BAN Waste Select Committee evidence

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Phase 1 Day 7 2001-10-22 Mr Paul Taylor (Director North East, SITA), Joanna McGee (Recycling Officer) and Robin Crews (Public Relations)

report from minutes of Select Committee


The SITA presentation panel comprised of the following:-

Paul Taylor - Director (NE)
Paul Dumpleton - UK Recycling Manager
Stephen Wise - Composting Manager
John Thistlewood - Capital Projects Manager
Joanna McGee - Recycling Manager (NE)
Robin Crews - Public Relations

The Chairman welcomed the panel and asked them to make their presentation. Following which a question and answer session would ensue.

Paul Taylor thanked the Chair for the opportunity to talk to the Committee in one session and then introduced his colleagues. He also said he would speak to the issue of landfill in lieu of David Baker who was unable to be present.

(1) SITA / Landfill

Paul Taylor commented that SITA was a worldwide organisation - being the 3rd or 4th largest in revenue terms with a turnover of �3.5 billion and employing 60,000 people and operating in 25 countries. World-wide it handled some 34 million tonnes waste per year most of which was landfill (25 million tonnes) with 5 million tonnes being incinerated to produce energy or heat and 3 million tonnes being recycled and 1 million tonnes being composted. In the UK SITA was the largest waste management company with a turnover of �550 million employing over 6,000 people. The predominant method of waste management was by landfill - 90% of waste that SITA handled was landfilled and this was a reflection of the main drivers, which were cost and value. SITA's role was to provide a service to industry and local authorities and landfill had been the first choice now for many years because it was easy with low technology and costs were not excessive compared with other options. However, the picture was changing and the new approach was being driven mainly by legislation and arising awareness of the impact of waste management. He explained that landfills were now highly engineered and sophisticated pieces of engineering and it cost many millions of pounds to engineer a landfill site and the associated liabilities lasted for many years. Because of the awareness of the greenhouse and other gases and leachates from landfill sites high standards of site containment were being required. This included engineered clay liner plus thick plastic liner and eventually capped off with leachate properly dealt with and disposed of, and much higher standard than in the past. The Environment Agency license/ permit set the conditions for the landfill site. These could last forever. Clearly landfill historically had been the cheapest and easiest option but now it was possible to see that new drivers were changing things (i.e. landfill tax and new legislation / EU Directives) and landfill costs would rise. As a commercial business SITA could see that waste management needed to be handled in a much more sustainable way than in the past in order to extract value from it. In conclusion he said the waste increased by 3% per year. However, new targets would mean that in 5-8 years time Newcastle would have to gradually reduce it's biodegradable waste to the equivalent of � of the 1995 level of waste disposed of. If waste grew at 3% per year over 20 years the volume would double and if that trend continued something like only 12� % of the waste that was previously landfilled would be allowed to be landfilled.

(2) John Thistlewood - Energy from Waste

John Thistlewood indicated that his presentation would discuss the roles of 'Energy from Waste' within an integrated waste management strategy and the benefits it could provide as a complimentary activity alongside other options such as reduction, re-use, recycling and disposal to landfill.

As had already been mentioned waste production was increasing by 3% per year and it would not be possible to go simply filling landfill as the country needed to develop a more sustainable approach to waste management. One of the options was energy from waste and he emphasised that it was no longer justifiable to burn waste to reduce volume and mass any longer. It was necessary to also recover value from the waste and he emphasised that energy from waste option was not just burning to produce energy it also covered the collection and burning of landfill gases (not just burning of municipal waste).

John Thistlewood then covered some of the alternative technologies for the recovery of energy and the issues associated with them:-

He suggested that the benefits to be derived from energy from waste in any waste management strategy could perhaps be illustrated by SITA's experience in the operation of the Teesside Energy from Waste plant, which he explained in detail.

He emphasised that energy from waste processes were highly regulated and apart from small capacity facilities were operated under Authorisation's issued by the Environment Agency. All new plants would have to obtain an Authorisation under the integrated pollution and prevention control regulations before being allowed to operate. A new European Directive on the incineration of waste set out stringent operational conditions, technical requirements and the emission limit values and would apply to new plants from 28 December 2002 and to existing plants 28 December 2005. He further commented that there was a great deal of discussion concerning the health impact of emissions from waste processes and a lot of research had been undertaken, much of it conflicting and some of it out of date in relation to the current position. Modern energy from waste plants had to operate within the context of ever decreasing emission limits and stringent operating conditions. Whilst dioxins were considered to be harmful to health he highlighted that a modern energy from waste plant burning 250,000 tonnes of waste each year would have to run for 100 years to produce the same amount of dioxins that were produced from fireworks on the Millennium eve in London. He referred to a recent paper on dioxins and agreed to send a copy.

In conclusion he suggested that it was worth noting that many European countries with high environmental standards combine high levels of recycling with high energy from waste.

(3) Stephen Wise - Composting in the UK

Stephen Wise commented that composting was the oldest and most natural form of recycling organic materials and encompassed the biological decomposition and stabilisation of organic substrate under conditions that were predominantly aerobic and that allow the development of thermophilic temperatures as a result of biologically produced heat. For the biological process to work effectively, sufficient quantities of carbon, nitrogen and oxygen were required. The microbes utilised the carbon and nitrogen as a source of food. By-products of this process were carbon dioxide, water and heat. The heat generated by the microbes killed off unwanted pathogens, weed seeds and bacteria. When the microbes had used the available carbon and nitrogen they started to decline in numbers and the heat being produced was reduced indicating the end of the active composting process. To produce high quality compost curing was required as it allowed the compost to stabilise which helped to prevent nitrate leaching and reduced the electrical conductivity, high levels of which could damage soil structure. The longer the period for curing the more soil-like the compost would become.

In posing the question 'why composting', Stephen Wise suggested that the increasingly stringent legislation, including the landfill directive and the statutory recycling targets were now leading to more rapid growth in the composting industry in terms of tonnage and width of materials being processed and the technology used. He emphasised that composting was not a cheap option, as the materials being composted needed intensive treatment and management. However the increasing costs of landfilling of materials was making the use of composting, using more advanced technology and processing wider waste streams more economically and environmentally viable. The technologies used encompassed the entire spectrum ranging from basic open windrow facilities, through to sophisticated in-vessel systems that were able to compost the most difficult material. However, at present the predominant methodology used in the UK was the open windrow system composting green waste derived from either civic amenity sites or collected from households.

So far as SITA was concerned in the UK, Stephen Wise said that SITA believed that composing was going to play an increasingly important role within the Waste Management and Recycling Industry and were continually developing their knowledge and operational experience of all types of composting systems including using both in-vessel and open windrow systems. Further in-depth knowledge was gained by talking to the SITA counterparts in Europe and world-wide (France, Germany and Belgium for instance had been using in-vessel composting systems for a longtime and that experience could be called upon). SITA also had extensive knowledge of the available markets. He emphasised that if compost was produced it was essential to have a market for it otherwise it would have to go back into landfill and that would not solve anything. SITA had spent time developing markets and had guaranteed markets in terms of the national bagging system going out to garden centres. They had a great deal of involvement with the agricultural market providing soil amendment products to put back nutrients and organic matter and returning structure to the soil. SITA had also developed local community projects to supply compost back to the community that had actually produced the waste in the first place. They were also helping the livestock farming industry by providing alternative bedding materials.

Stephen Wise emphasised that high quality was regarded by SITA as extremely important if the process was to be sustainable over the long term. A reflection of this was the fact that SITA were accredited by the Composting Association, Soil Association and most recently by HYDRA (research Association). Also SITA had developed their own quality standard system called MASK providing a management and audit system for compost to ensure high standards and high quality product.

(4) Paul Dumpleton - Recycling

Paul Dumpleton firstly referred to the 'drivers' in terms of recycling:-

  1. Cost
  2. Legislation
  3. Politics

In terms of costs he suggested that recycling would only take place if it were cheaper than disposal, which by and large it was not. Legislation laid down targets for recycling and was enforcing a move away from disposal towards recycling and other sustainable options. Historically there had always been some local politicians in the UK who wanted to move towards recycling and up until recently recycling had, in this country, been driven by local politicians. He suggested however, that things had begun to change and referred to 4 new building blocks that were driving this change:-

  1. Landfill tax
  2. Producer responsibility / package regulations
  3. National waste strategy
  4. Landfill directive

These were making producers of waste revise their waste management options and focus on the task ahead. Notwithstanding this both the public and private sectors were beginning to evaluate their options as the cost of landfill continued to rise.

By reference to a pie chart Paul Dumpleton described the household waste analysis as follows:-

Based on the best value performance indicators he indicated that Newcastle had in 1998/9 achieved a 5% recycling rate and that it would be required in 2003/4 to achieve a 10% rate and then 18% in 2005/6. He suggested that the ability of Local Authorities to meet these targets would depend on enforcement, in the form of penalties but also some funding support.

He then referred to the two main types of collection and the possible target figures which could be achieved:-

1) Source Segregated at Kerbside
Newspaper 62 - 70kg per household
Paper and Board 10 - 20kg per household
Glass 20 - 30kg per household
Cans 2 - 5kg per household
Textiles 2 - 3kg per household
2) Co-mingled
Newspaper 100 - 140kg per household
Cans 3 - 5kg per household
Plastics 3 - 6kg per household
Textiles 2 - 3kg per household
Glass collected separately

He remarked that SITA only operated one co-mingled collection process system in the South of England.

In conclusion, he emphasised that there was an international and growing market for recycled waste and there was however, a need for flexibility in terms of collection and the processing of waste materials in order to meet the market demand.

The Chair thanked the SITA representatives for there presentation and a question and answer session ensued.

(1) In terms of your contract with Newcastle City Council - does it offer any incentive to you to encourage waste minimisation? (Geoff Stokle)

Paul Taylor replied that the contract was a commercial and confidential contract between City Council and SITA and the vast majority of contractual questions would best be directed to the City Council.

In response the Chair said that the City Council had said much the same and that SITA might give answers. So he enquired whether there was a 'driver' in the contract which encouraged minimisation of waste and if so would SITA lose out if the volume of waste were reduced.

Paul Taylor said that SITA would not lose out at all. Whilst there were minimum tonnages in the contract, they were low in relation to the tonnage the City Council currently handled.

The Chair commented that in the presentation SITA had said that waste would increase by 2/3% each year, but some people questioned whether that was realistic - if it was to reduce by say 3% each year would SITA be able to cope?

Paul Taylor said that without knowing other factors he could not really answer that question but he didn't think there would be a problem over the length of the contract. If waste was minimised SITA would have no problem and he reminded the Committee that SITA simply offered a service and solutions to issues raised. He confirmed absolutely that as a company SITA would have a firm commitment to minimisation of waste.

(2) Were SITA bidding for the Kerbside Collection in Newcastle? (Geoff Stokle)

Paul Taylor said that he had not personally seen the tendered document and that SITA simply responded to the specific details of tendered documents and sometimes offered up alternative options to provide a different service to respond to the waste issues raised within the tendered document. He said that the least cost option depended on what materials were collected / separated - to get best value a kerbside separation system was probably the best answer - the more materials that were mingled up the more the chance of contamination. There was a balance however, to be achieved - if co-mingled materials were collected the cost would be less than the separated materials. SITA had not attempted a life-cycle analysis because of the many variations involved.

Bob Stewart said that a key element was the relationship with the householder and queried what SITA's views were on building this relationship.

Paul Dumpleton referred to the different 'drivers' previously mentioned for recycling of waste. He said that if the driver was the national waste strategy targets then the company would go for the system that produced the most volume and costs would be a secondary element. However the success of recycling of waste in this country depended on the active participation of the public. It was also about being consistent with good communications being the key (he felt that in the past the waste management industry had not given the public enough credit for good sense).

The Chair asked which of the kerbside collection systems in the country was SITA most proud of.

Paul Dumpleton said that SITA offered a number of systems and described as an example the Kensington and Chelsea Borough system, which was extremely successful and was moving towards a daily collection. A fantastic produce was coming out at the end of the process. At West Sussex which was source segregated (paper and glass) with a fully automated co-mingled plastic and cans (a first in the UK) and handled 20,000 tonnes per year was operated by nine people. He believed it was the lowest cost based facility in the whole of the SITA group. He said that the volume of household waste recycled in these two cases was - West Sussex - 20% and Kensington and Chelsea - 12%.

(3) How many Civic Amenity Sites are made provision for within the Contract? (Sylvia Conway)

Paul Taylor responded that there was no provision in the contract for Civic Amenity sites.

(4) Is SITA installing a magnet at Byker Transfer Station if so when? What about Benwell? (Sylvia Conway)

Paul Taylor said that a magnet was proposed for the Byker Transfer Station but not at Benwell.

Sylvia Conway then asked if a kerbside collection system were to remove tin cans, at what percentage point of removal would it be uneconomic to keep using the magnet?

In response Paul Dumpleton said that kerbside collection of cans produced at best only 4% so alternative methods of can extraction would always be beneficial - kerbside collection would not affect that issue.

(5) SITA hoped to remove metal and aluminium at Byker Transfer Station. What else? Can you give us a full list please? (Eric Landau)

Paul Taylor briefly outlined the process for dealing with bagged household waste which was screened, sized then put across the magnet (to take out metals) and then shredded to size and was then available to put into the heat station (as floc).

(6) When did SITA intend to have both Byker and Benwell Transfer / Separation Plants up and running? (Eric Landau)

Paul Taylor explained that the Byker Plant would be constructed during the course of next year and he clarified that Benwell was a pure transfer station with link-up with the Byker separation process. He confirmed that Byker would process the whole of the City's household waste.

(7) SITA had been experimenting with removing materials from the waste stream for 'grey composting'. How did this trial go? (Jo Bourne)

Joanna McGee commented that the trial went very well and was simply a pilot to gain experience of the process which was carried out over a six-week period involving four different mixes of municipal and green waste. She confirmed that the Environment Agency had been involved throughout the process and had visited the site during the trial and seen the process in operation.

Phil Capon referred to the new regulations regarding animal by-products and enquired whether these would impact upon the process and the production and viability of green waste.

Paul Taylor said that SITA had huge tracts of land / landfill sites where the land in question needed to be restored because of poor soil conditions. The low-grade compost which Byker produced met a need and this was a win-win situation. SITA had a need to improve their land the City Council had a need for a useful use for their low grade compost. In the UK the Government had used recycling targets as a mechanism to meet landfill targets and composting figured heavily in that process. He referred also to the impact of a risk assessment being undertaken by the Environment Agency in terms of foot and mouth and also BSE - the results of which had not yet being completed. He emphasised that SITA's intention was to use the 'compost' to improve their sub soil.

The Chairman clarified that SITA used an enclosed system with controlled temperatures so that they almost certainly met the regulation requirements - as opposed to the Windrow system and this was confirmed.

(8) Could the floc produced at Byker be treated / stabilised and used in landfill and what proportion of the waste stream would it be? (Jo Bourne)

In answer Paul Taylor confirmed that it could be used in landfill and in terms of the household element a rough figure would be 35% was organic and could be used for composting.

Joe Bourne inquired whether SITA was planning to make green compost and Paul Taylor said that SITA had a lot of civic amenity contracts in the area so a lot of green waste was handled and it would be ideal to compost.

(9) Had SITA tested the compost for heavy metals?

In response Joanna McGee confirmed that a full range of tests had been carried out on the compost and the results would be compiled in a report when finalised.

(10) The Chairman commented that some people had run into major difficulties over the screening process (e.g. Manchester). There was a danger that something has got through the screening process - how did SITA do the screening process in the trials?

In answer Joanna McGee said they had hired in an appropriate screen and had tried to achieve a representative trial. The technology to be used was a walled tunnel system with a good control of heat and moisture (by computer). She confirmed that nasty things (e.g. nappies) did not get through into the composting as it would not go through the screen and in relation to dog dirt she suggested that this might be possible but it would be necessary to await the final results.

Paul Taylor reminded the Committee that the soil improver (compost) that SITA were producing was for their own land and the whole of the process would be overseen by the Environment Agency.

In response to a further question on the impact of minimisation of waste on the contractual situation the Chairman asked for a note on the percentage of the minimum tonnage (required in the contract) compared to that in the current one and Paul Taylor agreed to do this.

(11) Mass burning of mixed waste produced a one third residue, which, as a consequence of the burning process, was highly toxic, as we know to our cost. Don't you think that your production and disposal of this material whether to landfill for road building or whatever constitutes a continuous serious poisoning of our environment which could be avoided by separating a waste at source and using a more bio friendly means of disposal? (June Wolf)

Paul Dumpleton clarified that SITA did not run the incineration plant. He explained that in modern plants bottom and fly ash were kept entirely separate. Bottom ash was quenched and after processing could be recycled for e.g. a sub base on roadworks. The fly ash was a mixture of fly ash and air pollution control residues that came from the flue cleaning process with toxic levels of about 2% of the total input.

The Chairman commented that bearing in mind the level of public concern over the Byker Ash what would SITA do to convince the local community on safety issues and that Byker was an ideally operated plant.

Paul Taylor again emphasised that SITA did not operate the incineration plant but if they did they would look at this particular issue very carefully. He said that SITA as a business recognised energy from waste as simply one option for handling waste. In any incineration plant there was huge investment to ensure that what come out of the chimneys was safe. SITA would be happy for members of this committee to visit to plant on Teesside and see how it operated. He felt that what the industry needed was some good independent research and independent voices; this was something lacking at the moment.

(12) The Chair asked how much metals would not be pulled out by the magnet extraction system and how much would be going in to the incineration point and end up in the bottom ash.

Paul Taylor said that in the Byker Plant he hoped it would capture all the metal; that was the aim for the magnet screening system.

(13) How much outside independent controls operated in relation to the Teesside plant?

John Thistlewood said that the operation of the plant was controlled by the conditions of the authorisation and the Environment Agency could make an unannounced visit at any time. The operator of the plant had to make returns and independent analysis of controlled emissions on a continuous basis including particulates. However, he indicated that some things were difficult to measure continuously and these included dioxins and heavy metals which were measured on a discontinuing basis independently (quarterly). He emphasised that the plant had to maintain operating conditions in order to guarantee what you get at the end was within the limits of the authorisation. He confirmed that the Environment Agency did not carry out emission monitoring but they did employ independent environmental testing companies; this was done not more frequently than once a year.

(14) There was a well-documented history of poor record of incineration in terms of health issues - this highlighted the need for openness and honesty in recognising and addressing problems - how did SITA respond to this? (Phil Capon)

In answer John Thistlewood agreed with this but emphasised that there was a new generation of plants coming along - a lot of the information referred to was in relation to the older plants and the industry had moved on - new incineration directives were even more stringent and demanding higher standards.

(15) Does large-scale incineration crowd out recycling? (Phil Capon)

Paul Taylor said that it was SITA' s view that both incineration and recycling could not survive side by side. He referred to the best recycling country (Switzerland) which recycled almost 50% of its waste with only 10% remaining going to energy for waste. In this connection the Chair questioned that if the paper and plastics were taken out of the waste stream the calorific values would come down dramatically.

In answer Paul Taylor said he thought it would but research indicated that you could take out elements of paper and plastics without dramatically impacting on the calorific values of waste.

(16) The waste hierarchy existed to encourage an increase in the number of techniques deal with waste at the top of the list, fewer at the bottom of the list. Did SITA have a strategy in response to that and did it include targets - if so how did that affect the contract with Newcastle - or was SITA just driven by standards and targets and legislation that exist? (Phil Capon)

Paul Taylor said that as a world-wide organisation SITA set its own standards and targets and looked to reduce emissions on a world-wide basis - SITA invested heavily world-wide on research and development programmes to handle waste to a higher standard and move the treatment of waste higher up the hierarchy. He felt that at times this improvement process was hampered by the burden of the Local Government budgetary system and the pressure to find the cheapest solution. SITA offers a service based on demand - tends to be driven by cost often because local government is restrained with their funding position and cannot afford to demand the best.

(17) Why was the contract between SITA and the City Council for 20 years in the face of the constant changes referred to? (Eric Landau)

Paul Taylor said that the contract did not have to be for such a long term but SITA did invest millions of pounds and that required a return; the shorter the period the quicker the payback and he gave the example of a short term mortgage requiring higher payments.

(18) The Chair asked whether SITA could offer a challenge to the local public - 'no incineration' if they could reach 25/30/40/40 % recycling - he suggested that a certain level of recycle would make incineration uneconomical to operate even over a 20 year period.

Paul Taylor suggested that this was not for him to answer but he didn't think that this would be the case. He saw no reason why incineration couldn't continue to be part of any programme for waste management.

(19) In the absence of the existing incinerator operator would SITA be interested in bidding for that contract? (Phil Capon)

In answer Paul Taylor said yes, like any business SITA would be prepared to consider it and confirmed that any proposals put forward would be to the highest standard in terms of plant.

(20) Waste management appeared to be driven more and more by legislation - a German plant in Belgium was being operated on a continuous monitoring basis (AMESA Systems) which had indicated that emissions were up to 8 times higher than shown on the previous monitoring system. Did SITA operate that system in the UK? (Phil Capon)

John Thistlewood indicated that the AMESA system was not in use at the moment but it was being looked at and he emphasised that this system was not a requirement.

(21) What would be the annual capacity of the proposed Byker incinerator? (Bill Colwell)

Paul Taylor said that this was not really a question for SITA.

In this respect the Chair enquired whether it mattered to SITA whether there was a small or large incinerator to be operated at Byker.

Paul Taylor said it would not matter to SITA as SITA would simply produce the fuel for the incinerator - if the incinerator were not operative they would have to discuss the use of the floc with the City Council. In response to a question regarding the transfer of waste he said that there was not an issue regarding running out of materials for the Teesside plant; in fact SITA had planning permissions for extension at that site. He mentioned that the Government waste strategy talked about dealing with waste on a regional basis and there was currently a debate on what regional meant (District Council or unitary Authority or County Council or a regional body for the North East) - SITA did not see a problem in terms of waste volume. Phil Capon commented that one of the most depressing things about the enquiry was that people recited the mantra of waste reduction being at the top of the list and then everyone accepting that waste was going to increase by 3% every year. If the government and the agencies and the waste management companies were concentrating on reduction then perhaps different answers would be provided. SITA say there is no problem over waste volume but if the strategy was working SITA might have a problem.

(22) How much electricity is generated from one tonne of waste? (Bill Colwell)

In answer it was said that the Teesside plant produced 0.7 megawatts of electricity per tonne of waste and that in terms of maintaining calorific value the plants had a built in flexibility to deal with varying levels of calorific value.

(23) From where does SITA gather information about health related problems attached to the process of incineration? What are the health problems attached to mixed waste and tyres? (Roger Mould)

In response Paul Taylor said that information was gathered from many sources including government papers and official consultants. In relation to the impact on health he indicated that there was very little from unmixed waste that involved very little handling as it was simply mechanically grabbed and tipped into a retainer. If the shredding of tyres were involved there would be a need to consider the nature of the extraction system; however SITA did not deal with tyres.

The Chair asked whether the Byker plant would be able to run the district heating system perfectly well.

Paul Taylor said that he thought the proposals being put forward were to do just that. One of the benefits of the Byker facility was that there was a ready market for the heat produced.

The Chair said that it had been said it had been intimated that SITA were becoming less interested in incineration/heat and power and enquired whether this was correct.

Paul Taylor said that he didn't think that was right and that SITA through its investment and research was always trying to identify new and improved ways of treating waste and to move it up the hierarchy.

(24) The oil companies had apparently seen the message in terms of oil eventually coming to an end and they were looking towards making profits in other ways (e.g. investment in solar power). Did SITA have any plans to make efforts out of waste minimisation? (Steve Psallidas)

In response Paul Taylor said that SITA was part of an organisation called SUEZ (fifth largest energy producing company in the world). Its interest were enormous and had involvement in areas to provide a basic essential of life (e.g. heat, water and waste disposal). The waste business was just part of what SITA was involved in. SITA was concerned and involved in the process of minimisation of waste but he suggested that there were huge tracts of the business that SITA simply contracted to provide a service. If the client did not request minimisation they couldn't do it - could only go so far.

(25) What is to be done with the flock ash is it going to be stock piled? (Jo Bourne)

Paul Taylor apologised but said that was a question for the City Council.

(26) Composting sites had to be 250 meters away from residential housing - should that also apply to heat stations? (Bob Stewart)

In answer Paul Dumpleton suggested that it was better to site any industrial process away from people and that much depended on the process involved.

In conclusion the Chair asked whether it would be possible to see the Contract between SITA and the City Council (less the figures).

Paul Taylor said that he was always reluctant to divulge contracts which were commercially confidential. However, he was quite happy to go through the contract with the City Council to see which areas could be given to the committee.

The Chair thanked the SITA representatives for their in-depth presentation.