Household waste management in Europe: Economics and techniques

Household waste management in Europe: Economics and techniques

Book reviews Waste management: a state of the art review WASTE MANAGEMENT: PLANNING, EVALUATION, TECHNOLOGIES by David C. Wilson Oxford University Pre...

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Book reviews Waste management: a state of the art review WASTE MANAGEMENT: PLANNING, EVALUATION, TECHNOLOGIES by David C. Wilson Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, l981,552pp, f45.00




Van Nostrand Reinhold, l981,262pp, f16.00





WASTE MANAGEMENT edited by Jeremy Woolfe D. Reidel, London, $44.50, Dfl85.00


1981, 288 pp,



edited by M.E. Henstock Butterwoflhs, f20.00


1983, 194 pp,

During the 1960s and 1970s waste generation rates in the industrialized economies increased remorselessly. The total UK municipal solid waste stream is thought, currently, to amount to between 16 and 18 million tonnes per annum. A further 23 million tonnes of industrial and other waste is also generated annually. The EEC’s total municipal waste stream amounted to some 150 million tonnes in 1981/82. Total waste generated in the Community now stands at approximately 2000 to 2300 million tonnes, with a rate of growth trend of 3% per annum.


While the recession in the international economy since 1979/80 has served to slow down the increase in waste generation rates, it is too early to tell whether this will become an established trend.

Waste problem Much has been written and said regarding a growing feeling of collective unease in industrial societies about the resources (material and energy) which are discarded in landfills or burnt incinerators, in non-recuperative rather than being reused or recycled. In the EEC, 75% of waste is landfilled, 20% incinerated and only 5% recovered as compost and/or secondary materials. In contrast to the apparent consensus that something should be done about the waste problem, there are a diversity of views concerning the ‘correct’ technical and economic solutions that should be adopted. The recycling versus disposal conundrum is complex and there are unlikely to be any easy general solutions to it. Four recent books have attempted to analyse selected aspects of waste management planning and practice. Wilson’s book contains an analysis of frameworks, conceptual planning followed by a most valuable review of the state of the art in waste disposal technologies. The volumes edited by Woolfe, Henstock, and Bridgwater and Lidgren contain collections of papers by a variety of authors. The latter two books concentrate exclusively on municipal waste management, but the book edited by Bridgwater and Lidgren contains more ‘high quality’ contributions.

Materials policy Energy crises and potential physical and geopolitical constraints to future economic growth stimulated a renewed government interest in resource conservation and recycling in the 1970s.

Instability in resource supply networks and possible large balance of payments deficits did much to concentrate governmental minds on the formulation of a materials policy. Further, the costs of disposing of waste domestically, in an environmentally acceptable manner, escalated in the 1970s. Wilson presents a detailed financial cost-effectiveness analysis (1977 costs) of waste disposal options. The options seems to fall into two broad cost categories. The lower group (containing all landfill-based options and, perhaps surprisingly, refuse-derived fuel options) had a base cost of less than fl5/tonne. But metropolitan communities everywhere no longer have available to them short distance haul and landfill options. Alternative options (incineration etc), however, all appear to cost more than f20/tonne. Wilson warns that there is no substitute for local data, but his ranking order and relative castings can be taken as reasonable guidelines. The pitfalls of forecasting future waste generation and the limitations of current data bases are also emphasized.

Legislation All four books catalogue at least some of the legislation which has been passed, in the UK and elsewhere, to stimulate recycling and improve waste management. The official ‘War on waste’ strategy initiated in the UK in 1974 made little real progress and collapsed altogether in 1980/81. Less than 2% of the waste collected by UK local authorities in 1974 was recycled and the figure has not changed since. The intensification of the recession in 1979 and the rise of ‘monetarist’ economic policy created a paradox for resource conservation. Resource throughput was checked by the cutbacks in public sector investment projects. But the stress on non-intervention in the economy also led to reduced funding for pollution control agencies, together with, in the UK, the closure of a number of the half-hearted schemes designed to boost recycling activity (Waste Management Advisory Council etc). Nevertheless, recycling rates were pushed up to fairly high levels in most


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countries, largely through the efforts industries of private reclamation concentrated on industrial and large commercial waste flows. The recession has also hit the reclamation industry.

Paper and board The UK paper and board industry, for example, which is heavily dependent on wastepaper, lost some 20% of its capacity in 1980. Output of paper and board and wastepaper consumption by mills fell by 26% and 14.5% respec1979-82. tively over the period Industrial waste generators have adapted pragmatically, via ‘end-ofpipe’ control equipment, to the more to stringent regulatory approach environmental quality protection that developed generally in the decade to 1975. Since then a limited number of more fundamental process-integrated production changes (including recycling systems) have also been made in selected industries. Efforts have been made at plant level to reduce material and energy requirements per unit of production output. This type of together with process innovation, changes designed to reduce waste disposals, have since been labelled ‘low and non waste technological improvement’ (LNWTs). Both the EEC and the United Nations have been seeking to promote a more rapid introduction of such technologies. But the EEC policy spelt out in Woolfe’s book is clearly intended to be even more wide ranging. The term ‘clean technology’ used in conjunction with this policy encompasses LNWTs, as well as other aspects such as product design changes (with durability and recyclability in mind).

almost inevitable. Further redesign to avoid such problems is almost certain to increase financial costs and is therefore unlikely in the absence of appropriate legislation. The general antiregulatory policy climate of the early 1980s and the high political priority now given to employment protection are likely to inhibit the process of LNWT and clean technology innovation and implementation. More hopefully, the European Commission proposed in early 1983 to spend ii/z million ECU on the development of clean technologies. Governments also appear to have become increasingly anxious again, in the 1980s about potential geopolitical resource constraints and balance of payments problems. The UK government recently set aside f35 million to initiate a strategic metals and minerals stockpile. Such stockpiles are already established to some extent in France, West Germany, Japan and the USA.

Import dependency

The EECs resource policy initiatives are, to some extent, a response to similar concerns, since resource intensiveness drops in proportion to the degree of recycling. The EEC’s import dependency is quantified in Woolfe’s book. The EEC imports 56% of its energy requirements, 50% of its paper and pulp and 80-90% of its ferrous and non-ferrous metals. An extensive recycling programme would reduce primary raw material imports and also yield extra energy savings in the production processes. Potential resources in the municipal waste stream remain largely unexploited because this source of secondary materials yields relatively more dissipated and often more contaminated Product design materials. Therefore, under current market conditions the financial costs of The Henstock volume contains a useful recovery exceed the financial value of chapter on the issue of product design the recovered materials and/or energy. for recyclability. It is pointed out that, the concern is to get Centrally imposed economic stringency currently, since 1980 has induced an understandproducts to fulfil their design function on the part of local at minimum financial cost. Costs can be able reluctance authorities to initiate and fund new reduced by, among other ways, redesign to reduce materials intensity or to faci- recycling schemes and/or continue with established ones if they fail to meet the litate substitution. But such actions test of financial viability. UK govemmight well impair recyclability because in order to directly self-contamination of materials is ment intervention


stimulate recycling has been rejected in favour of verbal support for ‘cooperative voluntary ventures’, involving retailers, local authorities and/or charities and glass and can manufacturers. Some governmental funding continues, however, for a small number of capital intensive schemes to recover materials and/or energy from mixed municipal waste.

Controversy The rejection of any scheme that does not ‘pay for itself financially is overly restrictive and has stimulated controversy, especially as far as environmental pressure groups are concerned. How then should society judge the desirability of any recycling scheme? There seems to be a fair measure of confusion in the minds of the various protagonists in the recycling versus disposal debate. This confusion is compounded by the fact that the different interest groups make different value judgements. Wilson’s book attempts to clarify the position and to precisely define criteria against which alternative options can be assessed. Unfortunately, Wilson’s own analysis is not as clear as one would wish on the basic distinction between financial and economic criteria. The distinction is made but then immediately blurred again when Wilson suggests a trade-off matrix approach involving five assessment criteria - net present cost, capital cost, net primary energy efficiency, land requirements technological disposal and for adequacy. The reasons why these criteria should be treated as independent (they are clearly not) and why ‘economics does not always adequately of physical the scarcity reflect resources’ (such a case could, for example, be made on grounds of user cost and intergenerational equity) are never examined nor is the appropriate literature cited.

Costs of recycling Economic theory suggests that because recycling activities incur costs, they if technically should take place, feasible, up to the point where the total social (financial and external) benefits


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exceed the total social costs by a maximum amount. Monetary valuation of all relevant costs and benefits is, however, still a fairly rudamentary and incomplete art. There thus appears to be a joint case for social cost benefit analysis and environmental impact assessment. Since local authorities have a statutory duty to collect and dispose of municipal waste, it is the relative cost of recycling compared with waste collection and disposal that is significant and not financial profitability. A recycling scheme may then be socially desirable, even if it means a net social cost, as long as this is less than the net social cost of the least cost disposal alternative.

Packaging A substantial proportion of municipal waste, perhaps 30% to 40% by weight, accounted for by packaging is products. Bridgwater and Lidgren devote three excellent chapters to this issue and the related returnable versus non-returnable beverage container debate. Packaging firms in the UK have suffered a contraction of their markets since 1980. In the past, metal, glass and paper used to dominate welldefined parts of the market. Now, no one material dominates and they

compete amongst themselves for a declining share of a declining market. All three materials also face intense competition for plastics, for example PET bottles. Experimental PET bottle recycling schemes, initiated in 1981, have joined the already established bottle and can bank schemes. Through these voluntary schemes the packaging and drinks industries have so far successfully resisted an EEC directive on beverage containers and pressure in the UK House of Lords for a returnable system. These voluntary source separation schemes are representative of the ‘low approach to municipal technology’ waste recycling. They rely on householder participation and commitment and offer both a challenge to the complacency of individual citizens and a chance to participate in a community based enterprise. The opposing ‘high technology’ approach rejects source separation, primarily on grounds of inconvenience, expected lack of participation and, hence, relatively high collection costs. This approach concentrates on the dry sorting and of components of mixed recovery refuse in capital intensive central sorting plants. Wilson’s analysis is a good example of this latter approach while the Henstock and Bridgwater

Extended benefitsost ECONOMIC APPROACHES TO NATURAL RESOURCES AND ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY ANALYSIS edited by M.M. Hufschmidt Hyman Tycooly Dublin, f27.50, $28.50.

and E.L.

International Publishing, 1982, 344 pp, hardback $50.00, paperback f 15.00,

This volume contains the proceedings of a conference on and papers ‘Extended benefit-cost analysis’, held at the East-West Center, Honolulu, Hawaii, 12-16 September 1979. Parts I and II present an overview of various assessment techniques, examined in



more detail by the conference participants, as well as a selective survey of the natural resource and environmental economics literature (up to 1979). The generic term ‘extended benefit-cost analysis’ is meant to encompass a wide diversity of analytical techniques which seek in one way or another to incorporate environmental costs and benefits directly into the decision-making calculus. Environmental impact assessment, policy analysis and multi-objective planning techniques are all considered as potentially relevant methods. ‘Conventional’ economic analysis is shown to be of limited use when the decision maker is faced with the value of conflicts so typical of natural resource and environmental quality issues. More problem-

and Lidgren books offer chapters on both approaches. So far, high collection costs have been a constraint on the potential expansion of some source separation schemes, while the low quality (which translates into an absence of markets and revenue) of the central reclaimed materials from recovery plants has inhibited their progress.

Hazardous Some 20 million tonnes of the total waste generated in the EEC is hazardous and this total is likely to increase in the future. One chapter in the Henstock volume details the legislation passed in the UK to deal with this special problem. Disappointingly, there is no discussion of the relative merits of the 1972 Deposit of Poisonous Wastes Act system, and the new enforcement and consignment note system initiated under the Special Waste Regulations of 1980. Wilson devotes one chapter to the technical disposal problems such wastes present.

R. Kerry Turner School of Environmental Sciences University of East Anglia Norwich, UK

atic still, the economic valuation of natural goods and services via willingness-to-pay or willingness-to-becompensated mesaures is a far from satisfactory art. These difficulties are compounded in the context (of deveioping countries) in which the conference papers in this volume are set. The notion of a ‘safety margin’ approach to development policy is alluded to by several authors, but little in the way of practical guidelines is offered in the search for ecologically safe minimum standards.

Limited contribution The methodological papers in Part III vary in both technical sophistication and quality of content; a number add little, if anything, to the existing literature. The more useful contributions include a survey of travel costs