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Local Authority Recycling

Volume 456: debated on Thursday 1 February 2007

Recycling and composting of household waste has doubled in the past four years and more than tripled in the past eight years. Government support for, and engagement with, the poorest performing local authorities, as well as progressively lower landfill limits and the escalating landfill tax will all help to drive forward even higher recycling rates.

Impressive as the Secretary of State’s answer is, he will be aware of the considerable discrepancies between the policies of different authorities. Some recycle glass, but others do not; some recycle plastic, but others do not; some fine people if they put their rubbish in the wrong recycling bin, which is not helpful if we wish to encourage more recycling. As the Secretary of State prepares to publish his new waste strategy, what steps will he take to encourage a more uniform performance by local authorities further to increase recycling rates?

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s recognition of the Government’s impressive record, which was largely achieved before I arrived in the Department. I accept his point that we need to drive up performance across the country, but there are different ways of doing so in different areas to reflect local needs. It is significant that over 90 per cent. of local authorities offer kerb-side collection, and over 80 per cent. collect plastics as well as the more traditional recyclates. In the waste strategy, we will indeed seek to find ways of helping all local authorities to raise their performance. May I point out to the right hon. Gentleman an example of interdepartmental co-operation that he will applaud? In the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill, which has been introduced in the House, the development of joint waste authorities across metropolitan borough lines will help to achieve the consistency that he rightly seeks.

Will the Minister consider, too, the slightly perverse effect of the weight requirement on local authorities, which discourages the recycling of plastic and results in recycled paper being of much poorer quality because of the co-mingling of waste?

My hon. Friend makes an important technical point. As she suggested, there is a tendency, if we are not careful, to discriminate against the collection of high-volume but low-weight plastics. As I suggested earlier, the fact that 80 per cent. of local authorities collect plastics is a step forward, but I assure my hon. Friend that the issue is being looked at. We are keen in the waste strategy to make sure that any disincentives to recycling and collection are minimised.

Is it not the case that recycling rates would improve if more packaging were made of recyclable materials? What steps has the Secretary of State taken to encourage food producers, particularly the large supermarket chains, to adopt a more responsible approach by reducing excess packaging and, importantly, making sure that any necessary packaging is made from materials that can be recycled?

I hope that the hon. Lady agrees that the first priority is to reduce the amount of packaging, rather than to tackle the recycling potential. As for packaging that is required, may I point out that voluntary agreements to achieve an 80 per cent. reduction in packaging have been negotiated in part by my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare with some major supermarkets? All supermarkets have to meet the requirements of the packaging directive that we have implemented, but the hon. Lady made an important point about the recycling of packaging. As I recollect, 70 to 80 per cent. of packaging is recyclable, but it is important to drive that up as high as possible. The interest in her constituency knows no bounds, because one of my colleagues tells me that she conducts some of her surgeries in Tesco, and I am sure that she can take the recycling message to her next surgery.

Stockport’s Liberal Democrat council proposes to deliver 52 black bin bags—a year’s supply—to every household in one go, with no restrictions on the number of bags that people are allowed to put out each week. Will that help or hinder recycling efforts in Stockport?

When it comes to local matters in Stockport, I certainly take my hon. Friend’s views about the rights and wrongs of the situation into account, as he is a passionate campaigner for a more environmentally friendly and greener Stockport. From central Government’s point of view, it is important that local authorities pay suitable attention to the particular needs of their own areas, which is why we have not sought to impose a single Stalinist model for recycling and collection on the country. It is right that local authorities innovate, but they should do so in a sensible way, not a silly way.

Over the past year the Government have announced welcome plans to do more, at last, to promote recycling of school waste, but how will they judge the effectiveness of any of those initiatives if, according to the written answer given to me by the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda),

“Central Government have not set any specific recycling targets for schools. There are targets for local authority recycling of household waste which does not include waste from schools. We do not know how much school waste has been recycled in the last 10 years”—[Official Report, 25 July 2006; Vol. 449, c. 1461W.]?

New schemes are great, but where is the visible follow-through, where is the rigour of reporting progress, and where is the accountability?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I applaud the hon. Gentleman’s concern to boost recycling rates, and I am sure he will be as pleased as I am that local authorities have been reminded recently that they have a duty to collect recyclates from schools, which has not always happened. As my hon. Friend suggested, one person’s rigour in reporting, which I think was the phrase that the hon. Gentleman used, is another person’s bureaucracy and form-filling. I am sure the hon. Gentleman would not want me to announce that I was sending a form to every school in the country asking it to weigh the amount of waste recycled. We will know success when we achieve more recycling by local authority levels. The percentages that I gave in answer to the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) are the sort of outcome that the hon. Gentleman should support, rather than denigrate.