THE letter headlined “Waste disposal” (HAS, Jan 4) by your correspondent GB Butler of Stockton needs answering because of its inaccuracies and omissions.

He comments on a complex issue – municipal waste disposal – without understanding the background of how this operates in today’s England, and how this had been handled in the recent past on Teesside.

As the then lead councillor for waste disposal on the now sadly long-gone Cleveland County Council, the facts are these. Back in about 1990, it became apparent that the then long-in-the-tooth waste incinerator at Portrack would not be able to meet new air quality emission targets being laid down by Government.

It was decided to press ahead with a replacement, based on deriving energy from the combustion process, and with a commercial partner to share costs and risks in construction and with whom the council would act as the partner commissioning the waste stream. At that time, the only alternative route would have been long term landfill, which would have been more environmentally disadvantageous and which would also have been opposed by any luckless community that might be nearby.

However, no sooner had we begun this process alongside the preferred partner, Northumbrian Water, than John Major’s government announced the effective privatisation of the process and in so doing, laying down the forms of contract every council should meet when dealing with a commercial disposal contractor – the “gate fee” Mr Butler refers to in his letter. This was not a plot of any kind, it was merely the application of the state policy of the time.

Mr Butler then poses a set of questions: why are new energy-from-waste plants being built and operated in this area, and where is the demand in the shape of disposable waste?

In terms of the first question, there is now, under a privatised regime, a ‘free market’ in operation. I would prefer to see a “proximity principle” in place where every local area had to make arrangements within its own boundaries, but that is not allowable under present commercial law – hence the present sight of long train loads of household graded and sorted waste snaking across the country to disposal facilities often hundreds of miles away.

Secondly, despite every effort being put in by law to maximise recycling and reuse of waste, the stream of detritus pouring into household wheelie bins is growing exponentially.

Additionally, and, I feel correctly, China, sick of being the dumping ground for such waste coming in by the container load from western nations, has adopted what it colourfully calls its “National Sword” policy of banning the imports of many waste materials, including plastics.

This will mean more pressure for modernisation and expansion of domestic waste recycling and disposal facilities in the UK, and given the chemical and process engineering capabilities on Teesside, I feel this is something Teesside’s engineering sector should be involved in – possibly involving a step up from the present generation of energy-from-waste plants to new, greener, cleaner and more advanced forms of combustion such as high temperature pyrolysis plants.

David Walsh, Redcar.