BAN Waste Select Committee evidence

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Phase 1 Day 4 2001-10-08 Matthew Pumfrey (Director Orrtec Ltd, Director Zero Waste International)

report from minutes of Select Committee


Submitted: Evidence from Matthew Pumfrey, Director of Orrtec Ltd (previously circulated and copy in official minute book).

The Chair welcomed Mr Pumfrey to the meeting - who made a slide presentation to the Committee.

Mr Pumfrey reported that his organisation had been incorporated at the end of 1998 and was a joint venture with a New Zealand vertical composting unit. Mr Pumfrey was experienced in the resource recovery industry and was a Director of Zero Waste International.

Mr Pumfrey stated that the background of composting had been chequered. There were 3 main technologies involved: (a) static piling, (b) windrow and (c) in-vessel. Windrow was currently the most common area, but all three systems had a role to play in organic recovery. However, little putrescible waste was processed using these methods. The reasons for this were varied. Organics made up to 33-55% of the waste stream; there were hazardous and non-hazardous factors in the remainder. Recycling organisations created time to separate and recover their materials. Legislation and regulation were the key drivers here - and specific reference was made to the EU Landfill Directive, statutory recycling targets and the Draft EU Biowaste Directive. There was also the need for clamping down on other disposal routes (the foot and mouth situation was cited).

Within the process, it was important to achieve stabilised organic matter and reducing offensive odours. The treatment of any waste was ultimately justified by the fate of the finished product. That fate was either landfill or broad acre. In terms of the impact of the farming industry, Mr Pumfrey suggested that 72% of agricultural land in Europe had lost 80% of its organic content. Specific reference was made to the drastic lost of organic content in Australia, which now had a hydroponic system. Farming was a mineral extractive industry, with an increased reliance on synthesised fertiliser. By processing organic wastes effectively, minerals that would otherwise have been lost would be returned to the land. This created re-employment.

On the subject of composting markets, achieving the stated aims would create suitable end products for a variety of target markets. However, in the current situation, waste derived compost was perceived as poor. There were problems associated with low and inconsistent quality, contamination via inerts, pathogens etc. Mr Pumfrey suggested that there was huge potential for waste derived compost, which was high in nitrogen and with high levels of trace elements and minerals.

The Select Committee was advised that static piling was used extensively in the agricultural industry for waste. There was no time limit on processing, and it resulted in low-grade agricultural product. Windrow composting was the next step from Static Pile and was a traditional green-waste method. A monitoring regime resulted in the possible production of high quality product. However, there were issues of putrescible processing here; involving sanitisation, odours, vermin and spatial requirements. On the issue of in-vessel composting, Mr Pumfrey suggested that there had been 20 years of unsuccessful systems in the United Kingdom. Overseas had been more successful. Existing systems could compete with other disposal methods overseas, but not in the UK. Composting was taking place where other disposal routes were too expensive. This was not viable in the UK, where landfill was cheaper.

Mr Pumfrey then went on to state that VCU had been designed to compete in the UK. This process had involved a 5-year development programme, utilising a simple design principle which harnessed the energy of nature. An Australian EPA trial had proved successful with a certified 'A' product. This was seen as a technological breakthrough which guaranteed sanitisation, involved no odour, no leachate and with a low energy requirement. There was a flexible processing time and a unique processing system - although Mr Pumfrey stressed that the system might not be the 'be all and end all' (depending on circumstances). The process involved an insulated chamber, there was no material agitation and no oxygen injection involved. The modular design enabled flexibility in volume handling. The VCU chamber created a stratified temperature profile (85 degrees at the top of the chamber), which provided the most efficient environment for the microbiological degradation of organic waste.

Mr Pumfrey reported that there were a number of sites throughout the world, details of which were given. (Reference was also made to a UK site managed by Bromley Borough Council, Lincolnshire).

Mr Pumfrey suggested that the future lay in an increased emphasis on organic recovery. This was the key to increasing a sustained waste management system, and in reaching statutory recycling targets. Increased composting awareness in the UK (via increased technological development, increased process efficiency and making more economically viable). A better understanding of the benefits was essential.

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

(1) Should the standards for composting be put on a statutory basis? (June Wolf)

Mr Pumfrey believed that this should be the case. However, he thought it was important that not too many standards be set since their was a need to take marketing expertise further than standards required for retail. The Chair pointed out that the debate on statutory standards had been ongoing these last two years. In response, Mr Pumfrey reported that the Waste Resources Action Programme had met on the subject of tender documents. By the end of the year, all global standards would have a consultation process; therefore - with luck - there would be statutory standards in place in 9 months.

Bob Stewart queried what lessons had been learned in the last 20 years from the failures experienced. Mr Pumfrey stated that it was important to have a decent collection service up front. This was a key issue.

(2) What purposes can 'compost' be used for when it is derived from mixed wastes? (Geoff Stokle)

Mr Pumfrey stated that a quality product could never be achieved from mixed waste. Standards must be set as high as possible, however. The Chair made reference to old landfill sites in Greater Manchester requiring new top cover. Could 'grey compost' do the job? Mr Pumfrey suggested that this was a 'fit the purpose' job. There were some systems where heavy metal could be extracted; intrinsically, if everything were thrown in this would cause problems.

(3) How can markets for compost be developed? (Roger Mould)

Mr Pumfrey suggested that markets were very immature because of the lack of quality assurance so far. The Chair perceived that there was a contradiction if composting was going to be successful, in that there were relatively small units to do this. Mr Pumfrey stated that this was an issue, but if there were standards in place and quality assurance was perceived, then this would work. The Chair queried how a product/programme could be successfully enabled in Newcastle. Mr Pumfrey reiterated that it was necessary to ensure that the collection system was right. He suggested that rather than spend �120,000 on a kerbside collection service vehicle, there was an argument that it might be better to spend the equivalent amount on upgrading 8 PCV.s (Pavement Collection Vehicles) which would be inter-active with the public. (Such schemes had shown separation rates of 70% plus.) However, this was a case of getting an appropriate and pertinent scheme to each individual area.

(4) How can problems in obtaining planning permission for composting facilities be avoided? (Phil Capon)

Mr Pumfrey suggested that this was a massive hurdle. The Environment Agency had announced that planning permission was not necessary; rather, a waste licence was required. The Environment Agency was in fact being challenged legally on this matter. Mr Pumfrey pointed out that the material was not 'waste' - but a resource. This was an important issue that needed to be addressed over time.

In response to Phil Capon's query on whether it was realistic for people to sign up to Zero Waste with a view to promotion etc, Mr Pumfrey stated that this was a question of the organisation now looking at targets. Work was being undertaken with the 500 Foundation in Auckland, as there was recognition last year that changes would need to be made. During discussion, it was noted that Sony would take back any product for free. Incremental points could be worked out, which could identify where problems were occurring.

The Chair queried which countries were performing best at present. Mr Pumfrey cited Toronto and New York as good examples. New York had 40% plus recycling. (It was noted that in Essex there were 4 pilot schemes). Bob Stewart suggested that political will was the key.

The Chair referred to previous statements that another key was the development of an effective collection system and asked Mr Pumfrey to elaborate. Mr Pumfrey stated that this could be broken down into various areas: paper, organics, dry recyclables. By having materials collected in wheelie bins, they could go to a central point for sorting. The key area here was education, and providing enough public information so that people could understand the intent. The waste industry had been paid subsidy for years to address the problem, but now it was time to give people the opportunity to think. Mr Pumfrey suggested incentives, such as special supermarket bags with lottery numbers - a winner would be picked as in the lottery, and people would be encouraged to take part in recycling.

Phil Capon asked for Mr Pumfrey's views on glass in terms of his own operation. Mr Humphrey reported that there was a system of 4 bags, plus one bag for bottles (it having been noted that fewer bottles were being broken). In was noted that in Washington State, it had originally been felt that glass recycling would not work. However, ground glass had been used in golf areas to great success. Now, there was a demand for glass.

The Chair queried if there were enough markets for recyclable material. Mr Pumfrey felt that this was not the case in this country yet. Chip plastic was put into aggregate in cement or tiles, which were lighter in weight. Mr Pumfrey felt that the recycling industry had not yet 'happened' in the UK. During discussion, it was noted that Geneva had a 3000 tonne incinerator. Costs of importing waste to Geneva were �800 per tonne.

Bill Colwell referred to the fact that methane was prospectively an aggressive gas. Had Orrtec looked at how methane could be capped and used to drive recycling? Mr Pumfrey stated that this had not really been examined in full and there was still a mission to be achieved here. Bill went on to refer to an example in Weatherston where cattle dung was used to provide electricity to homes. Was this kind of operation in line with VCU? Mr Pumfrey again suggested that this was a question of 'mixing and matching' systems. There was a huge opportunity in this country, but where was the money to be channelled?

In response to a query from the Chair, Mr Pumfrey reported that he was not keen on the 'pink bag' system; although it was a good first step. The Chair then asked, I progress was made with Factor 4 and Factor 10, whether this would undermine some systems. Mr Pumfrey felt that this was no problem if kept on the same scale and for a minimal investment. It was possible to see the graph 'going down' i.e. consumer driven.

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