Showing posts with label waste. Show all posts
Showing posts with label waste. Show all posts

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Waste of effort

As previously noted on this blog, the only true beneficiaries of 'recycling' domestic waste are those companies with a stake in waste collection and processing. The EU directive concerned only sets targets for the percentage of recyclable waste collected, not the percentage actually recycled. As a consequence, as long as waste collection authorities collect recyclables separately, they are then free to dispose of the arisings as they wish - as fuel for a CHP plant, to landfill, or for sale. Further, as the High Court in Cardiff has now ruled,  there is no requirement to split the collection of recyclables. All recyclable waste can go in a single bin. 

A consortium of green do-gooders and minor waste industry players had sought judicial review to enforce the separate collection of five different recyclable waste streams. They failed. What's notable, however, is that all the big waste players were absent from the joint action; the international manufacturers and patent-holders of wheely bins, the constructors and operators of massive and expensive automated waste sorting plants (MRFs), the makers of waste collection vehicle bodies and gear, the manufacturers of anaerobic digestion plants were nowhere to be seen. Indeed, they will find the High Court's ruling most unwelcome, and the attempted action ill-advised. 

The big boys prefer to operate through the industry bodies, through Whitehall and by lobbying Mr Pickles. They cultivate waste management contacts with local councils, and they seek to persuade all concerned that the Waste Directive requires massive public investment to satisfy.  Some councils and administrations are more gullible than others. My own, Lewisham, has only ever required the separation of two waste streams. Other councils have jumped the gun and already issue a plethora of bags, boxes and containers. The recent High Court ruling now leaves such eager gold-platers with the prospect of explaining to voters why they're spending so much money when there's no need to. Even DEFRA admits that much of the recyclable waste collected is unusable, unsaleable or there's no market for it.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

The waste of waste

Finally, it seems, DEFRA are admitting what this blog has been saying for some years - that our entire domestic waste recycling regime is an utter waste of time and money. The EU Waste Framework Directive, the pernicious piece of nonsense behind the whole thing, sets targets for the government, through the local councils, for the percentage of waste that is recycled. Or, rather, intended to be recycled. For the measure is taken at the point of collection, not of disposal. As long as councils collect their quota of recycled waste, they can then send it all to landfill along with the rest of the waste. There are no targets for the percentage of domestic waste actually recycled.

So who benefits from this pointless legislation? Well, principally a German company called Schneider, Europe's largest roto-moulders of wheelie bins. The chances are at least one of the three wheelie bins you're likely to have cluttering your driveway was made by Schneider. And as the company hold all the patents on wheelie bins, they even make royalties when the bins are manufactured by other firms. Their triumph has been in Europe's decisions to equip each Eurohousehold not with one 240l bin but three 120l bins, whose carefully segregated contents are then all dumped in the same pile at the waste depot. So whilst the EU wants us on the one hand to dramatically curb our use of flimsy 5g plastic carrier bags, it legislates on the other to quadruple the use of plastic at 14,000g a time for new wheelie bins. There will soon be one 120l wheelie bin for every citizen in the EU; seven thousand tonnes of plastic, enough for 1.4 billion carrier bags, or 2,800 carrier bags for each and every citizen in the EU. You couldn't make it up. 

Thursday, 10 January 2013

How much is half a pint of rancid milk worth?

First there was WRAP, the egregious quango spending millions of tax money to tell us we were throwing away edible food. Now the mechanical engineers have left their worm gears and eccentric shafts (sorry Mr Allis, journals) to report on food waste

Both seem to make the mistake I've commented on previously, assuming (for the purpose of a headline-grabbing figure) that food waste is worth the same as food. It isn't. Half a pint of rancid milk isn't worth half the cost of a fresh pint; potato peelings aren't worth the same as whole spuds, nor beef bones the same as a whole rib roast. Most of the food waste we produce is inedible, by-products of preparation such as peel or carrot tops or chicken carcasses, or stuff that's too old. 

In fact the IME acknowledge that only a tenth of the £480 'worth' of food thrown away by each family is edible. That makes £48 a year. Or about a pound a week. But I guess the headline "British families throw away £1 a week each of edible food" isn't what they're after.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Waste. It's what we do.

If anyone doesn't know what a BBC live broadcast involves, take a walk down Bedfordbury, the lane at the rear of the London Coliseum, regularly. There's the artic with the van-sized generator to power the tape recorder, two huge BBC 'control' pantechnicons that look as if you wouldn't get much change from a million if you wanted to buy one, then two or three other large trucks, and thick snakes and ropes of cables like fire hoses connecting everything together. Inside they've got the stage and orchestra pit rigged up with mics so sensitive that they can pick up whether the second violin is breathing through his nose or not, and the PR people have found a chair-scraper and a throat-clearer in the audience and they too have been wired with mics, to be faded-up just as the first chord sounds. Every single little nano-hertz of pitch and range, every micro-decibel of distant roof echo is captured. Then they broadcast it on muddy, low-quality digital radio to people in cars whose speakers cost 60p from China. 


So when, in relation to making cuts, the BBC choose to broadcast fewer R3 live concerts (hurting the listener) rather than changing the archaic way in which they operate you know they really haven't got the message. If Sky Classic (say) got the job, they'd service it with a transit van and two blokes, and the audible result would be indistinguishable from the BBC's broadcast output. 

Monday, 1 August 2011

Stupidity or Naivety?

The Royal Parks Agency aren't the first organisation to try to ask the public 'please take your litter home with you'; those infuriatingly moronic station platform drones that warn you that your luggage may be damaged or destroyed by the security service also ask the same thing. The result is invariably similar, as anyone with an ounce of nous could predict; people are reminded to jettison immediately whatever rubbish they have around their person. 


Look, the deal is simple. When we're out, we'll buy ice creams and burgers from your astonishingly overpriced franchises; we'll spend a fortune on cardboard containers that purport to contain coffee, we'll buy newspapers and magazines from your concession stands. All we ask in return is that you provide a sufficient number of large capacity rubbish receptacles around the place for us to dump the waste in. You must be either stupid or naive in the extreme to imagine that we're going to cart a festering putrescent burger wrapper all the way home to dispose of in our own over-regulated, prodnose monitored wheely bin.  


The Royal Parks Agency may be 'disgusted' that park users didn't take their rubbish home at the weekend. Park users, I suspect, are equally disgusted that the RPA didn't provide skips at all the park entrances for them to leave their rubbish in. As usual, it all comes down to the EU and their myopic and counterfactual policy on landfill. The answer to both the Royal Parks and rail companies fiscal costs is the withdrawal of the UK from the EU, not to transfer the costs of refuse disposal to householders and councils.   

Saturday, 11 June 2011

The economics of refuse collection

It is, paradoxically, good news that Eric Pickles has failed in an effort to force local councils to collect domestic refuse every week. Not that weekly collection, or even daily collection, is a bad thing, but it is no business of central government, and certainly no business of the EU, to micromanage local arrangements for refuse collection and disposal. 


For decades, the unit costs of refuse collection in real terms have fallen. Initially, in response to high labour costs, dustbins were no longer collected from back doors but had to be moved to the edge of the curtilage for collection. Then black sacks* at the edge of curtilage, then black sacks at edge of footway, then wheely bins at edge of footway. At the same time refuse freighters got bigger and were fitted with compactors to reduce the number of trips to discharge. Now that transport and fuel costs are the challenge, economies are being made with the freighters themselves. These long-run cost adjustments saw the annual cost of refuse collection fall to around £30 per household - the price of a couple of cinema tickets. Not bad in anyone's book. And there were no appreciable economies of scale; the minimum economic size of a refuse collection round is one that keeps one crew and one vehicle fully employed and further savings from running 1,000 are marginal. So a perfect local service.
It was, of course, the EU that distorted the whole thing to the great cost of British householders. First with recycling targets, and then with landfill reduction targets. Recycling targets have pretty well doubled collection costs - to collect separate waste streams you need pretty well twice as many vehicles and crews for the same overall mass of refuse. Or you need to halve collection frequency with the same fleet. Landfill targets have hit disposal costs with the imposition of a punitive landfill tax. The offsetting income from the sale of recycled material has been minimal, and certainly hasn't covered the increased collection and disposal costs.


The positive externalities, the environmental benefits, simply don't stack up. Firstly, there's absolutely no shortage of landfill in the UK. Secondly, much of the waste collected as 'recyclable' isn't. It's either too contaminated or too poor quality to be sold, or there's no market for it, or even that (councils being institutionally dim-witted) it actually degrades the environment. Councils converting collected garden waste to compost, for example, in open windrowed heaps are actually causing 16x more dangerous greenhouse gas (methane) to be emitted  than had the householder burned it on a back-garden bonfire (CO2). So massive volumes of 'recyclable' material actually ends up in landfill. The only reason it's collected is that the EU counts the %age of recyclable waste collected, not the %age of waste recycled. Once you've collected your target, you can tick the box and dump it to landfill. 


Let's hope for a long, hot, sweltering Summer with several 'Unite' strikes thrown in; as putrescent waste rots into a heaving mass of maggots and stench in the fortnightly wheely bins and overflowing waste spills fox-strewn across the footways with used nappies stuck to the soles of householders' trainers and black clouds of bluebottles filling every kitchen. Only then will the real impact of the EU on ordinary lives be apparent. 


*I once sat in an Edinburgh tea room to overhear two elderly Morningside ladies discussing whether they were getting enough 'blaeck sex'. After spluttering my coffee I worked out they were not discussing ebony lovin'. 

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

New EU energy labels: A guide

Minimising resource use is often counter-intuitive. For example, I moved into my present home fifteen years ago to find one of those slim wall-mounted WC cisterns that delivered a 3 litre trickle when the button was pressed. You had to flush it six times to get rid of a paper hanky. I replaced it immediately with an illegally modified high-level cistern that delivers 10 litres each flush, with a 2m head; powerful enough to drive an MP's fat wallet round the bend and into the downpipe. The water saving over 15 years is enough to supply a small African village. 


The new Compulsory EU energy labelling regime is just taking hold. It's pointless. The factors people use when deciding a purchase of white goods are (1) dimensions - will it fit the space (2) finish - will it complement the decor and (3) capacity / speed / power / ease of use - will it make my life easier. The 'green' rating is nowhere. Which means our feudal lords are spending millions of our money in utterly pointless regulation; scrapping the energy labels would actually save more resources than printing them. 


So for anyone still confused over energy labelling, here's what it means:

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Booker on the recycling con

Christopher Booker's Telegraph column usefully sums up the pointlessness of the UK's recycling strategy; a con, a bluff, all smoke and mirrors, and cruelly abusive of the credulity of the public upon whom the effectiveness of the con trick depends. 


As he points out, to meet their government targets council's don't actually have to recycle anything at all, don't actually have to dispose of waste to recycling. The entire target is based on the %age of waste collected for recycling. Once a council has collected 20% or whatever, it can then burn it, send it to landfill or, in the case of old electrical waste and tyres, ship it abroad for dumping in the third world. 


If you register on  http://www.wastedataflow.org/ you can look at your own council's actual performance, even counting the tonnage of 'recycling' collected from street litter bins. If they're only a 'waste collection authority' and not also a 'waste disposal authority' you then pretty well lose track of what happens to the waste. But even if the waste is recorded as disposed of with a recycler, there's no assurance that it's recycled - it's could be just a convenient intermediate step on the road to landfill - not a bad thing at all, but just a crooked process that lines many intermediate crooked pockets. 


As to who benefits from this gigantic con trick, who gets the £10bn investment the CBI says is needed, and the £8bn a year running cost, look no further than the big commercial waste handling and processing firms, the German rotomoulders of wheely bins, the French developers of automated waste sorting machinery and their spin-offs. 


As to who pays - why, we do, of course. 

Saturday, 5 February 2011

No shortage of landfill in the UK - update

Warning: long, techy post updating this 2008 post


How much waste needs to go to landfill?


When talking about waste and landfill there are a few basic definitions that need to be understood to make sense of it all. The first is to understand the term arisings. Included in the figures for arisings is waste that's immediately reused or relocated on site, such as the product of dredging a river or canal which is deposited on the bank, unsaleable mineral and mining waste that is dumped elsewhere within the mine or quarry, and construction and demolition waste that is spread on site or crushed and reused elsewhere. Waste arisings from industrial processes frequently have a residual value and are re-sold or reused, and other industrial and commercial waste can be profitably recycled. Thus of the estimated 335 million tonnes of waste arising in the UK each year, only a small fraction needs to be disposed of. 


Secondly, not all waste that needs to be disposed of can be sent to landfill. Medical, clinical and biohazardous waste needs to be incinerated and toxic and radioactive waste similarly needs special treatment. However, both these categories are so small in overall tonnage terms that they can be ignored. Of the remaining waste for disposal, much will be inert, such as demolition rubble, and can be disposed of near to people and close to watercourses without risk. The remainder of household, commercial and industrial waste that may rot or that contains pollutants or products of decomposition that fall below hazardous can be disposed of in dry landfill. So how much of that 335 million tonnes needs to go to landfill altogether?


From DEFRA's published figures here, here and here, the annual totals are:

Waste to landfill UK Million Tonnes
Household waste (2006) 22.46
Construction and demolition (2005) 28.00
Commercial and Industrial (2009) 11.30
Total 61.76


In fact, the household figure is too high; it's actually the figure for what's termed municipal waste and includes both household waste and a proportion of commercial and industrial waste where councils collect and dispose of this as well, so there's some double-counting. But no matter, let's stick with the higher total.


Where does the landfill capacity come from?


Landfill sites come mainly from the activities of quarrying and minerals extraction - holes in the ground. Generally, hard-rock and opencast coal sites will tend to be dry and suitable for all types of non-hazardous waste whilst sand and gravel workings are frequently close to the water table and will be mainly suitable only for inert waste. The following figures are for the annual quantities of products sold, i.e. the quantity of space created by materials leaving the quarry gate. Unsold excavated material that is redistributed elsewhere in the workings is not included.


UK Million Tonnes Density tonnes/m3 UK Million Cubic Metres
Opencast coal 9.51 1.50 6.34
Land-won sand and gravel 66.64 1.65 40.39
Crushed Rock (note 1) 128.00 2.60 49.23
Clay and Shale 6.47 2.00 3.23
Limestone & Chalk 23.62 2.55 9.26
Other 11.72 2.00 5.86
Total 245.95
114.31




1. Assume 50% limestone, 35% igneous rock, 15% gravel






Source: British Geological Survey, UK Minerals Yearbook 2009


Excludes Marine dredged aggregate, Peat, Rock Salt




You will have noticed I've converted tonnage to capacity; this is important in the next section, in which we compare the capacity of annual space created against the capacity of waste requiring landfill disposal. But you will see that we take some 246 million tonnes of stuff out of holes in the ground each year and need to put 62 million tonnes of stuff back in. 


Is landfill in the UK running out?


This is where we need to watch our figures. Firstly, we have lots of empty holes in the ground left over from two centuries of industry and development. So total capacity is the sum of the existing capacity plus the new capacity created each year. Then there's a big difference between licensed existing landfill capacity and actual existing landfill capacity; not all quarries and mineral workings are licensed to receive waste. And then there's the frustration that England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all report their licensed capacity separately, and whilst England and Wales report in terms of volume, Scotland reports in tonnage terms. 


The mass density of compacted household waste will vary widely, but from a number of studies a density of around 0.77 tonnes / cubic metre can be assumed. Construction and demolition waste will be denser,  around 1.0 tonnes / cubic metre. 


First, existing licensed capacity is as follows;

Licenced existing landfill capacity



Million tonnes Conversion factor Million Cubic Metres
England and Wales (2006) n/a n/a 693.73
Scotland (2009) 146.32 0.85 124.37
Northern Ireland (2005) 1 0.85 0.85
Total

818.95
(Sources here here and here)


Now converting our annual waste streams to volume;

Waste to landfill UK Million Tonnes Conversion factor Million Cubic Metres
Household waste (2006) 22.46 0.77 29.17
Construction and demolition (2005) 28.00 1 28
Commercial and Industrial (2009) 11.30 0.77 14.68
Total 61.76
71.84


Conclusion


1. The UK has some 819 million cubic metres of licensed landfill capacity, sufficient for over 11 years of waste at current levels
2. The UK's potential landfill capacity is increasing at the rate of 114 million cubic metres a year, a surplus of some 42 million cubic metres a year over and above our annual landfill waste disposal needs
3. There is no shortage of landfill in the UK. 


Given the above, if you fancy fisking silly, poorly researched scare stories such as this one in the Guardian, be my guest. I can't be arsed. 

Monday, 19 July 2010

Time to end free NHS treatment for illegals

It seems everyone knows except our government. And the BBC.

During a Radio 4 mini-documentary on immigrants, a young illegal Brazilian couple with child were interviewed. Both worked hard but illegally, neither paid any income tax or NI, and they were living in 'grey market' social housing. If what the UK really needed was unskilled and uneducated workers, these two would have been ideal candidates for legalisation. But it was when the interviewer asked about the child's birth. "In the maternity hospital, of course" they replied. "Didn't they ask any questions about your immigration status?" the incredulous interviewer asked. "Of course not!" they snorted.

Visit the maternity wards at Lewisham hospital and you'll enter one vast farrowing pen for Nigerian village girls. From their point of view, coming to the UK to have their babies in conditions of high quality medical care, and for free, makes absolute sense. In Nigeria, a health insurance scheme operates, excluding most except government employees, and 20% of children die before the age of five. Wouldn't you lie, cheat and fraudulently manipulate your way to the UK under such circumstances?

The problem is, this is costing us billions. Yes, billions. Billions we can't afford.

The NHS staff who are responsible, from the GPs' surgery that accepts anyone with an address to its lists to hospitals that maintain a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy on immigration status, are without doubt good and well meaning people. They are healers and carers, and their job is to heal and care for all. But they don't pay for it - our imperilled economy does.

Individual voter registration gives us the opportunity to comb-out the million-plus illegals in the country. An audit of GPs' lists, with per capita payments only made for those of proven immigration or resident status, would also help solve the problem. But more than anything, a tough-love regime at the reception points of our NHS hospitals with stringent checks and a requirement for payment in full in advance for treatments given to ineligible patients will end this spendthrift waste. The US can do it, so can we.

Friday, 16 July 2010

'It's what we do'

Knock - Knock

"Hello?"

"Hi! I'm from the BBC and my name is Caroline Thompson. Sorry to disturb you, but I've popped over to Loamshire Road today to pick up my taxi costs."

"Your what?"

"My taxi costs. For the last three months. Split between the 23 houses in your road, it comes to £145.50 each. Cash is good, but I've got a thing to take cards with, if you'd prefer"

"You spent £3,400 of our money on taxis? In three months?"

"I assure you it represents good value - I can make work phone calls from the taxi, you know."

"How did you get here?"

"Um, taxi. He's waiting over there. He's a real sweetie - I've still got sixteen houses to visit"

"You've squandered my entire annual licence fee on your cab fares for one single working day?"

"Oh yes! It's what we do!"

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Caroline Spelman is deluded

Caroline Spelman is seriously deluded if she believes that landfill is a bad thing. Clearly, she's gone native already, having abandoned her common sense to the mendacious nonsense whispered to her by her Federast civil servants. And she's even more deluded if she thinks people like me will ever collect food waste in slop buckets. Lewisham council's light touch on waste collection, weekly collection with recycling being voluntary, has made it very popular with the voters, though unpopular with Spelman's civil servants as it has the lowest recycling rate in London.

I hope Spelman realises that it's not compulsory to give your waste to the council. If mine starts any of that slop-bucket nonsense, I'll simply move over to incinerating any waste that will burn, and binning the rest in a single bin hired from one of the commercial firms, to go to landfill. Yes, it will cost a little extra, but worth paying for.

Monday, 1 December 2008

14 more massive landfill sites to come on stream

Just when the nation's councils were wondering where to dump all the waste paper they're collecting comes news of 14 new approvals for opencast coal mines last year. These holes in the ground will be massive; as the BBC report says:
In the case of the Delhi opencast mine in Northumberland, where two million tons of coal have been carved out of the ground in six years, the hole is as deep as a tower block and nearly half a mile (0.8km) long.
Now if only this lunatic government (coerced by a lunatic EU, it must be said) stopped charging £48 a tonne tax for filling them up, we might see a reduction in council tax ...

Saturday, 22 November 2008

This rubbish stinks

It was only a few years ago that steel was so cheap there was no market for old cars to be bought as scrap. Owners of old bangers were faced with having to pay scrapyards to take them, or for the feckless the choice of torching them on odd pieces of urban land. There's a cul de sac on the way to my local station that every week used to greet Monday morning commuters with a burned out
car.

During the boom, councils driven by EU stupidity have set up vast recycling schemes across the country; millions of additional wheelie bins have been bought and distributed, expensive waste recycling plants and yards constructed and a national infrastructure developed. Now, of course, the entire market has collapsed. Prices for paper, metal and plastics have hit rock bottom. Glass cullet for some reason remains viable, but I fear not for much longer. And no one's admitting it yet, but the truth is for the next couple of years at least all those cans, papers and plastics that you so painfully segregate on pain of a fine from the Bin Police will have to go to landfill or be 'stored' in huge windrows on redundant airfields. And I'll bet it won't be long before the burned out cars reappear around the place.

Now of course there's no shortage of landfill in the UK; our mineral extraction activity puts the system into equilibrium. And in theory it should be cheap to dump all this recycled rubbish along with our food waste and soiled nappies in holes in the ground. We can even cap the dumps off with a metre of clay, push pipes through and collect the free methane. But the EU forbids us from doing so; the Landfill Tax will rise next year to £48 / tonne. So your council will shortly be raising your council tax to pay for an artificial tax for dumping recycled waste into free holes we already have. I've blogged on this inanity before - see 'No shortgage of landfill in the UK'.

Oh, and you're already paying for thousands of extra dustcarts, thousands of additional staff and all the expensive infrastructure which will now stand idle. And this lunatic government are shortly to force all home in Britain to hand over their food scraps and rotting veg to the council at even greater cost in new 'caddies', staff and vehicles.

How we ever acceded to this insanity is utterly beyond me.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Tip for Peter Ainsworth MP; look here

The Telegraph reports that Cameron has asked his front bench to find a few moments in their busy private business schedules to comb through Whitehall budgets for savings in their policy areas. Well, here's a start for Peter Ainsworth, shadow DEFRA minister. Back in July I looked in detail at just one area, food and farming regulation. I estimated that the direct national costs of regulation are about £2bn annually; add the costs of compliance, and the cost is terrifying. Here, for example, are the quangos that Whitehall has set up to blur the costs;

- School Food Trust
- Agricultural Wages Board for England and Wales
- Agricultural Wages Committees for England x 15
- British Potato Council
- Food from Britain
- Gangmasters Licensing Authority
- Home Grown Cereals Authority
- Horticulture Development Council
- Meat and Livestock Commission
- Milk Development Council
- Sea Fish Industry Authority
- Wine Standards Board
- Advisory Committee on Organic Standards
- Advisory Committee on Packaging
- Advisory Committee on Pesticides
- Agricultural Dwelling House Advisory Committees x 18
- Animal Health and Welfare Strategy England Implementation Group
- Committee of Investigation for Great Britain
- Committee on Agricultural Valuation
- Consumers’ Committee for Great Britain under the Agriculture Marketing Act 1958
- Farm Animal Welfare Council
- Hill Farming Advisory Committee for England, Wales and Northern Ireland
- Independent Agricultural Appeals Panel
- Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB
- Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee
- Agricultural Land Tribunals
- Commons Commissioners
- Dairy Produce Quota Tribunal
- Plant Varieties and Seeds Tribunal
- Alcohol Education and Research Council
- Committee on Carcinogenicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment
- Committee on Mutagenicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment
- Herbal Medicines Advisory Committee
- Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition
- Advisory Committee on Animal Feedstuffs
- Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes
- Advisory Committee on Research
- Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food
- Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment
- Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP)
- Expert Group on Vitamins and Minerals
- WRAP (minimisation of food waste)
- Marine & Fisheries Agency
- Rural Payments Agency
- Animal Health

All providing lots of jobs for the boys (and girls). And as Yokel pointed out, these are just our national costs; add the cost of the European Food Standards Agency and the Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development, never mind our net contribution to CAP, and I reckon at least 15% of Dave's savings are available in this area alone.

Right, lick your pencils, lads ...

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Don't recycle, burn

For those of us with chimneys, the answer to any move to charge us by weight for refuse collected was always obvious. Those of my generation in particular, who grew up in households that barely filled one tiny galvanised dustbin a week with waste, will have been used to their parents disposing of anything flammable by throwing it on the open fire. The legend 'no hot ashes' no longer seems to be engraved on newer wheelie bins, but for many years what went into household bins was just that; ashes, and old tins.

The difference between then and now is the volume of plastic packaging in our waste. Burning plastics generates dioxins, which are bad things. The Mail reports on a suppressed government report that predicts the obvious; many people will burn their rubbish rather than pay extra for it. The pay as you throw scheme is always going to be unworkable anyway; fine for the coping classes who pay Council tax by direct debit, but how are they going to get the cash from the transient and underclass populations with no bank accounts and credit meters?

And with the exception of dioxin-producing wastes, there's nothing wrong with burning your waste and a great deal right. Instead of the Council burning tonnes of diesel and employing scores of men to shift your waste paper, burning it is not only carbon-neutral but actually saves a great deal of carbon - not only transport and handling carbon costs, but a saving in fossil fuels equivalent to the joules of heat produced. Without plastic packaging, and recycling everything else recyclable, I reckon the only stuff that need go in my refuse bin is ash.

The answer of course is for the supermarkets to substitute card and paper packaging for plastic so that we may burn it. And with stoves coming on line such as the Yorkshire Stove that can be used legally even in London and other Clean Air Act areas, there's no reason not to. Eighteen quid will buy one of those nifty paper log makers and every day the postman, the pizza leaflet delivery teams and the free local ad-papers will drop free fuel through your letter box.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

It's time to cut this Gordian Knot

There are times when I imagine that Mervyn Peake was not the tortured author of the Titus books but the management consultant who designed large parts of our government system. The tottering structure is so complex that the wails of 'nothing can be cut' can almost be believed. The quangos find cushy board jobs for 18,500 Labour appointees, employ a further 95,000 staff and cost about £37bn a year. Looking at the list of NDPBs in isolation one can almost believe them to be indispensable.

So, let's just take a quick look at just one area of government regulation and intervention - food. I'm no expert in this area, and this tour d'horizon is the result of a quick skim through the bodies that come most readily to mind.

What do we absolutely need to do collectively? (i.e. that cannot be left to individuals, communities or the market) in relation to food? I'd suggest (a) food security issues at a national level - that we can grow, harvest or import enough food to feed the population (b) adulteration - that consumers are reasonably protected from being poisoned, or sold bread made from sawdust rather than flour. And that's about it. Production, distribution and sale can be left to the market. So what are we actually being charged for by the State?

(1) The Food Standards Agency, current annual cost £135,680,000, describes its purpose as 'to protect the public's health and consumer interests in relation to food'

(2) In addition, each local authority employs Environmental Health Officers to inspect and licence premises preparing, storing, selling or serving food. Say 450 local authorities employing 6 EHOs each on this work at a per capita cost of say £45k including pension and employer's NI - £121,500,000

(3) DEFRA - The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs - is a big one. Its gross annual budget is £3,936,750,000, but only £2,225,760,000 is for the Whitehall department itself. Since they do water and litter as well as food, say 35% of this is food related; £779,016,000

(4) Food-related Quangos, Agencies and NDPBs:

- School Food Trust
- Agricultural Wages Board for England and Wales
- Agricultural Wages Committees for England x 15
- British Potato Council
- Food from Britain
- Gangmasters Licensing Authority
- Home Grown Cereals Authority
- Horticulture Development Council
- Meat and Livestock Commission
- Milk Development Council
- Sea Fish Industry Authority
- Wine Standards Board
- Advisory Committee on Organic Standards
- Advisory Committee on Packaging
- Advisory Committee on Pesticides
- Agricultural Dwelling House Advisory Committees x 18
- Animal Health and Welfare Strategy England Implementation Group
- Committee of Investigation for Great Britain
- Committee on Agricultural Valuation
- Consumers’ Committee for Great Britain under the Agriculture Marketing Act 1958
- Farm Animal Welfare Council
- Hill Farming Advisory Committee for England, Wales and Northern Ireland
- Independent Agricultural Appeals Panel
- Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB
- Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee
- Agricultural Land Tribunals
- Commons Commissioners
- Dairy Produce Quota Tribunal
- Plant Varieties and Seeds Tribunal
- Alcohol Education and Research Council
- Committee on Carcinogenicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment
- Committee on Mutagenicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment
- Herbal Medicines Advisory Committee
- Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition
- Advisory Committee on Animal Feedstuffs
- Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes
- Advisory Committee on Research
- Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food
- Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment
- Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP)
- Expert Group on Vitamins and Minerals
- WRAP (minimisation of food waste)
- Marine & Fisheries Agency
- Rural Payments Agency
- Animal Health

The final four cost £456,000,000 a year. The others on a quick count come to about £330,000,000 a year.

(5) The Environment Agency, with a fairly wide brief but which regulates farming through regimes such as Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ) compliance, water abstraction licences, discharge consents and farm waste regulations, and which regulates aspects of fisheries and fishing, has an annual budget of £796,000,000. Say 35% of this is related to food and farming; £279,000,000.

(6) Finally, the costs of compliance. There's no easy way of calculating the direct costs of compliance, or the opportunity costs of over-regulation. So I'll have to leave these out. Also all the other indirect regulatory costs related to food production, distribution and sale such as planning and transport, energy and health, and all the other Guardianista costs of 'safe eating advisors', 'sugar reduction workers', 'fat education outreach officers' and the like.

Right, totting the above costs up, I get £2,101,196,000 a year. That's probably equivalent to 7% of the annual value of the food we buy at retail cost; exclude retailers' transport costs, premises costs and overheads and profit and it's got to be over 10% on food value alone. Add the costs of compliance and the true costs become terrifying.

Turn him to any cause of policy,
The Gordian Knot of it he will unloose,
Familiar as his garter

And it's time to cut this Gordian Knot. We can pick at it forever, but a bold stroke is needed. Cameron must be prepared to take the blade to not only the mess of food regulation but the whole mess of national regulation. And with the exception of the strategic national policy aspect, the answer is local.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

No shortage of landfill in the UK

NB This piece has been updated 5th Feb 2011 - updated figures HERE


The Saudi religious police, officially known as the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, keep Saudi society under strict control by patrolling for such sins as women drivers or man and women talking to eachother in public. In 2002 14 Saudi schoolgirls were trapped in a burning building; nearby men were prevented from rescuing them by the religious police because they were not related. The girls died. Today in the UK we are starting to feel similar stifling and suffocating effects from the Bin Police. Overfill your bin, put a ketchup bottle in the wrong bin, leave it out an hour too early and you run the risk of a swingeing fine and possibly a criminal conviction. Plus the council's refuse manager can use RIPA to tap your phone and read your emails to check whether you boast to your aunt of hiding cabbage leaves in your non-food waste receptacle, or putting tetrapaks in your recycling bin.

The justification for this most illiberal and repressive enforcement of the trivial is that it's necessary, that the UK has run out of landfill capacity and we must reduce and recycle or die. Charging for refuse by the kg will be trialled before long; a splendid wheeze to extract even more money from the settled middle classes who pay their council tax by direct debit and won't notice an extra tenner a month going out, but howling lunacy if applied to the sort of drifting bedsit population that pays for its utilities through pre-payment meters.

We have always traditionally disposed of our waste through landfill, whether a midden at the bottom of the garden or a worked-out quarry. It's cheap, and as long as only inert waste is deposited near the water table, environmentally friendly. Now personally I loathe plastic packaging waste, and strongly support economic recycling; of course we should collect and re-use metals, glass and paper. But broken crockery, cat litter, paint tins, old furniture and the like still need to go somewhere, and a hole in the ground in which they can slowly degrade to their natural mineral elements is about the best place.

So just how critical is the UK's supply of landfill sites? Well, not very at all. We quarry about 260 million tonnes (mt) a year of land minerals, mostly limestone, granite and sand and gravel, plus 9mt a year of opencast coal. In terms of volume, that equates to new holes with a capacity of about 110 million cubic metres (mcm) a year. Our existing licenced holes have a capacity of about 700 mcm. We produce less than 100mcm of waste and refuse a year. The system, as scientists would say, is therefore in equilibrium.

There are regional imbalances, of course. In order to counter the south-east minerals 'drag', following the recommendations of the Albemarle Report many years ago, a policy of licencing superquarries in Scotland and the north and transporting their products directly by sea or rail to the south-east means that Scotland and the north have more holes than waste to fill them with. And the landfill 'push' from London which places additional demands on sites in the home counties means that the M25 area has more waste than holes. The solution to this is patently obvious. Why have ships and rail wagons returning to Scotland empty?

No. No natural problem, really. The 'crisis' has been created artificially by a combination of EU blind stupid regulation and the Labour government's cupidity. Tyres, for example, are now classed as 'hazardous' waste in the same class as hospital waste and strange glowing chemicals. Artificially witholding waste disposal licences from perfectly suitable holes in the ground creates an artificial shortgage. And the government have not only imposed an aggregates levy that taxes minerals coming out of the holes but a landfill tax that taxes waste going back in to fill them up. Landfill tax is currently £32 / tonne and will rise to £40 t next year and £48 t the year after. Local councils have to pay these charges, but receive nothing extra from government and are restricted from raising council taxes generally to pay for it. Small wonder, really, that the Bin Police have taken off in such a big way and that councils in London are looking at 10p/kg charge to cover not only these and fuel costs but the costs of compliance with Ken's emission charging scheme.

There's no crisis. Just Brown's stealth taxes.

References:
DEFRA landfill capacity pages
UK Minerals Yearbook 2006

Friday, 25 May 2007

How to fill the big holes in the ground

Cement is about the most environmentally unfriendly stuff you could invent. To manufacture a tonne of the stuff releases a tonne and a quarter of CO2 into the air. We use millions of tonnes a year; the Olympic site alone will be responsible for more CO2 than many African nations. But because all our cement is now made in Greece or China, the CO2 cost doesn't count as part of our national output. Neat, huh?

The other stuff we need for concrete is sand and gravel. We either dig this from big holes in the ground or dredge it from the seabed. Unlike cement, it cannot be economically imported. So the UK's big construction boom is still causing loads of big holes in the ground. In the old days we filled these up with rubbish, capped them off and turned them into country parks. Until the EU said No.


When I was a boy, the reasons our entire family barely filled a single old dustbin a week with rubbish were simple; supermarket packaging was primitive, and most flammable rubbish went on the fire in the fireplace with the back-boiler and therefore provided hot water. Glass jars were recycled for jam and chutney making, and bottles were returnable, some for money.
As I'm lucky enough to have a plenitude of chimneys here, the next step is to see if anyone still makes back-boilers; why did this incredibly sensible idea ever go out of fashion? Oh yes, cheap gas and electricity.