Examination of Witnesses (Questions 88
TUESDAY 31 OCTOBER 2000
88. Can I welcome you to the second session
of the Committee's inquiry into the Delivery of Sustainable Waste
Management. I will ask you in a second to introduce yourselves
for the record. Can I just stress that since you come as organisations
which probably have conflicting views on quite a lot of issues,
if you disagree please let us hear from you and, if you agree,
once one person has said it we do not need to have it said again
for the record. Would you like to introduce yourselves?
(Mr Collins) I am Keith Collins. I am
sitting in for Alan Watson who was coming from Wales but due to
weather and rail disruption, it is not possible for him to be
here. I am an Associate for Public Interest Consultants.
(Mr Chilton) Malcolm Chilton. I am Commercial
Director of Energy Power Resources and here in my capacity as
the former Chairman of EWA and an Executive Committee Member of
(Mr Hirons) I am Tony Hirons, Communications
Director of the Energy from Waste Association.
Chairman: Thank you very much. Crispin Blunt.
89. Gentlemen, welcome, and you in particular,
Malcolm. It was rather over seven years ago that in an extremely
brief period, about a week, I was quite likely to end up as Secretary
for the Energy from Waste Association when I was working for Politics
International who were your then political consultants. Happily
Malcolm Rifkind took me away from that on appointment as special
adviser, by which route I now sit here. Can I ask both you and
Keith Collins, from the Waste Strategy 2000 what do you see as
the likely future role for incineration in the United Kingdom?
(Mr Hirons) If I can deal with that, Mr Blunt. Just
to pick up very quickly from the strategy itself, which said that
"The Government and the National Assembly for Wales believe
that recovery of energy from waste through using it as a fuel
has an important role to play alongside recycling and composting
in a system of sustainable waste management. Energy from waste
plants should be appropriately sized and care must be taken to
ensure that contracts are sensitively designed to avoid crowding
out recycling. They should be developed as part of an integrated
system, and that includes other waste management options".
That was how it was laid at the time. There has, I feel, been
some movement away from that from the Government's side but the
ideal is still there. Speaking to Members of the Government, officials
from the DETR, that is still the role for energy from waste that
they would see and from the EWA's point of view it is the role
that we would see as part of an integrated waste management strategy
and a waste management solution. We do not see energy from waste
as the answer to it. Similarly, we do not see that energy from
waste is the problem within it. It has to be in there alongside
all the other options as Best Practicable Environmental Option
to ensure that we meet what are extremely demanding targets.
(Mr Collins) The strategy is going to result in one
of two paths. One is that dozens of incinerators will be built,
quite happily they are rolling out now, and they have been approved
in Kent, in Slough and so on. That will proceed very, very rapidly
to at least a quadrupling, I would say, of present capacity, at
least a quadrupling. That is the Government's figure. I would
suggest the most interesting thing is you might want to look through
the Enviros Report with the Resource Recovery Forum, which you
certainly would not regard as being a pro-recycling body or anti-incineration.
If you look at its numbers what you see is that the only major
country left in the Western World with a recycling rate under
ten per cent is the United Kingdom. You see that if you run this
strategy out for 15 years it will still be at the bottom of the
pack. I suggest that I know of no other industry where that is
the case. I am not sure that aiming to be behind everyone else
in 15 years is how any other nation would go at this. I also note
that if you look at the incineration rates in other nationswe
always hear that the United Kingdom has to expand because other
nations like the Danes and Swedes and so on have plentyand
I pulled out 18 nations, the UK sits at number nine already in
energy from waste capacity, it is in the middle of the pack. The
two leading are Japan and France. Japan has done a u-turn and
announced it is cutting 20 per cent of its incinerator capacity
in the next five years and doubling its recycling and composting.
The French Ministry has announced the stabilisation of incineration
capacity and is shutting a whole series of units down. I would
suggest that overall that leaves the United Kingdom as the only
nation I know of in the world with such an aggressive rate expansion
of energy from waste.
90. What interpretation do you put on the Government's
change of tone in its attitude towards incineration? The DETR
officials, who gave evidence last week, acknowledged that there
has been a change of tone between the draft Directive and Waste
Strategy 2000. Do you think that the Government are giving any
clear indication of policy to the community? I will come back
to whether industry are getting a clear indication from the Government.
(Mr Collins) It is very clear from the MinistersMichael
Meacher and Stephen Byersthat they are now turning corners
very rapidly, I would suggest, in moving the UK into line with
the rest of the West. The DETR officers, let us say, are somewhat
softer but still there are dozens of pieces of that strategy where,
frankly, they just have carte blanche to burn. At the Environment
Agency it is the same thing, it is the middle level management
in the bureaucracy who make the signal unclear.
(Mr Hirons) Can I come back to the Energy from Waste's
point of view and draw your attention to a news release that was
put out on 13 October which actually picked up on the case that
had been put in some quarters that there could be up to 166 new
plants being built.
91. I think that was in A Way with Waste.
(Mr Hirons) That is right. That was the worst case
scenario in Part II of the National Waste Strategy.
92. Which presumably you would regard as the
best case scenario?
(Mr Hirons) No. We have said that we would see the
situation of between 15 to 20 plants being built in the next ten
years. In our evidence, extrapolating that out to 2015, we could
see a figure of between 40 and 50 maximum plants being built.
I also pick up on what Mr Collins has said. There is a report
which has been prepared by AEA Technology and the graph for that
was in the evidence which we submitted. This showed the level
of recycling energy from waste on landfill throughout the world.
That is the colour version that was in the evidence. That put
the United Kingdom, in terms of energy from waste, way below most
of the 13 different countries that are there. Our view, which
we stated at the time, which is in the evidence and which we would
reiterate again, is that with the targets to be met and the massive
amount of waste which is going to have to be taken away from landfill,
particularly when somewhere between three to six per cent annually
waste is arising, we are going to need all forms of waste prevention
and then minimisation, recycling and all other aspects, to meet
those targets. Energy from Waste, within the 40 to 50 maximum
plants within the next 15 years, we would see are just part of
an integrated strategy.
93. Are those big ones or small ones?
(Mr Hirons) I would say, apart from possibly within
one or two urban conurbations, most of them are far more likely
to be of 100,000, 150,000, 200,000 rather than 400,000, 500,000.
Certainly I think as we go further ahead to 2015 and it doubles
from maybe 15 to 40/45, that expansion is much more likely to
be around the 100,000 mark, smaller plants, than it would be the
(Mr Chilton) The average plant size that we have today
is about 200,000 tonnes if we divide the number of plants by the
number of tonnes being burned. Up until 2010 we see that rough
average maintaining and then beyond 2010 we would see the average
plant size being around about 100,000 tonnes.
(Mr Collins) In the last six months a 550,000 tonne
plant was announced in Kent and 440,000 tonnes in the west of
London, in Slough. I would suggest that in fact for at least the
next 10 or 20 there are going to be an awful lot of very large
burners. I would suggest on that 40 or 50, when you knock those
numbers out nationally you think "40 or 50 we must find a
place for somewhere", but if you just take London's share
of that, that would be six or seven new incinerators for London.
It would make good theatre to see that go ahead but I am not sure
that it is good policy.
94. I am not quite sure how those numbers stack
up. In Surrey, for example, there are two incinerators proposed
for a population of about one million people and that would seem
to indicate more than 100 incinerators across the country if that
was rolled out on a population basis. You drew on a report that
was written by AEA Technology.
(Mr Hirons) Yes.
95. Are they not responsible for promoting renewables
within the DTI?
(Mr Hirons) They have a very wide role and that is
one of the roles they would have to play.
96. That would seem to indicate that they come
to this slightly parti pris, would it not?
(Mr Chilton) We should just be absolutely clear about
this. We know how many new plants there are going to be better
than my colleague does, with respect. There tends to be a six
or even seven year development cycle on these plants through planning
and tendering and the whole series of events that one has to go
through. We know how many plants are in that cycle. Between now
and 2010 we can be fairly accurate about our predictions and they
are given in our evidence to the Committee and we feel they are
pretty good estimates. Whilst we may be out by one or two, we
are not going to be out by 100, you are wrong there.
97. The cycle for getting something to completion
(Mr Chilton) Six or seven years.
98. How much of that process is the building
of the plant once you have got permission?
(Mr Chilton) About three years. I am talking about
even before you get to build. If we look at some examples. If
you look at the Hampshire development process for those incinerators,
that has been on the go for five or six years. Surrey has got
many more years to go, I am sure, before they finalise their proposals.
If we look at the Belvedere plant on the River Thames, that has
been in development since 1990. These things tend to take a very
99. Can I ask about the relationship between
recycling and incineration. If the recycling targets in Waste
Strategy 2000 are exceeded, and I note that my own borough council
has gone from nought to 25 per cent from a standing start in about
three years which would seem to indicate quite a lot can be achieved,
and the evidence from Enviros is that targets up to 50 per cent
are achievable, it is beyond that that there is some debate about
how difficult the targets are to get to, to what extent does that
undermine the significant increases in energy from waste capacity?
If we are getting towards 50 per cent, which has been achieved
elsewhere in the world, what does that do to the case for energy
(Mr Chilton) I do not think it affects it at all.
Energy from waste targets post-recycled waste, it targets that
waste which is left over when recycling has taken place. If we
look at a modern tender for a waste disposal service and take
Surrey as an example: Surrey County Council were very specific
that the waste disposal tenderer had to meet 25 per cent recycling,
rising to 35 per cent over a ten year period in line with the
waste strategy, it had to meet landfill diversion targets and
waste to energy just played a part in that system, taking that
waste that could not be recycled. There is no conflict there.
I think we have to remember that in the UK we started from very
low rates of both recycling and waste to energy. The key driver
for all of us is to divert waste from landfill. Not everyone agrees
that we should do that but the Landfill Directive is telling us
that we must divert from landfill, so that is a given. I think
the real issue for all of us is that we halt the growth in waste
arisings. If we take Surrey County Council again as an example:
in a 25 year contract we expect a doubling of waste arisings but
there is no problem associated with filling facilities, the problem
is producing those facilities in the first place to take care
of this tidal wave of waste that keeps coming towards us. It really
is a crisis. We feel a little bit like the band on the deck of
the Titanic at times. This is a really important issue and we
should not be arguing between recycling and waste to energy, the
two are absolutely complementary and we need expansion of both
in order to meet our targets.
1 Written Evidence has been printed in HC 903-II,
page 149. Back
Written Evidence has been printed in HC 903-II, page 88. Back