Cornwall waste contract ‘outdated’ and ‘expensive’

Cornwall EFW

An independent review produced by national waste consultancy Eunomia, has found that Cornwall Council could save up to £320 million if it withdrew from its current waste management contract and implemented alternatives, such as increasing recycling.

Commissioned by the Cornwall Waste Forum (CWF) and Atlantic Energy, the 'Assessing the Feasability of an Alternative Plan for Waste Management in Cornwall' report found that the existing 30-year waste private finance intiative (PFI), which the council signed with SITA in 2006, ‘no longer reflects the policy, legislative and technology context of waste management’.

In particular, it was found that Cornwall’s approach to dealing with municipal residual waste through the use of an £117 million incinerator, is ‘outdated’, an idea first voiced by MP Matthew Taylor who dubbed incineration as “a twentieth-century solution to a twenty-first-century problem” at a council meeting in 2009. It was at this meeting that the council first rejected SITA UK’s plans to build the incinerator, a decision which was later overturned by Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, in 2011.

Ken Rickard, Chairman of the Cornwall Waste Forum, St Dennis Branch, announced the findings of the report, saying: “We began our campaign because of our concerns about the impact on the environment and health of Cornwall, and our immediate community, if an incinerator was built in St Dennis.

“Over time we have found out more about the complex subject of waste management and become convinced that Cornwall Council boxed themselves into a corner when negotiating the PFI contract with SITA. This has not offered value for money, or taken into consideration the huge changes taking place in waste disposal approaches elsewhere in the country. Councillors have understandably asked for evidence, which we have now provided and it is their responsibility to look into this contract and question waste treatment and disposal policy.”

Charmian Larke of Atlantic Energy, technical advisor and coordinator of the report, added: “This is no longer just about incineration, although our objections stand; it is about the validity of Cornwall Council’s waste management policy and the urgent need for Councillors and Cornwall Council’s Chief Executive to finally get a grip on the runaway costs of the disposal contract.”

The Eunomia report found that through the existing contract, the council will incur costs of around £28 million per year but could see these reduced by an average of £10 million per year, if recyclable materials were put on to the open market instead of burnt. Further, it went on to say that if the council were to scrap the contract, it could save over £20 million a year on waste management.

“By refusing to consider Cornwall Waste Forum’s alternative suggestions which include separate food waste collection with anaerobic digestion and automated residual waste sorting, the council has refused to consider options which could save hundreds of millions of pounds. This is clearly unacceptable. We now have clear independent evidence which must make every Councillor sit up and interrogate waste management in Cornwall more fully”, he added.

The CWF’s alternative ‘Plan B’ proposal to the current contract envisages much higher levels of recycling. Although Eunomia found this alternative to be imperfect, as a ‘significant amount’ of mechanical and biological treatment residue would remain to be disposed of, they found that it was likely to be more than £20 million cheaper per year than the current approach.

The report, produced in November 2012, found that the cost of withdrawing from the contract and any potential legal action and planning problems arising would be significantly outweighed by the savings Cornwall would make.

Read the Eunomia report.