Waste industry set for change

"Forces for Change" - the theme of the IWM Conference & Exhibition 2000 at Torbay in June - was reflected both in the discussions within the conference and in the unveiling of new developments in equipment and services on show around the busy aisles of the showground. LAWE's special IWM 2000 Review highlights key points from speeches at the event.

In his Presidential Address, Roger Hewitt, IWM President 2000/2001, highlighted the economics of waste management, stating: “The disposal of waste, whether municipal, industrial / commercial or hazardous, is one of the cheapest services that can be purchased in the UK.

“It is mystery why a sector that has been subject to so much legislation and regulation, increasing standards of operation and control and a huge increase in the education and qualification standards and technical competence of the professionals employed in that industry can be charging so little for its service – public or private – when compared with the same service 20 years ago.”

The IWM President, referring to the Government’s recently launched Waste Strategy for England and Wales, said: “It is difficult to anticipate how the objectives of the Strategy will be achieved without the cost of waste management increasing dramatically in both the public and private sectors. Yet the Government has stated that it does not expect to see an increase In Council Tax to pay for the Strategy.”

He said that that currently the cost of municipal waste management (collection and disposal) is between £1 and £2 per household per week. Mr Hewitt added that Local Authorities have used the process of competitive tendering to keep the cost of collection and disposal down.

The IWM President continued: “It is difficult to envisage how they will finance recycling, composting and incineration schemes without government intervention in the form of subsidies or other funding arrangements with financing institutions. PFI may produce the seed capital, but subsidies and/or higher disposal charges will be required to produce the necessary cash flow to meet operating costs, to sustain financing arrangements and to bring about the required rates of return.”

Public sector view

The public sector perspective was presented to the IWM Conference by Cllr Kay Twitchen, Chairman, Waste and Environmental Management Executive, Local Government Association, who said: “The amount of municipal solid waste (MSW) arising is increasing by about 3% a year on average – it varies enormously around the country. This escalating problem presents major difficulties for Local Authorities, in their roles as waste collection and waste disposal, as well as, waste planning authorities.

“Against a background of underfunding, they have battled just to accommodate the disposal of household (and a small element of commercial) waste.

“Traditionally, landfill has been cheap and plentiful in many parts of the country, offering a ready solution for both rural and urban waste. But times are changing. I believe that good, well-engineered landfill can meet the needs of society and the environment, but the suitability of landfill as the main plank of the UK’s waste disposal system, is increasingly being challenged. In many parts of the country we are running short of landfill availability. In any event, we have the European Landfill Directive to consider.”

Cllr Twitchen acknowledged that the waste management infrastructure we have at the moment was inadequate. She detailed the cost of what was needed to put in place, such as kerbside segregated collection, amenity sites which encouraged users to separate their refuse for recycling, composting schemes, which, she commented “do not pay for themselves”.

One solution in helping Local Authorities to take action and to improve and modernise their infrastructure, was partnerships between the public, private and voluntary sectors.

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