BAN Waste Select Committee evidence

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Phase 1 Day 8 2001-10-29 William Prescott (Energy From Waste Association)

report from minutes of Select Committee


The Chairman welcomed William Prescott and asked him to make his presentation following which questions and answers would ensue.

William Prescott commented that man had always either buried or burnt his waste and this remained a truism even if recycling was taken into account since recycling would give rise to waste at some stage - either a recycled material would eventually become waste or waste was produced in the process of recycling the original material and must be disposed of. Composting could be classed as a form of burial in this context. His view was that recycling was very useful and in the best recycling countries this had helped to keep up with the growth in waste but nobody had yet turned the tide. Technically there were limits to recycling - 100% recycling of waste was not technically feasible much less economically sensible.

The arguments in favour of recycling were often energy related as well as resource related. For example, glass recycling was environmentally beneficial, not because of the resource saving (sand and alkali chemicals were abundant enough and would remain so) but because the energy saved by recycling glass was significant. The same held good for aluminium. The arguments around plastics had much to do with the energy/ cost of collection, separation and clean up, together with the distance to the recycling reprocessor but remain, substantially energy related.

He suggested however that the recycling of paper was not quite so simple in terms of environmental benefits. Where managed forests were used for the pulp production, there was little "resource" depletion and again energy becomes the biggest factor on whether recycling was environmentally beneficial or not. Distance to the recycling plant became important, as did the work involved in recycling; the markets for the recycled products and the economics of the equation were often affected by global market conditions.

He suggested that there was a clear need for local authorities to develop sensible waste strategies to manage the growing production of waste and that rather than reinventing wheels attention should be given to the best examples of waste management that exist now and also to the newer technologies to see whether they might offer some further improvements. However most experts in municipal waste recycling placed a sealing on recycling at around 50% - even the most successful nations and cities have achieved a maximum of 40% - only small controlled experiments have exceeded that figure.

William Prescott then referred to the legal requirements and increasing controls on local authorities in relation to the future treatment of waste. The UK faced several new EC directives that would control our waste management activities including:

A careful analysis of the available options set against the waste directives/ controls would lead to the conclusion that something else needed to be done to supplement recycling. He suggested that sensible approaches to collection with the recovery methods fully evaluated would allow for reasonably high levels of extraction/recycling which coupled with incineration would enable the waste target to be met or even exceeded at affordable costs.

He then referred briefly to other thermal treatments being developed including pyrolysis and gasification which released products that could generate energy (gas or oil) without necessarily burning these products on site - however this still required extensive development before being commercially viable and reliable.

For the present he suggested that a sensible mix of considered collection coupled with recycling, composting and thermal treatment, would enable all local authorities to meet their targets at affordable costs - a single route however was unlikely to be successful.

The Chair thanked William Prescott for his presentation and the following questions ensued.

(Q1) The Chair asked why heat and power from waste was so unpopular across the country.

In answer William Prescott said that it was not really unpopular - many developers would like to do it but it was not viable because amongst other things the price of gas had dropped - it would be very expensive now to set up the necessary capital plant.

(Q2) The European Union was suggesting that dioxin levels be reduced - things were becoming more and more stringent/controlled - incineration was still being sighted as a prime waste producer creating the largest amounts of dioxins - comments please. (Val Barton)

In answer William Prescott said that yes incineration did emit dioxins - but dioxins from incineration had been controlled to a greater extent and for a much longer period than any other industry and there had been tremendous advances made in terms of controlling the emission levels.

He said that first of all the dioxins came in the waste (eg newspaper). He suggested that there were more dioxins in one Sunday edition of the Observer than the incinerator put out in a year. The incineration treats the dioxins (does not create them) - the only way to destroy dioxins was through high temperature incineration - it was important to stop the dioxins reforming and this was done through the flue gases and he went on to explain in some detail the technical process.

(Q3) You say incinerators destroy dioxins - could you give a reference for that - other reports say that they put out more dioxins than they destroy.

In response William Prescott said that although there appeared to be contradictions here it was in part due to the analysis of dioxin content in the waste. Dioxins came out from the bottom ash and the fly ash. Bottom ash came out at approximately soil levels but the flying ash was considerably higher at about 3% of the weight of materials going in. It was necessary in trying to measure dioxin levels to do a "mass" balance - he suggested that some of the dioxin levels quoted related to old/inefficient incinerators. He agreed to provide a reference on the current dioxin figures.

(Q4) Would you accept that compost from green waste was the best way forward to produce a quality product? (Bob Stewart)

William Prescott totally agreed and said it should be compulsory but unfortunately it tended to get mixed up with other waste/contaminants.

(Q5) Despite the recent directives and targets to reduce landfill and increase recycling, everyone admitted/accepted that waste would continue to grow and the waste industry appeared very happy with that situation. There did not seem to be any great emphasis being given to actually reducing waste - what was your view? (Phil Capon)

William Prescott said as an individual he tended to agree with the statement but emphasised that the waste industry did not create waste but actually dealt with it - it was society that created waste and that was a reflection of modern times and living style (eg fast foods/packaging). In the face of this local authorities would have to develop suitable strategies to deal with the increase.

(Q6) Would you explain why you are in favour of recycling of glass? (Nick Fray)

William Prescott confirmed that he was very much in favour of glass recycling - there was a real saving in energy. It also did not incinerate plus there was a very powerful logic in its recycling. The re-use of bottles could be done but it was not favoured (in this country) by the big breweries etc.

(Q7) You have said that there was no competition between recycling and incineration - please explain. (June Wolf)

William Prescott said that he did not advocate incineration only - waste was a very complex issue and that at the moment the only way forward in his view was to have a mixed bag of solutions. One single waste management option would not meet the targets to be imposed. It was important therefore to get the right mix of options to deal with waste at a price people would be willing to pay.

(Q8) In your view should an energy from waste plant be remotely sited away from residential areas? (John Buckham)

In answer William Prescott said that a modern incinerator of the size Newcastle would need would be the equivalent of a large industrial plant and therefore should be sited in a large industrial park, not in the middle of the City. District heating mains today were extremely efficient with little or no heat loss over long distances.

The Chairman thanked William Prescott for his interesting and comprehensive presentation.