BAN Waste Select Committee evidence

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Phase 1 Day 5 2001-10-11 Keith Collins (Ecologika Consultancy)

report from minutes of Select Committee

Ecologika - Mr Keith Collins

The Chairman welcomed Mr Keith Collins and asked him to make his presentation.

Keith Collins indicated that for the past five years he had worked in the UK and been involved in developing the economics of composting and other disposal methods. He emphasised that Richard Boden and people like him were very important in terms of taking the recycling of waste forward more so than any legislation. So his first message to the Committee in relation to moving forward was to identify the right people to look at the issues that had been raised. By knowing the community, the people, and thinking through the mechanisms, Richard and his small band had overcome all obstacles and engaged the people and was providing an excellent community service for a unit of 1,000 households. This could be the model for the City including the emphasis on minimising residual waste and increasing recyclable resources, bearing in mind that the UK was wasting billions of pounds every year in this area. He reminded the Committee that Newcastle was a large importer of raw materials and finished goods yet had large brownfield sites and landfill sites with high unemployment. The only two avenues of traditional disposal methods considered have been incineration and landfill despite the above resources. There was a need therefore go get down into the detailed layers of waste disposal issues and then design the waste strategy. Also to press City Council officers to give the answers to the detailed issues raised and to do deals between private companies and the Council and continue to work with community groups so as to achieve their lower cost system. The waste stream should be treated as if you were in the Amazon jungle and had to live off it.

A Question and Answer session ensued:

(1) How ambitious are the Government's targets for recycling? What would you suggest would be achievable short and long-term targets for recycling? (Eric Landau)

Keith Collins responded that zero waste was the only target in the long term. He suggested that the present policy was inappropriate; the waste industry gave equal value in weight for different materials - this was wrong for the 21st century. Zero waste would never be achieved but we could make progress - we need high long-term targets. He did not think zero waste would catch the public eye in the UK but suggested the Californian slogan "Cut your trash in half" say over a three to five year period as a realistic target.

(2) What is the right proportion of stick/carrot in making for a successful kerbside collection? Do you think it can be left to individuals or does it need to be led by the Council? (Joanna Bourne)

As a rule of thumb Keith Collins suggested carrot for the community and stick for the officers of the Council - seriously he said stick to the carrot. The debate within the industry at present was rather negative and it needed more impetus to ensure that the pieces of the jigsaw were designed in order to encourage the stakeholders to move forward in the minimisation of waste and the self sustaining waste disposal strategy.

(3) How would you approach a situation in which an area of residents had been reached by publicity etc about kerbside collection but they don't co-operate? (Geoff Stokle)

Keith responded by saying that there was a deep problem with money. He advised caution on offering cash incentives for complying with this scheme. It would be better to work with the people then work out the system, take the people with you and then identify areas of 'real' difficulty. Options then would be to offer incentives or say "we're not taking your bin away" and identify the non-compliers.

(4) Central Government is advocating both recycling and the provision of many more incinerators. How do you see these two policies working together to produce an environmentally friendly waste strategy? (Phil Capon)

Keith acknowledged that there was deep conflict here between incineration and recycling. You cannot stop cutting trees down and continue to burn paper - you have to recycle them. Incineration has to be continuously fed - landfill was more passive. Contrary to what the UK government have said, many countries were running down incinerators including USA and Canada. He referred to the position in Essex where huge pressure against incinerators was ignored. He felt that the "waste industry in general was, by its nature, liable to corruption".

(5) Newcastle City Council claims that recycling is more expensive than incineration and kerbside collection is the most expensive option, would you like to comment? (Nick Fray)

By reference to a bar chart (circulated at the meeting) entitled "Illustration of estimated impact of each waste strategy per household 2001/2002" Keith Collins suggested that there was no need to adopt any one scheme in isolation. He thought the stand-alone cost implied by the chart was an odd way to value a scheme and it needed more evidence of presumed costs which he very much challenged. The paper had no real value.

(6) What about materials that are not readily recycled - dirty paper, plastic film etc. How would you propose that this is handled? Landfill? Incinerate? (Nick Fray)

In answer, Keith emphasised that none of the existing systems could deal with all toxic/dirty waste although good composting could deal with approximately 80% of waste categories but some toxins would be left. Of these some 50% can still be dealt with and that was the target. The remainder, as Richard Boden said, could mainly go into landfill. He highlighted that in some European countries, eg Germany, magnetic biological treatment plants were being set up to extract a further 15% of the residual wastes with the remainder being composted and dropped into landfill as virtually inert materials.

The Chairman indicated that Newcastle were talking about grey composting for land cover apparently to avoid landfill tax. He further suggested that in Newcastle this could be seen as the planned way of pushing people towards favouring incineration.

Keith Collins said that he was aware of this grey composting process in Newcastle; in Edmonton it was used down mines. However, grey waste would have to compete with good clean composted waste material coming into the area of which there would be a glut. He was not fully aware of whether the grey composting for land cover would successfully avoid the landfill tax.

(7) What should go into a good kerbside collection system? (Phil Capon)

Keith indicated that the following should comprise the ingredients of a good system:

(8) What markets are there for recycled materials? What sort of prices would you get for different materials - glass, plastic, paper etc? What is the range between the best and the worst? How can Councils, communities etc ensure that they get the best prices? What are the problems? (Eric Landau)

Keith Collins said that there were vast global markets for recycled steel and paper etc. In terms of price he emphasised the need to have 'experts' to support your negotiations, possibly jointly with other local authorities. By way of responding to the Chair Keith indicated that Byker was a 'small' plant and did not work economically because it didn't have the cash flow to provide managerial/technical competence and overall costs were high. In terms of the smaller systems in Europe there were important distinctions. For instance they were already within the communities and could burn almost anything - the culture was already embedded.

The Chairman thanked Keith Collins for his contribution.