Three of the most relevant ministers for the waste and resource industry faced intense questioning on separate collections in a Lords’ inquiry on generating value from waste.
On 14 January, resource minister Dan Rogerson (above left), energy minister Michael Fallon (above centre) and climate change minister Gregory Barker (above right) presented evidence to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee in the fourth session of the inquiry.
Lord Willis of Knaresborough, Lib Dem (left), grilled the ministers on why England was not implementing a separated collection system for waste as happened in other parts of the UK.
“The key to getting value out of waste is in fact to have it separated at collection,” he said, “so there is not a costly process to disaggregating it in a facility.
“And yet it does not seem that the Government has a policy as of what should be separated, as for instance happens in Scotland or Wales. Why haven’t we done that?”
Rogerson replied that it was a matter for local authorities to decide what was appropriate in terms of collection, that household waste represented a small amount of the overall waste stream and that other actions could be taken to promote quality across the supply chain.
But Lord Willis insisted that separate collection would give industry the “maximum benefit” out of waste.
Fallon intervened acknowledging that the argument did “make a certain amount of sense”, but continued by praising what had been done by the Green Investment Bank (GIB) to promote innovation in the field of waste separation for example with its investment at Wakefield.
In January 2013 the GIB provided finance to Shanks for a £750m PFI project with the local authority for a project combining mechanical treatment, autoclave technology and anaerobic digestion.
But Willis continued to press the ministers. He said: “What I’m trying to get from you, is there a need for Government to look at its directions to local authorities and say these are the broad categories you need to separate in?”
Fallon replied that was “something that may well happen”.
The Lord continued by asking whether England should at least move faster to separate food waste collection. “Let’s have a policy somewhere instead of let things run,” he said.
The first defence of commingled collection systems came from Barker, some five minutes into the debate: “Anecdotally there are problems with separating at the point of the consumer, particularly with domestic waste, because it is not a very secure process, people mix-up reyclates (…) so there still need to be a further screening process.”
He maintained Government needed not to “stifle innovation” with too much regulation.
Rogerson later noted it was important for recycling companies to have “consistent feedstock” and this happened higher up in the waste supply chain.
From 1 January 2015, waste collectors must collect paper, glass, metal and plastic by separate collection in order to comply with the Waste Framework Directive. This is unless it is not technically, economically and environmentally practicable (TEEP) to do so, but English local authorities have not yet been given guidance on TEEP.