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

Examination of Witness (Questions 180 - 199)



  180. What do you do with them?
  (Mr Jones) Historically, they used to go to car fragmentation plants or landfill.

  181. What about extracting the CFCs? Did you do that?
  (Mr Jones) No. We occasionally have drained where we manage civic amenity sites.

  182. You did not have your own high standards to remove them?
  (Mr Jones) Absolutely, yes.

  183. You did or you did not?
  (Mr Jones) We did.

  184. But you did not remove the CFCs?
  (Mr Jones) We did not remove the CFCs from the foam but we did offer systems that drained the CFCs from the pipework which represents about 30 per cent by weight of CFCs in fridges. That material would then have gone to what we would have recommended as the best practical, environmental option for the local authority.

Paddy Tipping

  185. You told us it was a big problem in terms of scale and you told us earlier on that the commercial side kicked in in September 2000. Why was not the problem picked up on the domestic side? When did you first become aware that there was going to be a problem here?
  (Mr Jones) We contacted the DTI in September 2000 and that was with a couple of their civil servants, one of whom subsequently left, in relation to the 1 January 2001 deadline that the regulations applied to industrial and commercial. It then became apparent that we had set a hare running because nobody seemed to know. I subsequently now understand that the retailers had begun to similarly pick up on this regulation. There was no doubt in our minds, round about mid-March 2001, by which time on 16 March we supplied a translation of the German specification. We had done that in conjunction with a company in Plymouth that was interested in selling us a processing plant. That company wanted to sell us the equipment. We wanted to get first move advantage in the market, so we were supplying, at our own cost, translation of the German specifications, both to DEFRA, the DTI and the Environment Agency.

  186. By the middle of March, you could see you had to remove the CFCs from the foams and there was a business opportunity here and you were beginning to mobilise for it?
  (Mr Jones) Definitely by the middle of March, roughly a year ago.

  187. The officials were saying, "We do not think there is a problem"?
  (Mr Jones) There was no acceptance really until round table meetings were held. The DTI round table was on 3 October and that is when DEFRA called everybody together. There must have been 50 or 60 companies represented in a meeting at the DTI conference centre. Basically, the message was that we were in a pickle.

Patrick Hall

  188. Which year?
  (Mr Jones) 2001. It took six and a half months from March to October for there to be a public acceptance that there was a problem.

Paddy Tipping

  189. Who was running the show? Is it the DTI or the old Department of the Environment?
  (Mr Jones) The presentations that I went to at the DTI were presented as a joint DTI/DEFRA team. I got the impression that the DTI had accepted their responsibility because they were involved in the negotiations with Brussels, but DEFRA were the lead body in terms of implementation. The Agency was there as a backstop because it had to come up with some regulatory framework. They were going to have to do the spade work in terms of what they have now released a couple of weeks ago. This arrived on my desk. This is "Guidance on the Recovery and Disposal of Controlled Substances." They have only allowed people a week to respond on this. This should have been out a year ago. This is effectively the culmination of the Agency's work on specifications for the operation of storage, big, fixed processing plants and the mobile processing plants. That is where we should have been 12 months ago. When we were supplying the German translations, that is the sort of thing that we were saying to the Agency, DEFRA and the DTI. "You really should be issuing this so that we can start making investment decisions." Without that, no sane company would invest. We are not going to build a £3 million plant if some jack-the-lad can spend £300,000 and meet whatever the Agency says is a requirement or, conversely, does not meet it but will not be prosecuted because the Agency will not have a go at them.

  190. I understand all that. What I do not understand is you are saying you knew there was a problem in March 2001; you were beginning to get ready for it. The retailers were telling us there was a problem, but the officials were still saying there was not a problem. Why is that? They will have to answer for themselves but what is your perception?
  (Mr Jones) My perception is that we suffered from the wood for the trees syndrome. They were in the undergrowth, focused on the fact that they were trying to work out how they were going to escape from what they saw as an onerous condition that they had agreed to from Europe. Had they adopted the big, environmental strategy, the view should have been we have 1,300 tonnes of material here that, under the old regime of management, was responsible for two per cent of the United Kingdom's global warming potential, which does not sound much but it is quite a big percentage from a single, defined source. They should have said, "Let's park all the regulations and think about how we can address the big issue", not, "Let's argue whose fault it is or go into self-denial." The fact is we should be making that zero.

  191. Your perception is they were looking for loopholes and the loophole was is this practicable?
  (Mr Jones) Yes. The irony is that in these regulations that have come out—fair play to the Environment Agency—they have, it appears, specified the sort of equipment which is precisely what we would have endorsed 12 months ago. That is 95 per cent recovery. We believe they could have gone a bit higher, but 95 per cent recovery and very, very onerous conditions on management and control.

Mr Lepper

  192. You are just one company involved in waste management. There are a number of others. Were you aware of any other of your competitor or fellow companies making similar approaches to government departments and indeed expressing a similar interest in getting the plant up and running and investing; or was it you out there alone in that, or do you not know?
  (Mr Jones) I was not aware of any of our competitors that were quite as far down the road as us. That is my role in the company, to be three years ahead of the eight ball. We have moved away from certain businesses and we have embraced certain businesses but generally we are about a year to 18 months ahead of some of our competitors in these areas. In fairness to them, we have a more inclusive approach to the definition of waste. We do not just see it as what is in people's dustbins. We form strategic partnerships with paper processors, with major scrap merchants in the United Kingdom. We see this whole area of end life material retrieval, particularly if it is solid, whether it is cars or electrical equipment, as part of our industry. Some of our competitors see themselves purely as being in landfill or in municipal authority waste collection.


  193. Your exchange of correspondence seems very much to be at your own initiation. Are you a member of a trade association as a company?
  (Mr Jones) We are members of the ESA, the Environmental Services Association.

  194. Was that Association in any way consulted collectively about this matter ahead or in parallel with your own correspondence? Do you know?
  (Mr Jones) I would imagine that they would have been consulted possibly about mid-2001.

  195. But not before then?
  (Mr Jones) You would need to contact them. By then, Cleanaway became interested. They and we have always been involved in the electronics and electricals areas for many years.

Mr Borrow

  196. Am I right in assuming that, in your view, the reason for the delay in having the plant in place lies with government departments in not having the specifications for the plants in place in March 2001 rather than March 2002?
  (Mr Jones) Yes. If I go back to my triangle, the three things that need to be in place are the technology, the certainty on our part with regard to the regulatory framework and certainty with regard to the funding arrangements. The technology, not only in the area of fridges but in the area of these other products that are coming along, subject to directives, is not really an issue. The Germans, the Swiss, the Nordic countries have a track record where they have higher regulatory requirements and standards that have been in operation and the technologies can be acquired. They are much more expensive. The issues have been around the regulatory framework and who pays for it. Had those other two sides been in place, I would have been able to persuade my colleagues on the board to put money up into a plant to meet those requirements.

  197. From the point at which those things were in place, which is virtually now, how long will it take from that point when the specifications and the information are available until the plants are up and running? What sort of timescale are we talking about?
  (Mr Jones) There are a number of companies that have already indicated that they are going to build plants and put them in. We think good luck to them because there is still no certainty. These are subject to consultation. Responses have to be in pretty well by this Friday I think, or next Friday. We are quite happy with that pack of requirements but we have grave reservations that the regulations are going to be enforced. We have specific evidence of one cowboy who has amassed a huge pile of fridges, completely in contravention of these requirements that have been out in the public domain in discussion documents for the last seven months; and yet they have been allowed by one region of the Agency to carry on regardless. I think it is absolutely outrageous and it gives companies like us a bad name because we get tarred with the brush of these people in the waste industry. That operator has managed fridges totally illegally as far as we are concerned.


  198. You would not like to be a little more specific about where this mountain has accumulated?
  (Mr Jones) There was a picture of it in The Guardian two weeks ago. These requirements for storage of fridges insist that fridges are not stacked. They have to be laid on their side. They have to be stacked no more than three or four high. The doors have to be removed. Organic material has to be taken out. They have to be washed. What this chap is doing is just shovelling them up with a crane and dropping them from a great height. They are just a great heap. If you have ever been round the back of a fridge, you will realise that we are talking about fairly sensitive copper pipes. It is absolutely beyond the bounds of credibility that that operator could claim that there is no leakage from that methodology.

Paddy Tipping

  199. Is this in the Minister's own constituency?
  (Mr Jones) It is not unadjacent to his back yard. It was only last week that the DEFRA report came out on the financial management and policy review of the Agency. The problems about the regulatory framework were dealt with in many ways by that report. Effectively, they said that there was no cohesive policy framework within the Agency from the top down; its organisation and structure was byzantine; it is operating with hundreds of different information technology systems and, in fairness to the chairman and the chief executive, they have said that they are undertaking a major strategy review to address these weaknesses, but this is an Agency that has been around now for almost six years. Frankly, to have a strong, effective waste management industry, you need a strong, effective regulator. There are fundamental weaknesses that have to be addressed that have been confirmed by the Deloittes study of the Agency and the sooner they get on with it the better. We will have no credibility at all as an industry and nor will the Environment Agency if they allow people to get away with metaphorical murder by what they are doing in the fridge area. Again, it is this wood for the trees approach. Nobody is looking at the big vision. We really have to have a zero impact set of strategies in place.

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