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Recycling

Volume 451: debated on Thursday 2 November 2006

2. Whether the Government are meeting their recycling targets for local authorities; and what his plans are to increase further the level of recycling carried out by local authorities. (98801)

Provisional figures for 2005-06 show that English households recycled or composted 27 per cent. of their waste. That exceeds the Government target of 25 per cent. and means that recycling has almost quadrupled under Labour. The landfill tax escalator and allowance trading scheme are also acting as strong incentives to local authorities and businesses to increase recycling. Another effective incentive might be the tabloid press, or the prospect of the tabloid press rifling through one’s bins.

In my constituency, Tameside council has recorded an 8.3 per cent. increase in its recycling rate to 20.79 per cent. and Stockport has maintained its rate at 30 per cent. That means that, even with older facilities for recycling, many people are still either not using them as much as they could or not using them at all. What else can be done to encourage people to use the recycling facilities available and make the necessary environmental step change, particularly when the Waste and Resources Action Programme estimates that households could recycle up to 60 per cent. of their waste?

My hon. Friend is right and I congratulate his local authorities on their achievements. Recycling is often wrongly perceived as a peripheral environmental issue when it is essential to our fight against dangerous climate change. The emissions that are saved by recycling are equivalent to taking 3.5 million cars off our roads. Good education and good information for residents are important, because some systems in parts of the country are confusing and people do not always know exactly what should go into which bin. It is important to make it easier for people, and we have done that by rollingout kerbside recycling services to 94 per cent. of households—a 50 per cent. increase in only one year.

Hull has historically low recycling rates, partly due to a complicated calendar of different collections for black boxes, blue bins and so on. Does my hon. Friend agree that Liberal Democrat-controlled Hull city council needs to make it as easy as possible for people to develop good recycling habits before moving to fortnightly collections of household waste?

It is certainly important that all local authorities that are considering moving to alternate weekly collections do that carefully, provide good information to residents and do not use them as the only means of increasing their recycling rates.

Information is important. There are confusing systems around the country, and I am often asked why we cannot have a uniform system. The problem is that different technologies have developed over the years in different local authorities and it would be hugely expensive for central Government to impose a uniform system. It is important that local authorities, wherever they are, use their systems to increase recycling.

The Minister is right that good progress has been made with recycling in some areas, especially Conservative-controlled local authorities. However, nowhere is the chasm between ministerial rhetoric and practical action wider than in our schools. In too many cases, young people learn about the environment and respond with genuine passion, yet the waste that is generated in their schools is incinerated or sent to landfill. Not only do the Government not set targets for school waste, but Ministers cannot even tell the House how much school waste is produced. Funding for school recycling is confused, and the rules are opaque and interpreted differently across the country. The pupils and staff whom I meet are exasperated by the clear lack of action. Will the Government stop tinkering with—

I am pleased when any local authority, whatever its political colour, does well on recycling. It is interesting to note that those that have traditionally performed worst are improving quickest.

I take the hon. Gentleman’s point about recycling in schools. He is right to say that there is a variety of practice throughout the country, depending on local authority policy. When we publish our new waste strategy in the new year, we want to try to break down the Berlin wall that has existed between municipal and non-municipal waste collection and disposal. That will go a long way towards helping schools and businesses that would like to do more but find barriers in the way.

Bournemouth borough council has introduced microchip technology into the recycling wheelie bins throughout the borough. How might that technology be used? How can financial punishments be used to encourage people to meet the targets that the Minister mentioned?

The technology has the potential to measure the amount of non-recyclable waste that householders produce. It is used with other systems in other countries that have a differential charging system. Such a system has been shown to increase recycling and reduce overall waste, thus reducing costs to councils and council tax payers. However, no decisions have been made on that in this country. Local authorities that have introduced those bins have done so because they constitute the common technology. Only two local authorities that have used them to measure or weigh the waste have done so to gain better data on how well they are doing on the positive incentives that they have introduced to encourage householders to recycle.

Middlesbrough council has along-term contract to take waste to an incinerator, which generates energy and therefore benefits the environment. Does my hon. Friend agree that incineration is also an environmentally friendly method of waste disposal?

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that it has a role to play. Countries across the channel that have a much better record than we do on waste management and the environment more generally also have much higher levels of waste-to-energy capacity. We have a very low waste-to-energy capacity in this country: it is about 9 per cent. We still send far too much of our waste to landfill and we think that there will be a need for more waste-to-energy capacity as part of our new policy when it is published in the new year. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: in climate change terms, it is far better to create energy from waste than to put waste in landfill, where it creates methane, which has a greenhouse gas effect that is21 times more potent than CO2.

Willthe Minister congratulate Conservative-controlled Kettering borough council, which has increased its kerbside recycling rate from 4 per cent. in 2003 to more than 45 per cent. just three years on and which recently won a prestigious award for having the best kerbside recycling team in the country?

I am ashamed to have to say that, at 17 per cent. waste recycling, Birmingham city council came 286th in the league tables. Hopefully that will improve with the recent garden waste doorstep collection, but doorstep collection of glass and plastic still takes place only on a pilot basis and there is still no collection point to which people can take their waste plastics. The council has attributed that to the lack of a plastics processor in Birmingham and the need to feed the Tyseley energy-from-waste incinerator. Does my hon. Friend share my concern that the existence of energy-from-waste plants is discouraging councils from recycling or from setting up facilities that allow—

As my hon. Friend reminds the House, it is a Conservative council. I hope that it makes more of an effort to provide the sort of facilities that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones) describes. Plastics and glass are collected by many local authorities around the country. There is a good price for plastics at the moment because of the high oil price. As many hon. Members will know, we export quite a lot of our waste for recycling in other countries. I am not quite sure why there is a particular problem in her region, but I will certainly look into the matter and write to her. She is right to say that it is important that, as we move towards more energy from waste, we do not take the pressure off increased recycling. Recycling is still a much better environmental option than incineration—she is right to say that—but incineration is better than landfill.