national
tyre campaign which is going forward, there is an oil care campaign
going forward, so we are interested in the use and re-use of materials.
That was not planning. That was just noting that we believe municipal
waste is growing at three per cent and if municipal waste is growing
at three per cent then in 20 years' time that is a doubling of
the amount of municipal waste and any structures which are in
place need to be able to deal with that growth in waste.
947. What have you as an Agency put in place
to ensure that there is not a growth of three per cent and we
are actually seeing a downward trend? Do initiatives like the
tyre project that you referred to add up to cutting down the waste
stream or do they add up to the waste stream increasing?
(Mr Lee) I will follow on from that. On the three
per cent increase we believe the local authorities are about right
in what they report there. We think that the increase is variable
geographically and we do not know whether the three per cent increase
will be sustained over the next one, five, ten, whatever it is,
years. It is just to report on what is happening to household
waste at the moment. What the Environment Agency is doing to minimise
waste in very general terms is that we are inevitably part of
the increase in cost of the responsible management of waste. That
is not just landfill tax. That is also the cost of regulation,
the cost of the facilities that are going to be used, the cost
of abatement controls. The Environment Agency is part of the increased
cost of responsible waste management and the increased cost of
responsible waste management we hope and believe will drive waste
minimisation. Minimisation of household waste is rather more difficult
because individual householders like me do not feel the cost of
increased responsible waste management directly; we feel it indirectly
through the rates that we pay to our local authorities. The pressure
on waste minimisation of household waste rightly needs to be applied
through individual local authorities. We will support the work
of the local authorities through things like the National Waste
Awareness Initiative, through the provision of information, and
through the provision of local co-working.
948. We have quite a few more questions which
I think we had better send to you in writing. Have you any comments
on Greater Manchester's soil improving scheme?
(Mr Lee) Yes. Very briefly, the Environment Agency
gets a lot of proposals put to it and I think those numbers of
proposals will increase in the near future as things like the
Landfill Directive and the National Waste Strategy start to bite.
We need to make sure that those novel proposals for dealing with
waste are environmentally safe, to use a word that was used earlier
on. The soil making procedure in Manchester using milled household
waste might, on first hearing seem to be a good idea. The practice
turns out to be rather different, so we have stopped any further
applications in Manchester and we are working with the operator
to make sure that any further operations or applications are acceptable.
949. So the stuff that was put on at Droylsden
just was not acceptable?
(Mr Lee) Correct.
950. Have you prosecuted them?
(Mr Lee) We have not prosecuted them. We are working
with them to make sure that the process, if it is to be used in
future, will be acceptable.
951. The Guardian had a series of allegations
about the dumping of illegal waste. Have you done anything about
(Mr Lee) We started work on our concerns about the
negative impacts of things like the landfill tax, but not only
the landfill tax, a considerable time before The Guardian
952. Oh, I am sure you did.
(Mr Lee) And in fact we had one of our senior officers
seconded into the Department for the whole of 1999/2000 to work
with them on improvements to the scheme of exemptions from Waste
Management Licensing that we have been looking for for some years.
Those improvements include an increased degree of control over
what we perceive to be the most environmentally risky or hazardous
so-called exempt activities, and in general they can be summed
up as those involved in the application of waste to land. That
includes land spreading, it includes using inert waste as a construction
material. We have made those proposals nearly 12 months ago now.
We wait, as does the rest of industry, to see the consultation
document from the Department. We look forward to the improvements
in the control that we think that will bring about.
953. But meanwhile you can still make golf courses
that get higher and higher out of waste, you can improve farmland
with bricks and things like that, and you can dump on beaches,
you guys, at making a road which never quite seems to get finished.
Is that right?
(Mr Lee) Of course you cannot use a so-called exempt
activity that does not meet the relevant objectives under the
Waste Framework Directive, basically harm to the environment or
people, and we do inspect these operations, although nowhere near
the sort of level that we would like to. That is why one of the
proposals that we put forward to the Department is that those
types of operation are subject to prior verification by us and
are subject to an annual fee payable to us to make sure that we
are funded to do the inspection.
954. So a lot of people are getting away with
it at the moment and it is really down to the Department to get
these new regulations out? Is that it?
(Mr Lee) I would say it is down to the Department
to get the regulations out. I would not say that a lot of people
are getting away with it.
955. Is anyone getting away with it?
(Mr Lee) Clearly they are. You will have noted in
the recent Despatches television programme the Environment
Agency and the local authorities' attempts to control operations
that are running out of control and trying to take effective enforcement
and prosecution action, and you will have noted from that programme
that that is not easy.
956. So how many successful prosecutions have
you actually had?
(Mr Lee) I should have been prepared for that question,
should I not? I have not got that information available. We will
have to write back to the Committee Clerk after today if that
957. It would be very helpful if you could tell
us how many. It would also be helpful if you could tell us whether
there were substantial fines and whether the fines appeared to
be greater than the benefit someone might accrue from breaking
(Mr Lee) I am glad you have made that point for me,
but if you will allow me I will ram it home. One of the concerns
of the Agency is that the fines must match the crimes. What we
cannot live with is an industry that may come to face prosecution
as an acceptable professional hazard.
Chairman: On that note can I thank you very
much for your evidence. We will follow it up with one or two more
questions in writing.