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 Sean Pruce, Environment Agency

written evidence submitted in advance

Strategic Waste Management

The Governments Waste Strategy 2000

If we are to deliver sustainable development it is crucial that we begin to tackle our growing mountain of waste. This means designing products which use fewer materials and using processes that produce less waste. It means putting waste to good use, through re-using items, recycling, composting and using waste as a fuel. And it means choosing products made from recycled materials.
To engineer this step change in the way we think about waste we must work in partnership- with businesses, local authorities, community groups and the public. Persuading people to change their own approach to waste on a person by person, business by business, basis is probably the biggest challenge we face.

Speaking at the Annual General Meeting of the Environment Agency (Wednesday 12 September), Chief Executive Barbara Young called for a shake-up in Britain's approach to waste management, particularly household waste.

Each one of us is a waste producer yet most people appear unaware about what happens to their waste, unless a landfill or incinerator is planned for their neighbourhood. There is public concern about most waste disposal routes, including landfill, incineration and composting, yet domestic waste continues to rise at 3 per cent per annum. Progress in waste reduction, re-use and recycling are too slow. Over the next year, I want to see greater public awareness and involvement in the debate about waste management. To this end the Environment Agency continues to extend the amount of information that is available publicly particularly on our web-site.
There is a clear incentive for business to minimise waste. It makes sound economic sense with direct benefit to their bottom line. However, householders are cocooned from the true cost of waste. No matter how much is produced households are charged the same. If Britain fails to control its run-away wastage, even at today's bargain-basement waste management prices, it will cost an extra �1billion per year just to cope with the additional domestic dustbin load by 2020. I want to see greater incentives for the reduction of domestic waste.
Britons already produce one and half times the waste per person of our European neighbours, and are set to equal US waste production unless we act quickly. If we do not, our dustbin waste will double by 2020. Waste that will have to go in someone's backyard.
The cost of disposal of household waste is around �50 per household per year. This compares with water and sewage bills of about �233 per (un-metered) household, or �197 for metered homes.

Barbara Young also called for the early introduction of municipal waste incinerators and hazardous waste treatment plants into the new Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) regime, currently planned for August 2005. This will allow the Agency to regulate more effectively all emissions to air, land and water from these sites. This new IPPC regime also includes methods to encourage waste minimisation and energy efficiency.

Although waste production is almost inevitable in nearly everything we do, waste needs to be seen as a potential resource and the production of wastes as a waste of resources.

We should take responsibility not just for the effects of what we do in the UK but also the effects on other countries of what we import and export to them.

The producer responsibility concept is already applied through legislation to packaging and will extend to other materials.

To start delivering sustainable waste strategies requires reliable and up-to-date information and decision making tools to support decision making and a robust land-use planning system to develop more sustainable waste strategies. For a waste strategy, at any level, there should be an understanding of the environmental, societal and economic effects of each waste management option.

Given the scale of change required and the need to manage our waste in a more sustainable way, however, there is a need to operate a consultative, inclusive, iterative system. This must be founded on sound, consistent information covering all waste types and methods of managing it. Based on BPEO at geographical levels to ensure that policies are translated into plans into facilities and into contracts.

However we manage waste - recycling, treatment, and disposal - there is some risk for health and the environment. Whatever option is chosen by society to manage its waste the Environment Agency will regulate the facilities to reduce those risks to acceptable levels.

The concept of BPEO means that local environmental, social and economic preferences will be important in any decision. These may well result in different BPEOs for the same waste in different areas, or even different BPEOs for the same waste in the same area at different times. The principles of the waste hierarchy, the proximity principle and regional self-sufficiency are also expected to be taken into account when determining BPEO.