We intend to publish the revised waste strategy for England in the new year.
In reviewing the waste strategy, has my hon. Friend considered giving local authorities powers to introduce variable charges for waste collection, to reflect the real cost of collection and incentivise waste recycling? If so, will he consider discussing with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government whether suitable enabling clauses can be introduced into the forthcoming local government Bill?
My hon. Friend is right to raise this important matter. Evidence from other countries suggests that giving householders a rebate for recycling can incentivise recycling and reduce overall waste. In turn, that cuts the costs incurred by householders and local authorities. The Conservative-controlled Local Government Association has requested that we give local authorities that freedom, and it is being actively considered.
Local authorities have targets for household waste recycling, and I am pleased to say that Kettering borough council has one of the best recycling rates in the country. When will DEFRA introduce targets and incentives for local authorities and others to recycle waste from commercial organisations?
Targets already exist that affect the commercial sector, where the level of recycling and reuse is nearly double what is in the household sector. In the past, our priority has been to try to get household recycling up to levels similar to those achieved in the commercial and business sectors. However, we are actively considering the role of the commercial sector as part of the waste review that we intend to publish in the new year.
One element of reducing waste involves reducing the amount of material going to waste in the first place. What is DEFRA doing to reduce the amount of excess packaging that is so prevalent among many major food suppliers in the country?
My hon. Friend will be delighted to know that the latest audited figures, which I think will be published tomorrow, show that we have managed to decrease the overall amount of waste we produced over the last year by the biggest amount ever—and it is only the second time that we have managed to achieve that since the second world war. We can break the link between economic growth and waste growth, which is absolutely right. We need to do more on minimisation. Retailers have recently signed up to a voluntary agreement with our Department to end the growth of unnecessary packaging and reduce it in absolute terms overall by 2010. I very much welcome that agreement.