Examination of witnesses (Questions 1198
THURSDAY 21 DECEMBER 2000
ELLIS and MR
1198. Minister, can I welcome you back to complete
the session on Delivering Sustainable Waste Management. I see
you have changed your team. I wonder whether you could introduce
them for the record.
(Mr Meacher) Indeed, like those adverts where you
go behind the tree and when you come out it is different. This
is on my left Tony Anderson, who is Team Leader, Waste Strategy
Division, and on my right Sue Ellis, Divisional Manager, Waste
1199. What is the difference between strategy
(Mr Meacher) I knew someone would ask that and I had
a very good idea it would be you, Mrs Dunwoody!
1200. I am sorry! But I am not getting an answer.
(Mr Meacher) I am trying to evade
1201. We did agree there would only be fair
questions today. What is the difference between strategy and policy?
(Mr Meacher) It is a very good question and I wonder
if the Divisional Manager can tell us how she sees this distinction.
(Mrs Ellis) The Waste Strategy Division is charged
with delivering the Government's Waste Strategy 2000 which was
published earlier in the year. My division deals with more general
waste management issues.
1202. I see, which have very little relationship
to what the Government is doing. Thank you very much; so long
as we know.
(Mr Meacher) Thank you for your helpful interventions;
I am learning about my Department. Clearly waste strategy is about
the actual delivery on the ground of the targets and waste policy
is looking at the wider issues of policy as regards waste.
1203. I wonder since this is a continuation
of last week whether you wanted to say anything further about
any of the questions we asked last week, whether "soon"
is now sooner than it was?
(Mr Meacher) "Soon" is indeed soon but not
that soon! I have to say, Mr Chairman
1204. Who decided that, strategy or policy?
(Mr Meacher) I have considered whether in the last
week there have been any changes that I could announce at this
point; there are not, but, as you will recall, there were some
items pending and I genuinely hope very early in the new year
we will be able to make announcements.
Chairman: Thank you very much. Hilary Benn?
1205. Can you tell us why you decided not to
include household and community composting within the statutory
(Mr Meacher) We did think about this. Household composting,
which is clearly an important part of dealing with the waste stream,
has been excluded from the targets because there are no reliable
ways of measuring either quantities or standards, that is basically
the problem, although I have to say that community recycling does
count and, of course, it is easier in terms of community recycling
to have some control over quantities and standards. I think that
is right in my view. We estimate that something like 200,000 to
300,000 tonnes is dealt with through household composting compared
to the half million tonnes which is collected for disposal centrally
and, of courseand maybe this is your next questionthe
EU Commission is trying to deal with this problem. The Waste Management
Unit of the EU Commission is bringing forward draft proposals
for promoting composting including the development of standards
and we in general would support that.
1206. Can I just be clear, I thought community
composting was excluded?
(Mr Meacher) No, it is included.
1207. You mentioned the work the Commission
is doing on a draft Directive. When one of your officials gave
evidence earlier in the inquiry in answer to our question he did
not seem to be very keen on the EU bringing forward a Directive
on this issue. Do I take it from what you have just said that
you feel more positive towards it now?
(Mr Meacher) Our view is that we do need standards.
My first answer clearly implies there is a lack of standards and
therefore those who try to produce standards are engaged in a
useful exercise. We do think that the way in which those standards
is being approached at the EU level is a bit narrow. We think
that "fitness for the purpose" of recycling or taking
account of end use is just as important as the soil protection
measure, and therefore we have a slightly different approach to
it. But basically I think it is helpful. We obviously wait to
see exactly what they produce, but we are not waiting for that,
and WRAP and the Composting Association are aiming at producing
standards for a composting programme themselves.
1208. How many other countries are doing anything
like that, approximately?
(Mr Meacher) About a third, I am told.
(Mr Anderson) Of the EU members.
1209. So when you talk about their aims being
narrow, this is based on the gap between what we already do and
what they are proposing?
(Mr Meacher) It is based on what they have informed
us as the basis on which they are preparing standards.
1210. Instead of arguing today, could we have
a little note not only on the general tenor but where the gaps
lie because it seems to me that although you are saying we need
standards, there also seems to be some doubt as to whether the
Commission are coming at it from the same angle. The last thing
we need is a set of standards that are rubbish. How appropriate!
(Mr Meacher) We almost missed it! Of course we will
provide you with a note. I do not think there is a great division.
1211. Then it needs to be short note.
(Mr Meacher) We can clarify where are the points of
1212. It seems to me fairly fundamental as there
is a lot of compost material being produced by some local authorities
now which they are finding difficult to sell that there are some
clear standards, although I am a bit sceptical about how you can
have a standard for composting produced in January with a lot
of Christmas trees in it compared to something in the summer with
a lot of lawn cuttings.
(Mr Meacher) A very good question.
1213. I was hoping you were going to answer
it for me.
(Mr Meacher) That is indeed the kind of problem in
trying to produce round-the-year standards which are applicable.
Standards will relate to feedstock, is the note that is being
passed to me, and clearly one does need to take account of the
different products which form part of the composting in order
to achieve the standards. Let us see what the EU comes up with.
1214. In the Waste Strategy you reported that
you thought that the growth in municipal waste arisings had been
about three per cent per year in the period to which you refer.
Many of the witnesses who have come and given evidence have contested
that and said that some of this is diversion particularly because
of the Landfill Tax. Do you have a view of by what percentage
you think municipal waste arisings are going to increase between
now and the fundamental review of the Waste Strategy in 2010?
(Mr Meacher) We are going to put in place measures
to try and bring that three per cent down. I am well aware that
it is a contested figure. I have raised this with the Department
and my officials believe that that does represent the best evidence
to date. It is approximately in line with the rate of economic
growth but we have got to change that. We have fundamentally got
to alter it. We have to decouple economic growth from waste production.
I cannot make predictions because I do not know how far a waste
minimisation policy, which is certainly part of the strategy,
will succeed, but the intention is to reduce it to naught and
preferably a minus figure.
1215. Which of the instruments in the Waste
Strategy will make the biggest contribution to achieving that
(Mr Meacher) In terms of waste minimisation there
is a difference, of course, between industrial/commercial waste
and domestic waste. In terms of industrial and commercial waste,
there is the best practice programme, which I think is called
Envirowise, there is the Landfill Tax, there is IPPC, which includes
a requirement to minimise waste, there are producer responsibility
obligations, the waste reporting guidelines which we are putting
in place, and, of course, the Waste Resources Action Programme
(WRAP). On the domestic sector it is much more difficult
1216. Indeed it is because a householder may
say, "I have paid my council tax so whether I have one bag
or 50 bags, it does not make any difference to me." Where
is the incentive to change behaviour there?
(Mr Meacher) That is a very good question to which
I do not think we have yet a very convincing answer. We have looked
at the question of variable charging. There are real difficulties
with that and we are not at this moment minded to proceed with
that until we can overcome those problems. There is, of course,
awareness and one can pooh-pooh this as being rather small beer,
but in the end it is making people aware that you cannot just
chuck everything under the kitchen sink and it gets taken away
and nobody pays any attention to it. There is the Going For Green
programme of advertisements. There is the Are You Doing Your Bit?
television advertising, which we put a lot of resources into.
The latest research shows that nine out of ten people recognise
the programme when they are asked about it and seven out of ten
say, in answer to interviewers, that it has had sufficient impression
on them to make them think that they need to do something about
it in terms of their behaviour.
Chairman: How many have actually done anything
1217. To take a very practical question, what
percentage of households currently have access to a separated
doorstep collection scheme, roughly?
(Mr Meacher) It is small. Certainly we can give you
that answer. I cannot off the top of my head. I would have said
it is less than 20 per cent.
1218. Does the Waste Strategy have a target
for that to increase? Is that one of the measures that you are
going to use? I know there is encouragement to local authorities
to develop separated domestic collection schemes but is there
in the strategy a target?
(Mr Meacher) The target is implicit because I think
it is impossible to triple the level of recycling of household
waste, and 25 per cent on average, by 2005 without kerbside collection
schemes. You simply would not reach that level. There are also
performance indicators on access to recycling facilities. The
other point which I would draw attention to is there is a Waste
Minimisation Act which has recently been put through which does
allow local authorities to take any initiatives they feel would
reduce waste, for example subsidising a nappy-washing service.
I do not want to go into the details of whether that is the right
way to dispose of nappies, but it is the sort of issue in regard
to household waste collection which I know in some boroughs has
caused a lot of problems.
1219. You are using the English language very
precisely. You are saying that they have the right to subsidise
it but you are not giving them a positive incentive in terms of
cash. My local authority has recycling bins in all the obvious
places but they do not go to the extent of having things sorted
out, and unless you get the markets right I do not think they
are going to. Do you give them positive incentives in terms or
cash or do you just give them responsibilities?
(Mr Meacher) The drivers are the recycling targets.