BAN Waste Select Committee evidence

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Phase 1 Day 6 2001-10-15 Ralph Crouch (Environment Agency, talking on composting)

report from minutes of Select Committee

5. Ralph Crouch - Environment Agency, North East Waste Strategy Manager

The Chair welcomed Ralph Crouch to the meeting and invited him to make his presentation.

By reference to 'Power Point' slides Ralph Crouch explained his role within the Environment Agency in terms of deciding waste strategy and what was to be regarded as waste and what standards should be set to control risks against health etc. and he covered the following areas:-

He concluded by advising that there was a consultation paper to come from the agency on composting.

The following questions were asked:-

(Q1) Should standards for composting be put on a statutory basis? (Nick Fray)

In answer, Ralph Crouch said that the Environment Agency should set standards through licensing conditions.

The Chair asked whether there should be standards for composting products to which Ralph Crouch said that this was a matter for the industry and the Composting Association. It was not clear whether one standard could be achieved for all composting materials. In this connection, reference was made to the actual difference between shop/garden compost and community, business compost - both being referred to as compost. Similarly, it was asked why in terms of 'fit for use' it was permitted to put 'grey' compost on landfill; when it would be totally unfit for garden compost uses. In answer to this Ralph Crouch said that the Agency's role was to prevent pollution, so unless it was happy with grey waste it would be against it.

(Q2) What purposes can 'compost' be used for when it is derived from mixed waste? (Jenni Madison)

Ralph Crouch said that he was unable to answer the question.

Following an explanation by the Chair regarding the SITA contract and the production and use of grey compost, Ralph Crouch was asked if the Agency considered that grey compost should be called compost as they seem to have agreed to this already.

In answer Ralph Crouch queried whether all composted materials needed to be of the same high standard as they might have different uses. He again suggested that it was not clear whether it was possible to have one standard definition for composting materials. He gave the definition of compost as stable, sanitised and free of odour. In connection with the grey waste compost issue the Chair asked the following questions:-

The chair added that Mr Pruce had agreed to give the answers to these questions, but to date they had not been forthcoming and asked Ralph Crouch if it would be possible to have these answers in the next day or two, in order to assist in the preparation for the meeting with SITA next week.

Ralph Crouch in response said that he would see what could be supplied about the SITA pilot.

(Q3) How can problems in obtaining planning permission for composting facilities be avoided? (June Wolf)

Ralph Crouch indicated that it was his job to examine draft planning policy documents, such as Newcastle's Unitary Development Plan, within which there would be policies to deal with waste and his job was to see whether they were adequate and whether there were any gaps between pollution controls and land use controls.

(Q4) One of our previous witnesses last week wrote to the Minister, Margaret Beckett about the DEFRA restrictions, including kitchen waste in composting, but in the absence of a reply several weeks later has continued to compost kitchen waste. Do you think the Environment Agency has been sufficiently precise in its guidance not to take into account of well-run community composting schemes? (Phil Capon)

In answer Ralph Crouch said that in a sense the pollution control system was blind to the nature of the operator, whether it was a community group or a large-scale operator like SITA - the rules would be the same. So far as existing composting sites was concerned the Agency would in future identify and reveal existing sites affected by this imposition. They would be looking to get more feedback from the community group review and further information from the health sector before committing to a root and branch review.

(Q5) Are you familiar with the Environment Agency's tool, WISARD? How can it be used to determine the DTEO and an optimum mix of methods of disposal if it is based on a premise that 'EfW' will increasingly represent the best practical environment option (DTEO) for many wastes?

Ralph Crouch answered that the development of WISARD involved huge amounts of money and was highly sensitive in terms of offering detailed background information for setting up a waste management strategy; he said he would refute allegations that WISARD was energy from waste friendly but simply looked at the environmental impact and all sorts of things and provided huge background information.

Concern was expressed over the cost (�1000) to use WISARD and that the waste management decisions being taken on the basis of WISARD tended to be on a very technical basis rather than involving the community services.

In response Ralph Crouch referred to the strategic waste management assessment document which referred to illustrations of municipal waste management strategies and options including some outputs from WISARD to show its scope. He acknowledged that the cost could make it inaccessible to community groups.

The Chair enquired whether it would be possible to go to the Environment Agency in Newcastle and run two or three questions through the WISARD system. Ralph Crouch said he would have to check this matter first.

In response to a query from Jenni Madison, Ralph Crouch said that for some of its disposal activities, the Agency was looking to be more open in its decision making process but said he would have to come back on the question of the extent to which that applied to major waste management developments. Many waste management sites had public liaison groups and the Agency had an input to these.

(Q6) How sustainable do you think is an 'integrated waste management system' such as that proposed in Newcastle City Council's current twenty-year contract with SITA? Do you think that stage three of the contract, incineration, which is on hold at present, will protect and improve the environment? (Jo Bourne)

In response Ralph Crouch indicated that he was not aware of the details of the Newcastle waste management contract, but he was aware of the advantages of long-term contracts with waste management operators as it enabled them to plan and invest in plant etc over a period. He was also aware that Newcastle's contract did include energy from waste but would suggest that if the amount of waste contracted to say an energy from waste plant was only part of the total municipal waste arising from that authority its contracts should be flexible enough to deal with the rest of the waste possibly in other ways.

The Chair said that this Committee had specifically asked the Agency about this matter but Mr Pruce could not answer the question and neither could Ralph Crouch - someone on the Agency must have looked at the contract that Newcastle had signed with SITA and expressed the view that someone from the Agency should talk directly to us.

Ralph Crouch said that he was not aware that the Agency was ever involved with those contractual situations between waste disposal authorities and the tendering process.

The Chair reminded Ralph Crouch that he had already said that best practice was what the Agency looked at - surely at this stage the Agency should be satisfied that the contract made this flexibility possible rather than coming in later as the regulator.

Ralph Crouch said there was always a business risk in long term contracts in relation to planning permissions or pollution control permits.

(Q7) Describe what regulations are involved in relation to energy from waste plant and the role of the Agency in terms of monitoring - what does it do?

In answer Ralph Crouch said that the starting point was always the permit (now covered by PPC) and would take account of current standards, often led by EU legislation and that the scope of the permit would be covered by the PPC regulations. Once the plant was operational the control would be a mix of reporting of emissions to environment - the permit would specify the process and there would be visits by Agency staff. (He said he would endeavour to report back on the level of Agency monitoring).

Ralph Crouch was reminded that in the case of the Byker Plant all the Agency said was that appropriate tests should be done. At this point the Chair thanked Ralph Crouch for his presentation.