Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)



Diana Organ

  40. You have talked about how it has been catastrophic and, as we know, previous to the accumulation of fridges in fields at the moment many local authorities did not get rid of their fridges as they should have done, they just went into landfill.
  (Cllr Twitchen) No, it was perfectly within the law at that time.

  41. It was within the law but it was not environmental good practice, was it?
  (Cllr Twitchen) No, but then a lot of landfill is not and we still do it in this country.

  42. And we did it with fridges. It has got worse from November/December when retailers cottoned on quickly that they did not want to touch this problem. Can you just give a picture of how big it is? You just said you flew over Stansted in daylight and you could see fridges in fields. I went to my dump recently in the Forest of Dean and I saw a few fridges standing in the corner. It was not alarming or overwhelming. Just how big is it? How many are there? Are some authorities coping better than others or are some just chucking them all into landfill still?
  (Cllr Twitchen) No, nobody is chucking them into landfill any more and if they are, they should not be. I am sure they are not.

  43. They probably should not have been before.
  (Cllr Twitchen) No, it is not happening. I am absolutely convinced it is not happening. When I said you see them in fields, I said they look like fields because they have to be stored in accordance with the Environment Agency regulations, so that is on hard standing and fenced, they must be stacked in an orderly fashion, no more than two high, the doors off and the trays out, they must be clean, so there must not be food and mould and things, and they have to be secured so people cannot get in. There are examples of them all being tipped in a heap, it has happened. I believe it rather embarrassingly happened in Michael Meacher's constituency. My understanding is that the Environment Agency is aware of the risk of this and is being much more careful to monitor where they are being stored. Most local authorities are storing them on land that they already have which is often either in or adjacent to civic amenity sites. It is land that they already own and it is licensed for waste management practice. Any new storage has to be on hard standing, fenced and secure, no more than two high, and checked over by the Environment Agency that it meets the standards for storage of hazardous waste. You are not getting fields full, that will not happen. It was visible from the air going into Stansted Airport.

  44. That is how they are meant to do it and that is how it should be done but just how big is the problem? Have you got local authorities coming back to you saying "we have suddenly got all of our available space full of fridges"? How big is it? How many are we actually talking about here?
  (Cllr Twitchen) They will start doing that. They are starting to have to buy storage space, redundant stock farms, that kind of thing, factory units that are not being used. In a year there will be between 2.1 million and 2.4 million redundant fridges in the UK. The processing capacity, the best estimate, is that about 600,000 units a year should be on-stream for disposal in about June or July of this year. That is about a quarter of what is needed. In the meantime the stockpile will keep on growing until hopefully by the end of the year we will have more reprocessing capacity available but, of course, the backlog will still keep growing as well. It is going to take quite a long time to clear the backlog. It is going to be 2.1 million fridges at least in a whole year that are discarded in this country that now have to be disposed of and most of them in that first year are going to have to be stored and they will become more visible because you cannot hide two million fridges.

  45. But it is a time limited problem, is it not?
  (Cllr Twitchen) Yes.

  46. Because all new fridges do not have the problem.
  (Cllr Twitchen) Yes.

  47. So trying to persuade anybody in the private sector to set up a plant that is going to do with getting rid of fridges, which is effectively a great big furnace, is it not, you burn it at high temperature?
  (Cllr Twitchen) No, it is not.

  48. We were told that it was.
  (Cllr Twitchen) It is like an assembly line in reverse. They are manhandled and have the CFCs extracted from the coolant and then various bits and pieces are taken off by hand. The carcass goes into a sealed container and is broken up in a centrifuge and the little bits of metal fall down and the CFCs and the foam are drawn off and containerised for incineration. The metal and the plastic comes down and is recycled.

  49. If you are in the private sector and you are going to set up that kind of industrial unit—
  (Cllr Twitchen) Two and a half million pounds worth of kit.

  50. But, of course, within a few years you are going to run out of the raw material, are you not?
  (Cllr Twitchen) Yes.

  51. Because the fridges that are now being dumped will only be for a limited time span because when we get to the new fridges being dumped—
  (Cllr Twitchen) Post 1996.

  52. That is right. So we are actually dealing with a time limited problem. To deal with storage, I understand that the Government has announced £6 million to pay for storage. Is that adequate for this financial year of 2.1 million fridges?
  (Cllr Twitchen) No, I am sorry, it is not. It might be just about enough for some local authorities that did have their own land, suitable land, available. Where they have to create hard standing and put up fencing or, worse, rent storage, it is not going to be adequate.

  53. Has any local authority had any of this £6 million yet?
  (Cllr Twitchen) No, not a penny.

  54. Do you know when any local authority might get any?
  (Cllr Twitchen) We are optimistic that it is going to be included in the Revenue Support Grant for next year which should come to us in April, but of course we have already had to spend the money doing the job.

  55. So the £6 million is not adequate for this year and nobody has had it yet?
  (Cllr Twitchen) We are not complaining, it is better than nothing.


  56. I had a vision of all these fridges over the runway at Stansted when you were talking.
  (Cllr Twitchen) Now there is a thought.

Diana Organ

  57. Given that you have said it has a time limit on it and the worst maybe in the first year while there is a backlog to deal with, what do you think are the possible long-term costs of dealing with the whole period of five or six years that we are going to have to cope with fridges, either by storing them and sending them elsewhere for full disposal, because other countries do have units, or finding some method here within the UK?
  (Cllr Twitchen) Okay. £64 million is our best estimate for next year, that is for storage and starting to eat into the backlog and disposing of the ones that are available. That should be about the cost for two years. I have to say to you these are our best guesses but we have worked it out the best we can. We are looking at £64 million a year for the next two years and then after that it will come down because by that time we should have got rid of the backlog and just be dealing with those that come on-stream. Part of the cost of disposal will represent the very high capital cost for a very short-term project. We are asking people to spend £2.5 million to £3.5 million to set up a process which in five or six years' time will be tailing off as fewer older fridges come through the system. They have got to recoup those capital costs fairly quickly, which is one thing that is going to push the price up.

Mr Martlew

  58. Are you saying that when this system tails off in four, five or six years' time you will go back to landfill? What are you going to do with them?
  (Cllr Twitchen) The metal can be reclaimed. I would not suggest for a moment that we go back to landfill. It is a very small number that were landfilled. I wanted to be open about the various disposal routes that were used. We will not go back to landfill, there is no reason why we should. We will recycle them, I hope, and I fully expect that we will. The waste industry is moving more towards reclamation and recycling. There will not be CFCs in them, either in the coolant or in the foam, so there will not be hazardous waste, they will just go back to being ordinary white goods.

Diana Organ

  59. The monitoring of storage and disposal comes from the Environment Agency, so could you tell us what discussions the LGA has had with the Environment Agency? Do you think that they have been helpful?
  (Cllr Twitchen) We have had most of our discussions multi-party with Michael Meacher, the retailers, the reprocessors, Remploy, the LGA and the Environment Agency. We have had a couple of very useful meetings on that basis. As far as the Environment Agency is concerned, yes, they have been helpful. I think they have been brilliant because they have got their rules and regulations which are for the protection of the environment and they have not compromised on those but they have still tried to be very quick off the mark and very accommodating and reasonable in terms of licensing and giving permits for storage and so on. I think they have been good.

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