Red faces for DoE over failure to recycle HQ demolition waste

The Government is about to miss a golden opportunity to put into practice its policies for promoting recycling of aggregates by allowing demolition waste from the Department of the Environment's old head offices to go to landfill. Meanwhile, unpublished research for the DoE has concluded that many obstacles remain to greater use of recycled aggregates - and recommends a tax on primary aggregates.

A target to increase the use of reclaimed aggregates in England from 32 million tonnes in 1992 to 55 million by 2006 was set by the DoE in 1994 in a planning guidance note on aggregates provision, MPG6 (ENDS Report 231, pp 40-41 ). But recycling of demolition and construction wastes remains a rarity and is seldom required by demolition contracts.

A demolition contract for the DoE's offices in Marsham Street has been drawn up by the DoE and the Property Advisers to the Civil Estate (PACE), an executive agency which is part of the Cabinet Office. Work is expected to start this summer.

At a recent DoE conference on aggregates, the head of the Department's Minerals and Waste Planning Division, Lester Hicks, expressed surprise when told that there are no recycling requirements in the contract. He promised to look into the possibility of changing the terms. One DoE official told ENDS that the terms of the contract are "stupid" and represent "a lost opportunity".

A PACE official told ENDS that the contract encourages the demolition contractors to carry out recycling, but "there's no great instruction that they should do it, of course, because it can be extremely difficult." PACE would have liked to order a concrete crusher on site, he said, but the equipment would be too noisy for the location.

Peter Guthrie of consultants Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick says that the DoE is missing the chance to demonstrate the scope for recycling demolition waste. The problem of noise from crushing concrete could be solved by putting the crusher inside one of the buildings or by crushing the concrete at a remote location, he suggested.

The DoE's failure to support the use of reclaimed aggregates has also cast a shadow over its attempts to "green" its activities, including its recent certification to the environmental management standard ISO14001.

New evidence that DoE policies to encourage recycling of demolition waste are failing to deliver is contained in a report on the use of reclaimed aggregates in road construction. A draft summary was presented to the conference by one of its authors, Hugh Mallett of consultants Aspinwall & Co.

  • Policy and planning guidance: MPG6 encourages the use of reclaimed materials, but is "only a weak enabling factor, as it is not backed by a sufficiently robust administrative regime or by fiscal measures," said Mr Mallett.

    The report urges the Government to publish a White Paper setting broad environmental objectives and long-range targets. Legislation and guidance should be revised so that policies for reclaimed aggregates are included in local minerals, waste and recycling plans, and a positive approach is adopted to planning applications for recycling facilities.

    The forthcoming statutory waste strategy should help to develop a new policy framework, and apply recycling targets. But before the DoE can set meaningful targets, it needs reliable data. According to Mr Guthrie, "the idea that there is 70 million tonnes of construction and demolition waste has been repeated many times but it could be the tip of an iceberg."

  • Stimulating demand: The report calls for a tax on primary aggregates - the third DoE report to do so in the last six years (ENDS Report 239, p 12 ). The primary aggregates industry remains resolutely opposed to the idea, although the Labour Party has flirted with it in opposition.

    Specifications and standards for aggregates remain a major obstacle. The report recommends the creation of "a range of reliable quality standards for reclaimed aggregates," and lower specifications for non-trunk roads.

    Current specifications by the Highways Agency mean that materials which do not consistently comply with the appropriate tests are discouraged by developers, according to David Rockliff, Quality and Technical Manager for quarry owner Tilcon (North). Instead, suppliers deliver a higher grade aggregate in exchange for a less onerous testing regime.

    Contract tender specifications should explicitly promote the use of reclaimed aggregates, the report says, and their scope should be broadened to include maintenance and remove incentives encouraging reliance on primary materials.

  • Facilitating supply: Options for fiscal support include exemption from VAT for reclaimed aggregates, favourable corporation tax treatment of revenues, or capital allowances for recycling facilities.

    Another possibility would be to increase landfill tax on reclaimable materials. However, anecdotal evidence suggests this may not work. John Barritt of Tarmac Quarry Products told the conference that much demolition waste has been diverted from landfill by the tax (ENDS Report 265, pp 18-21 ) but is still not considered as a resource for aggregates.

    Finally, the report recommends the establishment of a working party to promote the use of reclaimed aggregates and sponsor technical research. It would also, said Mr Mallett, "help local authorities understand their responsibilities in delivering materials to the industry."

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