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Coming Clean Over Recycled

As reported in MQR last year, the data on which the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) made its claims of progress in C&D waste recycling were “not wholly accurate”, according to the authors. Now, in an interview with MQR after the launch of the report on the Effectiveness Review of the Sustainable Development Scheme, Wales’ Minister for Environment, Sustainability and Housing Jane Davidson, admits the Principality has not advanced aggregate recycling as much as it should have. But she has a range of policies to change that and even plans to go face to face to make it happen.

In fact, so intransigent has been the attitude of public officials in specifying recycled material that the WAG had to use some carefully crafted press releases to cover up the fact local authorities were dragging their heels.

For example, in response to the release of the latest set of figures on the processing of C&D waste across the Principality from Faber Maunsell last July, Jane Davidson , Minister for Environment,Sustainability and Housing, had the following to say.

“The findings suggest that policies to promote recycling are working together with the Landfill Tax and the Aggregates Levy in minimising waste and encouraging the prudent use of natural resources amongst the Welsh construction industry (MQR’s italics).”

While the private construction industry may had warmed to the cost reduction benefits of recycled material, the engineers in highways departments and other related sections of local authorities had not.

So, anyone enquiring about C&D waste processing was referred to the Faber Maunsell figures stating that total waste arisings used as recycled aggregates grew from 2.68 million tonnes in 2003 to 4.46 million tonnes in 2005. But the data are flawed.

While there was a 44% response rate to the enquiry for information in the biennial research project, only 15% of the data were usable. The Faber Maunsell researchers told MQR last July that the numbers were “not wholly accurate”. A little like the WAG’s rosy view of aggregate recycling across Wales, some say.

But you can only base policy on the data available. Even 15% of 44% is better than nothing. And recyclers have a large part to play in the poor figures. If more had responded we would all have a better picture of what is happening across Wales.

Twelve months on and the Minister is being a little more open about the figures than she was in the initial press statements. “We need to take them with a pinch of salt as they are based on limited returns,”she says.

When the 15% usable data figure is mentioned in relation to there turns in the survey she distances herself from the findings even further: “I can’t say, I am just reading the figures. The report pre-dates me you see.”

In fact, the subject of recycled aggregates brings an almostuneasy verbal foot-shuffling.The WAG’s attention, it appears, as been elsewhere: “It is true to say I have been very, very focused on local authorities and the municipal waste issue.

“We are looking for a big increase of 70% recycling output by 2025 from authorities on municipal waste and we also want the same in industrial waste. We are aware that the recycling of aggregates is not as advanced here as it is in other parts of the UK.

”So, does she acknowledge that public sector lack of specifying is part of the problem? Yes, she does. And she has plans for dealing with it through the next stage of the WAG’s Wise About Waste campaign starting this autumn.

Davidson: “It is absolutely true to say there are still people in local authorities who are wedded to virgin aggregates when secondary and recycled can do the same job and have a far better climatechange contribution.

“I am hearing these anecdotal problems with highways….I think I will have to do what I have done on the municipal waste issue,which is to go around all local authorities and talk to them about what they are doing from this autumn.

“We also have to look at other areas to bring about change such as how we fund authorities. The Welsh Assembly Government issure it is joining up its policies and we want all public organisations we fund to be joining up these policies as well,” she told MQR.

Securing accurate figures on CDE recycling is also“part of our thinking”, she says, and that a drive towards improvement would be facilitated by the WAG’s “…general mineral safe guarding policy in relation to local development plans”, hinting at a more systematic approach to data collection.

This promised tightening up of aggregate recycling across Wales is driven by WAG’s Sustainable Development Scheme. A report released in mid-July on the effectiveness review of the scheme stated that much more could be done on sustainability including the setting of targets, objectives and timescales to produce “a clear pathway”.

Wales’ Government is rare in that it has a duty to promote sustainable development. Davidson is lead minister on sustainable development and climate change and she is spearheading the rewriting of the scheme.

She defines the rewrite as “…a high level strategic statement encompassing those who receive funding from us such as local authorities and others.” It will be a mixture of sticks and carrots to ensure stakeholders step into line.

She says: “Underneath it we will be looking at specificactions. It is all part of the climate change agenda. We have targets to meet by 2011. This means there will be a number of instructions going out and requests.

“We will report to the Government every year on carbon reduction and performance of authorities will form part of this. Climate is a critical mechanism here and local development plans need to be in place by 2010.

“Waste is an element of that. We are moving all these policies in the same way. It will all work to move the pattern of supply,” she told MQR.

It all sounds potentially more positive for aggregate recyclers. Allan Shepherd, Tarmac’s recycling director, for one, welcomed her comments.“We come up against a lot of reluctance to change on the part of highways engineers,” he told MQR.

The lack of desire to specify recycled on part of local authorities across Wales is doing more than just hampering landfill reduction.

There is also a matter of missed investment opportunities. Clive Holloway, MD of Sustainable Aggregates is a good example.

Welshman Holloway operates two recycling facilities, one in Avon mouth and another near Gatwick Airport, and has plans to open a further four to six sites a year over the next four years.

He is currently evaluating customer requests to set up three facilities in Wales – two in the South and one in the North. Each would require investment of over £1million and provide long term employment for up to 15 people. However, it is too risky, he says.

“In order for us to invest in Wales there must obviously be sound commercial rational to justify the investment and commitment…With the help and commitment from the WAG we may be able to get to that position, otherwise I fear we in Wales will be filling the role of bridesmaids once again,” he told MQR.

Together with the promotion of recycled, Davidson is seeking to reduce primary material consents and is keen to stress to local communities that mineral safe guarding is not the same as allowing permissions.

And she is having to play tough with a number of local authorities dragging their heels over unitary development plans. At the time of writing Powys, Breacon, Ceredigion and Caerphilly councils were still refusing to safeguard certain minerals. She plans to strong arm them into line.

“Aggregates are essential to the economic health of a country,” she says. “Our major task in their supply is to ensure it is managed in a sustainable way. It is about finding the best balance between economic, social and environmental considerations.

“We need proper processes to move away from the traditional pattern of aggregates supply to a sustainable one with more environmentally sensitive areas for extraction. We need to reduce the use of primary aggregates and minimise the use of transport.”

Davidson says she is in the process of producing a further target figure for recycled and secondary material use beyond 2009. “We want to make sure this is top of the hierarchy with recycled and secondary at the top of the list, being utilised in preference to primary aggregates wherever possible,” she says.

But it is the “wherever possible” part of the equation that could be difficult to determine if recyclers deem it uneconomical to invest in CDE operations across Wales. South Wales has already met its 25% CDE recycling target for 2009 – judged by the Faber Maunsell figures – but not North Wales.

According to the North Wales Regional Aggregates Working Party, North Wales could reach its target but only “…if slate waste utilisation continues as planned”.Welsh slate is one of the biggest resources for secondary aggregate in the UK.

However, with its current exemption from the aggregates levy, Welsh slate is being shipped to Merseyside and even, some claim,Birmingham. Hardly the low carbon image the WAG has for the future of Wales.

But it is a situation Davidson says she knows nothing about. “The only time slate waste has come up with me as a minister is in terms of it not being eligible for the aggregates levy,” she told MQR.

A spokesperson for the WAG said after the interview: “We encourage the use of slate waste as a substitute for primary aggregates where this is environmentally acceptable. And slate waste is becoming more attractive economically."

But as local CDE processing capacity across England grows and if fuel prices continue to grow, it is a moot point to ask how economical this will continue to be, with or without investment in Welsh rail infrastructure to ship it out of the country.

Also, slate waste raises the question of how Wales defines sustainability. The roofing slate industry produces around 100 tonnes of waste for every 1tonne of product. Hardly an operation the WAG would define as sustainable.

Slate waste is a material allowed in highways works in layers such as sub-base. But even if reticent highways engineers specified it after Davidson’s campaign in the Autumn, the waste is clustered in rural areas.

The carbon footprint of transporting it – in the areas it is transportable – would in many cases be larger than using nearby primary material. It is a huge problem that needs to be solved if Wales is to be led by sustainable development and carbon reduction.

And the WAG’s curtailing of future consents doesn’t deal with those that already exist. Wales is not short of quarries. Primary material is plentiful, much of it being exported to England. Doubtless many major projects could easily find workings nearby.

Unless investment is made in infrastructure to enable the greater utilisation of slate waste and Davidson holds good on her word to pressure local authorities into action, her “wherever possible” could become just an empty phrase.


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