BAN Waste Select Committee evidence

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Phase 1 Day 2 2001-09-26 Gearoid Henry (Recycling Officer, and `Greening the Supply Chain', Newcastle City Council)

report from minutes of Select Committee


Submitted: Evidence from Gearoid Henry, Recycling Officer, Newcastle City Council (previously circulated and copy in official minute book).

The Chair welcomed Mr Henry to the meeting.

Mr Henry reported that since April, he had been under secondment working on 'Greening The Supply Chain'. He went on to make a slide presentation, during which a number of points were made as follows:-

Ideally, there should be less re-use, recycling, composting and energy recovery required - when less waste was produced at source. Mr Henry went on to delineate waste generated by a typical household (solid waste/rubbish - liquid waste: sewage/dirty water - liquid waste: surface water drainage - Gaseous/particulate waste: car exhaust, aerosols - Electricity supply; power plant emissions) Each household produced 1.2 tonnes of solid waste, 165 tonnes of sewage and, with car exhaust producing 2 tonnes of CO2, this represented 2 tons of carbon dioxide every 12000 miles.

In terms of waste generated in the UK, this was 424 million tonnes per annum. Agriculture accounted for 20%, Mining 28%, sewage sludge 1%, dredging 10%, demolition and construction 17%, municipal waste 7%, commerce 6% and industry 12% - all of which was controlled under legislation.

The Environment Protection Act 1990 (Section 75) and Environment Act 1995 (Schedule 22) gave the legal definition of 'waste'. Mr Henry suggested that waste prevention in tandem with waste reduction resulted in 'waste minimisation'. It was important to reduce the quantity of hazardous solid and sludge waste within the waste management hierarchy (i.e. Reduction, Reuse, Recovery - including recycling, composting etc) and Disposal. Landfill had always been the cheapest option.

Mr Henry referred to aspects of confusion in waste minimisation. In his view, true waste minimisation took place at source, where attempts should be concentrated on reducing the amount of material that ultimately became waste.

Mr Henry referred to two previous winners of Waste Management Awards. Firstly, a scheme organised in Gateshead (in the fruit and vegetable market) which had used a compactor. Whereas this had reduced 'bulk', it had not reduced the actual quantity of waste and was therefore not, in his view, a successful waste minimisation scheme. Secondly, a scheme undertaken by South Gloucestershire Council where 240 litre bins had been exchanged for 140 litre bins, free compost bins offered (37% uptake) and weekly kerbside collections implemented (using reusable boxes). Again, Mr Henry suggested that whereas the scheme was laudable - it was not, in effect, a waste minimisation scheme. These were, effectively, treatment systems - and waste was not being reduced at source.

A situation existed where the population of the developed world (20% population) was responsible for 80% of the world's resource consumption. Conversely, the undeveloped world (80% of population) consumed 20%.

Mr Henry suggested that, in the UK, the greater the affluence - the higher the consumption and therefore the greater the waste produced. Single occupancy households produced more waste per person than multi-occupancy households. (A chart was shown in illustration). It was estimated that 8 million tonnes of food was wasted in the UK annually with agriculture responsible for 40%, industry & commerce 20%, municipal waste at 40% - and 3,200,000 tonnes from UK households.

Reasons for waste included impulse shopping, advertising/marketing temptations tending towards profligate buying, the influence of television celebrity chefs, confusing consumer information (use by/sell by, best by dates), the demand for perfect produce only and 'choice'.

Reference was made to the need for junk mail services whereby such material could be directed only at those persons who desired it, and not those who didn't. A scheme was being tried out in Jesmond.

Mr Henry suggested during discussion that there was a need for people to challenge assumptions (gravel on gardens etc)

At this stage, Mr Henry answered questions from the Select Committee as follows:-

(1) Does the Council produce any information for new Council tenants or owner-occupiers about waste minimisation and recycling (Could we see copies?) (Sylvia Conway)

Mr Henry replied in the affirmative, and undertook to provide copies.

(2) What is the history of reduce, re-use and recycle in Newcastle? Briefly will you please tell us what you think about the different waste options: (a) Landfill (b) Waste to Energy (c) Door to door separation and collection (d) Integrated. (Jenni Madison)

Mr Henry stated that these were big issues and the only country he could perceive as having reduced its household waste stream was Canada. Other countries in Europe managing to keep their recycling rates high related directly to reductions in the household waste stream. Composting, given its biological source, and dry recycling were all part of the picture and if in examining the residue there was a combustible element which could be recovered so much the better in terms of viable alternatives.

(3) What is the situation on the City Council's internal schemes, paper recycling etc How are fluorescent tubes dealt with by the Council and in general - mercury recovery? (Phil Capon)

Mr Henry stated that it had taken up until this year to get the paper recycling scheme up and running. The reasons for delay and problems had been storage etc. There was now a 40 cubic yard container with a compactor. A shredder had also been purchased. Toner cartridge, can and paper cup recycling schemes had also been introduced. He was unsure as to the situation concerning fluorescent tubes, as this was not his 'area'. Schemes were to be introduced in Housing and Social Services offices. In response to Phil Capon's query on whether there was now a paper procurement policy, Mr Henry reported that there had been less progress here.

(4) How many fridges are collected and de-gassed by the Council? Since bulky refuse is collected free, do retailers such as Comet, Curry etc normally take away old electrical items, or do they leave them for the Council? (Eric Landau)

Mr Henry couldn't give exact figures at the moment, but de-gassing did take place at Benwell Transfer Station under local contract. He undertook to report back with figures. Comet and Curry's were not involved.

(5) Who does the clothes and rag collections? Charities, or entrepreneurs posing as charities? (Jo Bourne)

Mr Henry identified the main participants as Oxfam and Scope. The Salvation Army (and occasionally Scope) undertook the only doorstep collection.

(6) Who runs bring sites for plastic bottles? (Sylvia Conway)

Mr Henry reported that the Council-owned banks were serviced by North East Recycling Ltd in Newburn; separated into 4 separate streams for processing. The Chair queried what proportion of plastic bottles in Newcastle were going into this bank. Mr Henry estimated this at approximately 3% of the waste stream; therefore, 4000 tonnes of plastic bottles.

(7) Kerbside collection is supposed to be on line for next June. What will be collected - paper, plastics, tin cans, aluminium, glossy paper, batteries, glass and/or glass colour-separated? (Mike Rabley)

Mr Henry reported that at the moment, the timetable was June- but this might slip. Originally, it had been scheduled for March. The appraisal system had taken longer than anticipated, and there were difficulties of Bank Holidays etc (perhaps even meaning early July as a start). Ten companies had applied for the contract, all with different ideas. Mr Henry's view was that a 10% recycling target should be achieved. Close examination of the 'heavy' items such as newspapers and glass was required; after that, a whole range of material. Jenni Madison suggested that surely the emphasis should be on hazardous material, not 'heavy' items. Mr Henry pointed out that contractors would be paid to take material to the appropriate recycling site.

The Chair stated that there would be a kerbside collection service, but presumably the magnet would still be in use at the Byker plant relatively soon. Was there a trade-off, therefore, in collecting cans at kerbside as opposed to removing them more effectively via the magnet? How did these two aspects inter-link? Mr Henry estimated that there had been over 300,000 tonnes of cans collected per year at the Byker plant and that contractors required the revenue from the recovery of the aluminium to help support their businesses (an aspect with which he did not have a problem) The Chairman referred to the recovery of kitchen foil and household waste in this connection. Did this cause a problem? Mr Henry suggested that this would be a matter for SITA.

(8) How do you feel about the information, support and finance you've been given from your managers? (a) Have you been given enough to succeed? (b) How would you measure success? What would the % of recycled waste have to be? (Jenni Madison)

Mr Henry pointed out that the majority of funding from Greening the Supply Chain came from external sources. In terms of the resources he had been allocated as Recycling Officer, the City had once relied solely on the Byker plant a number of years ago when resources were less; but now more resources were being made available. Bob Stewart queried if resources had been made available for alternative methods, to achieve recycling targets.

(9) Have you been given any information about the health risks of the waste options e.g. Land fill, incineration, door to door and any other options? What is grey compost? (Bill Hopwood)

Mr Henry reported that grey compost was produced from non-segregated waste, although he had not physically seen it as yet. Mr Henry was very aware of the hazardousness of some materials e.g. chemicals in households, bleaches etc but his priority in programme terms would be 'weight' first.

(10) Which groups from other parts of the country have you talked to, and whose practices would you like to emulate? (Roger Mould)

Mr Henry reported that at local level, he had discussions with other local authorities (on, for example, kerbside collection). There was co-operation regionally with Regional North East officers and a variety of organisations such as the Composting Association and the Home and Household Waste Organisation. He undertook to provide a list.

(11) Did you have experience working at Big Waters over the period of the composting experience with waste? Do you know the results? (Bill Colwell)

Mr Henry reported that whereas this was before his time at the City, he understood that they had screened off the organic fraction from a mixed waste stream at Byker and took it to Big Waters, force-aerated it, composted it and pelletised it so that it could be preserved long-term. There was a Report. With regard to the success of the scheme - Mr Henry suggested that there had been success in producing material that was sanitised, but there were high levels of metal contamination.

(12) Have you heard of potato packaging which can be ideal for take-aways? What can be done to promote these areas and ideas like them in Newcastle? (a) With industry and commercial waste producers? (b) With householders? (Val Barton)

Mr Henry did not perceive a 'grand plan' at present, but there were areas which he wished to explore; such as the junk mail eradication plan which should have easy access. The food waste issue required greater publicity, and targeting schools would be a good idea. These two principal areas would be his focus for the future.

(13) If Newcastle was to reach 50% true recycling, separation and collecting door to door in 6 months (a) Would you still see the way forward in terms of waste to energy, or further progress to 'reduce re-use and recycle'? (b) How do you see this option fitting in with Government, Newcastle C.C. and the people's thinking on waste options? (Bob Stewart)

Mr Henry was not sure. He would very much like to have the 50% recycling rate but this was a longer-term goal. It seemed that 40% could be achievable, but thereafter it was more difficult to achieve. In response to further queries, Mr Henry suggested that as long as there was a residue of 'value' and it could be treated prior to landfill, then attempts should be made to maximise what could be covered from that waste before ultimate disposal.

(14) Have you had input into the Eco-panel programme in Newcastle? How do you think it is going? What recycling targets do you expect to see reached in the short, medium or long term through Eco-panels? (Geoff Stokle)

Mr Henry reported that there was a specific officer for this purpose who asked his advice. Mr Henry visited sites for appraisal etc. Bill Hopwood queried whether, insofar as Greening The Supply Chain was concerned, the Council had considered having a meeting of all public agencies with a view to maximising/creating markets for recycled paper etc. Mr Henry stated that whereas the Council hadn't specifically done this, it had prompted the North East Purchasing Organisation to consider the plastics situation via a conference in Sunderland, where purchasing officers had been shown that recycled plastic was as good as virgin product. This could be perceived as a first-stage initiative. Bringing together public agencies in the manner suggested might be something for the future.

At this stage, the Chair thanked Mr Henry for his attendance.