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Volume 456: debated on Friday 2 February 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs which recycling plants abroad have been visited by his officials in the last 18 months; and at what cost to his Department. (112567)

Defra assisted the British embassy in Berne in coordinating a delegation for an outward three-day visit to Switzerland, under the UK Trade and Investment Programme, for 10 key English local authorities. The visit, which was attended by two Defra officials, incorporated a range of formal presentations and meetings with Swiss politicians and waste industry representatives as well as site visits to two recycling plants.

The aim of the visit was to learn about Swiss best practice in waste prevention, collection and recycling processing, in addition to bringing together key authorities to assist in their own waste infrastructure development.

Delegates included local authority officers and councillors from Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Greater London, Hertfordshire, Tyneside, Northamptonshire and Suffolk. The total cost to the Department for officials was, £1245.

Officials have also visited a recycling plant at a Danish deposit/return system. However, this was part of a wider ministerial visit to learn about waste management in Denmark generally, rather than an official trip.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) what action he is taking with retail operators to encourage the recycling of plastic carrier bags; (117693)

(2) what steps his Department is taking to encourage greater use of biodegradable and recyclable materials in the use of carrier bags for supermarkets.

The Environment Agency is currently carrying out a study considering the environmental impacts of a range of carrier bags, including disposable plastic carrier bags and biodegradable alternatives. The study will look at their entire life-cycle (from raw material extraction through to product manufacture, use and final disposal) and is due to report by the end of March this year. The evidence so far suggests there would be no benefit in reducing the number of plastic bags in use if this encourages the use of alternative packaging or materials which are even more environmentally damaging.

The National Non-Food Crops Centre has also started work on life cycle analysis comparison of plastic, oxodegradable and biodegradable bags. Again, this will be available by March 2007. They have established a thematic working group on biopolymers which aims to promote and facilitate the expansion of this sector. Biopolymers are derived from renewable sources and can be used in a range of products, including bags, which helps to develop a sustainable supply chain.

On 12 October last year, the Scottish Minister, Ross Finnie, and I jointly chaired a meeting with major UK retailers, to discuss a proposed voluntary code of practice on reducing the use of paper and plastic carrier bags. Defra is working closely with the devolved administrations, the Waste Resources Action Programme, the British Retail Consortium, retailers and the plastics industry to develop a voluntary approach for reducing the environmental impact of carrier bags. This is looking at ways of encouraging consumers to ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ carrier bags. We intend to announce a programme of joint activity shortly.

In addition, the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 2005 require that 60 per cent. of packaging is recovered by 2008 and that a minimum of 55 per cent. is recycled. The regulations have succeeded so far in raising the recycling rate in the UK for packaging waste from around 27 per cent. in 1997 to 54.4 per cent. in 2005.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what recent assessment he has made of the sustainability of markets for recycled materials. (117980)

Rising energy costs are encouraging industry to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels and consider greater use of recycled materials, especially in the glass and plastic sectors. This, and a range of other factors such as Government interventions, have caused a period of unprecedented growth in recycling.

We can expect recycling to increase further, and it will be important to continue to progress market development (the development of sustainable markets for recycled materials) in the UK. Defra’s Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) has been established with this role. WRAP’s work is focusing on materials where barriers need to be tackled to improve the sustainability of the markets concerned. These include paper, plastics, glass, wood and compost.

Broadly, challenges in these and other markets include:

(i) developing alternative markets for recycled material and improving standards, specifications and procurement arrangements (particularly in the case of paper, plastics, wood and compost);

(ii) improving reprocessing capacity (particularly for plastics, wood and compost);

(iii) addressing quality sourcing problems (particularly in the case of paper, glass, wood and compost); and

(iv) improving collection infrastructure (especially for plastics, wood and compost).

The current WRAP business plan outlines how these market development challenges are being addressed.

WRAP has also started to produce public market situation reports for key recyclable materials. The first of these, on glass, was published in January 2007. This identified that a particular challenge for glass market development will be increasing the quantity of high quality colour-separated cullet. WRAP plans that a report on paper will follow in spring 2007 and another on plastic in summer 2007.