Answers to key questions on waste in Surrey

Produced by GAIN and independent waste consultants


Executive Summary
Question 1: What more can local government, and organisations like GAIN, do to reduce and reverse the growth in waste?
Question 2: How can we together increase the customer’s perception of the value of recyclable waste and the products derived format?
Question 3: What amount of waste will we be required to dispose of in the future?
Question 4: How and where should we dispose of this waste?


At the Community Waste Workshop organised by the Guildford Anti-Incinerator Network (GAIN) and attended by Borough, District and County Councillors on 19 July 2001, Councillor David Davis (Executive Member for the Environment) posed four questions which he asked GAIN to help in answering. In a subsequent letter to Colin Matthews, the chairman of GAIN, he laid out the questions in more depth along with some of his own views.

This report provides answers to these four key questions regarding the management of Surrey’s waste. It has been produced by GAIN in conjunction with independent waste consultants including Keith Collins. London’s new draft waste strategy [ref. 1] has also proved to be a valuable resource.

The report forms an immediate response to the four questions to carry the debate forward and to encourage further dialogue, co-operation and hopefully collaboration with all the parties involved in the management of Surrey’s waste.

Who needs to take follow-up action? In this report a number of recommendations have been made about what Surrey can do to address these four key issues relating to waste. It’s not always easy to work out who is responsible for taking such actions forward. Surrey is not a unitary authority, so the 11 District/Borough councils are responsible for collecting household waste (ie. as waste collection authorities) and Surrey County Council (SCC) has to make arrangements for the disposal of this waste after it leaves the refuse lorry (ie. as waste disposal authority). The 11 District/Borough councils have to decide how recyclable waste is collected. In 1999 SCC awarded a 25 year contract to Surrey Waste Management (SWM is a subsidiary of SITA), to treat and dispose of Surrey’s waste. As part of this contract SWM made a commitment to work with individuals, groups and the District/Borough Councils to implement a modern waste management hierarchy based on waste reduction, reuse and recycling. We believe that SCC, and specifically Councillor David Davis, has a duty to co-ordinate the efforts of the County Council, SWM and the 11 District/Borough councils to ensure that progress is made; we have therefore labelled these actions "SCC".

Executive Summary

We acknowledge the progress currently being made by some local authorities in Surrey to increase their levels of recycling and composting. However, most people recognise that throughout the county as a whole there is much more that can be done in terms of waste minimisation, reuse, recycling and composting.

In answering the four questions posed by Councillor Davis this report identifies a number of possible steps which could be taken by Surrey now to curb the growth in waste and maximise recycling/composting. Approaches to waste management have been rapidly changing throughout the industrialised world in the last 10 years. It is clear that old waste management techniques, such as incineration, that are based on "disposal" are now outdated; they are being replaced by waste "diversion" or "resource management" methods which are now proven alternatives. It’s not too late for Surrey to take this opportunity; all that’s needed is the political will to see it work here. Faced with the prospect of mass-burn incinerators in Surrey, there has never been a better time to harness the interest in waste that now exists in the County.


QUESTION 1: What more can local government, and organisations like GAIN, do to reduce and reverse the growth in waste?


  1. raise awareness by assisting and encouraging the public to participate in intensive recycling and composting schemes;
  2. we understand that a county-wide waste forum is going to be established as part of the work on a new Joint Municipal Waste Strategy (JMWS), SCC and the District/Borough Councils need to actively encourage community groups and independent waste consultants to taken part in the discussions;
  3. encourage home composting;
  4. subsidise a nappy laundering service;
  5. promote and reward waste reduction in businesses and communities;
  6. abandon policies providing for waste facilities based on the disputed figure of 3% per annum growth in household and commercial waste;
  7. SCC should provide more financial incentive to help Borough/District Councils in the provision of recycling/composting services;
  8. use the 100 million Private Finance Initiative (PFI) to develop new waste treatment facilities such as recycling and composting plants;
  9. SCC needs to put more effort into waste minimisation: "take a bag shopping" campaign, schools initiative on waste, partnership with milk distribution companies, welcome pack for new residents, council tax vouchers to encourage residents to do more recycling/waste reduction, waste awareness campaign and new bin designs for the home; and
  10. residents would recycle more if SCC demonstrated a commitment to listening to its customers by pursuing more environmentally acceptable waste strategies and policies.


QUESTION 2: How can we together increase the customer’s perception of the value of recyclable waste and the products derived from it?


  1. local authorities should lead by example by adopting ‘green procurement’ policies thus allowing people to discover for themselves that recycled products are not inferior
  2. promote public awareness and education campaigns, and allow the public to participate fully in recycling;
  3. work with community organisations/neighbourhood schemes to encourage recycling locally;
  4. persuade Borough/District Councils to work together and arrange joint, long-term contracts for recyclates which guarantee prices;
  5. develop markets for recycled material through the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP);
  6. invest in Civic Amenity sites to fundamentally change their image and rebrand them "Reuse and Recycling Centres"; and
  7. keep the public fully informed.


QUESTION 3: What amount of waste will we be required to dispose of in the future?


  1. we dispute that the best long-term recycling rates currently achieved elsewhere are approximately 50%, it’s more like 60%;
  2. we doubt the relevance of long term rates because the global move to intensive recycling is only 5 to 10 years old;
  3. communities are revising recycling targets higher and higher, with several now going for zero waste;
  4. residual waste might be 40% in 5 years and 20% in 10 years; at this stage it is presumptuous to say exactly what the residual amount will be and its composition;
  5. simply because there is residual waste does not mean that incineration is the best solution; incineration never even reaches 60% destruction of incoming municipal waste; and
  6. the amount of waste to be disposed of will depend on how much effort SCC puts into promoting recycling, re-use and composting.


QUESTION 4: How and where should we dispose of this waste?


  1. separation of waste at source with kerbside collection is the way forward, this should include the collection of biodegradable waste for centralised composting;
  2. we still have adequate landfill capacity for inert waste, it should be used carefully;
  3. SCC should consider using mechanical-biological treatment (MBT) to stabilise residual waste and produce compost, this should be done in conjunction with source separation;
  4. MBT is widely used in Austria, Germany, Belgium, Canada and Italy;
  5. the lead-time to construct an MBT plant is short compared with an incinerator, therefore the capital costs are significantly less with MBT;
  6. residents in Surrey have not yet been given adequate opportunity to participate in intensive recycling and composting programmes;
  7. local plants aimed at a town or two are preferable to massive centralised plants;
  8. SCC should also take a close look at anaerobic digestion; and
  9. pyrolysis should not be considered: its environmental performance and reliability have not been demonstrated on a commercial scale.


  1. We do not want Surrey to make the same mistake that others have made else whereby adopting incineration. For example, France has stopped building incinerators because of concerns over pollution and Germany is adopting mechanical-biological treatment (MBT) as an alternative to incineration;
  2. SCC and the District/Borough Councils need to actively encourage community groups and independent waste consultants to taken part in a county-wide waste forum as part of the work on a new Joint Municipal Waste Strategy (JMWS);
  3. we want intensive recycling and composting with separation at source and kerbside collection, SCC should provide more financial incentives to Borough/District Councils;
  4. SCC should follow the example of forward-thinking economies and use funds that are available to develop facilities for recycling, composting, re-use, waste minimisation and markets for recyclates rather than investing in out-dated disposal techniques such as incineration;
  5. SCC should engage expert waste consultants to pursue these matters further;
  6. meanwhile, SCC should introduce a moratorium on incineration.

Question 1: What more can local government, and organisations like GAIN, do to reduce and reverse the growth in waste?

1) We do not accept that both commercial and household waste is growing inexorably at a greater rate than the 3% per annum. The data for this alleged rate is based on a short period of time when there has been a switch from commercial to domestic streams via civic amenity sites due to the introduction of landfill tax [see memo DSW37 by Biffa Waste to Select Committee, ref.2]. Data collected by Essex Waste Disposal Authority supports this explanation. Experts at the Select Committee [ref. 2] argued strongly that the 3% compound rate of growth was an unreasonable measurement and a poor basis for projections. In addition to this there are already significant moves by SCC to limit he growth of new houses in Surrey. In terms of commercial waste the SCC’s Technical Paper 2 of the Review of the Surrey Waste Local Plan, acknowledges that figures are not accurately known. Furthermore, from an economist’s viewpoint, tonnage totals calculated on the basis of the late 90's boom years are not a sufficient basis for long-term projections. During a market downturn, the purchase of heavy consumer durables plummets.

2) Projections for the amount of waste produced (ie. waste arisings) are typically based on figures obtained from weighbridges at landfill sites. These measurements can be influenced by illicit shifting of commercial waste, and by the closure of smaller or out of County landfill sites as standards are tightened. The end result is that additional waste suddenly "appears" at landfills with weighbridges. Other nations, such as the USA, use a second method to check on the total waste arisings which looks at the origin of material that ends up as waste. This is done by measuring the weight of the goods (both domestic and imported) that are produced or manufactured, it has been found these tonnages are a good yardstick for long-term projections.

3) As a result of EU legislation, ‘producer responsibility payments’ have been introduced for packaging which require those involved in producing, using or distributing packaging to contribute funds towards achieving recycling targets. The step-by-step introduction of producer responsibility in Britain means that the materials sectors will be placed under pressure to be restrained. Targets on packaging are only just beginning to have an impact on waste reduction. With its recent extension to electronics goods it is clear from the EU that this producer responsibility process is going to extend across more materials over the next few years. Producers will need to redesign their products accordingly. The result is expected to be a further reduction in waste arisings.

4) We believe that separation of waste at source with kerbside collection is the best way to deal with municipal waste. To reduce waste, local authorities must assist and encourage people to participate fully in local recycling and composting schemes. Once people become more informed about waste issues, new businesses for handling materials begin to emerge with incentives to develop more innovative re-use systems. Once people begin to divert 50% to 75% of their doorstep waste, many become interested in taking this further and begin to lead the way (ie. peer pressure).

5) SCC should provide more financial incentives to the Borough/District Councils for waste minimisation, recycling and composting schemes. Borough/District Councils currently receive payment in the form of recycling credits that are based on the amount of waste they recycle. This payment is made by SCC in lieu of the costs saved from not having to pay for waste disposal. At the Community Waste Workshop Bob Stranks, Head of Waste Management at SCC, suggested that he wanted to give the Borough/District Councils more of an incentive because SCC has no financial incentive to maximise recycling [ref. 4]. Recycling credits are good but they are still not enough. SCC needs to look for imaginative ideas on how to co-fund waste diversion schemes.

6) Adequate funding is essential for any programme of re-use, waste reduction, recycling and composting. The Government Office for the South East (GOSE) has informed GAIN that 140 million of government funding is available to local authorities for waste management and recycling. An additional 50 million is available to local community group initiatives via the new Opportunities fund. A further 40 million is available to increase markets for recyclable materials, primarily through the Waste Resource Action Programme (WRAP); for more details see the WRAP web site visit Furthermore, the 100 million Private Finance Initiative (PFI) grant which was awarded to SCC by Hilary Armstrong, the Local Government Minister, in June 1998, does not have to be used to build mass-burn incinerators in Surrey. According to information on the SCC web site this funding was given to help meet the costs of developing "new waste treatment facilities such as recycling and composting plants". The Landfill Tax Credit Scheme may also provide an additional source of funds.

7) Local authorities and community groups within Surrey need to pool their ideas on waste by means of an open, county-wide forum. We acknowledge that a waste forum is currently being proposed as part of the work towards a Joint Municipal Waste Strategy (JMWS). We understand that a public report is due out in October 2001 that will outline the structure of this forum. SCC and District/Borough Councils need to actively encourage community groups to take part in this forum. SCC should also invite independent waste consultants to help us learn from experiences elsewhere. In terms of engaging the public this new forum must provide more than just statutory consultation, it must provide a real partnership. There are precedents for such forums in Surrey dealing with other matters: for example, open forums have been set up previously by SCC to look at transport issues. The London Waste Action Group was set up to provide such a forum. External consultants were also involved in this particular group. By putting such a mechanism in place innovative ideas will come to light, it will also allow us to learn from the experiences of others (both within the UK and overseas). If this kind of forum existed today, we would be able to feed in these ideas on waste reduction:

8) One way that local authorities can definitely reduce the amount of waste collected is by encouraging and vigorously promoting home composting. Many local authorities in Surrey are already doing this to some extent. Public information campaigns should make it as socially unacceptable to send readily compostable waste to landfill as it is to "drink and drive". Many people are simply unaware of what a difference separating biodegradable waste from the rest of the waste stream could make. Household waste such as kitchen vegetable waste, tea bags and green garden waste is excellent for home composting. Local authorities should provide the investment for free home composters because it saves both on collection and disposal costs. For those that are unable or unwilling to try home composting, local authorities should provide community composting facilities. This approach will help Surrey to meet EU targets specified in the Landfill Directive for reducing the amount of biodegradable waste going to landfill. Surrey Waste Management’s new Waste Minimisation Team have started to look at this, but their project needs to be expanded and given more backing. Local authorities should also demonstrate best practice by composting all waste collected at municipal parks.

9) Local authorities need to persuade parents to change their attitudes to disposable nappies, currently nappies make up 4% of the household waste stream. West Sussex County Council is already running a successful cash-back incentive scheme by subsidising a local nappy laundering service. A similar scheme should be considered for Surrey. Two-part nappy systems that are available from a number of companies should also be promoted. Surrey Waste Management’s new Waste Minimisation Team and the Waste Policy Group at SCC ran the "Real Nappy" lucky draw in June, but it received little publicity and only covered three towns in the Borough of Waverley. Some local authorities have started to work with SWM on similar ideas, but it needs to be given more backing and expanded to cover the whole county.

10) Local authorities should encourage businesses to reduce their waste and recycle more. They should reward and publicise best practices. Some local authorities have started to do this, but more resources are needed to take it county-wide. Waste sorting for recycling in the workplace can be introduced very rapidly and is often easy because of the homogenous nature of much of the waste. Good practice at work can give employees the confidence to change their practices at home as well.

11) Surrey could work in partnership with retail outlets to organise a "take a bag shopping campaign". This would build on small steps taken by shops such as Boots and Sainsburys. People have lost the habit of taking a bag shopping, expecting instead to rely on carrier bags supplied by retailers. Very significant waste could be avoided if consumers were shown what a real difference they could make by declining carrier bags wherever possible. A pile of the number of bags handed out in each Surrey High Street on a Saturday would make a good picture for each local paper.

12) A schools initiative should be introduced by SCC so that the next generation learns the habit of sorting waste, and wherever possible avoiding waste. This means that they will never get into the bad habit of just putting unsorted rubbish in a bin. There are many opportunities in the national curriculum for facilitating this including materials, citizenship, design and technology and data handling. Children could design recycling and waste reduction systems for their homes, take them home to use and report back. School entertainers should be commissioned to support recycling and waste reduction messages. Very visual demonstrations should be given to every child about the amount of waste they are likely to produce in their lifetime and the difference they can make. Children can be a force for change at home.

13) Partnership with companies supplying milk in glass bottles should be explored by SCC and local authorities. This can be justified by the waste avoidance achieved by this method of supply and distribution. Could local milk companies be encouraged to collect general glass for recycling at the same time as their deliveries, as this has already been achieved in some areas of London?

14) A welcome pack could be made available to new residents via estate agents and letting agencies. This could ensure that new residents are fully versed in the recycling and waste reduction expectations of the county.

15) Incentive schemes for residents should be explored. Vouchers, possibly council tax vouchers, might be handed out to households who attend very user-friendly presentations/workshops on recycling and waste reduction. Networks such as neighbourhood watch areas, NCT, WI, churches and other clubs and societies might be approached to bring together groups of residents to provide practical advice about steps that can be taken that will make a difference.

16) All local authorities should work in partnership with each other, with the Environment Agency and Government Departments to run a concerted national awareness strategy. This awareness strategy should be designed to:

17) Designers and retailers should be approached to make available alternatives to the conventional bins people use in their homes. Bins that encourage waste sorting and recycling should be promoted to coincide with high profile waste recycling initiatives.

18) Avoidance of incineration in Surrey and a commitment from listening politicians to pursuing more environmentally acceptable strategies and policies would act as a major incentive to many residents to recycle more and cut waste.

Question 2: How can we together increase the customer’s perception of the value of recyclable waste and the products derived from it?

1) Local authorities and major businesses have an important leadership role in adopting ‘green procurement’ policies and publicising the fact, some local authorities have already done this. Once people have hands-on contact with recycled goods they will discover that quality is not an issue. Good publicity will also help to dispel myths that products made from recycled materials are inferior.

2) To some extent the motivation to achieve intensive recycling will translate directly into an acceptance of recycled products and a desire for them. The mechanisms we can use to achieve this change in perception are exactly the same as the ones for reducing waste, namely information, promotion, reward and publicity. Simply allowing the public to participate in intensive recycling programmes will increase their perception of the value of waste. Public awareness and education campaigns are very important. One excellent example is the Green House Visitors Centre (Plymouth) Ltd [ref. 5], this is UK’s first leisure-based exhibition aimed at children and family groups which promotes a responsible attitude to waste.

3) The use of community organisations and neighbourhood schemes is valuable to encourage recycling locally. SCC should provide financial incentives for these organisations to help them carry out this task. The strength of a local organisation such as GAIN is that it has contacts throughout the borough of Guildford and could act as an initiator for neighbourhood waste schemes.

4) Fundamentally, the assumption that there is great difficulty in global recycled materials markets is unfounded. The vast majority of recyclate (ie. over 80%) has been sold and reprocessed for years. This is because in most cases it is cheaper to make new products from recyclate than from virgin material and this can be achieved without any degradation in quality of the end product. For instance, more than 50% of the world's steel is now made from recycled metals. Furthermore, more than half of the UK's newspaper production is already made from waste paper. These markets exchange tens of millions of tonnes of recyclate annually. The public and councillors need to be made more aware of this.

5) Prices for recyclates can fluctuate. Waste collection authorities often have difficulty in recruiting waste managers with skills in trading materials and negotiating good prices for recyclates. Despite their best efforts, it is not uncommon for local authorities to enter agreements that are based on the short-term spot market prices. Guildford Borough Council have tackled this problem to some extent by entering into an agreement with SITA. However, there is currently no joined up thinking within Surrey as far as waste management and recycling are concerned. To address this problem, the relevant officers from all the District/Borough Councils within Surrey need to join forces and pool their recyclates, this would give them more bargaining power. They would then be able to negotiate long-term deals, usually one with both floor and ceiling prices, that would help both the buyer and seller by bringing certainty into the equation. It would also protect the interests of SCC by providing a guaranteed waste management route. This was achieved in London with the London Recycling Consortium, and raised some boroughs from negative prices for wastepaper to more than 45 per tonne. The public and councillors need to be made more aware of this.

6) Local authorities in Surrey need to work on "market development" for recycled material through the Government-sponsored Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP). Establishing long-term deals for recyclates allows new recycling companies to form and grow. In other communities/regions/countries work has been done to create new firms that can process/buy both traditional and newer recycled materials. This helps to drive up the prices paid overall for the green box of recyclables collected from each home, and thereby stabilises the markets. For example, in Seattle glass was a problem, so the waste collection authority helped to develop more than 20 separate uses and firms for glass rather than just rely on glass container firms.

7) To be successful at developing markets it is necessary to look at each material collected and work out who the potential buyers are, this is based on experiences from other regions. These organisations can then be targeted with information, and product trials carried out. For example, in the case of glass, there is the need to work with companies who use it as an input. Low-value uses may include trench-fill for companies laying pipes, and higher value uses may include tiles, insulation or sandblasting material. As another example, consider newspapers: bringing a paper mill online takes a lot of time and money, but buying a paper baler for Surrey may offer real benefits. It would give local authorities access to export markets (eg. Sweden) that will help ensure both outlets and prices. For this to be effective commitment is needed from senior officers to ensure that the right people are employed to fill these posts, trained staff with experience of marketing and economic development are required.

8) SCC should work with SWM to rebrand all 15 Civic Amenity (CA) sites to be "Reuse and Recycling centres". This would open up new opportunities, including the reuse of waste, especially household goods, timber, surplus building materials (eg bricks and doors), and furniture. Sites in Dorset which offer a full range of recycling opportunities, including repair facilities, are achieving more than 50% recycling. The level of service provided by operational staff to customers using these sites is an important issue which needs to be addressed; staff training and incentives are also needed (eg. performance payments for reuse and recycling levels achieved). Investment is needed to fundamentally change the image of these sites, and more publicity and better information is required. Specific staff should also be available to provide customers with advice on issues such as home composting.

Question 3: What amount of waste will we be required to dispose of in the future?

1) We dispute the suggestion that the best recycling rates that are currently achieved world-wide on a long-term consistent basis are in the region of 50%. Our findings from other regions suggest that the best long-term recycling rate is in excess of 60%. It is almost impossible for those standing at the start of the race to see exactly how far they will ultimately reach. Other new industries in which the technologies being used are rapidly changing face the same problem.

2) Recycling, composting and reduction (i.e. waste diversion or resource management) is a fast-growing new industry. Just fifteen years ago, barely a community in the West believed that reaching a diversion rate of 25% was possible, but the growth rate has been astonishing. The predicted "ceilings" are being broken again and again. Technological innovations have increased the waste treatment options available commercially, thus allowing higher levels of diversion. Given that a global move to intensive recycling has only occurred in the last five to ten years we wonder what the relevance of the best current recycling rate really is. We view the current best performance as an underestimate of what can reasonably be achieved in the next ten years.

3) Today, the 80 million people of Germany have raised national diversion rates to more than 50%, and are continuing to grow. Every major city down the West Coast of North America including Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, passed 40% diversion rate five years ago. This is a total population of more than 20 million people. In addition, regions that have come on board as latecomers are finding that the time which they need to raise diversion rates is plummeting. For example, the 900,000 people of Edmonton in Alberta (Canada) raised their diversion rate from 15% to 70% in two years. The 350,000 people of Halifax in Nova Scotia (Canada) achieved a diversion rate of 61% in less than five years. Leading communities world-wide, such as Bluewater in Ontario and communities in California, were already passing 80% diversion rates back in 1998.

4) The most powerful signal coming from the leaders in this field is that of "zero waste" policies and targets. These includes Canberra, Toronto's 2.5 million people, whole counties in California, and most of New Zealand's local authorities. Typically what happens is that once diversion rates of 40% to 50% are reached, it is possible to work out the cost of system improvements needed to reach 70% and 80%. At this point it is possible to determine the exact composition of the 10% to 20% that will then form the "residual". Plans can then be made to tackle this residual. The producer responsibility movement and changes to clean production from within industry will move forward with them.

5) Even if the residual waste is 40%, this does not mean that the best way of dealing with it is by incineration. When discussing the amount of "residual" waste it is important to realise that old-style waste disposal methods such as incineration also leave residual waste that they cannot treat. It is well understood that incineration produces 30% to 35% ash that needs to go to landfill; this includes toxic fly ash, which must be transported in sealed containers. It is less widely known that incinerators cannot burn another 15% to 20% of incoming municipal waste. This waste contains inert material that does not ignite, such as white goods, rubble and wet loads, which is immediately "bypassed" and sent directly to landfill. Therefore incineration never even reaches 60 % "destruction" of incoming municipal waste. In fact, those cities and regions which have already made it to 60% recycling and composting are achieving higher levels of diversion from landfill than even the best incinerators in the UK.

6) We agree that the amount of residual waste is dependent on the amount of recycling achieved. However, it is also dependent on the success of waste reduction, re-use and composting. This in turn is dependent on how much effort SCC, SWM and local authorities put into promoting recycling, re-use and minimisation programmes. Improvements in CA sites mentioned previously will also play an important part.

Question 4: How and where should we dispose of this waste?

1) Leading economies are switching to eliminate waste and maximise recycling. By starting late, Surrey can learn from the mistakes of others around the world and become a leading player. SCC needs to engage the public in an intensive reduction, re-use and recycling programme. Edmonton in Canada serves as a good example in this respect. We need to move away from fundamentally flawed practice of collecting mixed municipal waste and then trying to dispose of it. Separation of waste at source is the best way to deal with municipal waste and will result in significantly reduced releases of hazardous substances into the environment. Surrey should look urgently at kerbside collection of biodegradable waste in order to clean the waste stream. This could go to centralised composting facilities (in-vessel composting), and the compost then sold. In Kent the Wye Cycle programme has successfully used this approach, Monza in Italy have also done this very well. This approach would help Surrey to meet its recycling targets and would also help to make residual waste less harmful. It is also in line with the EU Landfill Directive which requires the amount of biodegradable municipal waste going to landfill to be reduced by 75% of 1995 arisings by 2010.

2) Even if recycling rates as high as 70% or 80% are achieved, a significant amount of waste remains to be dealt with. We still have adequate capacity for inert landfill in Surrey and we should use it because the environmental impact can be acceptable and this is the lowest cost option. The issue with landfill is the amount of non-inert waste being sent to landfill that is, waste containing organic matter such as garden and food waste. This causes leachate/groundwater problems and methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. We believe that landfill should only be used for un-recyclable residuals and any waste sent to landfill should be pre-treated in order to reduce any potential harm it may cause. SCC should seriously consider the use of mechanical-biological treatment (MBT) as part of its assessment of the Best Practicable Environmental Option for managing Surrey’s waste. MBT is a waste pre-treatment process that takes in unrecyclable residual waste. It is essentially a form of large-scale composting. There are many different variations of MBT plants, but they all tend to involve mechanical shredding/sorting and composting. Essentially MBT speeds up the normal biological process that goes on in a landfill, but it happens under controlled conditions. This approach produces an inert residual, with much lower volume and methane-producing potential than ordinary landfill. The inert residual can then either be sent to landfill or it can be sold as compost, depending on the results of analysis of its composition. MBT should be used in conjunction with kerbside collection of kitchen and organic waste and other recyclables (ie. source separation). This helps to regulate the makeup of the residual coming out of the MBT system so that it can (if necessary) be sent to landfill and still comply with EU targets. MBT systems now exist in large numbers across Germany, Austria, Belgium and Italy. It is also used in a number of Canadian cities including Edmonton (population 900,000) that rapidly achieved a target rate of 70% with a combination of source separation and MBT systems. This technology is widely used in Austria and Germany [ref.6] as an acceptable alternative to incineration. EU legislation will be introduced in 2002 that allows compost derived from mixed waste to be used legally as compost rather than simply being landfilled. Here in the UK Hertfordshire's District and County Councils announced in July that they are carrying out an assessment of a biological/mechanical process from the Italian firm Ecodeco, which has licensed it to Shanks Group PLC, and that they will not be pursuing incineration [ref. 7 & ref. 9]. Biffa Waste Services [ref. 8] are also known to be providing MBT facilities.

3) Councillor Davis’s statements about landfill opportunities in Surrey rapidly decreasing are partly self-fulfilling. If a waste plan were produced requiring additional landfill, then applications for landfill sites would materialise. The truth is that an expansion of landfill is being discouraged (correctly in our view) because of the health and environmental implications of landfilling untreated mixed waste. This should not be confused with the potential contribution to a Waste Strategy of landfill for stable and sorted waste.

4) The lead-time for setting up technologies such as MBT (in conjunction with source separation) is in the order of one year. By contrast complex mass-burn Energy from Waste (EfW) incinerator plants need several years to develop. Furthermore MBT systems require only a fraction of the capital cost compared with mass-burn Energy From Waste (EfW) incinerators. The fact that applications for incinerators are before the County does not make this a fast track option. The rapid and flexible solution would be recycling and composting which could achieve higher levels of diversion from landfill than even the best incinerators in the UK, with or without MBT.

5) Actions taken in Germany with regard to waste have in the past been introduced into EU legislation. If this happens, then all residual waste will require some treatment before being sent to landfill. This will allow further separation of the waste streams within the residual waste and disposal options to be used which are best suited for each of the resulting waste streams. Given that we have not yet achieved intensive recycling and composting in Surrey it would be presumptuous to say exactly what those waste streams should be and what the amounts will be. We can no doubt make an intelligent guess on these matters but it would only be a guess. We do not believe that Surrey should embark on a massive incineration programme with only a vague idea of what would be the requirement for incineration in ten years whilst trying to adopt intensive recycling and composting in the meantime.

6) On the question of where Surrey’s waste should be disposed of, we favour local plants if at all possible. This is fair to all concerned and minimises the need for transportation. This rules out incineration because of the high costs of the flue gas cleanup and ash handling equipment. In contrast, MBT plants are usually smaller and aimed at just one town or a part of a town.

7) In addition to MBT, SCC should also take a close look at anaerobic digestion as part of its assessment of the Best Practicable Environmental Option for managing Surrey’s waste. Anaerobic digestion is a method of waste treatment that is being strongly considered by London [ref. 1]. It is based on the bacterial fermentation of organic material in the absence of oxygen. Anaerobic digestion plants can be used to treat pre-sorted biodegradable waste and produce a digestate suitable for agricultural and horticultural use. Biogas is also produced that can be burnt in gas boilers. Plants of this type are now operational in Denmark, the Netherlands and Canada.

8) Some people have suggested the use of advanced waste technologies such as pyrolysis, but GAIN does not support this approach. Pyrolysis involves the decomposition of matter at high temperature in the absence of oxygen. It requires a major capital investment to construct such a plant and it entails a long lead-time. It is a relatively new technology which has not lived up to expectations. For example, pyrolysis plants built in Germany had feeding problems with municipal solid waste, and the waste stream needed to be carefully sorted to eliminate large inert objects which resulted in increased costs. Pilot plants have been built in the UK, but their environmental performance (ie. emissions) and reliability have not been demonstrated on a commercial scale. Furthermore, pyrolysis is similar to incineration, it is a waste disposal technology which destroys potentially useful material.


Councillor Davis has raised four important questions and asked for GAIN to respond to them. GAIN is funded almost entirely by voluntary donations, so there is a limit to what GAIN can do with the time and resources available to us. However, we engaged independent waste consultants to help us present informative answers to these questions. We believe that SCC should likewise engage expert waste consultants such as Robin Murray or Alan Watson to investigate these matters further.

Based on the information we have gathered, there is sufficient reason to question the direction in which Surrey County Council appears to beheading by promoting incineration. SWM have only just started their recycling, reduction and re-use initiatives. It is inappropriate to start building incinerators until we have maximised recycling and composting. This waste hierarchy is specified in the Government’s Waste Strategy 2000 [ref. 10]. Recycling and waste reduction will stimulate economies, whereas incinerators and unsorted landfill do economic harm. Furthermore, we believe that incinerators will act as a disincentive to any major recycling and composting initiatives. If SCC opts for mass-burn incinerators there will not be sufficient funding left to make a significant investment in facilities for recycling, composting and waste treatment. Hence, SCC should introduce a moratorium on incineration as a matter of urgency.

Approaches to waste management have been rapidly changing throughout the industrialised world in the last 10 years. It is clear that old waste management techniques (ie. non-inert landfill and incineration) that are based on "disposal" are now outdated, they are being replaced by waste "diversion" or "resource management" methods which are now proven as alternatives. Separation of waste at source is the best way to deal with municipal waste and will result in significantly reduced releases of hazardous substances into the environment. Surrey should look urgently at kerbside collection and provide the necessary leadership and financial incentives to make it happen. To commit to incineration for 25 years at a time when it is already clear that more environmentally enlightened strategies are emerging would not be in the interests of Surrey’s economy, environment or residents.

SCC and local authorities should make full use of government funding that is available to provide better facilities for recycling and composting throughout the county. The Landfill Tax Credit Scheme may also provide an additional source of funds.

Even the industrialised world's two most prominent "incineration-based" nations - France and Japan (with more than 2,000 Municipal Solid Waste incinerators between them) have reversed course in the past 3 years. Japan announced a 20% cut in total waste sent to incineration, and France announced a "capping" of capacity within 3 years. Both of these nations changed course as a result of dioxin and other toxic materials contaminating land, milk and food products. We do not want Surrey to build incinerator(s) and make the same mistake that most other European countries have made and are now regretting.

The global recycling industry has more than quadrupled its capacity during the past decade, adding hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions in trade and investment gains, whilst the industrialised world has seen no significant growth in incineration capacity.

On economic, environmental and public opinion grounds, other nations are directing their strategies and their efforts towards maximising recycling and re-use, then rendering the residuals inert through mechanical-biological treatment (MBT), and saving landfill space in the bargain.

Given that a county-wide waste forum is going to be established as part of the work on a new Joint Municipal Waste Strategy (JMWS), SCC and the District/Borough Councils need to actively encourage community groups and independent waste consultants to taken part in the discussions.

Surrey Waste Management set up the Waste Minimisation Team in June 2001. They are working in conjunction with the Waste Policy Group at SCC. Their current projects include home composting, real nappies and junk mail rejection. This is a step in the right direction. However, the Waste Minimisation Team needs to be given a higher profile with more publicity, better communications, and more resources so that they can cover the whole county more effectively.


  1. The Mayor’s Draft Municipal Waste Management Strategy, Greater London Authority, 24 July 2001
  2. House of Commons, Environment Committee, Fifth Report, Session 2000/01: Delivering sustainable waste management (21/03/2001)
  3. DETR Workbooks to accompany Guidance on Municipal Waste Management Strategies, March 2001
  4. Official minutes of the GAIN Community Waste Workshop, 19 July 2001
  5. The Green House Visitors Centre (Plymouth) Ltd, The Ride, Plymouth PL97JA ( contact John Kirk on 01752 482392


  1. Environmental Data Services Ltd (ENDS) Environment Daily, 5 October 2000

Extract: The German government last week confirmed its intention to enable long-term use of mechanical-biological treatment (MBT) of municipal waste as an alternative to incineration.

  1. Environmental Data Services Ltd (ENDS) Report, August 2001, Issue No. 319

Extract: Councils and waste firms seek alternatives to incineration

  1. Contact details for Biffa Waste Services, Tel: 01494-521221, Web
  2. Contact details for Shanks Group Plc, Tel: 01628-524523, Web site:
  3. DEFRA, Waste Strategy 2000 for England and Wales (25/05/2000)

This report was produced by GAIN

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