TUESDAY 12 DECEMBER 2000 _________ Members present: Mr Andrew F Bennett, in the Chair Mr Hilary Benn Mr Crispin Blunt Christine Butler Mr John Cummings Mr Brian H Donohoe Mrs Gwyneth Dunwoody Mrs Louise Ellman _________ EXAMINATION OF WITNESSES RT HON MICHAEL MEACHER, a Member of the House, Minister for the Environment, MR MARTIN HURST, Head of Air and Environmental Quality, and CATH SHAW, Team Leader, Waste Strategy, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, examined. Chairman 1101. May I welcome you to the Committee. Could I ask you to identify yourself and your team for the record, please. (Mr Meacher) Michael Meacher, Minister for the Environment, as far as I know! On my left is Cath Shaw, who is Team Leader for the Waste Strategy. On my right, Martin Hurst, Divisional Manager for Air and Environmental Quality. 1102. Do you want to say anything by way of introduction or are you happy to start? (Mr Meacher) I always think these priceless opportunities to read out prepared statements are a waste of time, so I will desist. 1103. You know on these occasions that we have powers to send for people and papers. I am not quite sure whether that counts for your rubbish bin at home but we did wonder about asking you to bring that with you. However, we thought it might have been a bit messy. Then we thought about producing our own rubbish bin totally and asking you to rummage through it, asking you for a bit of advice. We have actually been very kind this morning because we have taken out the chewing gum, the cat litter, the privet hedge cuttings, the left-over trifle, we just have a few samples of things. What I thought you might like to do is just to have a look at some of the things that go into people's waste stream and tell us how you would deal with them. (Same handed) I do not know whether you would like to fish them out of the bag yourself or whether you want us to fish them out for you. It is a sort of lucky dip for you but I can assure you that there is nothing really nasty in there at all. You have brought out the pizza box. What should be really happening? Should those be filling up our dustbins? (Mr Meacher) I certainly think we need a much higher level of recycling of such cardboard containers. We need separation at source of such items. 1104. So what does that mean? You have to persuade the pizza delivery man to take the box back? (Mr Meacher) That is a scheme which I think we certainly should consider. These producer responsibilities for fast foods of this kind is certainly an eminent example of returnable containers. We already do have, of course, a high level of recycling of paper and cardboard products. I think it is something in the order of 65 per cent. 1105. That is not in the domestic bin, is it? Most people who receive one of those pizzas will put it into their bin and it will not be recycled, will it? (Mr Meacher) At the moment it will not be recycled. Some of it, of course, will be separated out at a later point and can be recycled but in many cases that is not so, I agree. I think a returnable scheme, producer responsibility on the part of fast food manufacturers, is certainly something which we would like to promote. 1106. Before you dig in - I do not suppose you want to open the lid - but I think there is a piece of rotting pizza there. What should be happening to that? (Mr Meacher) Rotting organic material can, of course, be composted. 1107. But does it not encourage the rats? (Mr Meacher) Rats? 1108. If you put in food waste, then that tends to encourage vermin, does it not? (Mr Meacher) It could do. It depends, of course, what is the composter. Rats would find it difficult to get into some of them but I appreciate that is a problem. Apart from putting it as a contaminant into a general waste bag under the sink, I certainly think that we would want to see organic waste, together with garden material, increasingly composted. We estimate that something like to 2 to 300,000 tonnes of household compost is achieved each year, with something like half of the total which is centrally collected, so it is quite considerable. I can tell you, Chairman, I do it myself. 1109. Keep digging. (Mr Meacher) This is very exciting. 1110. Perhaps you or I ought to describe it. It is a carton. (Mr Meacher) A Safeways pure unsweetened orange juice. 1111. It has cardboard on the outside, silver foil on the inside, plastic on the top to stop you spilling it. Three or four different materials. It is a bit of a problem for recycling, is it not? (Mr Meacher) That is perfectly true. It has to be separated out, which increases costs and increases complexity. Again, I think if one had a requirement or initially some voluntary scheme with the manufacturer, it would encourage perhaps the preparation of containers which did permit recycling more easily. I certainly think that again, this is something we would want to encourage. 1112. Right. Dig in again. (Mr Meacher) It happens to be the Financial Times. "Gore set for formal challenge" but that is not the point. 1113. It is pink, of course, which perhaps is quite important to draw your attention to. (Mr Meacher) It certainly can, nevertheless, be recycled despite the pink hue. We do have an agreement with the Newspaper Publishers Association to increase the current production of newsprint from waste paper. It is roughly about 55 per cent. We have a target for 60 per cent, rising to around to 70 per cent by 2006. 1114. We have to import recycled newsprint because we are not producing enough in this country. (Mr Meacher) That is perfectly correct. We are, at the present time, considering an application for assistance in regard to a second mill at Aylesford precisely to try and reduce that problem. Now this could be described as a nappy. Fortunately it is an unused one or a very well cleaned one. 1115. 3« per cent, I understand, of the waste stream in this country is disposable nappies. (Mr Meacher) I did not know it was as high as that. That is considerable. There is innovation in the provision of nappy washing services in order to reduce landfill. I do not think it is our role to decide one form of nappy recovery as against another, or disposal. 1116. What should happen to it then when it goes into the dustbin? (Mr Meacher) If a local authority is providing a nappy washing service, of course, again it has to be separated at source. That is absolutely essential. I believe that does already happen in a number of cases. What I am saying is that I do not think one can require that. There are still some environmental costs, even with nappy washing services, in terms of the environmental costs of the actual washing service and transport. I certainly think we would want to encourage such services. 1117. Dig again - a fluorescent tube. (Mr Meacher) I cannot see any dark markings at either end which suggest it is still usable. I did myself open a fluorescent tube recycling unit in the north-west. 1118. And promised them a million recycled tubes from government offices, which they still have not received. (Mr Meacher) This is quite right, and it is the cause of some embarrassment. I did say at the time, on the basis of advice as to what the potential was, that something like (as you say, Mr Chairman) a million fluorescent tubes could be made available to a unit like this. All I can say is that DETR has pursued other departments very vigorously. I think there has recently been some increase, but I accept that it is nowhere near the level of what it ought to be. This is one of the issues that in the Green Ministers Committee I have been pursuing. In the end we are dependent, of course, on other government departments. Mr Donohoe 1119. Your own Department is sending how many tubes in? (Mr Meacher) I cannot answer that. I hope we are. (Ms Shaw) Can we put that in writing. 1120. How many do you think? (Mr Meacher) I do not know. We have certainly made an issue of it in the Department. I would be very surprised if we were not doing so. We will provide you with the figures. Mrs Dunwoody 1121. We have asked before, Minister, so you cannot be entirely surprised to be asked that question. (Mr Meacher) It is a surprise to me, I have to say. I am sorry I have not come with the figures; but we will see that you get the figures. Mr Benn 1122. Is it not the case that probably for most departments the replacement of fluorescent tubes has been out-sourced to some maintenance company? Could it not be worked into the contract that departments have with various companies to ensure when they take the old one out they set it aside to send it to this factory you have opened? (Mr Meacher) I can see no reason why we should not do that, and I certainly think that is a good idea. Mr Donohoe 1123. Why has it not been done before? (Mr Meacher) That is also what was occurring to me. I am not specifically briefed on this. It is possible we do it, but I doubt it. It is certainly something we will find out. Chairman 1124. Why should we be worried about a fluorescent tube? An awful lot of people, particularly in a domestic situation, would take one out and just throw it in the bin, where it would crack into bits and go off to the landfill site, and it will not even fill up much of the landfill site. Why should we worry about it? (Mr Meacher) There is a mercury component which can leach from landfill, and because mercury is a highly toxic substance and potentially hazardous, particularly if it does leach and get into aquifers, it is worrying. We certainly should not be land-filling fluorescent tubes; and we certainly should be recycling. As a result of this Committee we will redouble our efforts. 1125. If you would like to dig again there may be one or two other things left. (Mr Meacher) There is an envelope with a picture inside. 1126. We could not really get the dumped car which was on a footpath. I did a walk last week of only about five miles and came across five dumped cars on public footpaths. I thought that was pretty appalling. (Mr Meacher) Yes, I entirely agree with you. The number of dumped cars is increasing and it is a serious environment disfigurement. We have been in discussion with the DVLA about this and with the Local Government Association, and we do need to come forward with new proposals as to how to deal with it. We are looking at it in the Department. Indeed, one of my officials who is here today, Sue Ellis, has particular responsibility on this question of dumped cars. 1127. If that note tells us about the End Use Directive, in a sense the End Use Directive is going to make life worse, is it not, because that will not come in for another couple of years, which discourages anyone doing anything about it until the End Use Directive is in place? (Mr Meacher) You are right to refer to the End of Life Vehicles Directive; I think it became law in October of this year and in order to get transposition into national legislation and the whole European parliamentary process, it does unfortunately take about two years. I agree it is a very unfortunate hiatus within the EU system and I am not sure how we can short- circuit it. I repeat, we are looking in the meantime at ways of dealing with this problem. It is now becoming a serious problem. 1128. Dig in the bag again. (Mr Meacher) A metal can and a plastic bottle. 1129. What about having a returnable bottle system in this country with deposits? (Mr Meacher) Yes, I have always been in favour of a deposit/refund scheme. There is the bottle bank scheme which is operated in respect of pubs and clubs on that basis. I would certainly look favourably on a Private Members Bill which proposed that. If it is to be Government legislation of course we do need a next slot - we need a new Environment Bill, and I can tell you that I am certainly looking at that as well. I agree with you, that a deposit/refund scheme is, I think, obviously the right way for dealing with this. With steel cans, something like 25 per cent. of the content is recycled at the moment, and I think it is much higher with regard to aluminium cans. 1130. As far as cans are concerned, as I understand on drinks cans, you get quite a reasonable return; but the ones for cat and dog food, which I am told are the largest number of cans in this country, the level of return is pretty low? (Mr Meacher) They are, as you say, contaminated. They are usually tins rather than cans. 1131. But they will pull out with a magnet? (Mr Meacher) You can certainly extract them from a waste stream par excellence because they are highly magnetic. 1132. Dig in for the last one. It should be a battery. (Mr Meacher) Yes. We are expecting an EU Directive on this to be published early in the new year, which will certainly propose recycling targets. The real problem with recycling of batteries is that it only becomes commercially viable if the mercury content can be reduced. I certainly think what we would want to encourage is more rechargeable and reusable batteries which are essentially nickel cadmium batteries. 1133. I did not want you to dig in because I left the shirt in the box - but have you got any comments on the level of wrapping in this. There is a plastic container, about seven or eight pins and other bits of plastic. Is it really necessary for items like that? (Mr Meacher) For a moment I thought this was a Christmas present! Chairman: No such luck! Mr Donohoe: Do you really want to wear a shirt like that! Mrs Dunwoody 1134. Do you really want to have a present from this Committee! (Mr Meacher) There are the Packaging Essential Requirements Regulations which are designed to reduce the amount of packaging - and of course Packaging Waste Regulations in general as well. Chairman 1135. But they are not working, are they? (Mr Meacher) I do not think we can say that. The 50 per cent. target has to be achieved by all Member States in April of next year. We were I think at something of the order of 38 per cent. last year - quite a big leap to get to 50; but I have actually raised the mandatory targets to a level of 56 per cent. in order to ensure that we do hit that 50 per cent. target - so I hope that we do. The only other point I would make about packaging is that it is not wholly bad: for example, in respect of food it does actually lead to less waste of the food which it contains if you put it in a container of an appropriate quality which is likely to lead to the householder using all the food rather than wasting it. I accept that there are many examples in the shops, particularly at this time of the year, of excessive wrapping. I hope that the increase in the targets under the Packaging Waste Regulation will begin to tighten on that problem in the next few years. Chairman: We will leave the rest of the rubbish that we might have been able to produce and go on to some general questions. Mr Cummings 1136. A number of witnesses have severely criticised the Waste Strategy for being too timid and for failing to aspire to the levels of achievement in waste management accomplished in other countries. Minister, how do you respond to that criticism that the Waste Strategy is lacking in ambition, especially compared with the aims and achievements in other countries? (Mr Meacher) I am astonished. We do start at a very low point. The recycling of household waste in 1992 was 2 per cent; in 1997 it was 6 per cent; and it is now about 9 per cent., but that is before we start with the new recycling targets. We are proposing, as I am sure you know, to double the level of recycling to about an average of 17 per cent. in the next three years (which, given our past record, is a very big increase), and to triple it to around 25 per cent. by 2005. That is still below the level of achievement of other countries - for example, Denmark, the Netherlands, Switzerland outside the EU, and Germany. We can do better than that, and I would expect that once we have achieved that 25 per cent. target we will set new and further ambitious targets. Given the low level at which we started, I think if we were more ambitious still it would begin to look vaguely incredible. I think we have to prove our capacity to hit these middle level targets first before we aim for the high targets. The fact is, some local authorities are already recycling in the upper 20 per cent. level, and there is absolutely no reason why we cannot do that across the country. That is our firm aim but it is in a short timescale. I believe, rather than saying it is unambitious, it is pretty challenging. 1137. Is there anything you can do with the tools available? The Waste Watch memorandum states, "If the targets in Waste Strategy 2000 were the equivalent of trying to beat Manchester United at Old Trafford, then the tools available to date are the equivalent of fielding a team like Oldham Athletic ..."! (Mr Meacher) I do take exception to the comparisons at the end of that! There are three requirements for a satisfactory recycling programme. First, are challenging statutory targets which I have just addressed; but I repeat, a tripling in five years is not the end of the story - it is a mid point in a more ambitious story. Secondly, there is the need for financing. We have provided, in the Spending Review, œ140 million which is ring-fenced for recycling. We have also provided œ1.1 billion under the slightly curious title in the SSAs of "Environmental and Cultural Services for Local Authorities" - a very odd combination, but I hope we will get a significant proportion of that, but that depends on local authorities. There is also a further œ50 million under the New Opportunities Fund specifically for community recycling. Of course, one could provide more but that again is a very big increase on current levels of recycling. The third requirement is markets. We are all agreed that there is very little point in increasing recycling if you cannot find a market and you cannot find a productive use for it and it then in the end goes to landfill - that is a waste of everyone's time. The purpose of WRAP, the Waste and Resources Action Programme, which we have set up (and you have just been speaking to Vic Cocker and other executives within that newly established body) is to develop new markets in conjunction with bodies like ReMaDe; to identify gaps in the supply and demand for recycling; and, of course, provide solutions; to provide research and information on technologies and engineering that are relevant; and encourage investment in reprocessing - for example, I have already referred to the second Aylesford plant. Chairman 1138. Could you just clear up what is actually happening. Is the Treasury vetoing the money for it? (Mr Meacher) No, that is not the case. Mrs Dunwoody 1139. Heaven forefend that they should even think of such a thing! (Mr Meacher) I thoroughly agree, Mrs Dunwoody, that is absolutely my view. Your reproof to your Chairman is strongly supported. No, what has been proposed is a substantial level of support for government because of its impact in the improvement of newsprint recycling. We have been in discussion with the company over a considerable time. We have also been speaking to the two main shareholders who have been the bodies that believe they cannot justify this increase in investment without some government support. We are currently making further proposals on this. Hopefully, in the short future, we shall be able to publish, I hope, some solution to this problem. Chairman 1140. "The short future", is that a new phrase for government? (Mr Meacher) I did not want to say "soon" because you would ask me what "soon" meant. Mr Donohoe: Do you know what "short" means? Mrs Dunwoody 1141. Before or after the General Election! (Mr Meacher) Within the next few months. Considering that this is an issue which has actually been current for something like the last two years, in my experience the next few months would be a relatively short period in which to resolve it. Mr Blunt 1142. Six, five, four, three, two, how many is "few"? (Mr Meacher) I think, Mr Blunt, you should leave us to try and determine this as quickly as we can. I cannot tell you because it has not been predetermined in that way. I am very keen to see this matter resolved. I have to get agreement between all the parties; I have to protect taxpayers' money; and I also have to expand and improve my newsprint recycling objectives; and it is bringing all those three together which is causing a problem. 1143. Are boroughs like Reigate and Banstead, that have achieved high levels of recycling quite quickly, now running into problems because there is not a market for newsprint and they cannot get the newsprint away? This is an urgent problem if people are not to turn round and say, "This is all too difficult and expensive". (Mr Meacher) It is an urgent problem. The Chairman has already correctly said that we are importing newsprint. That is a nonsense when we can do it ourselves and should do it ourselves. We are simply talking about the essential requirement for a given level of funding which can be justified to Treasury, DTI and DETR. Mr Cummings 1144. Minister, which is more important: achieving the recycling targets in Waste Strategy 2000, or ensuring that the Best Practicable Environmental Option is selected for each waste management decision? (Mr Meacher) I think in most cases there is not a conflict there, but the answer must be achieving the best practicable environmental option - and, as I say, in the vast majority of cases I believe that that is recycling. You can think of extreme cases, for example in rural areas, where the nearest recycling banks or units are a considerable distance away and you cannot ignore the transport impacts of continually taking relatively small amounts of material long distances. I think that that is unusual. The best practicable environmental option in the vast majority of cases is recycling. 1145. How do you believe that the tension between BPEO and sustainable waste management can be resolved? (Mr Meacher) By the Government issuing guidelines making absolutely clear, as we have, that best practicable environmental options should be pursued. Sustainable waste management means, in principle, that it is based on BPEO. Mr Benn 1146. Why do you say that incineration is safe? (Mr Meacher) No industrial process in an absolute sense is safe; no combustion process is safe; and, therefore, no incineration process is absolutely safe. However, I do think there is considerable public misperception about the safety of modern incinerators. It is quite another matter as to the standard of incinerators in the 1960/1970s, I concede that. Chairman 1147. So we could have one next to Oldham Athletic's ground without any trouble? (Mr Meacher) Perhaps I could just complete the answer. It does depend on planning control - and planning control would look at the siting and whether it was appropriate and take account of local objections. In terms of safety, and I will come on to this, I think there has been great misunderstanding. In 1996, in November I think, a new EU Regulation governing incinerators came into force which led to many, probably most I think, of the incinerators in the UK being closed down because they could not meet the standard. The others that remained had to have their standards raised and that left something like only a dozen, if I recall. Abroad there are many, many more incinerators in countries which have very green recycling levels - for example, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands. The standard which was set in November 1996 with regard to dioxins, furans which are regarded as the most worrying component, was that there should be no more than 1 nanogramme/metre3, which means no more than one part in a billion. In the proposed Waste Incineration Directive, that standard is being tightened ten-fold, to 0.1 nanogramme/metre3, so it is no more than one part per 10 billion. You can still say, of course, that dioxins, which are a very toxic substance, are still permitted at that level; but that is absolutely minuscule. When I say that on Guy Fawkes Night the amount of dioxins released is hugely greater, the amount of dioxins released by other industrial processes, for example, steel making is much higher, the amount of dioxins produced by burning wood, not just on Guy Fawkes Night but other processes including household, is considerably higher, then I think we do have to see this in perspective. I am not saying that incinerators are totally safe. Dioxin emissions from municipal waste incinerators in 1994 were 521 grammes; and in 1998 14 grammes. There has been a substantial reduction. With regard to health effects I am extremely conscious that the consultancy which we used, namely Entec, made a mathematical error in estimating the health effects of the tighter standards in the proposed Waste Incineration Directive. There is this concept which I should explain of deaths not brought forward. The concept is this: if you have a standard which is a typed standard, nevertheless, deaths can be brought forward as a result of the operation of an incineration plant. If you tighten the standard then you have a number for deaths not brought forward and that should reduce. They calculated that the deaths not brought forward were 51. As a result of their miscalculation they now believe the correct figure is six. In other words, that the health impact of incinerators is less than Entec originally estimated. I think the most important fact is that the Environment Agency, using the correct Entec data, and also data from COMEAP (which is the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution) now estimates that of the 24,000 deaths brought forward each year in Britain by air pollution only three or less than three may be attributable to the ten operating municipal solid waste incinerators in 1999. That, I think, sets it in perspective. I know there is great fear about this, and I think we have to listen to this, but we do have to explain the facts and the relative consequences of incinerators as against other processes. Even if you consider those three, you have to look at the costs and benefits of alternative forms of disposal - for example, landfill. There have, of course, been allegations of health ill effects of landfill and of transport impacts. I do not wish to pretend that they are nil, but I do think we need to look at this seriously and in proportion. Mr Benn 1148. You have described clearly what the standards are but one of the causes of great public concern is the gap between the standards and regulation of what actually happens. Do you think the Environment Agency has the capacity in every sense to regulate incineration effectively? (Mr Meacher) I certainly hope so. I have no reason at the moment to believe that that is not the case. The Environment Agency does have the responsibility of deciding whether industrial processes, including of course municipal waste incinerators, can operate, which means looking at potential environmental impacts, including health impacts, and (going back to Mr Cummings' first question) assessing whether they can operate on a BATNEEC basis, best available technique not entailing excessive cost. 1149. What is the public meant to make of what happened to Byker (Mr Meacher) I hope the public will make of what happened to Byker what the Environment Agency Report does when it is announced shortly (and I hope that will be in the next few weeks rather than the next few months) as to whether there were any breaches of waste management controls. I have not seen the report. I think we should wait for that report. It has been reported in the press that incinerator bottom ash and fly ash were mixed before being disposed of which should not have happened. I am merely repeating what has been said; I am not giving credence to that story, and I think we should wait for the official report. 1150. Can you understand why the public might have concerns about the Environment Agency's capacity, given that it is both monitoring the way in which incineration operates and advising on new planning applications? (Mr Meacher) It is the regulator and I do not see why it should not perform both of those functions. I do not think anyone has suggested that the independence or integrity of the Environment Agency is at risk or under challenge. I think we do have to rely upon them imposing and exercising the highest standards. Those standards are of course set by Parliament, and they are continually being increased. I have no evidence to suggest that they do their job inadequately or sloppily, or do not regulate tightly. If I have that evidence I will pursue it. 1151. Finally, do you think that one way in which the public might be reassured is if there were to be continuous monitoring of the output of incinerators and for that information to be shared fully with the public and local community? (Mr Meacher) I do very much agree with that. I myself, together with the Environment Agency, set up the pollution inventory, which is precisely designed to allow people locally to know the exact details on a continually updated basis as to what are the levels of pollution to air, water or land of all the main pollutants in their area. Indeed, the current pollution inventory does take into account 150 polluting substances; I think in Europe the level is much less, but we have a much higher level; and those figures are republished each year. I am certainly keen that that should include the discharges from incinerators. Mrs Dunwoody 1152. Is that easily available? (Mr Meacher) It is available in a public place, which would normally be in the civic centre. If we are talking about waters, I would expect that to be available on a notice board in a coastal area by a river. 1153. If someone was living in a council estate round the corner from an incinerator how would they know where to get that information? (Mr Meacher) You could certainly ring up the local authority civic centre and they would give you the information. I would hope that if you were interested in finding out the information it would be in a sufficiently prominent place that it would be readily available to you, i.e. near the incinerators. 1154. I would hope so too. I agree wholly with what you say about the need for people to be accurately informed on a continuous basis; but what concerns me - you and I know how the system works - supposing a group of mums get together and say, "It's very strange, I think there an effect from that incinerator over there", and everybody in the area says, "That's anecdotal and totally ridiculous, of course your child hasn't got this", and responds in a way that authorities always respond: how would I know easily where I could go and check those figures and find my 14 year-old who had some scientific training to tell me what they meant? (Mr Meacher) I think the only sure way is to ring up the town hall. 1155. You are satisfied that information is going to be made available by all local authorities? (Mr Meacher) I am. Again, there are a very large number. Chairman: You did not say that with a great deal of conviction! Mrs Dunwoody 1156. Is Ms Shaw, with her anti-pollution hat on, satisfied? (Ms Shaw) I was suggesting the Minister draw attention to the Environment Agency website which is a very good source of information. 1157. You and I know how the system works. How many people in Crewe do you think will click on to the Environment Agency website - not a great many? (Mr Meacher) Not a great many, I entirely agree. Therefore, I think the more conventional sources, like ringing up the local authority - and it means being persistent and getting through to the right person - I am sure they would provide you with the information. There are 500 local authorities, or something of that order, and I cannot guarantee the results of ringing all of them. 1158. Is there any direction from your lot which says, "We think this information ought to be available for the public"? You obviously believe it; you are doing the work; do you say to them, "Make sure somebody can find it"? That is all I am asking you. (Mr Meacher) It is a very fair question. 1159. All my questions are always fair, Minister. I thought over the years you had gathered that. That is why if they can get rid of me they will! (Mr Meacher) Whether we have issued guidelines specifically requesting/requiring local authorities to make available ----- 1160. A direction, Mr Hurst. Have you not told them what to do? (Mr Hurst) Not in so many words. This is something on which the UK is well ahead over the rest of Europe. 1161. That is nice, but what do we do? (Mr Hurst) The Environment Agency each year compiles information on 150 pollutants from the 2,000 sites they regulate. In a year or so that will go up to 7,000 sites. These are the main industrial sites in the country. That information is put together on their website and feeds into this document, which is the National Atmospheric Commission's Inventory which I would hope any enterprising school child would be able to find in the local library. There are ways we could think about to make this more publicly available, and we are thinking about them. 1162. Like a one page letter saying to people "make sure this is available"? (Mr Meacher) We will follow that up. If we have not already said to local authorities that we expect them to make it prominently available and that there must be someone in the town hall to give accurate information in response to a telephone call, if that is not the case, we will make clear we expect it to be made the case. Mr Benn 1163. Should that not be an obligation on the operator of the incinerator? (Mr Meacher) They, of course, have to provide the information. In a sense, that is already what we do. You could get the Environment Agency attending every incinerator and making its own calculation, but in the first instance you would be expecting the incinerator owner to provide the information which feeds into the pollution inventory (and that of course to be audited or checked by the Environment Agency) so they are already providing it. 1164. In that case, if one of Mrs Dunwoody's constituents chose to approach the operator of the incinerator they ought to be able to get the information? (Mr Meacher) They ought to, but I would not guarantee that the operator would not actually say, "You'd better consult X or Y", and it is more difficult to get it from there, of course. 1165. Can you tell us how much rendered material from cattle slaughtered as a result of BSE still remains to be disposed of, and can you give us any assurances that this will not be by means of incineration? (Mr Meacher) I have not got those figures in front of me. We will provide that by letter, if we may. 1166. And the principle of disposing of remains by incineration? (Mr Meacher) Including that. Chairman 1167. Colin Pickthall, West Lancashire, has been very concerned about this question. This question about reassuring people - I did think you had been warned that these issues might come up, but you cannot tell us any more about it? (Mr Meacher) I was certainly briefed on that and I have seen correspondence. This is a case of change of use from a vehicle dismantling plant to a bone meal incinerator. 1168. BSE? (Mr Meacher) Yes. The general planning rules are that the change of use does not require planning permission. However, I agree that this is ----- Mrs Dunwoody 1169. A depot to this kind of incinerator is a bit of a change? (Mr Meacher) I entirely agree. I think the fairness of your remarks continues to strike me forcibly. 1170. I am ever so glad I came today, and I shall write you a cheque as soon as I can! (Mr Meacher) It is subject to appeal. For that reason, given the quasi judicial role ministers have, I cannot take the matter further. I am well aware of the significance of this particular case. Mr Blunt 1171. In your draft Strategy "A Way with Waste" you said there would be 165 incineration facilities of capacity up to 200,000 tonnes per year needed to meet the aims of the Landfill Directive. When the Strategy itself came out that number had disappeared. How many new incinerators do you think will be built in order to pursue the aims of the Waste Strategy in the next ten years? (Mr Meacher) The 166 figure was based on a worst possible scenario. Namely, that there would be a continued growth in arisings of about 3 per cent. a year and no decoupling of economic growth from creation of waste. Secondly, that recycling did not increase as we intended. Thirdly, that planning allowed any number of incinerators that were requested to be built. The reason we dropped it is because, frankly, none of those premises are remotely likely or, indeed, feasible. The number of incinerators will depend upon our success of waste minimisation. That is the other factor. It is not a question of recycling, or incineration, or landfill. The other option, of course, is waste minimisation, and that is very important. It is difficult to achieve but we have some riders in place to try and achieve it. That is the first one: waste minimisation; secondly, reducing the growth of arisings, and preferably making it negative per year; thirdly, the increase in recycling which I am absolutely sure we can achieve and will go even further than the initial targets; and of course planning decisions, which are a matter for local authorities. Against that, it is impossible to say what the number is. Let me take the opportunity of saying, whether it is 166, 177 which I have seen or 100 which I have seen, it is totally and utterly without foundation. There is no justification - government could not have a figure in its back pocket. We are not working to anything. 1172. The DTI have a figure. (Mr Meacher) It was a DETR figure - 166. 1173. 165 I think the figure was. It is your figure in the draft Strategy on the basis of assumptions you have given us. I am not sure those assumptions are presented in the document in that way. The DTI are saying they assume that 25 per cent. of renewable energy will come from incineration, and that implies an incineration capacity of 20 million tonnes - which is 80 new incinerators with a capacity of 250,000 tonnes/year? Have we got joined up government here, or what? (Mr Meacher) These are all estimates, and they are all projections; they are not commitments. We have laid down a 10 per cent. renewables obligation. The number of renewables is substantial. Wind power - the capacity for both onshore and offshore wind turbine electricity generation is very considerable in this country, as everyone knows who has stood on the east coast or Blackpool Pier; biomass energy crops, landfill gas, sewage gas and, above all, the whole question of solar power and photovoltaics. All of these are still in the initial stages of being worked through what is cost effective. I do not think one can say with any reliability of the proportion which might be required to be met by energy from waste, if anything at all. These are still just projections. 1174. Except you are saying that these planning applications are matters for local authorities, rather giving the impression if you can possibly get away with it that you are not got to take a role in the planning applications for major sites. The local authorities are now putting the waste strategies together now based on the financial support that has been given in the past to energy from waste. For example, in the county of Surrey the company that won the contract for the disposal of Surrey's waste has put in an incinerator on a Green Belt site because it had NFFO support on it to the value of about œ2 million a year, which has clearly made that site more economic than perhaps other sites that are more suitable in planning and environmental terms. Let alone the fact that, of course, that gives a subsidy to the whole waste stream which then means there is an over-reliance on incineration capacity for economic reasons, and the fact they have got Surrey secured PFI for the building of these plants which then works against recycling and composting as waste management options. (Mr Meacher) I take that argument, but I would qualify it. Only 14 of the 88 contracts let under NFFO are live; in other words, have actually been built, and not all of these are mass burn incinerators. Of these 14, six have not received payment from the Fossil Fuel Levy since December 1998 when the contract for these projects ended, and there will be no new NFFO projects. 1175. I understand that, but local authorities are finding that now, in terms of the subsidies that already exist in the system to support incineration. You are saying nothing will happen in the future, and my next question is whether there is a case for a tax on incineration rather than subsidy? You accept there is an issue now of government subsidy to incineration which undermines the other objectives of recycling and composting? (Mr Meacher) Can I make clear, in line with the Waste Strategy which we published in May, I did change the criteria on 22 September, so that all proposals on incineration must now demonstrate, if they are going to be approved, firstly, that all opportunities for recycling have been considered first,and that has to be demonstrated; secondly, that there is no barrier to the future development of recycling; and also that it should include combined heat and power wherever possible. It is the first two, of course, which are key. I am extremely well aware of the need not to crowd out recycling. I am determined to ensure that that applies. The point which I make here is, if we could meet the UK mandatory requirement under the Landfill Directive entirely through recycling no-one would be happier than me; but you have to look at the effects. At the moment, something like 25-28 million tonnes of household waste goes to landfill. If we continue with 3 per cent. growth in those arisings, and we are trying to reduce it, then by 2020 that will have risen to something of the order of 52 million tonnes. By 2020, which is when the Landfill Directive becomes mandatory, no more than 11 million tonnes should be land-filled. Something of the order of 40 million tonnes has either got to be waste minimised, or recycled, or incinerated. If we could do the whole lot through waste minimisation and recycling, absolutely fine. The problem is, first of all, I do not believe we can. I think we can probably get near it, but we will not get the whole way. Secondly, there are issued of non-recyclets, such as chemical waste, clinical waste, contaminated materials; there is this whole contentious issue of BSE material. There will continue to be some role for incinerators. 1176. Could we get on to the issue of tax on incinerators. If energy from waste simply replaces the ordinary mix of electricity generation it is actually a worse economic cost, on your own figures, than landfill. Surely there is a case for a tax on incineration? (Mr Meacher) The key point is the discharge emission standards from incinerators are hugely and totally changed. I really do think the public perception and our perception of incinerators should take that into account. There is the impression that incinerators are somehow thoroughly bad and wrong and ought to be taxed out of existence. 1177. Is the external cost estimate you published in the Waste Strategy wrong? That is where I am taking the figures from and they are your figures. (Mr Meacher) They are based on the older generation of incinerators. 1178. You are saying for new incinerators the figures would be different? (Mr Meacher) Yes. 1179. Even so, is there not a case for a tax on incineration, without having any idea of what these new figures will be? (Mr Meacher) I do not think that is justified on the grounds that I do think incineration, meeting the criteria which I have laid down, inevitably will have a role in a sustainable waste management programme. I think the figures will be vastly smaller than many people expect. A tax suggests that this is an undesirable, unwelcome, unneeded economic activity and I do not think it is justified to see incineration in that way. We need to be acutely aware of the health impacts. We need to provide updated new information of the health impact as it becomes available. We should keep the public fully involved in the discharge levels so that everyone knows what are those impacts but, subject to that, I think it would be wrong to impose taxes. Mr Blunt: The advice I am receiving is that the work done which led to the publication of your figures did not include a number of pollutants in the external cost estimate of the cost of incineration. There is clearly further work to be done. Chairman: I think we can pursue this through written questions. Mr Blunt 1180. Can I move on to the issue of planning which is directly linked to incineration. How do you reconcile the need for a major waste management facility with the principle of local accountability for planning decisions? (Mr Meacher) Perhaps with some difficulty. PPG No.10, which is Planning and Waste Management, is the relevant guidance that we give. Planning applications, as you imply, have to be decided in accordance with the local authority development plan. I think that is right. I do not think in the end there is an incompatibility. I do believe that some local authorities will come forward with proposals, but they do have to persuade their electorate. They do have to get popular consent for them and that is not easy. I do not think it is equally a matter that government should intervene in. 1181. If the local authority were proposing to build an incinerator in the green belt against massive local opposition, would you regard that as a matter on which should be called in a planning inspector, and on which the local authority itself felt distinctly uncomfortable if they were not only the planning authority but also the waste management authority? (Mr Meacher) Maybe you are referring to a specific case, in which case I do not wish to imply about a particular case. I would be surprised in general - very surprised - if an incinerator in a green belt were to be given approval; but there might be particular local circumstances which would justify that. I am not making comments about a case you may have in mind. 1182. I am very happy with your answer. Could you see a role for shadow planning? Just following the example of Essex, whereby Essex County Council identified potential sites for an incinerator which drove a huge reaction, as I understand it, from the borough and district council saying, "We do not want these things here" and in the competition to make sure that they did not happen in Essex in people's back yards, it mobilised opinion to achieve very high levels of recycling, driving the local community forward. I wondered whether one could see a role for shadow planning saying that a waste incinerator would only be built if the local community did not achieve targets for landfill diversions through other means. (Mr Meacher) I do not think we can lay that down as a rule at the outset. This is a matter for local authority determination but I can see the beneficial result from the point of view of local inhabitants of being threatened, as they see it, with an incinerator and therefore having to achieve those high targets. Shadow planning in terms of planning to build an incinerator if you do not meet your recycling targets is reasonable, I think, quite apart from the impact on local perceptions. Some local authorities are taking on even more ambitious targets than the ones that we have set them, but they do actually have to have a fallback if they do not meet them, so I quite understand that and it may be perversely that there could be some benefit in it. Mr Donohoe 1183. I noticed earlier, when you were asked a direct question, you side stepped it. It was: would you have one of these incinerators in your own constituency? (Mr Meacher) I would not regard an application for an incinerator in my constituency any differently from elsewhere. 1184. That is not answering the question, Minister. Would you have one of these incinerators in your constituency, because I would not. (Mr Meacher) When you say "would I have it", I may happen to be a minister but I cannot dictate where these things are located. If an application was made by an incinerator operator to have one in my constituency, I would expect that to be assessed on exactly the same basis as elsewhere. This is my very strong view with regard to all of these controversial applications, whether it is GM, whether it is nuclear, whether it is chemical plants or incinerators: there must be openness and transparency. There must be public discussion. There must be full disclosure of the documents. There must be an opportunity for the public either in written form but preferably at face to face meetings to give their reaction. I would also insist that the local authority takes that on board and explains its reaction to those objections and does not just brush them on one side. Subject to all of that, I think the procedure should go ahead as normal. 1185. Are you happy with the DTI's decision to define incineration of waste as a form of renewable energy? (Mr Meacher) There has been much discussion about this issue and we have decided that energy from waste from incineration shall not be included in the ten per cent renewables obligation. There is still the question about the conceptualisation of energy from waste and whether that is renewable. Mrs Dunwoody 1186. "Conceptualisation"? (Mr Meacher) I agree; "conceptualisation" was just my word. Mr Donohoe 1187. It is certainly just yours. (Mr Meacher) There are two sides to this, but I have a particular view which I have been expressing in government. I am not going to discuss it here, if you will permit me, until this matter is resolved, but there are issues about questions of subsidy in the form of exemption from the climate change levy. All of these matters are again being discussed within government. 1188. If we minimise the municipal waste that there is -- "arisings" they call it -- and we successfully move into recycling, does not that have serious consequences for the DTI's policy on renewable energy? (Mr Meacher) I do not think so. We are at 2.8 per cent at the present time. We have hardly clearly yet begun to put in operation the whole range of renewables, particularly wind power. Denmark, for example, has just proposed 500 new wind turbines. I do not know how many we have in this country but it is a very small number. I have been told we have 40 times the potential of electricity generation for wind turbines compared to Germany and yet Germany has a far higher level of wind power generated electricity than we. There is a lot of potential in this country and I refuse to accept that at this stage you can say that, in order to meet the ten per cent target, we either have to have in or not have in energy from waste. The range of other alternatives is sufficiently large and the potential for expanding them sufficiently great that you cannot make that assumption at this point. 1189. If I can turn to the basics, the landfill tax has been hit at a level that is far too low, has it not, and what you really need to do is to virtually double it. That is what the people in industry tell me. Do you accept that as being the case, because the figures that you are announcing in terms of increasing levels up to 2004, a pound a year, are not going to impact on industry at all, are they? What you should be doing is going to your friends in the Treasury -- I suppose they would be fairly receptive to this -- and suggesting that they should double the tax year on year in order to meet the targets. (Mr Meacher) I understand the force of that question. The only way to answer it is to look and see what the impact is in reducing landfill compared to what you would expect with a three per cent growth of arisings. In the case of inactive material, there has been a reduction from about ten million tonnes in 1996 to six million tonnes last year. It is operating in regard to inactive material. With regard to active material, I think there may be some force behind your question. We are going to have to review as to whether one pound increase up to 2004, which is what the government has stated up to now, is adequate. It is true that in other countries it is a level of tax on active waste which is up to or even more than twice the level we are contemplating, but we have to look at it in terms of impact. Mrs Ellman 1190. What is the maximum level of recycling attainable in the United Kingdom? (Mr Meacher) We are already committed to 25 per cent in the next five years. There is no reason why we should not do as well as other countries do. If other countries can get to the thirties, even the high thirties, even 40 per cent plus, I do not see why we should not either. 1191. What has stopped you putting that as the target? (Mr Meacher) Nothing has stopped us except that to be over-ambitious on the basis of an exceedingly poor performance up to now would not look very credible. If we get to 25 per cent -- or should I say when we get to 25 per cent -- by 2005, I would certainly, on the basis of the momentum which has been generated, want to produce new figures which take us towards those high levels. At the moment, having achieved those quite ambitious targets by 2005, the figures we have published seem to be rather unambitious beyond that. I do not mind that on the basis that they can be reviewed upwards, once we know that we have generated the process that can deliver. 1192. What needs to be done so that that process is generated? What needs to happen apart from the setting of targets? (Mr Meacher) All the things that we have put into place, as I have indicated: the extra funds, the statutory targets, the limits to landfill, including trading permits which is a means of trying to reduce amounts going to landfill. We have set up WRAP. We have put 30 million behind that. We have amended the landfill tax credit scheme in order to ensure that more goes to community recycling. We are issuing new indicative guidelines to ensure that more goes towards sustainable waste management. We are reviewing fundamentally the landfill tax credit scheme to see if there is more that could be done to meet the government's targets. 1193. Are the funds sufficient? A number of local authorities have already complained that the net increase to them is very minimal or does not exist at all. (Mr Meacher) I do not quite see how they can make that assumption at this stage. I repeat that œ1,127,000,000 is being allocated in the SSSAs, in the spending review 2000, over the next three years for environmental and cultural services. Chairman 1194. That is making sculptures out of waste? Is that it? (Mr Meacher) It is a combination which I have not entirely understood and I think it is a miscellaneous item. It is true that not all of the money will go for environmental purposes, but I assume -- and of course this is a local authority choice -- that a significant and high proportion will. If the local authorities are prepared to use the money which is available, I do not think they can say it is inadequate. In the light of best management, in the light of the reports that we get from the waste resources action programme, this new private sector body that has been set up to give assistance to local authorities, if they have done everything that we have asked and they are still short of money in order to meet those targets, obviously we will review it, but I think in the first instance these are huge increases in funds and we want to see the benefits before we will consider more money. Mrs Dunwoody 1195. It is a weird category, is it not? (Mr Meacher) It is. 1196. If anyone is looking at the cost of the Newick Theatre in Crewe which is live theatre, which they are hanging on to for grim death, and then they look at this other, much more vital service, who is going to take that decision in a way that is going to satisfy everybody? (Mr Meacher) It is the local authority, but ---- 1197. Whose idea was that categorisation? (Mr Meacher) I have no idea. It is lost in the bureaucracy. Chairman: I had better rescue you at this point because I am sure that this meeting you are about to have might get COP6 back on the road. I am sure we would all be very concerned about that. We will probably want you to come back to finish the questions. Can I thank you very much for this morning?