Examination of Witness (Questions 180
TUESDAY 26 MARCH 2002
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
(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.
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
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.
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.
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 outfair play to the Environment Agencythey
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
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
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.
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
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.