BAN Waste Select Committee evidence

Use this link to return to the list of BAN Waste Select Committee witness files.

Phase 1 Day 7 2001-10-22 Chris Coggins (Waste Management & Technology Centre, University of Sheffield)

written evidence submitted in advance

Definitions and Terminology, Data and Targets and Conundrums in Delivering Local Waste Strategies and Plans
Dr. Chris Coggins
Formerly Director, Waste Management & Technology Centre, University of Sheffield
"Data for Effective Local Waste Strategies and Plans", M-E-L Seminar, 2nd October 2001.


This paper provides an overview for the subject material dealt with in this one-day Seminar, with many of the comments providing a background context to more detailed research on various aspects of waste data collection and management. The paper stresses the importance of definitions and terminology, data and targets and the conundrums and inconsistencies in delivering the national waste strategy.

Key words : definitions, data, targets, waste management


In contrast to seminars and workshops focussing on traditional subject areas of waste, such as landfill engineering and incineration technology, this Seminar focuses on issues of waste data : definitions, data (including composition), modelling and public communication. This paper introduces various common themes underlying most, if not all, of the papers presented.

Definitions and Terminology

The accepted definition of waste is something which has been discarded and is of no further use to the holder. Such a definition underpins both European and UK legislation.

The UK has further defined waste under the overall heading of controlled waste as comprising wastes from household, commercial and industrial sources. Household waste is waste from households and includes waste collected at the kerbside (recyclables, bulk waste and residual waste), together with waste from civic amenity sites and drop-off recycling banks. The definition also includes street sweepings and fly-tipping. The term `domestic' waste has no statutory basis, and the term `refuse' is also outdated and only used in certain contexts, e.g. refuse collection vehicle.

Europe and some other countries use the term `municipal solid waste'. In the 1999 landfill directive this is defined as waste from households and other wastes with a similar composition from industry, commerce and other sources, a definition based on waste composition. Waste Strategy 2000 refers to municipal waste as waste collected by, or on behalf of, local authorities : a definition based on collection, but having no statutory foundation ?

The 1999 landfill directive is being discussed as perhaps the most important driver influencing UK waste management, but here again there are potential problems of definition. One of the key aims is to divert/treat biodegradable wastes from landfill : to 75% of 1995 levels by 2006, 50% by 2009 and 35% by 2016. DETR has estimated that c. 62% of household waste is biodegradable, although the term has also been used interchangeably with organic and putrescible. Until the late 1980's household waste composition in the UK involved eleven sub-sections, one of which was putrescible. This was subsequently sub-divided into garden and kitchen, and with increased interest in composting, both categories were subdivided into compostable and non-compostable.

Another issue under the landfill directive is the term `treated'. Whilst most would assume this to mean some physical and/or chemical treatment to change the waste into something potentially useful, some writers argue that segregation of wastes by the householder at source fits the definition.

Since 1990 the government has talked of recycling targets, with local authorities being given a statutory duty to prepare recycling plans (but no statutory duty to implement them !) leading up to the October 2000 draft proposal for statutory Best Value Performance Indicators.. One of these is recycling, but local authorities collect recyclables and although they may sort and bale such material they do not actually `recycle'. Such re-processing is undertaken by businesses. Both Europe and the UK place emphasis on the waste hierarchy, with waste prevention as the first priority, although waste minimisation is also used although a more woolly and imprecise term. Reuse and re-manufacturing have yet to be given real importance, and the emphasis in the UK is on recycling and recovery. Recovery means energy recovery, and this is often equated with old-fashioned (mass-burn) incinerators. There is increasing debate on new technologies and better emission control systems to reduce environmental impacts of such plants, and also appropriate scale : 200,000 tonne inputs or 50-100,000 tonnes.

The importance of correct definitions is illustrated by the UK (and other Member States) receiving a number of formal notifications of breaches. As at October 2001 `reasoned opinions' (i.e. final warning letters received by the UK point out non-compliance with the Waste Framework Directive (75/442/EEC as amended by 91/156/EEC) and the Hazardous Waste Directive (91/689/EEC) in terms of the definitions of `waste' and `hazardous waste' - with specific reference to Northern Ireland and Gibraltar. Failure to correctly transpose Directives can lead to infraction proceedings and fines levied on a daily basis, with Greece in 2000 being the first Member State to suffer.

Data and Targets

"if you cannot (or haven't) measured it, you cannot manage it"

This is a stark truism for many aspects of waste management, and many policies at local and/or national have been formulated with very little baseline data. In terms of tonnage data, it is only since the introduction of the landfill tax in October 1996 that more accurate data has been available. Similarly with packaging data, only after the implementation of the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging and Packaging Waste) Regulation of March 1997 has weight data become available. Prior to these two changes, landfill operators were more interested in void space than tonnes and the packaging industry was more concerned with numbers and types rather than tonnes.

One of the first steps a local authority should undertake is a detailed review of waste arisings in its area, including waste composition. Whilst many local authorities have committed resources to such activities, others rely on national data sets. This was most apparent in the early 1990's when local authorities produced their recycling plans and relied on waste composition data in Waste Management paper No. 28. The table of household waste composition however overlooked the potential for both local variations and the distinction between recyclable and non-recyclable materials. As an example, some local authorities took the paper and cardboard fraction at 30-35% to be the baseline data for planning recycling facilities and targets - whilst the proportion of newspapers and magazines (targetable and with available markets at that time) was only 10-15%.

With reference to targets, there has also been some confusion. Under various EU waste directives there are mandatory targets which the UK has to deliver, now and in the future - packaging, landfill, end-of-life vehicles, waste electrical and electronic equipment. Failure to deliver such targets may lead to further infraction proceedings against the UK government.

The Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (94/62/EC) set an overall recovery target of 50-65%, a recycling target of 25-45% (and a minimum of 15% for each material). The UK chose 50%, 25% and 16% respectively. Slow progress forced the government to set a recovery target of 56% for 2001 and an individual materials target of 18%. Discussions on extending the Directive to 2006 include removing the recovery target and focussing solely on reuse and recycling : 60% overall recycling ( to include wood recycling and feedstock recycling of plastics), 70% for glass, 60% for paper/cardboard, 50% for metals and 20% for plastics - the latter to include only mechanical recycling.

The Landfill Directive (99/31/EC) has targets to divert/treat biodegradable wastes from landfill: to 75% of 1995 levels by 2006, 50% by 2009 and 35% by 2016. The UK, as landfill takes over 80% of waste, may seek a four year derogation for each of these targets. Whole tyres are to be banned from 2003 and shredded tyres banned from 2006. Other wastes to be banned from landfill include liquid waste, explosive/corrosive/oxidising/flammable, and hospital and other clinical wastes, which are infectious. The Landfill Directive was due to be transposed into UK law by 16th July 2001, and final proposals were published in August 2001.

The End-of-Life Vehicle (ELV) Directive (00/53/EC) has set recovery (and recycling) targets of 85% (80%) for 2006 and 95% (85%) for 2015, compared to the current recovery figure of 77% in 1999. This Directive has to be transposed into UK law by April 2002.

The Directive on the Incineration of Waste (00/76/EC) replaces earlier Directives on the prevention and reduction of air pollution from municipal waste incineration plants (89/369/EEC and 89/429/EEC) and the incineration of hazardous waste (94/67/EC). This new Directive also covers co-incineration plants and cement kilns. The text refers to the need to recover heat, for operating temperatures of at least 8500C (or 11000C when more than 1% chlorine is being incinerated). Emission limits are very similar to those applied to hazardous waste incinerators in the UK, although Nitrous Oxide limits are new. The Directive must be implemented by December 2002, with existing plants covered after December 2005 and new plants with effect from December 2002

The draft Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive extends the principle of producer responsibility, and by January 2004 for separately collected large household appliances the rate of component, appliance and substance re-use and recycling shall reach a maximum of 90% by weight of the appliance. For separately collected small household appliances, radio, TV and musical instruments, toys and electrical and electronic goods the rate of component, material and substance re-use and recycling shall reach a maximum of 70% by weight of the appliance. Member States shall aim at achieving a minimum separate collection of 4 kilograms on average per inhabitant per year of waste electrical and electronic equipment from private households. A draft 'daughter' directive has been published on the Restriction of the Use of Certain Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment (RoHS). These two Directives reached the 'common position' stage in Environment Council in June 2001, now go back to the European parliament for Second Reading and then to Council for final adoption - probably in 2002,

Following the publication of two discussion documents on biowaste (October 2000 and February 2001), it is expected that a draft compost directive will be published, probably in 2002. This will probably make a distinction between compost (derived from source segregated materials and with specific standards for compost products) and stabilised biowaste - which will remain `waste'.

Directives are also being considered for other waste streams, including batteries and newsprint.

Various aspirational targets have been set at national level - for England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, with the National Assembly for Wales being the latest to publish its targets in 2001. Waste Strategy 2000 set targets for 2015 to recycle 33% (up from 10% in 1998/99), recover 33% (up from 8%) and landfill 33% (down from 82%), and these now apply to England only.

Local authorities are being asked to plan for these targets within the national context of waste increasing at 3% per annum, although some local authorities are faced with increased of 6% or more. So far, very little attention has been paid to waste prevention and/or waste reduction - although both will prove difficult to measure (and justify).

Draft statutory Best Value Performance Indicators were published in October 2000, and are due to published in final form in March 2001. These will apply to local authorities and will hit those with low recycling rates and those who are already performing well. Wales, on the other hand has decided to set the same recycling targets for all Local Authorities.

Slow progress towards meeting recovery/recycling targets led the government in `Waste Strategy 2000' to introduce interim targets for 2003/2004, the overall aim being to raise the national recycling rate to 17%. For individual local authorities the implications of these statutory Best Value Performance Indicators will be :-

And for 2005/2006, in order to reach the national recycling rate of 25% :-

In the context of recycling certain waste streams are excluded : home composting, abandoned vehicles, beach waste, incinerator residues (should read bottom ash ?) and rubble.

Also in Waste Strategy 2000, a non-statutory target for industrial and commercial waste was to reduce such wastes going to landfill to 85% of 1998 levels by 2005, remained the same as in `A Way With Waste'.

All such recycling targets use percentages, and there is an on-going debate whether these are the right way to measure progress. With growth rates of 3% per annum, it is the overall growth in waste generation that is the major problem. Percentages cannot be used to measure waste prevention and waste reduction. The EU Fifth Environment Action Programme in 1991 proposed to stabilise waste at 300 kg per head (1995 levels), and although due to be enacted into Member State law by 1997 appears to have been quietly forgotten . The waste strategies for Northern Ireland, Scotland and ales all include targets for waste prevention.

In evaluating various waste management options, the government is advising local authorities to use the Environment Agency WISARD tool (based on Life Cycle Assessment), although shortages of data are still a major problem, together with agreement on systems boundaries and the interpretation of Best Practicable Environmental Option. No such evaluation has yet been undertaken to conclusively prove the environmental and economic benefits and costs of specific targets. In each case, the problems are to identify and quantify the `externalities' associated with any waste management option.

In terms of data sources in waste management, the oldest source for local authority waste collection and disposal are the annual statistics published by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA Waste Collection and Waste Disposal Statistics). Confidentiality problems posed by CCT in the late 1980s caused response rates to fall, but the response rate is now back above 80%. Data is provided for all responding local authorities on operational characteristics, waste arisings and flows, recycling data and financial data. The Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions have undertaken similar surveys, except for financial data, and these have now been published since 1996/97 (DETR Municipal Waste Statistics). The data, however, is only published at a regional level.

For household waste composition, the National Household Waste Analysis Programme Phases 1 and 2, data was published for a small number of local authorities in the mid-1990's, linked to ACORN (A Classification Of Residential Neighbourhoods) socio-demographic data based on 1981 census data. NHWAP Phase 3, using a larger range of local authorities, will start during 2001 ?. Until this latter data becomes available, probably the most comprehensive data is that from surveys of 19 local authorities undertaken in 1996, and published by the Environment Agency in 2000 (A Study of the Composition of Collected Household Waste in the UK, with particular reference to Packaging Waste, Environment Agency Technical Report P347).

Waste composition work undertaken for the National Assembly of Wales during 2001, examining collected household waste and civic amenity sites, may form the basis for NHWAP Phase 3.

The Environment Agency published the first set of Strategic Waste Management Assessments in late 2000, for each of the Environment Agency Regions in England and one for Wales. These include data on waste arisings, waste flows (within and between regions), details of waste facilities (with current and future capacities) and information from the Agency's industrial and commercial waste surveys. A range of other survey data exists for individual local authorities and industrial/commercial waste audits, but the methodologies may not always be consistent and waste classifications may differ.

As with all data in waste management ....

"lies, damn lies and waste statistics"


With more waste directives from Europe, consultation papers, strategy documents and research reports it is not surprising that many see waste management as a very dynamic subject area :-

"if you are not confused, you are not up to date"

Until the 1990's, there were Waste Collection Authorities (WCAs) and Waste Disposal Authorities (WDAs), with clearly defined spheres of interest. We now have Unitary Authorities undertaking both tasks, waste regulation has passed (from the Waste Disposal Authorities) to the Environment Agency, and there is increasing debate over scale and regional planning for waste management. With Best Value PIs, the government has suggested that WCAs should work together within the context of the host WDA, and even consider wider partnerships. From the other end of the spectrum, some Regional Assemblies are already preparing sustainable waste management strategies (e.g. Yorkshire & Humberside), and the Greater London Authority published its draft waste strategy in mid-2001.

In the early 1980's most household waste collection and disposal was carried out by local authorities, but Compulsory Competitive Tendering (CCT) led to a greater role for private sector companies. This has increased during the 1990s, and will be further developed with more public/private partnerships, assisted through the Private Finance Initiative. The trend is also towards longer, more inclusive, waste management contracts. Also, the emphasis is on local community strategies and strategic local partnerships.

The 1994 EU Packaging Directive introduced the principle of producer responsibility, transposed into UK law with the four categories of `obligated' businesses (raw material producers, convertors, packer/fillers and sellers). Although focussing on recovering/recycling packaging waste, there is also an emphasis on resource use and design of packaging. Other waste directives will also stress this importance of producer responsibility. There needs to be equal effort towards householder/consumer responsibility, in terms of consumer behaviour, waste generation and waste behaviour.

In implementing waste management options there are a now a range of regulatory and fiscal instruments, involving both sticks and carrots. The Environment Agency is tasked with enforcing Duty of Care with reference to waste movements, the packaging regulations (and other waste stream directives) and ensuring that the environment is protected effectively. Fiscal instruments include recycling credits (paid on waste diverted from landfill), the landfill tax (introduced in October 1996 at �7 per tonne for active waste and �2 for inactive wastes), the climate change levy (with effect from April 2001) and the aggregates levy with effect from April 2001 (at �1.60 per tonne). The landfill tax for active wastes was raised to �10 per tonne in April 1999 and rises by �1 per tonne per annum until 2004 - current thinking is that it should then rise by �5 per tonne each year to further stimulate recycling and recovery.

In delivering the waste strategy, perhaps the most fundamental question is ... who pays ? Industry and commerce have always paid the market rate, but for households waste collection and disposal are the only public service every household receives every week. The cost has been traditionally low because of cheap landfill, usually less than �2 per week. In terms of full environmental cost this is very low, and whilst there has been much discussion about direct charging (or `pay-as-you-throw') the government appears to favour other incentives to encourage households to change behaviour. Providing them with 240 litre wheeled bins, however, has only encouraged to generate more waste. More local authorities are now looking to see how they can break this habit with smaller bins for recyclables and residual wastes.

To put this into perspective, the cost of delivering Waste Strategy 2000 has been estimated at �7billion (to 2015), which represents �350 million per annum, which is equivalent to �7 per head or �18 per household.

Any behavioural change takes time, and none more so with corporate behaviour and/or household behaviour. A 2000 Report on `Strategic Waste Prevention : OECD Reference Manual' identified three time scenarios with reference to changes in corporate behaviour :

The role of waste management within sustainable development represents another set of conundrums, and whilst the ultimate aim must be integrated and sustainable waste management, with agreement on the responsibilities of industry, consumers, Local Authorities and government.

Contact details :-

174, Old Bedford Road,

Tel : 01582 - 412045
Email : (until further notice)