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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 400 - 409)



Paddy Tipping

  400. You have talked, Mr Gilbert, about the Substitute Fuels Protocol and how it is out of date, but clearly you have got to regulate what you burn; if you are not happy with the present situation, what is the better way of doing it?
  (Mr Gilbert) The Substitute Fuels Protocol, as we said, is a supplementary regulation, behind regulations, that was established in the 1990s. The regulations it supplemented and supported have now changed, we now have IPPC regulation, we have the Waste Incineration Directive, we have now a new agreement on stakeholder dialogue with the Tyres Protocol. So we believe it is now time to review and overhaul that, too, we just think that it provides, if you like, a break on our ability to move forward to improved environmental performance options. And, as I say, one of the characteristics of it is that, even when we have established that we are putting in place an improved environmental performance, say, by burning tyres, we have to stop burning tyres while we go through a consultation process with the Agency, and then we go back to burning tyres once they have approved it. So we just believe it is time to review that.

  401. I just thought I would ask you if there is an experimental period where you measured the discharges?
  (Mr Gilbert) We try to demonstrate that what we are doing is correct.
  (Mr Davies) If I can give you some case history. The context in which the Substitute Fuels Protocol was established is a decade old, and significant additional regulation has been put in place since that period; we now have IPPC, we now have the Waste Incineration Directive, and, as an industry, we have signed up to a significantly enhanced level of stakeholder dialogue. So the context in which the original SFP was put in place, I think, is dated, and we have moved on from there, and it is our proposition really that the SFP is redundant. If I can give a case example, if we were to apply for an alternative fuel permit on a cement kiln in the UK, from the date of the first application through to the date of the permit being authorised, typically, it takes 17 to 20 months. Similar cement kilns in western Europe, whether it is France or in the Benelux countries, are less than six months; and, hence, in western Europe, we see levels of waste utilised in the cement industry of 40 to 50 per cent, and there are significant levels of high temperature incineration active in those countries, and yet in the UK we have two active incinerators and an average of 6 per cent waste utilised in the cement industry. If you look at the European average of waste utilised in the cement industry, it is 12 per cent, and it is only 12 per cent because the UK is holding the average down, and if it were based on best practice, which is France and the Benelux countries, it would be closer to 40 per cent.

  402. So we have talked a lot this morning about how EU regulations drive this; why is it different in Germany, why is there not a common Protocol across the EU about what you can burn?

  (Mr Gilbert) The regulations are common, I think it is the interpretation, and certainly, if you like, the attitude of Governments towards where waste streams go and the industry as a whole. The example that comes to mind is in Belgium. Because I sit on a European Forum, where I share information with trade bodies like mine right across Europe, we go round the table, from time to time, and we find out what is happening; and, of course, when the Belgians had their problems with MBM and infected chicken-meal, they went to the cement industry, they co-opted a cement kiln and they burned the lot. That does not happen here; we have offered the opportunity to discuss those things, with MBM and chicken-meal, and any other kind of issues, but this Government's attitude at the moment is that they do not really feel ready to do that. What we were trying to do, today, by coming to this Committee, was to say, we really do believe we are an opportunity, a waste solution, and it is an opportunity for us perhaps just to change the paradigm, if you like, of what we can do and what we are not able to do.

  403. Yes, but one of the issues that Dick Boarder raised was that you have got to be good to your neighbours, and what comes out of the stack, the emissions, is very important to people who live close by; and this has been quite controversial, and, for example, if you were buying bone-meal, one could imagine that the local populace would be concerned about this. And another issue is around high temperature incineration, because I do not understand the science, but, as I understand what comes out of the stack, many fewer dioxins come out of the stack in high temperature incineration than come out of your plants?

  (Mr Gilbert) You will hear, in a minute, about what actually happens in a kiln, but we do burn at extremely high temperatures, and also we have what is called a long dwell time, which means basically that the waste material spends much longer at high temperatures in the kiln. And the other thing that you will hear happens is that we break down the chemicals significantly, there are not wastes, you do not get ash coming out of a cement kiln, as you might do with an incinerator. But, rather than hear it from me, you should hear it from Rob.
  (Mr Davies) It does sound like a perfect opportunity, really, Mr Chairman, to invite the Select Committee to visit a cement factory.

  404. We are going to produce this report before then; you had better make your pitch now, I think?

  (Mr Davies) You are very welcome to attend one of our factories, whether it is in the UK or in western Europe, so you can get a better understanding of what the true potential of a cement kiln would be, in terms of disposal of waste. The public is very concerned about what goes on within a cement factory and what comes out of the chimney. Over the last decade, we have significantly enhanced our stakeholder dialogue, we hold exhibitions on a regular basis, not just to do with fuels but to do with all issues regarding a factory's performance, and also we distribute newsletters and briefings to politicians and elected officials, on a very regular basis. The technology of a cement kiln has significant advantages; we do operate at extremely high temperatures, the actual flame is in excess of 2,000 degrees Celsius, the materials within the process reach temperatures of 1,450 Celsius, which are significantly higher than those achieved in high temperature incineration, and because we have a significant amount of limestone in our process, it acts as a scrubbing agent, and a lot of the potentially harmful elements are captured within that process and come out as a product. And because the way we produce the product is to form a glassy substance, it becomes vitrified, and, as a result, any potentially contentious elements are actually encapsulated; and there is no ash in our process, unlike incineration, that have to dispose of the ash as a result of their process, the ash forms part of the cement. So we think the fact that we have high temperature breaking down any contentious hydrocarbons, the fact that we have limestone scrubbing, we now have significant levels of dust abatement in the back end of the process, we have a long residence and we have no residue, means that, as an industry, we are offering a very attractive solution. And we are not suggesting that we are the total solution, if you read the Environment Agency's paper, quoting six million tonnes of waste, we will not be able to provide a total solution, but we can form a significant part of the solution. And that is our proposition today; our proposition is to revisit the Substitute Fuels Protocol and allow us to help to be part of the solution.

Mr Lepper

  405. Just one, very brief question. In Annex III to your written submission, you tell us that the Substitute Fuels Protocol "does not apply to any other industrial process." Why does it apply only to your industry; that is one of the things that puzzles me?

  (Mr Gilbert) Well I think it started here, which was a recommendation made during Select Committee inquiries, that suggested that, as it was, at that time, a fairly new science, and we were new to experimenting with these things, there should be such a Protocol put in place to support the regulation that existed and drive it forward. This is why really we are coming back to this Committee today, to say, as part of your recommendations, we hope you will say that the issues have moved on, the industry has moved on, regulation has moved on, probably it is time to revisit that Protocol.


  406. Can I ask just one technical question, in conclusion. As far as you are concerned, the people who supply you with waste of a high calorific value seem to get some benefits, in terms of credits with reference to energy recovery; if the same fuel is used by the high temperature incineration business, they do not get the same benefit. Do you think there should be inequality, effectively, should wastes disposed of by high temperature solutions be deemed a recovery, or a disposal; do you think there should be a difference between the cement and the high temperature side?
  (Mr Gilbert) I think we would say that, and with my sustainable development hat on, it is probably better to use the energy producing a product than just to use up the energy by burning. So, I think, as an industry, we would certainly prefer that the recovery of the energy is the higher step in the hierarchy.
  (Mr Boarder) In fact, Mr Chairman, we have been concerned about this question of definition for quite some time, and, in fact, we went to the High Court for a judicial review on the subject, and the judge found that the material was a waste until it was burned, but was recovered, and the recovery process took place at the cement kiln. So we feel we have got some justification in saying we are definitely a recovery operation, not a waste disposal operation.

  407. I said it was the last question; there is just one other point which has just occurred to me, again, a point of clarification. When we visited the Cleanaway unit, I gained the impression that, as far as waste disposal in a cement kiln was concerned, if you had relatively low levels of material going through one of your plants, you did not have to meet the same emission standards which a specific high temperature incinerator had to meet, but, as you increased the amounts going through, and I am sorry I cannot be specific in terms of tonnages, but perhaps you can help me, then the environmental demands made of you, in terms particularly of final emissions, started to rise. The first question is, is that factual? And, secondly, in terms of your operation, where you are saying, I think Mr Davies used the words, "We could be part of the solution, in terms of disposal," is there a sort of cut-off point, at which you will say, "We're quite happy to have this amount of material coming through, but then, in investment terms, to go to higher emissions standards, it doesn't become tenable;" really, it is a repeat of my question about cherry-picking, are you looking for the best deal for the cement industry, without having to go over the top on environmental emissions control?
  (Mr Gilbert) We comply with all the relevant regulations and the Directives, the Directives do have differences in them, but there is no inhibition on our industry, in terms of the ability of the industry to perform to meet the emissions criteria, of whatever volumes we began to use, were we able to speed up the process by revising the Substitute Fuels Protocol. Dick, do you want to touch on that?
  (Mr Boarder) We comply completely with the Hazardous Waste Incineration Directive; the Environment Agency insists we do. Now there are clauses in there about co-incineration, and we come under a co-incineration Clause; the Environment Agency are very tough on us in the way they interpret that, and most of the initial limits are the same as the incinerators.

  408. Most, but not all?
  (Mr Boarder) There are only one or two areas where that is not the case.

  409. I am going to ask, again, a technical question. If it were to be the case that rules were put in place to say you had to match, in every respect, that which the current high temperature incineration plants have, is it technically feasible for a cement plant to operate in those circumstances?
  (Mr Boarder) One of the areas where there is a pro rata, that you were talking about, is in terms of dust; and you have to remember that our product is dust, so, a cement kiln making a million tonnes a year of cement, we are processing million of tonnes of dust a year, and that is limestone, clay, dried limestone, dried clay minerals, and so it would seem unfair to limit us to the same dust limits that we have for a high temperature incinerator processing hazardous materials. Having said that, the new Waste Incineration Directive, which overtakes the Hazardous Waste Directive, does impose very, very strict, tight limits on dust for co-incineration, which will require investment in our plants, quite a heavy investment, and we, as an industry, accept that need to comply with those regulations.

  Chairman: Thank you very much, Mr Gilbert, Mr Davies and Mr Boarder. You have had your opportunity on behalf of the cement industry to have your say, and we are grateful for the time and trouble you have taken to put your case to us. As I said before, you cannot retract that which you have said, but if there is anything else, in the next day, or so, that you feel that you wanted to let us have, we will be happy to look at it before we produce our report. Thank you very much for coming and joining us.

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