Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100
TUESDAY 31 OCTOBER 2000
100. Are you sure they are complementary? I
would have thought if you were getting, as one or two places are
getting, up to 66 per cent recycling, does that not have a major
impact on calorific value of what is left?
(Mr Chilton) I do not believe that 66 per cent recycling
is in any way possible or feasible on a nationwide basis. In certain
distinct, self-contained areas of middle class, well housed populations
it may be possible to achieve quite high recycling rates but I
think the view is 35 per cent recycling on a nationwide basis
in a country like this probably represents a sensible plateau
of achievement beyond which we could only proceed at enormous
101. Mr Collins was screwing up his face, I
just wonder whether he wants to put it on the record?
(Mr Collins) The incinerators only target post-recycled
waste was your comment. Kent is building 550,000 tonnes, I am
going to assume that is all going to be post-recycled, they are
already there. Slough is apparently a scintillating community
for recycling because they are putting in 440,000 tonnes' worth
of incinerator capacity. I find that a little bit unusual. Teesside
just expanded their incinerator, just got permission to expand
it by 120,000 tonnes. I believe they are in the very same place
from which two years ago were officers having to discuss the fact
that there seemed to be a bit of a conflict between recycling
and incineration. Number one, they do not take just post-recycled
waste and those new ones coming on line will not just be taking
that. As for the other nations and the "plateau" claims,
the Resource Recovery Forum's document shows Germany going from
10 or 15 per cent to 48 per cent in six years and in that time
they happened to incorporate East Germany and there were a few
issues associated with that rate of increase. I would suggest
that the United Kingdom does not face those kinds of issues but
it should be looking at something like that. The Americans quadrupled
their rate in one decade and that was with no major national funding,
no major national producer responsibility, none of the tools already
in place in the United Kingdom. As for the increase in arisings,
just quickly on that one. This is a myth. You could bring in 500
economists and ask them what would happen if you bring in a Landfill
Tax and they would predictentirely accuratelythat
waste will attempt to shunt into low cost avenues. People predicted
it before and now we have watched it happen. What you see is when
you pull apart the arisings, which we did for every Essex district,
the increase in arisings is not in black sacks and wheelie bins
coming out of the front of your house, it is CA sites; it is bulky
waste from special collections; it is trade waste; it is items
like that. We find that again and again and again across the UK.
In other words, the waste is not new but has shifted over a definitional
classification fence. It is not soaring three per cent year on
year. The other way to measure it is to go to the manufacturers
and say "is your tonnage going up three per cent year on
year? Do you expect this through the next 25 years?" Bring
them in and I think you will find they do not expect that and
they have not experienced that growth.
Chairman: I think we need to move on.
102. Mr Chilton, you said that incineration
is applied to what cannot be recycled. Can you just tell us what
you think cannot be recycled in terms of waste arisings?
(Mr Chilton) Waste is a very mixed substance, as we
all know. A lot of it gets contaminated by food in the process
of being used. So food containers themselves, plastic containers
that you buy your meat in or whatever it happens to be, tend to
be contaminated and are not really suitable for recycling. A lot
of paper waste is used in the house for whatever purpose and end
up being contaminated in a way that renders it unsuitable for
recycling. Plastic films in particular are almost always contaminated.
We also have to look at things like nappies and articles like
that which are also not suitable for recycling. There is quite
a high proportion of cross-contaminated waste in the normal household
bin that does not render itself suitable for recycling.
103. Can I just ask you what assumption you
are making in giving that answer about separated collection? Taking
paper as a classic example, it is not very difficult to operate
a separated collection scheme which would take it out from the
(Mr Chilton) We would certainly expect normal newsprint
to be recycled and it seems a very appropriate thing that it is.
The data we work on to look at the effect this will have on calorific
values has been produced by a number of sources but I think most
interestingly by Hampshire County Council who have looked at a
range of recycling scenarios and the effect that has on ultimate
calorific value. Most recycling scenarios, indeed the most intensive
ones, tend to increase calorific value if for no other reason
than some of the major things that are recycled first are metals,
glass and that sort of thing as well as paper. Indeed, it is such
a concern to us as an industry to try to predict what that calorific
value will be as a result of increased recycling scenarios over
the life of a plant that it is now common practice in the industry
to design waste from energy plants at the design point that deal
with higher calorific waste. Ten years ago we would have designed
plants to meet nine mega joules per kilogram of calorific value
and today we design them to meet something like ten and a half
mega joules per kilogram as a design point.
104. They are not flexible, are they, that is
part of the problem?
(Mr Chilton) Yes, they are quite flexible. The flexibility
is if the calorific value changes the throughput through the plant
has to change. If the calorific value goes up, throughput has
to go down so that the heat released in the plant remains more
or less constant. It is important to us when trying to calculate
the long-term revenues on these plants that we do not underestimate
calorific value because if we do and calorific value rises we
would see a shortfall in revenue, and this gets back to the old
argument of do we just demand the waste in order to make our investment
pay off. The way we get around that is by designing for high calorific
value waste now. It means that we have slightly larger plant in
thermal terms and a slightly higher gate fee than we would otherwise
have. That is being taken into account in our attempts to mitigate
our risks over time. When we are trying to predict over 25 years
what is going to happen to waste none of us can really do it,
so we have to be careful and mitigate that risk to the extent
that we can. We genuinely believe that we will see, and we are
already seeing, increases in calorific value of waste.
105. As you will be aware, the public is not
terribly keen on incineration. Looking at the waste stream, could
you tell us which items of waste, when burnt, create the most
(Mr Chilton) I am sure you are referring to plastics
here which is often a subject that people raise and, indeed, people
suggest that all plastics should be removed from the waste stream.
I think in the case of plastic films that would actually be a
very difficult thing to achieve. In practice, we believe that
modern incineration and modern gas cleaning equipment deal with
all sorts of waste that we get thrown at us. In particular, the
issue is on dioxins and the dioxin raising potential of plastics
within waste. There have been recent figures published by Edmonton,
which was claimed by Greenpeace the other day to be a "dioxin
cancer producing machine", or something like that. Its latest
dioxin measurements, taken in November last year, were 0.006 nanograms
per standard cubic metre when the new level under the EU regulations
is 0.1. This was 0.006. It is so small as to be not really there.
Basically these plants reduce the dioxins within waste in totality
by a certain amount but the amount of dioxin that is released
through the stack represents such a minute portion of background
levels that it would be hardly measurable.
106. So are you saying to usand I will
come to Mr Collins on this point in a momentthat there
is no health risk as a result of burning plastics in incinerators?
(Mr Chilton) Yes, I am saying there is no health risk,
and I do not expect you to agree with me, of course, Mr Collins.
Certainly as far as the Environment Agency is concerned, we do
not get authorisation for plants if there is any health risk.
In a completely objective sense we can say there is no health
risk, but it is always a matter of degree. We would argue in the
case of dioxins there is no health risk because there is no dioxin
in our flue gases.
107. Mr Collins?
(Mr Collins) There is "no health risk"?
That claim will be coming soon to a t-shirt near you, I am sure.
(Mr Hirons) The t-shirt would have the dioxin level
if it did, Mr Collins.
(Mr Collins) Thank you. There is "no health risk"
from the stacks whether from dioxins; nitrogen oxides; particulates;
sulphur dioxides or brominated dioxins? You went to dioxins and
then you broadened it . . .
(Mr Chilton) I just focused on dioxins because they
are perceived to be the most evil of the emissions. When we permit
these plants, or try to permit plants, we have to do a full dispersal
modelling of all of the emissions, including Nox and particulates
and everything else. Typically on plants that are designed at
the level of regulationand in practice most plants operate
far below that, I just mentioned the dioxin figures for Edmontonwe
get something like less than two per cent addition to background
levels at the point of maximum deposition from stack releases.
In the case of Nox, the big issue for Nox is transport, that is
where most background levels of Nox arise from in the UK. The
contribution from incineration, even the local contribution from
an incinerator, is really very small.
(Mr Collins) Thank you, if I can come back. This paper
is from the Portsmouth Public Inquiry on the proposed incinerator
there at which the expert for, Hampshire Waste Services, sister
company of Onyx, was Professor Roy Harrison. He confirmed an unequivocal
"yes" to the question "you agree that the proposal
would bring forward hospitalisations and deaths?" He even
appended this chart with the numbers of hospitalisations and deaths.
That is the based on data from the COMEAP Group and it is used
to look at deaths and hospitalisations brought forward from emissions.
In some cases the NOx is affecting people from transport, in other
cases it is coming out of an incinerator stack and affecting people.
In the case of SELCHP, so we do not pick one year in particular
and pick on them, if we look at 1997, 1998 and 1999, which are
all good years for SELCHP, if you run it through the same formula
which is from the Environmental Impact Assessment on the Waste
Incineration Directive for the DETR, it shows 15.3 deaths brought
forward per annum, 383 dead over the life of the plant. I think
that claiming "no health risk", but "383 dead",
is a tricky way to put things. I would also like to point out
in terms of cars, everyone says you should be looking at NOx emissions
from cars but SELCHP's emissions have averaged over the past two
or three years 760 tonnes per annum, I believe that is correct.
If you look at that as London's air quality unfolds over the next
few years, if you built another SELCHP, say in Wandsworth or Belvedere,
you would have to keep off the road 694,000 new petrol cars driving
an hour a day every day of the year in order to remove that amount
of NOx. That kind of decision for a city like London is excruciating
and it simply will not go ahead. You will not find mayors and
Assembly members and politicians saying "I am going to build
that plant and then I am going to take 700,000 cars off the road."
Chairman: It has to be brief because we are
getting behind and we have got a lot of questions to cover.
108. Very briefly, Mr Chilton, you mentioned
a figure of emissions from the stack in terms of dioxins. Do you
have the figures for what is left in the residue because I understand
that actually very significant quantities of dioxins are left
in the residue, which you have not referred to?
(Mr Chilton) I have not referred to it. Certainly
at EdmontonI cannot recall the precise figurethe
dioxin level in bottom ash, this is the bottom ash we wish to
recycle, is very similar to that naturally found in top soil or,
indeed, the level found in waste, which is roughly 30 to 50 micrograms
of dioxin per tonne. That is in waste before we start. The level
in bottom ash is a similar level to that.
109. But the ash that comes out of the scrubbers
(Mr Chilton) That is quite a lot higher.
110. That does have a substantial concentration
and, therefore, we have in a sense a toxic material that has to
be got rid of somewhere.
(Mr Chilton) Yes, the dioxin in the scrubber residues
is quite a lot higher. It represents a very small proportion by
weight, about 4 per cent of weight by what comes in. It is a concentration
of that dioxin. The total dioxin inventory through an incinerator
is that there is an overall net reduction in dioxins compared
to what comes in. Seeing as we have no interest in recycling those
residues, they are taken away for safe disposal to landfill.
111. Mr Chilton, why do you say that objections
to incineration "are based largely on inaccurate or selective
data"? Could you give your sources?
(Mr Chilton) Let me just give the example of
112. The sources.
(Mr Chilton) The sources are usually green groups,
Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, who quite often make statements
which do not happen to be necessarily justified. If we take the
recent issues at Edmonton as an example, it was claimed to be
a "cancer factory, a dioxin producing machine", whatever,
and when this data was presented to them they went on to a different
tack. They do not know necessarily what these emission levels
are. They are on the public record at some point but they do not
necessarily look at them or they may not have been available when
they made their comments.
113. Do you accept that there may be all sorts
of sources around which could be justified and confirmed and there
may yet be other sources around which are supposed to represent
accurate data when, in fact, that has been proved not to be the
case, as at Byker, where things have been fiddled? Just moving
on from that, what confidence could the public have in these-so-called
correct figures which are then proved not to be correct, where
awful things have happened? Therefore, how could you accuse environmental
groups of issuing myths and inaccurate data? Do you not think
that there ought to be an overarching regulation on this and independent
monitoring, which we are not really getting at the moment?
(Mr Chilton) We believe there is because the Environment
Agency are responsible for monitoring them. Also most plants voluntarily
are monitored by the local authority, although that is not their
statutory duty to do so. Many of the emissions are monitored continuously.
Others that are more difficult, like dioxins in particular, are
monitored maybe three or four times a year depending on the level
of concern. Those measurements are all on the public record. We
are monitored and regulated by an independent regulatory body,
the Environment Agency. Whether or not you think the Environment
Agency is doing a good job is another matter. I think we generally
think they are, but maybe we would say that. We are subject to
that independent regulation.
114. Mr Collins wants to come in here.
(Mr Collins) On Edmonton ash, there is an interesting
letter here received last week, from Vic Jennings, Public Inquiries
National Co-ordinator for the Environment Agency, to my colleague,
Alan Watson. "The Edmonton facility has had mixed fly ash
and bottom ash since the plant started operation in the mid-1970s
and continues to do so today. In this plant, fly ash is collected
before the injection of lime and carbon." You have bottom
ash and then fly ash. "Whilst the fly ash is mixed with bottom
ash, the air pollution control residues are collected and disposed
of separately". You have got bottom and fly ash mixed together
at the Edmonton plant. "In general . . . the current practice
is to dispose of all remaining ash residues to landfill . . .
however Edmonton sends a substantial portion of its mixed bottom
and fly ash for recycling". It goes in the streets; it goes
into pavements; it goes into building blocks. "The Environment
Agency", he says "to the best of [his] knowledge . .
. has not independently analysed the ash residues".
115. If it goes into building blocks with dioxins
in it, is that not a way of actually stabilising the dioxins so
that they are there in a concrete or a solid form and cannot cause
problems? People are not going to go out and lick pavements, are
(Mr Collins) There are questions of when it is spread
loose, as it was in Byker across Newcastle
116. I am not talking about it being spread
loose, you are talking about it being in building blocks.
(Mr Collins) There are building blocks, then there
is asphalt, using it under asphalt, concrete, and it also refers
to fly ash being used as a binding agent for paints and inks and
as a pH adjuster for liquid waste. If you are taking something
with an awful lot of dioxin in it and put it in concrete blocks,
let us say, and you run your hand across a block it gets coated
in dust from it. Also these blocks etc do not last 1,000 years.
Tarmac in the UK, I have noted, tends to be torn up and down fairly
regularly, at least in my part of North London. You have people
whose occupation is full-time to drill, burn and thrash that stuff
and who breathe the dust in all day and every day. The sites where
this stuff is laid are not mapped; consumers are not told whether
their building block happens to have a bit of fly ash in it from
Edmonton. The Environment Agency is not testing it. Tens of thousands
of tonnes have begun to go out across this country. They are all
through the streets and pathways of Birmingham; they are all over
London; they are in Stoke and they are in numerous other cities.
It is not just a matter of leaching, it is put out there on a
daily basis just to save a few quid for this industry.
117. The US Environmental Protection Agency
are now concluding that dioxins may be some thousand times more
toxic than previously thought. We cannot be flippant about that.
Do you think that, as a source of data, is something that we should
take note of?
(Mr Chilton) Yes, I think we should take note of all
proper scientific data. I would just repeat the point that the
dioxin removal from emissions on incinerators is extremely effective.
If we look at the Environment Agency's pollution inventory that
was published for 1999 we can see that incinerators are now very
far down the list. From being perceived to be the biggest contributor
to environmental dioxin levels in 1995 and a little earlier when
the initial EPA report was produced, it is now acknowledged that
they contribute less than one per cent in the UK and are no longer
a significant source.
118. To Energy from Waste Association, what
is the actual evidence that incineration is the Best Practicable
Environmental Option for treating municipal solid waste?
(Mr Chilton) Apart from members demonstrating it in
tender processes, so we have evidence which would not be classed
as independent, if you like, I think the most independent source
would be the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, their
report on incineration, where they said that in many circumstances
incineration with energy recovery represents BPEO for waste streams.
Indeed, I think the same comment is made in the Waste Strategy
2000. If you like, the source is Government and the Royal Commission.
119. So you take that as a general statement
without looking in any detail at specific instances?
(Mr Hirons) I think you would have to look at local
conditions, a particular stream, the planning by local authority/authorities.
We come back to the point that we have been making from the beginning
to say it is in part depending upon particular circumstances of
an integrated waste strategy.