Header

Home

Advertising Standards Agency
Instructs SITA to withdraw misleading Cornwall Incinerator leaflet

ASA Logo

ASA Adjudications

SITA UK Ltd
SITA House
Grenfell Road
Maidenhead
Berkshire
SL6 1ES
Number of complaints: 1
 
Date: 8 July 2009
Media: Leaflet
Sector: Industrial and engineering

Ad
A leaflet outlined plans for the Cornwall Energy Recovery Centre (CERC).

Issue
The complainant challenged whether:

1. the photomontages of the CERC within the leaflet gave a misleading impression of how the finished development would look against the surrounding landscape;

2. the claim "There is around 10% that cannot be recycled or burnt, which must go to landfill" was misleading, because he believed the figure was closer to 40%;

3. the claim "We are proposing to locate the CERC at Rostowrack Farm near St. Dennis.  This has been carefully chosen following careful analysis of alternative sites in central Cornwall" was misleading, because he believed the methodology used to draw up a short list of sites and to evaluate those sites was flawed;

4. the claim "Location next to a railway offering future opportunity to use rail to transport waste" was misleading, because he believed it would not be possible to transport the waste by rail;

5. the claim "Lorries serving the site will not pass through St. Dennis or Treviscoe" was misleading, because he understood that SITA would not have the ability to control the route of lorries and could not guarantee that approved routes would be used;

6. the claim "Very strict national and European standards are in place to control emissions from the stack (chimney).  The CERC is designed to meet or improve upon these" was misleading, because he believed non-gravimetric measurements had been used to measure air quality which could not be calibrated to EU standards;

7. the claim "To meet these standards, reliable, tried and tested methods will be used to separate out potentially harmful chemicals and particles from the gases given off during combustion" was misleading, because he believed an environmental report dated June 2008 highlighted significant flaws;

8. the claim "The CERC will bring new jobs and, by providing heat to the adjacent clay driers, help to safeguard existing ones" was misleading, because he believed SITA could not verify that existing jobs at the clay driers would be safeguarded;

9. the claim "We estimate that around 250 jobs will be created during the peak construction phase, and a further 48 full-time jobs, once the centre opens" was misleading, because he believed SITA could not verify that that number of jobs would be created;

10. the claim "approximately 90 lorries (including some service deliveries) will visit the site every week day between 7am-6pm" was misleading, because he believed that the number of lorries visiting the site would be greater;

11. the claim "The proposals will meet the noise standards required by the Environmental Health standards" could be substantiated";

12. the claims "full environmental assessments are being carried out" and "the proposals are being designed to minimise any impact on wildlife" were misleading, because he believed that some wildlife had not yet been properly surveyed;

13. the claim "The Health Protection Agency says that modern incinerators are safe" could be substantiated; and

14. the claim "most independently reviewed evidence shows no risks to health from modern incineration facilities" was misleading, because he believed some studies had shown otherwise.

15. The ASA challenged whether the description of the project as "sustainable" in the claim "a sustainable solution for the management of Cornwall's waste" was misleading.   

The CAP Code:  3.1;7.1;49.1


Response
SITA disagreed that the leaflet was advertising material.  They said it was produced and distributed to inform the public as part of a consultation process to seek their views and comments and, at the time it was published, the details in the leaflet could be substantiated.  SITA explained that the leaflet was published before the planning application was submitted and therefore before the planning consultation process began.  It was therefore inevitable that some aspects would change as the general public and planning consultees responded and changes arising did not imply that the original details were wrong or misleading.  They emphasised that there had been no intention to mislead.

1. SITA UK Ltd (SITA) said the photomontages were aimed principally at illustrating the architectural appearance of the CERC, rather than its setting within the landscape.  They explained that the images did not form the basis of any formal assessment of the building's visual impact and were cropped and not representative of the total field of vision.  Had they been, the CERC would have appeared smaller in a wider landscape; the detail of the building would have been less discernible, negating the purpose of the photomontages.  SITA nevertheless confirmed that the photomontages of the CERC remained in proportion with their landscape setting and there was no distortion of the original photographs or architectural images.  They sent the ASA a comment from their planning consultants who confirmed that the photomontages had not been distorted in any way.  SITA nevertheless conceded that, in one of the photomontages, the positioning of the CERC was incorrect.  That was an unwitting error made at an early stage of the design process, which only came to light when they produced larger prints as part of the planning application process, almost one year later.  They believed, even if the CERC had been correctly located, the visual impression would not have been significantly altered.

2. SITA said, according to a study carried out by their environmental consultants, the CERC would deal with approximately 240,000 tonnes of residual household waste per year.  They provided us with a copy of the study.  Of the 240,000 tonnes, the CERC would produce approximately 55,000 tonnes of bottom ash, 5,400 tonnes of ferrous and non-ferrous metals, 11,000 tonnes of air pollution control residues (APCR), 5,500 tonnes of rejected bottom ash and 2,500 tonnes of rejected waste.  SITA said the APCR, rejected bottom ash and rejected waste would be disposed of to landfill; that equated to approximately 8% of the waste input.

SITA said the figures were based on similar facilities dealing with waste of a similar composition and were supported by the data used for modelling in Waste and Resources Assessment Tool for the Environment (WRATE), a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) software tool developed by the Environment Agency (EA) for comparing different management systems treating Municipal Solid Waste (MSW).

SITA disagreed with the complainant, who believed the figure was closer to 40% because there was no market for bottom ash, and pointed out that bottom ash was used as a direct replacement for primary aggregate in road and other construction projects.  They explained that they had been working closely with the UK market leader in sales of bottom ash.  That company had secured supply contracts with nationwide aggregates producers and distributors and also sold materials directly to major construction companies.  SITA said they would work closely with that company to market bottom ash to avoid it being landfilled.

3. SITA said the assessment of alternative sites was undertaken using clearly defined and robust planning criteria which took environmental factors into account and reflected the guidance as set out in the Government's Planning Policy Statement 10 (Waste Management) and Policy WL6 of Cornwall's Waste Local Plan.  They explained that the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) regulations required for an outline of the main alternatives to be considered.  Since they had assessed alternative sites, SITA believed this requirement was satisfied.  They said there was no specified methodology to assess alternative sites but the methodology they used was regarded by planning assessors as 'best practice'.

4. SITA said the leaflet listed the factors influencing the choice of site.  One factor was the site's location next to a railway "offering future opportunity to use rail to transport waste" which meant that it complied with Cornwall's Waste Local Plan.  SITA said there were no current plans to use rail transport for waste following a decision by Cornwall County Council (CCC) members that it was not economically viable for the moment.  They explained however that Council members did not want to rule out the possibility of rail transportation in the future and they therefore retained it as part of the selection criteria.  

5. SITA said the distribution of waste sites associated with the CERC operation had resulted in preferred routes being identified which the waste lorries would then be required to use.  They said it was common practice in the mineral and waste industry for lorry routing arrangements to be agreed between developers and the local planning and highways authorities, using legal agreements to provide an enforcement mechanism in the event of a breach.  SITA said, since the leaflet had been published, the lorry routing arrangement had been agreed with CCC which would prevent waste vehicles passing through St Dennis or Treviscoe.  They submitted a copy of a map outlining the routing arrangements and a draft copy of the agreement with CCC.

SITA said their lorry drivers would be advised of the requirement to use the designated routes during their induction process and appropriate signage would also be incorporated within the local road network.  They added that the need to use the approved routes would be a condition of drivers' employment contracts and disciplinary action would be taken against any driver not using them.  

6. SITA explained that, to operate the CERC, they had applied for an Environmental Permit from the EA.  They argued that the plant would not have received the permit if it was considered to pose a risk to people or the environment.  They said emissions from the plant had to comply with the European Union's Waste Incineration Directive (WID) and the CERC would produce lower levels of nitrogen and sulphur than those specified in the WID.  SITA supplied us with a copy of their projected emissions for those elements.

The complainant believed air quality had been measured using non-gravimetric measurements which could not be calibrated to EU standards.  SITA explained that the complainant had made this incorrect assumption based on a comment in a report by a set of environmental consultants in response to SITA's Environmental statement, submitted to the EA.  They said, however, that the results of the air quality monitoring were obtained from the background maps provided by the National Air Quality Information Archive (NAQIA) which used the Tapered Element Oscillating Microbalance (TEOM), an analyser which provided equivalent results to a gravimetric device.

7. SITA pointed out that the leaflet stated "... reliable, tried and tested methods will be used... " and referred to air pollution control plant and equipment which would be installed to achieve the emissions levels required by the WID.  They believed the complainant was referring to the air quality modelling which was carried out as part of the planning application.  They said the planning application stage had highlighted concerns and points requiring clarification with the air quality modelling but not significant flaws as the complainant had stated.  They said, in any case, the EA would determine the suitability of the air quality modelling and reiterated that reliable, tried and tested equipment would be installed.

8. SITA said the provision of heat at a long-term discounted price would help safeguard jobs at the clay driers, because its exposure to fluctuating energy prices would be limited.  They believed that would make the plant more economical to run and therefore more likely to remain profitable and a going concern.  SITA submitted an e-mail from the Managing Director of the clay driers confirming that reduced energy costs would help to safeguard jobs.

9. SITA said the main contractor for the CERC estimated that 250 jobs would be created during the peak construction phase in month 20 and that was based on their experience of constructing similar plants. They sent a chart showing the number of jobs estimated over the 31-month construction project.  

They said the 48 full-time jobs were an estimate based on their experience of operating a number of similar plants.  They sent a copy of the staffing structure for the CERC to show that 48 full-time jobs would be created.

10. SITA said the leaflet was produced prior to the Environmental Impact Assessment being finalised.  The revised figure for the number of waste vehicles that would visit the site in a week was 113.  SITA believed the leaflet made clear that the figure was not definitive and was subject to change by use of the word 'approximately'.  They submitted a Transport Assessment Summary prepared by independent consultants dated January 2008 in support.

11. SITA said the noise monitoring data was reviewed with the Environmental Health Officer of Restormel Borough Council and there were no further requirements for baseline monitoring.  

The complainant believed they had taken the readings at the wrong time, in the wrong place and had failed to assess the cumulative effect of noise and measure the changes in noise level.  SITA said however, in the planning stage of the project, details of precise working phases were limited and actual noise levels for each phase could not therefore be predicted with absolute confidence.  The purpose of the predictions was to give an indication of the potential scale of noise levels and to demonstrate that there would be periods when construction noise was audible, thereby warranting dedicated measures to control the noise.  SITA said the most effective means of noise control was to enter into an agreement with the local Authority to agree all working practices when the project programme was defined in detail.  They said they expected such an agreement to be a condition attached to the planning permission.

12. SITA pointed out that the leaflet stated "Full environmental assessments are being carried out" because, at the time of printing, the appropriate surveys had not been carried out due to seasonal restrictions.  They nevertheless told the ASA that the surveys had now been carried out to the satisfaction of the government's advisory body on landscape, Natural England.

13. & 14. SITA said the claim "The Health Protection Agency says that modern incinerators are safe" referred to the findings of the Health Impact Assessment (HIA) carried out by independent consultants which was published in March 2008.  They sent us a copy of the report which stated "Although many people were concerned about emissions most published evidence shows no risks to health from modern incineration facilities.  The Health Protection Agency says that incinerators are safe."  SITA submitted a copy of the Health Protection Agency's (HPA's) position statement on Municipal Waste Incineration dated November 2005 which they believed supported that view.  They therefore believed it was reasonable to conclude that the HPA view was that incinerators would not cause or lead to harm or injury and were therefore 'safe'.  SITA also believed it was important to use plain English in order to reassure readers of the circular who were concerned about whether or not incineration was safe.

SITA conceded that some studies showed that incineration posed risks to health but believed those studies did not withstand independent review and scrutiny.  They said the consensus from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' (Defra), the EA and the HPA was that, provided incinerators complied with modern regulatory requirements, they contributed little to concentrations of pollutants in ambient air.  SITA believed emissions from such plants had little effect on health.  They told us the WS2007 stated that "... Research carried out to date shows no credible evidence of adverse health outcomes for those living near incinerators."  

SITA also provided us with a letter from the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly NHS Primary Care Trust (PCT) and the HPA's review of the proposal, which were dated September 2008.  We noted the HPA review stated that "a few aspects of waste management have been broadly linked to health effects in local people.  More research is planned to ascertain whether or not these are real effects or statistical flaws in epidemiological studies."

15. SITA submitted a "Sustainability Statement" by a set of environmental consultants, dated March 2008, in support of the claim.  It concluded that "... the proposed CERC performs well in terms of four key elements of sustainability - the natural and cultural environment, climate change, energy and natural resources, economy and community.  This is primarily due to the recovery of value from waste, diversion of waste from landfill and the production of renewable energy.  A number of significant positive sustainability effects are predicted and few negative effects."  The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister recommended in its "Best Practice Guidance on the Validation Planning Applications" that local planning authorities request a sustainability statement to support planning applications.  The statement should outline the elements of the scheme that address sustainable development issues.  

SITA said the claim "a sustainable solution for the management of Cornwall's waste" should be considered in the context of Planning Policy Statement 10: Planning for Sustainable Waste Management (PPS10) which set out the Government's policy.  SITA said their leaflet did not conflict with the objectives of that policy.  They added that the leaflet addressed not only recycling and energy recovery, but also traffic and transport, noise, nature conservation, archaeology, health impact assessment and community and social effects, all of which were elements of sustainability.  SITA believed the term 'sustainable', in the context of waste management, was used accurately.

Assessment
The ASA considered that the leaflet was advertising material and was therefore subject to the CAP Code; it sought to persuade recipients to support the development and invited them to comment on the proposals for the CERC.

1. Upheld
The ASA noted the photomontages were intended to illustrate the architectural appearance of the building and, while they had been cropped and enlarged or reduced to suit the leaflet, they remained in proportion with their landscape setting and had not been distorted.  We noted the comments from the planning consultants confirming that.

We noted text beneath two of the photomontages stated "(photomontage) view from Treviscoe" and "(photomontage) view from the Church of St. Denys, St. Dennis".  We understood that, in the latter image, the positioning of the CERC was incorrect.  We considered that readers were likely to infer that, not only did the photomontages depict how the CERC would look architecturally, but also how it would appear within its surrounding environment.  While we understood that the photomontages had not been distorted and remained in proportion with their landscape setting, we concluded that the leaflet could mislead by showing the CERC in an incorrect position.

On this point, the leaflet breached CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation) and 7.1 (Truthfulness).

2. Not upheld
We noted SITA had estimated that around 10% of the waste would have to go to landfill based on data from similar facilities dealing with waste of a similar composition.  We considered that using data from similar facilities was a reasonable way in which to estimate the amount of waste that the CERC would need to dispose of to landfill.  

We noted the complainant believed the landfill figure would be closer to 40% because there was no market for bottom ash.  We nevertheless noted SITA's argument that it was often used as a direct replacement for primary aggregate in road and other construction projects and they would work with the market leader in that field to ensure that as little bottom ash as possible was landfilled.

We concluded that the claim was accurate and not misleading.

3. Not upheld
We noted SITA had assessed alternative sites using planning criteria, which was in accordance with the relevant Government guidance.  We also noted no specified methodology existed for assessing alternative sites but assessors regarded their model as 'best practice'.  Because we understood that the appropriate guidelines had been followed and SITA had assessed alternative sites, we concluded that the claim was unlikely to mislead.

4. Not upheld
We noted the site's location next to a railway was retained as a selection criterion because it offered "future opportunity to use rail to transport waste".  We noted the leaflet did not claim that waste would be transported by rail from the CERC's inception and noted there was no evidence to rule out that possibility in the future.  We concluded that the leaflet was unlikely to mislead on this point.

On points (2) - (4), we investigated the leaflet under CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation) and 7.1 (Truthfulness) but did not find it in breach.

5. Not upheld
We noted lorry routing arrangements had been agreed between SITA and CCC.  We also understood that SITA would advise their drivers of the requirement to use the designated routes during their induction process and would initiate disciplinary action if a driver deviated from those routes.  We noted signage would also be incorporated within the local road network to inform drivers of the designated routes.  

We noted the claim appeared in a section entitled "Site Access" which stated that lorries would access the site via a dedicated private haul road, meaning that public roads would be avoided.  In that context, we considered that readers were likely to infer from the claim "Lorries serving the site will not pass through St. Dennis or Treviscoe" that an alternative access route would divert traffic away from those locations.  As we understood that the lorry routing arrangements had now been finalised and confirmed that, we concluded that the claim was not misleading.  

On this point, we investigated the leaflet under CAP Code clause 7.1 (Truthfulness) but did not find it in breach.

6. Not upheld
We understood that the benefit of a gravimetric device over a non-gravimetric device was precision and also that gravimetric devices could be calibrated to different standards.  We also understood from SITA that the complainant had been wrong in his assumption.  SITA had measured air quality using a Tapered Element Oscillating Microbalance (TEOM), an analyser which provided equivalent results to a gravimetric device.   We also noted SITA's argument that the CERC would produce lower levels of nitrogen and sulphur than those specified in the WID.  We concluded that the claim was unlikely to mislead.

On this point, we investigated the leaflet under CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation) and 7.1 (Truthfulness) but did not find it in breach.

7. Not upheld
We noted the claim referred to air pollution control plant and equipment which had been tried and tested and would be installed to achieve the emissions levels required by the WID and did not refer to the air quality modelling which was carried out as part of the planning application, as the complainant had understood.  We concluded that the claim was not misleading.

On this point, we investigated the leaflet under CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation) and 7.1 (Truthfulness) but did not find it in breach.  

8. Not upheld
We noted the leaflet stated that the CERC would "help to safeguard" existing jobs at the clay driers.  We noted the claim was conditional in tone and considered that readers were likely to recognise that SITA were not guaranteeing that jobs would be safeguarded.  We noted the e-mail from the Managing Director of the clay driers stated that reduced energy costs, as a result of the provision of heat from the CERC, would help to safeguard jobs.  We concluded that the claim was unlikely to mislead.

On this point, we investigated the leaflet under CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation) and 7.1 (Truthfulness) but did not find it in breach.

9. Upheld
We noted the chart showing the number of people who were expected to be employed over the 31-month life of the construction project.  We noted the peak construction phase was in month 20 and the chart showed almost 250 people were expected to be employed in that month.  We noted for 18 months of the project, fewer than 100 people were expected to be employed.

We considered however that readers were likely to infer that the peak construction phase would last for more than one month.  Therefore, while we noted SITA had made clear that the number of jobs that would be created during the construction phase were estimates, we considered that the claim "around 250 jobs will be created during the peak construction phase" could mislead by exaggeration because that number of jobs was estimated for only one month.  We considered that the claim should have been qualified to make that clear.

In relation to the claim that 48 full-time jobs would be created, we noted SITA had based the claim on their experience of operating similar plants, which we considered was a reasonable basis for estimate.  We noted the organisational chart submitted which confirmed that 48 were to be created and concluded that the leaflet was not misleading in this respect.

On this point, the leaflet breached CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation) and 7.1 (Truthfulness).

10. Upheld
We noted the leaflet was produced prior to the completion of the EIA but that independent consultants had carried out a Transport Assessment Summary in January 2008.  We noted it included a table titled "Predicted Daily Trip Generation" and showed the trip type, the number of arrivals and departures of that type and the total.  We noted HGV Waste (Import) arrivals and departures totalled 62 and HGV Waste (Export) arrivals and departures totalled 20.  Five service deliveries were predicted per day.  We were therefore satisfied that, at the time the leaflet was published, the claim "Approximately 90 lorries (including some service deliveries) will visit the site..." had been substantiated.

We nevertheless noted the revised figure suggested that 113 vehicles would visit the site each week, almost a third more than initially estimated.  We noted the leaflet made clear that the figures were approximate but, as the EIA had not been completed when the leaflet was published, we considered that SITA should also have made clear that the figure was subject to change.  

On this point, the leaflet breached CAP Code clause 7.1 (Truthfulness) but did not breach 3.1 (Substantiation).

11. Not upheld
We noted SITA's comment that, in the planning stage of the project, details of precise working phases were limited and actual noise levels for each phase could not therefore be predicted with absolute confidence.

We considered that readers were likely to interpret the claim as a statement of intent, meaning that, if the planning application was successful, SITA would carry out tests on noise levels to meet the necessary noise standards required by Environmental Health.  We concluded that the claim was unlikely to mislead.

On this point, we investigated the leaflet under CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation) and 7.1 (Truthfulness) but did not find it in breach.

12. Not upheld
We considered that readers were likely to infer from the claims "full environmental assessments are being carried out" and "the proposals are being designed to minimise any impact on wildlife" that, at the time the leaflet was published, the environmental assessments were ongoing and were not yet completed.

We noted, at the time the leaflet was published, the appropriate environmental assessments had not been carried out due to seasonal restrictions, but had since been carried out to the satisfaction of Natural England.  We considered that the claims were unlikely to mislead.

On this point, we investigated the leaflet under CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation) and 7.1 (Truthfulness) but did not find it in breach.

13. Upheld
We noted the claim appeared in a section of the leaflet headed "health impact assessment".  We considered that readers were therefore likely to infer from the claim "The Health Protection Agency says that modern incinerators are safe" that the HPA had studied the effects of emissions from incinerators on the health of people living nearby and concluded that they posed no threat to health.

We noted the HPA statement said "The Agency has considered studies examining adverse health effects around incinerators and is not aware of any consistent or convincing evidence of adverse health outcomes.  However, it is accepted that the lack of evidence of adverse effects might be due to the limitations regarding the available data."  We noted the findings of the HIA reported that the HPA said incinerators were safe, however, we had not seen evidence that the HPA had made that claim.  While we noted the HPA concluded that emissions from modern incinerators had little effect, we concluded that the claim "modern incinerators are safe" was too absolute, had not been substantiated and could mislead.

On this point, the leaflet breached CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation) and 7.1 (Truthfulness).

14. Not upheld
We considered that readers were likely to understand from the claim that most, but not all, independently reviewed evidence showed no risks to health from modern incineration facilities.

We noted the HPA position statement concluded that, provided incinerators complied with modern regulatory requirements, epidemiological studies and risk estimates based on estimated exposures indicated that the emissions had little effect on health.  We noted their conclusions had been influenced by the findings of studies conducted by Defra, the Royal Society, the Medical Research Council and an independent advisory committee to the government.  

Since the leaflet did not imply that all independently reviewed research showed no risks to health, we concluded that the claim was unlikely to mislead.

On this point, we investigated the leaflet under CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation) and 7.1 (Truthfulness) but did not find it in breach.

15. Upheld
We noted the sustainability statement by the environmental consultants concluded that the CERC performed well in terms of four key elements of sustainability - the natural and cultural environment, climate change, energy and natural resources, economy and community.

We recognised that the term 'sustainable' was used and understood in a variety of different ways and we noted SITA's comment that the leaflet addressed not only recycling and energy recovery, but also other elements of sustainability such as traffic and transport and community and social effects.  We considered, however that, in the context of a leaflet that talked primarily about recycling and energy recovery, consumers were likely to understand that the use of the term 'sustainable' in the claim "a sustainable solution for the management of Cornwall's waste" was defined primarily in environmental terms.

We understood the best practice guidance on environmental claims in Defra's "Green Claims Code" stated that green claims should not "be vague or ambiguous ... Claims should always avoid the vague use of terms such as 'sustainable' ...".  We understood that new guidance on the use of the terms sustainable and sustainability was under consideration by Defra but considered the "Green Claims Codes" remained the best guidance for advertisers.  Whilst we acknowledged that the production of energy from waste could provide substantial environmental benefits we nonetheless considered that, in the light of Defras current recommendations, SITA had not clearly explained the basis of the claim, and it was therefore likely to be meaningless to consumers and could mislead.

On this point, the leaflet breached CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation), 7.1 (Truthfulness) and 49.1 (Environmental claims).

Action
The leaflet must not appear again in its current form.  

Adjudication of the ASA Council (Non-broadcast)