Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1160
TUESDAY 12 DECEMBER 2000
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.
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
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
(Mr Meacher) Including that.
1167. Colin Pickthall, West Lancashire, has
been very concerned about this question. This question about reassuring
peopleI 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.
(Mr Meacher) Yes. The general planning rules are that
the change of use does not require planning permission. However,
I agree that this is
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
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 10 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 justificationgovernment
could not have a figure in its back pocket. We are not working
1172. The DTI have a figure.
(Mr Meacher) It was a DETR figure166.
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 tonneswhich
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 powerthe 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 going 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 £2 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
(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 issues of non-recyclates, 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
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
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
(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
Chairman: I think we can pursue this through
6 Note by Witness: Local authorities and the
Environment Agency are each required to hold copies of the public
register entries for those processes in their area regulated by
the Environment Agency under Integrated Pollution Control (and
in future Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control). These
entries will include monitoring data. Back