BAN Waste Select Committee evidence

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

Phase 1 Day 1 2001-09-20 Barry Rowland (Directory of Cityworks, Newcastle City Council)

report from minutes of Select Committee


Submitted (Report of the Director of Cityworks on the above) (For copy see Official Minute Book)

Mr Barry Rowland, Director of Cityworks, was in attendance to make a slide presentation and answer Select Committee questions.

The Select Committee noted the following figures:-

(1) Municipal Waste 193,612 tonnes

(2) Household Waste 122,124 tonnes (1 tonne per household)

(3)Commerce/Industry 71,488

Mr Rowland stated that since the 1970's, landfill had been the generally accepted method. Now, this was environmentally unacceptable and financially unsustainable. The Byker Reclamation plant had been in existence since 1979. In May 97, a broad strategy was agreed. In June 98 contractual negotiations had commenced; that negotiation having been put on hold in January 2000. In April 2001, negotiations had been completed for a 20-year contract.

The contract having been signed in April 2001, the intention was to meet targets set by the Government Waste Strategy 2000. There would be a phased introduction, redevelopment of the Byker Reclamation Plant from which engineering systems would allow the composting of 37% of material (described as 'grey' rather than 'green'.)

Specific reference was made to the redevelopment of Benwell Transfer Station or Urban Fringe Management Site in Newburn as a 'Recycling Village' - with recovery of green material (2%), cardboard (5%) and recovery of hardcore material (5%).

The Waste Management contract was a staged implementation. Stage One involved the refurbishment of Byker, Benwell and renewal of the RF plant. Stage Two involved the production of RDF in a flock form which would generate heat and water to 2000 properties as well as electricity to approximately 7000 properties. Stage Two could not move forward until the HEIA, the political debate and consideration of sustainable options.

Mr Rowland pointed out that there were two critical issues within the Government's Waste Strategy 2000: (a) classification of 'grey' compost, and (b) Combined Heat and Power. Would this be required to make a contribution to the recovery target and over what timescale if it had to happen?

With regard to kerbside collection, community schemes would be included wherever possible (12% was considered achievable). This was hoped to be in place by June 2001. Initial group meetings were currently taking place on the subject of Eco Panels, which it was hoped would develop interest at a local level. After the first eight, an evaluation would be undertaken. Funding of �300,000 was possible (if recycling targets were achieved) for the Walbottle Civic Amenity site, support of home composting was proposed and, under 'Greening The Supply Chain', there would be moves to influence the supply chain to reduce the impact on the city council.

The intention in the short term was to achieve between 15-23% reduction without the Combined Heat and Power option, being careful not to include at this stage 'grey' composting as a recycling contributor. There was, of course, a definition issue in terms of composting (arising from the foot and mouth scenario)

Mr Rowland accepted that on the subject of community involvement, this was not necessarily comprehensive, and that there was also not a significant measure of improvement based on these figures, but nevertheless the council was moving towards the benefits of these initiatives. The local authority needed to be clear in its intentions. In principle, the idea of landfill/recycling credits derived from landfill tax expectations etc.

At this stage in the proceedings, the following questions were asked:-

(1) The previously circulated paper doesn't make it clear between household and municipal waste. It also states that Newcastle's waste is similar to the national composition, but although the national figures are there - can we have Newcastle's composition. It states that recycling is between 4% and 6%, elsewhere 3.6% and recycling figures presented didn't appear to add up. Please could we have a hard copy of the information provided in the slide presentation? Can we have a clearer picture of the figures (and the details/figures from the slide presentation in writing)? How much waste is produced per week in Newcastle? You have given a tonnage figure - but have you any idea of volume? Can you put this in a way that's easy to understand - for instance, how many weeks would it take to fill St James Park (Newcastle United's football ground?) (Bill Hopwood).

Mr Rowland stated that, as requested for today's meeting, he had presented figures based on household waste, but he had introduced the overall waste stream aspect (including municipal waste) to put the situation into context. He undertook to provide in writing the requested figures and details. He did not agree that there was any inconsistency in figures. Clearly, when municipal and domestic waste was mixed, the situation was complex. The recycling percentage level had changed. It was higher in 1997/98 than currently (principally because of a reliance on the Byker reclamation plant to extract metals), so the recovery rate was therefore higher. Declines reflected the fact that the plant was not in use. He believed that it was possible to achieve the quoted 6% recycling target, through the increase in Bring schemes, if they pushed hard on the non-household end of the equation.

Mr Rowland believed that it would take between one year and one year 3 months to fill St James Park.

The Chair referred to a statistic that he had heard; i.e. that if individual house holders kept full bin bags of rubbish in their own homes rather than disposing of them, the house would be full in 6 months. Mr Rowland was aware of this anecdotal statement.

(2) Are people in Newcastle producing more or less rubbish per year? So is the problem growing? Does this take into account a falling population locally? (Nick Fray)

Mr Rowland confirmed that people were producing less rubbish; with a rate of growth, greater than the national average, identified at 4.6% in Newcastle (and this despite a reduction in the overall population) This could possibly be due to the introduction of wheelie bins. In response to the Chair's query, Mr Rowland stated that there had been a drop in growth by household since wheelie bin introduction, but he believed that there was still an underlying level of growth still within the system. One of the other major factors in Newcastle had been a significant increase in civic amenity site waste, particularly on the border with Northumberland, where sites on that side had been closed; thereby compounding the problem. Northumberland County Council were being asked for a contribution as a result.

(3) Can you provide the Select Committee with a copy of the contract with SITA? You gave a commitment to consultation with BAN Waste, but you have gone ahead and signed the contract with SITA anyway. (Val Barton)

Mr Rowland confirmed that the commitment to consultation had been given, and they had continued to do so. The Council had informed and consulted. In his opinion, the contract did not inhibit flexibility. It allowed the Council to achieve its targets on a staged basis and there was room for sensible, sustainable alternatives. There had been consultation with the Group - but not negotiation.

Val Barton raised the issue of flock, pointing out that the way collection was undertaken was bound to lead to contamination of compost. The Director of Cityworks was requested again to provide a copy of the contract. In response, Mr Rowland stated that the structure and objectives of the contract were clearly set out in documents in the public domain - giving details of tonnages, percentages etc. The Chair queried if the contractual details were commercially confidential. Mr Rowland replied in the affirmative, but the aforementioned papers setting out terms and conditions were available.

(4) Can you explain why the contract is for 15 years (although clearly it is really 20 years? (Jenni Madison)

Mr Rowland reported that authority had been given to negotiate up to 20 years - and 20 years had been considered the 'best deal'.

Jenni Madison queried whether he had felt that the contract was flexible enough to make a best option possible. Mr Rowland replied that the contract enabled an improvement in the contribution vis a vis recyclable performance massively. They had tried to ensure that they were not forced to make decisions - to use other technologies like Combined Heat and Power - until the effectiveness had been considered. With regard to compost, even if 'grey' compost did not contribute to recycling targets, then it was expected that it would to the recovery targets. If - in 5/6 years - the technology at the plant was 'retooled', they could consider where they were with regard to kerbside collection and make contractual adjustments. The issue, of course, was cost.

Jenni Madison referred to the statement that Phase 3 would not be entered into if Phases 1 and 2 were successful, but there was a reference to the fact that if the council did not move to Phase 3 then it would have to repay a very large loan. Did this not inhibit or compromise, in some way? Mr Rowland responded by referring to the hierarchical situation. The authority's object was to deliver a sustainable strategy which protected health amongst other issues. There was an order of priority. Costs were a consideration, but if there were sustainable, sensible options then he did not believe that the repayment of the loan (�1.5 million, at half a million per year) would be a deciding factor. Because the plant had been closed for 2 years, at that point additional costs were incurred. This was moved through the contract, where some efficiencies came back in and effectively the contract had stabilised the budget within reason and had stopped 'bleeding'. There were no net savings from the budget to pay loans, but there was an expectation to move towards paying back the loans but within the hierarchy of decisions there was a political debate to be had.

(5) How do you let the public know about your work, for example the composting in-vessel pilot studies begun 8 weeks ago? Do you consider the Council should be pro-active in consulting with interest groups such as BAN Waste? (Geoff Stokle) (N.B. The Chair contributed to this question as follows: Why weren't the public told that the trial was going on?)

Mr Rowland stated that he had perceived these trials as a straightforward technical exercise. If the Group had looked on this as a matter of trust or lack of involvement, then he apologised. There were no secrets; no reason for secrecy. A lot of work had gone on and he hoped for increasing confidence over time. He confirmed that they were trying to sustain involvement.

(6) During the current year, BAN Waste has been quoted recycling figures for Newcastle of 5.6%, 3.2% and 3.6% from your officers. Which figure is accurate, and why is it so difficult to get this baseline date right? (Sylvia Conway)

Mr Rowland stated that the aspiration was to 6%, but recycling levels had dropped. Since Byker closed, figures had dropped significantly (to less than 3% at one point during the year, before moving back to 3.6%) Now other initiatives outside Byker were moving on (civic amenity sites etc) to try and achieve the 6% in this financial year, but it could be as low as 4% depending on the take-up of schemes and how quickly they could be got off the ground.

(7) Do you think �110,000 is enough out of the budget to invest in alternatives? (Bob Stewart)

Mr Rowland pointed out that this wasn't the only finance available. The LPSA agreement would deliver �300,000 into the civic amenity site. There was also the potential of the kerbside collection service. In effect, 'value' was coming to bear.

In referring to a previous statement concerning 'hierarchy', Bob Stewart suggested that there was little mention of 'reuse of materials'. Mr Rowland confirmed that the local authority did have plans. There had been discussion within the 'Greening the Supply Chain' initiative and 'closing that cycle' with local businesses and creating secondary markets for plastics etc. It was hoped that Newcastle would be 'ahead of the game'.

(8) The refurbishment of Byker Plant as a MRF is underway. How much is invested in that? Has the possibility of kerbside collection and separation at source been taken into account in its design? (Bill Colwell)

Mr Rowland reported that there was capital investment of approximately �5million over 20 years.

The Chair queried if, when the Byker plant was being remodelled, it would be 'sealed' to prevent odour problems. Mr Rowland confirmed that it was; odour had been a major problem for the area in the past, and steps were being taken to deal with this issue. The Chair queried if there would be penalties for the contractor if, for instance, doors were left open. Mr Rowland stated that the Agency would deal with this matter.

With regard to the latter part of the question, Mr Rowland expected the contractor to deal with the figures, since they would have to handle the facilities.

(9) How have the relative costs of different options been calculated? If kerbside collection is the most expensive, over what time period have these costs been calculated, given that there will be a need for investment in new systems? (Carolyn Spencer)

Mr Rowland stated that kerbside collection was the most expensive if it was being used in isolation. In a balanced strategy, it made a key contribution. Other technology was being examined. There were two elements to kerbside collection: (a) heavy labour costs and (b) the capital side. Therefore, this made it different to other options. This particular element was at the 'front-end' of the system.

(10) How confident are you of meeting the statutory recycling targets? Would Newcastle find it politically acceptable to risk incurring financial penalties, if targets for waste were not met? In the past, waste was given to Contract Heat & Power free and savings made on landfill fees. How would the extra costs be met at the gate-fee - and at what cost to the environment and health? Who would pay?. Where had the figures come from for kerbside collection? (Val Barton)

Mr Rowland stated that the gate fee only changed through negotiation in the contract. The major variable was landfill tax. With regard to Combined Heat and Power and RDF, the 'grey' compost element more than compensated for the RDF aspect. Another important element, which must be borne in mind during any true comparison of Combined Heat and Power with the other technologies, was that the local authority got fuel free as a result of the production of RDF (to feed into the network and to produce electricity).

(11) How do bring-schemes based at local schools and community groups fit into your plan? They're primarily funded through the voluntary sector. If they were to cease operating through funding restrictions, how would the Council cover this work? (Jo Bourne)

Mr Rowland praised the work of the organisations involved, and believed that the it must be understood that this was a long-term issue requiring education in the classroom and moving beyond to change the mind-set of future generations. He believed that the educational aspects had been understated, and were probably underfunded. In addition, there was also an issue on the recovery of materials and the authority was considering the use of recycling credits and landfill tax to divert and support such organisations. There was room for negotiation, and the authority wanted to build on the work that had been done.

(12) You can buy a battery with a crossed-out wheelie bin symbol on it, but where can you dispose of this in Newcastle? What plans does Newcastle have for accessible, user-friendly Civic Amenity sites coping with such material? (Will Haughan)

Mr Rowland suggested that this was a national problem. There were two aspects: (a) there was the need to find a safe disposal route, and (b) do we provide facilities? Such facilities could be built into the present civic amenity sites via the �300,000 funding referred to earlier. Even though some disposal sites looked like scrap yards, he felt that there was potential for redevelopment.

(13) What ideas for reduction and recycling in Newcastle have begun to be implemented? Eg Training schemes for refurbishing white good, furniture and scrap metal; schemes involving student input, door to door collection service based on charity shops, developing community based recycling schemes using Landfill Tax money. Have these had any effect, and how do you monitor it? (Eric Landau).

With regard to Landfill Tax, Mr Rowland stated that there were a range of schemes 'on the ground', but many were still in the planning stage (e.g. a recently developed glass recycling scheme and a computer recycling scheme). During discussion, the Chair felt that this was a 'wish list'. However, Mr Rowland suggested that if what he said was unpicked (on kerbside collections, for example), these were material changes and all within the 'mindset'. He felt that this was a wait-and-see situation. It was in no one's interest not to achieve these goals. He suggested that there were green shoots, but not enough.

In response to Eric Landau, Mr Rowland undertook to provide figures on income received from waste.

(14) Given that the current figure for recycling in Newcastle is nearly one-third the UK and Wales average, what is so different about people in Newcastle? This compares with figures of 45% in Austria, 46% in Germany, for example (Jo Bourne).

Mr Rowland suggested that if a comparison was made between Newcastle and Europe, then there were cultural differences. Perhaps they had relied too much on the reclamation plant, and maybe they had got lazy. Perhaps it was used as an excuse. Mr Rowland went on to say that there was clearly a role, and the need to provide resources, obviously they did not have the targets, but the pressure was now on. (At this point in the proceedings, the tape ran out. Upon resumption, the Chair asked Mr Rowland if he wanted to just emphasise to the Select Committee that things hadn't been perhaps as they should have been in the past.)

Mr Rowland stated that he thought that we all, as a community, had a role to facilitate and create awareness, to provide resources where we could. He did think that because they did not have targets, because the pressure wasn't on in terms of the Government etc, and 'laziness', they had ended up in the situation that they were. Now that the pressure was on, the EU directive, Waste Strategy 2000, massive pressure on the government - maybe they would actually do something in resource terms to assist the authority in achieving what they were going to do here or what had to be achieved.

(15) In what way can the options to be recommended by BAN Waste's Select Committee influence Newcastle City Council, given that you have a 15 or 20-year contract with SITA in place? You have signed the contract, are introducing kerbside collection this year. Realistically, how much will our recommendations influence things? If we come up with something different, what then? How tied in are you? (Bill Hopwood)

Mr Rowland stated that if he were asked to sign up to a contract for mass- burn incineration of 100% of the City's waste over the next 20 years, there would be a problem. But this was not the case. The authority was making sensible, balanced and pragmatic decisions.

Phil Capon queried Mr Rowland's stance on fixed charges/fines to residents on the European model. Mr Rowland felt that, technically, it was sensible solution and would make people think. In the USA, where facilities were provided by the private sector this did result in a reduction in the arisings from households. However, the big issue was the role of Government, industry and manufacturing in developing a different economic context to incentivise properly. Mr Rowland believed that Newcastle had greater flexibility than any other authority in Tyne and Wear. There was, however, great pressure at local level when this matter should really be addressed at central government level.

Jenni Madison referred to discussion at a previous session where it had been suggested that Energy from Waste inhibited recycling and asked for Mr Rowland's view. Also, figures on how much ash per tonne was created by an incinerator was requested. Mr Rowland stated that he was not 'evangelistic' about incineration, but the important issue was that attempts were being made to tip the balance from one technology to another. That was very difficult in the context of capital investment. Attempts were being made to remain flexible.

Bill Hopwood queried whether the authority had ever considered a high- vision strategy (such as the Zero Waste initiative in Australia, Canada, New Zealand etc) It felt as if the strategy was being driven by technology and technologist and was not engaging the public. Mr Rowland did not believe the latter statement. Technology and cost produced few options. Pressures on the authority had made people think creatively.

Bill Colwell queried whether the authority would prefer to minimise, reuse, recycle - or burn? In response, Mr Rowland believed that in a hierarchical situation, everything else should come before reverting to Combined Heat and Power. He did not believe that mass-burn incineration was the answer. Combined Heat and Power might well be, but within a balanced strategy. Bill Colwell queried whether energy from Combined Heat and Power could be given a 'green' label. Mr Rowland felt that there was more chance in Newcastle than anywhere else in the UK.

Given the European figures quoted (and Austria at 45%, Germany at 46%etc) Nick Fray queried how long it would take to catch up with Austria and Germany? Mr Rowland answered that Newcastle's targets were clear in the short-term, but it was difficult to predict. This depended on other technologies. He believed that 80% could be achieved in major shifts (say, by 2002), but there would have to be more resources from the government.

Val Barton queried the Director's view that kerbside collection would be less expensive, further querying where the figures had come from and who had advised on alternatives. In response, Mr Rowland stated that if kerbside collection were taken as a single aspect, handling 120,000 tonnes, it would be very expensive. But it was not expensive when the levels and targets they had set were looked at. It might well be possible to save money, which could be ploughed back into other incentives. Pressed further for the source of figures, Mr Rowland stated that he had worked them out himself, based on industry norms and consultants advice.

Val Barton pointed out that Essex had increased recycling to 50% in 6 months on a community basis. If that were to happen in Newcastle, would the authority still go for Energy from Waste? Mr Rowland pointed out that the authority were not going for this element, it was one of the options.

In response to the Chair's query on anaerobic digestion, Mr Rowland suggested that it would be interesting to see what came out of the debate on 'composting' definitions as there was not a great deal of practicable examples on the ground.

The Chair suggested that it might be logical to share the savings made via Landfill Tax with community groups. Mr Rowland had no problem in diversifying some of these benefits into community initiatives, alongside kerbside collection systems.

The Chair queried the Council position on recyclable products. Mr Rowland stated that there were a series of specific initiatives. The local authority had an environmental management standard. In purchasing terms, there was a 'green policy' which covered a significant amount of the Council's work.

At this stage, the Chair thanked Mr Rowland for his presentation and answers.