BAN Waste Select Committee evidence

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Phase 1 Day 1 2001-09-20 Pete Stevens (environmental consultant, Save Waste And Prosper Ltd)

report from minutes of Select Committee


Submitted: Information paper detailing work of the above organisation (previously circulated and copy in official minute book).

Mr Pete Stevens was in attendance to make a presentation, and to answer Select Committee questions. The Chair welcomed Mr Stevens to the meeting.

Mr Stevens explained that he was an Environmental Consultant for SWAP, which had been founded in 1977 as a partnership between community activists and Leeds City Council. SWAP was now independent of the local authority, although it still undertook work for them. SWAP was a non- profit organisation, employing 22 full time staff and 16 trainees. Its mission was clear - to achieve environmental improvement through the sustainable management of waste.

Mr Stevens outlined SWAP's view on strategic waste management services, including the importance of research, waste stream analysis, sustainable waste management strategies and the creation of employment and training opportunities throughout. He also elaborated upon project management, including business planning and funding strategies, project management and. Development.

It was felt that communication was vital, including awareness raising and educational campaigns. SWAP operated with strong elements of partnership, careful research and information gathering, a cross sector approach (community/local authority/private sector) and with multi-sector funding. Partnership projects included Greening The High Street, national household hazardous waste forum, national waste awareness initiatives, Recycle North, a Regional Electrics initiative, Re>Paint (45 schemes in the UK, which last year had dealt with 43,000 litres of paint), Byteback (a community based refurbishment scheme) and an Oil care Campaign.

Mr Stevens then went on to outline an outside perspective for Newcastle, as follows:-

Setting the framework:

It was felt that the question of stakeholders was vital. Had everyone - not just the waste sector - been involved? Participation of industry, Education and the private sector was important. He suggested that participation should be reviewed as the process continued.


This was the main driver - but it was important not to be too prescriptive. There were a variety of ways to meet rules and regulations (for example, packaging regulation).


Whether there were failures or successes within the ongoing process, honesty was vital.

Resources available:

It was important to identify the capacity of the group, the time available, finance, the number of people. (Mr Stevens made reference to a particular situation in his experience where a Council had run a kerbside collection scheme to several thousand households with a 10% participation rate. A Community group had run a similar scheme to a couple of thousand households at a 80% take-up. Mr Stevens speculated on what would have happened had both groups got together.

Obtaining Data:

Mr Stevens discussed the attitudinal aspects of the above and stressed the importance of finding out what was actually in the waste stream. In Newcastle, it would be different to anywhere else. IN terms of capacity, it was important to establish what was already available and how it could be used.


Costs and funding of any strategy were vital. Would it be economical or not? Waste management options should be identified and stated. Were there markets? If not, how could they be created?


Pilot schemes were important. But it had to be borne in mind when considering, say, kerbside collection schemes, that what worked well in one are might not work in another. The importance of hazardous materials within a home environment was very important. New reprocessing routes needed to be examined.

Roll-Out Strategy

Partnership and flexibility was stressed. It was also important to remember that what might appear economically feasible on paper might not be economical in practice. A system that worked in London or Cardiff might not work in Newcastle.


In ensuring the success of any scheme, it was important to use simple language at every stage. (Mr Stevens defined 'pyrolysis' as being the same process used to make charcoal; 'gasification' was the equivalent of turning coal into town gas. Neither had a proven track record.)


It was important to find common ground in the process, to agree on the next stage and - if not - to draw in new stakeholders to assist and consult.


In producing a strategy, it was important to look at the bigger picture. There should be an examination of forthcoming legislation, new partnerships (in business, for example), regional and national campaigns. Mr Stevens felt that change was 'here to stay'. On contracts letting, rigid contracts had a tendency to hurt the Council, and to hurt tenants accordingly. Waste analysis was vital. Household waste today would not be the same as 10 years in the future. There was a need to challenge the status quo, be pro-active and radical.

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

(1) SWAP has recently undertaken a waste analysis for the City of Westminster. What lessons do you think Newcastle could learn from that, with positive outcomes for the environment, health and finance? (Eric Landau)

Mr Stevens stressed that every area was different. The Westminster analysis had been carried out over a number of years, with waste sampled over the seasons. The implications of that analysis gave Westminster an idea on how to meet the legislation, the amount of biodegradable waste in the waste stream and how much it would cost them. In effect, it was dependant on the area. Mr Stevens re-stressed the importance of knowing what was in the waste stream. Most local authorities did carry out a waste audit.

In response to the Chair's query, Mr Stevens reported that SWAP carried out one-off seasonal analysis in each season, where 28 samples were taken from 50 households. He could not give away too much information, as methodology was confidential to the company who had contracted the organisation, but SWAP had tried to cover a representative sample of the whole area. This was then taken to a waste depot and sorted. The last exercise had revealed 40 different categories of waste. Thereafter, action was dependant on the client dependant on cost etc.

Phil Capon pointed out that the Director of Cityworks, present earlier in the meeting, had suggested that waste in Newcastle was the same as across the country. A 20 year contract had been signed with SITA. What analysis would SWAP expect a local authority to undertake prior to signature? Mr Stevens replied that it was difficult in the UK to obtain investment in waste analysis. People preferred to invest in buildings and trucks. He would not wish to comment until he had studied the situation for himself, but there was a tendency to find that waste followed a national picture (although there would be 'pockets' of difference in Newcastle that would be different). Mr Stevens made a particular example. One analysis elsewhere had revealed that 14% of waste was identified as being waste- disposable nappies. However, if the percentages and figures were extrapolated according to the population figures of the area concerned the suggested number of babies was just not possible. In effect, no analysis work would ever be able to fulfil a 20-year contract. A review was required every 5 years because waste changed. It was also important to understand that local authorities had their own boundaries and framework, with a requirement to meet the legislation.

(2) How can Newcastle bring schemes such as Community Re>Paint to the area? (Cal Boal)

Mr Stevens stated simply that contact should be made with SWAP. There appeared to be interest already in establishing a scheme in Newcastle with the possibility of �3000 capital grant. Mr Stevens gave examples of schemes working in other areas, all operating very differently.

(3) In Newcastle's current waste contract, �110,000 a year is set aside for the introduction of alternatives such as kerbside collection and education. Do you think this is enough to make changes? The council aimed to have a kerbside collection service in operation by June 2002. Was this possible? (Jenni Madison)

Mr Stevens suggested that there was never enough money for the purpose - although the figure above represented a start. It was important to use that base figure to lever in, say, another �110,000. Attempts should be made to link the waste issue with other issues that were relevant. As to kerbside collection, it could be argued that this was positive, but it was also a risk. Had it been market tested? Had there been trials? Mr Stevens knew of one case where a scheme had been implemented, but it hadn't worked. It was important to bear in mind that the local authority may be driven by legislation. He also had personal experience of a scheme where the actual collection aspect worked, but the waste couldn't be sorted because it was too contaminated and it had therefore been landfilled. However, the same scheme idea had been used by a London borough - with a 60% take-up rate. Mr Stevens felt that it was essential to have a pilot.

Phil Capon referred to the 20-year contract with SITA, and its phases - with Phase 3 potentially opening up the way to a possible re-opening of the incinerator. Given Mr Stevens' information above, a consequence of kerbside collection failure could be a case of 'setting up to fail'. Mr Stevens stated that councils who had rolled out large kerbside collection schemes had learned from their schemes. With the correct forethought, a scheme was more likely to succeed. Another option might even be public fines - as happened in Germany, America and Holland where recycling rates were high.

(4) What is SWAP's experience of creating employment and training opportunities? Can you suggest how this might be done in Newcastle? Was there potential for the creation of low-tech and high-tech jobs? (Geoff Stokle)

Mr Stevens believed that jobs could be created across the spectrum. Education and training were the key. There was certainly scope locally. Mr Stevens suggested that there were always lots of opportunities for low- tech jobs because waste was a 'dirty game'. He had risen to his own position from that low-tech beginning via promotion. More and more companies would be setting up within the industry, and there was opportunity for the entrepreneur. Mr Stevens gave a personal example of a successful firm. There were, of course, certain 'barriers' i.e. markets for waste. If there was no market, how could one create jobs locally?

In responding to questions on incineration, Mr Stevens referred to recent calls to introduce an incineration tax in circumstances where waste was burned and no energy recovered. It was still 'early days' on this matter. All options contained risk.

Roger Mould referred to previous discussion on cultural differences. Mr Stevens concurred that there was a cultural aspect, referring to the stringency in Germany. However, if the system was made easy, convenient and to the community's benefit, then a strategy could be successful.

Bill Colwell made reference to the adage 'Where there's muck there's money' and in elaborating on the problem of obtaining no real value from rubbish, expressed concern that any waste strategy would be undermined where an incinerator process was being prepared in advance. Discussion ensued on the textile market abroad (with the Salvation Army one of the biggest collectors), opportunities to convert into high quality paper and the question of cost. Glass in the UK was also a major problem, and a complex issue.

Nick Fray referred to the Director of Cityworks comments on batteries. What methods did SWAP recommend, and were any particular obstacles foreseen in Newcastle? Mr Stevens suggested that there was a good market for automated batteries. Research was currently being undertaken on the other types of battery, but there were of course inherent problems in that households disposed of batteries on an irregular basis. Reference was made to the system in France. Oxfam was also setting up a scheme.

Bill Hopwood referred to previous comments concerning employment within the waste hierarchy and requested back up information on health, costs, benefits etc.

Mr Stevens referred members to the Community Recycling Network report, where it was stated that it would be possible to create 10/20 thousand new jobs if UK targets on recycling were met. This was debatable, because it depended on how it would be done. During discussion, Mr Stevens suggested that building incinerators created more jobs. Val Barton was unhappy with this statement. Mr Stevens went on to state that recycling created more jobs, as would waste minimisation. If the industry were made more efficient, it would create employment.

At this stage, the Chair thanked Mr Stevens for his presentation and attendance.