MORI Revisited [see MORI report]
In the spring of 2003, MORI produced an excellent and informative poll and report commissioned by SEERA relating to waste management requirements in the Region. Unfortunately some questions were not developed to a degree where significant and specific responses from interviewees would have enabled more precise interpretation.
As a consequence, it was disappointing that several ill-considered and incorrect statements were made purporting to be substantiated by data contained in the MORI poll. It is obvious that those making the comments and passing information to the media had not studied the report in sufficient detail or taken guidance from the considered and instructive ‘Introduction’ and ‘Executive Summary’ of the report.
When the political parties prepared for the parliamentary election on May 5th and candidates jostled for county council positions, these misquotes and misconceptions were repeated by some as supporting the argument that the general populace is in favour of incineration.
NOTHING IS FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH – WE MUST, THEREFORE, REVISIT THE MORI REPORT
First, let us look at advice contained in - ‘Interpretation of the data’
Sect 1.3 of the Introduction [see MORI report]
“It should be remembered that this survey is based on a sample, not the entire population of the South East England region. In consequence, all results are subject to sampling tolerances, which means that not all differences are statistically significant.”
“Two of the key strengths of qualitative research are that it allows issues to be explored in detail and enables researchers to test the strength of people’s opinion. However, it needs to be remembered that qualitative research is designed to be illustrative rather than statistically representative and therefore does not allow conclusions to be drawn about the extent to which views are held. In addition, it is important to bear in mind that we are dealing with perceptions, rather than facts.”
Second, the Executive Summary is clearly cautious that any assumption is tempered by associated caveats when viewing the wider issues of waste management in the southeast.
Sect 2.3 of the Executive Summary [see MORI report]
“We have already touched on the fact that awareness and positive opinion around waste management vehicles such as recycling and composting are both high. To provide further context, minimising packing and materials is also viewed positively, and incineration is viewed relatively positively while level of knowledge is lower. Landfill, however, is an issue about which the public says they are relatively well informed, but also about which they are largely negative.
Incineration and landfill are clearly the two areas where most care is needed.
Indeed, acceptance of incineration is in part driven by the fact that it is seen as less undesirable than landfills.”
Note the significant caveat here – “…only used on those materials that cannot be recycled”. We need to emphasise the poor record of the UK in the European recycling league table - only 11% and second from the bottom! If the government introduced incentives and local authorities provided facilities to match public demand, we would see dramatic changes and it would not be economically viable to build incinerators.
Landfill is an area of waste management that requires closer attention. The traditional concept of a foul smelling tip frequented by masses of seagulls and other carrion, can and should be a thing of the past. Witness the high standard of operation shown in videos from Nova Scotia and other countries where they employ good management techniques and efficient contractors. SEGREGATED landfill is the modern answer. Where the biodegradable content of waste has been processed elsewhere, segregated landfill allows for problem free disposal and the possibility of resource mining in the future.
Disposal authorities should be urgently monitoring waste contracts to ensure that companies are employing modern and effective techniques. Inefficiency in this area is a danger to public health and public finances.
“Overall, there is a good degree of support for the draft Waste Management Strategy, which proposes in the longer term that 60% of waste should be recycled, 25% dealt with through energy recovery or incineration, and the remainder sent to landfill. Four in five (81%) say that they strongly support or tend to support the plan that they are presented with.”
This is a disappointing and rather timid approach to waste management strategy – 64% is already topping the European league table for recycling.
If we employed the techniques used elsewhere, shortened the waste contract periods, monitored the efficiency of contractors and dictated what is needed, not just accepting what is offered, then the philosophy of ‘reduce, reuse, recycle and compost’ would set us on the road to success. There will be no need for inefficient so-called ‘energy from waste’ incinerators – it will be good for the national budget and for the nations health.
“The qualitative findings very much support the quantitative findings, while highlighting some important caveats or public guarantees. Residents recognise the need for a multi-faceted approach to waste management, and are content that the majority of waste will be dealt with in an environmentally friendly and ultimately useful manner.
These are, of course, only perceptions. They can be turned around, but it appears that to do so in the short term will be difficult. As the strategy is finalised, it will be important to communicate to the public that extreme care has been taken in the decision making process. Further, it must be shown how exactly the strategy will impact on the region, and how a more focused approach to waste management will benefit wider society.”
Sound advice here and where the previous observations on improvement are equally relevant.
Commentators have made the embarrassing mistake of not combining the excellence of this poll with other management tools that would have allowed them to make well-balanced and significant judgment before declaration.
The phrase “…. we are dealing with perceptions, rather than facts” has particular significance when using the collected data to guide debate and prepare for the exercise to formulate policy. Important caveats and warnings that the data is illustrative and not statistically representative have been disastrously ignored.
If this perception of the behaviour of 800 residents interviewed by telephone across the South East (using CATI – Computer Aided Telephoning Interviewing) had been used “As a complement to the internal analysis of responses to the consultation from organisations and stakeholders active in this field” - a more understandable and acceptable conclusion would have been presented by SEERA.
An opportunistic presentation of a selected item from the MORI poll was made at the SEERA Waste Summit held in March 2004. Here a presenter said that 64% of the region’s residents favoured incineration.
The presenter did not quote the fact that 91% of the same residents said that they were less than very well informed on the subject of incineration.
Without detailed knowledge of the process of incineration, most people would respond well to the ‘carrot’ of obtaining something for nothing with the misnomer – ‘energy from waste’.
With incineration, they would not know that -
· waste is not completely destroyed.
· the process creates a highly toxic residue.
· for health safety reasons, air emissions from all installations are monitored
· the more efficient the filtering system, the more toxic the residue
· this highly toxic residue is destined for landfill.
The most important phase of the operation is for SEERA to use the MORI poll data from the 800 respondents - “As a complement to the internal analysis of responses to the consultation from organisations and stakeholders active in this field….”
Unfortunately the several thousand responses from the residents across the counties of the South East of England relating to the various proposed incinerator installations and continuous consultation processes have been discounted as not relevant or of no significance.
When GAIN raised this issue with detail of known responses from the GAIN campaign, the Chairman was informed by a very senior member of SEERA, that….
“I am not impressed either by petitions or by pre-printed letters which individuals have been persuaded to sign.”
and even more revealing …..
”As a seasoned campaigner, I would like to give you a modest piece of advice. You refer in your eighth paragraph to the ‘overwhelming support in Surrey for an incinerator-free approach’. You seem to base this on 76,000 objections in Surrey. I note that the population of Surrey is 1,000,060 and I would hardly regard 76,000 objections as ‘overwhelming’. While hyperbole may have its place in drama, it is a dangerous tool in serious political debate.”
One is saddened and disappointed by this response and must raise several questions -
How does one accept the findings from 800 but reject the comments from in excess of 83,000?
How does one describe an objection where the total now exceeds - 83,000?
(Related stats from Surrey Census 2001: Households – 433,176, residents over 16years - 852,849)
How does one describe an ‘objection’ that registered as one of the top ten most objected to proposals in recorded history?
How does one engage in ‘serious political debate’ if the full spectrum of opinion on an issue is not presented to the participants?
How well informed are the members and associated participants of SEERA and would it be wise to ascertain their answers to MORI questions 4.5 and 4.6?
and lastly –
What do our elected representatives and supposed guardians of our health and welfare consider the motive behind the actions of the many residents engaged in all the campaigns across the country?