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Household Recycling

Volume 461: debated on Thursday 21 June 2007

Our new waste strategy sets new and challenging targets to increase household recycling and composting, which has quadrupled since 1997. We expect further big improvements as part of the new strategy.

Given the wide variation between local authorities’ actions on household recycling, what steps is the Department taking to ensure that all local authorities are aware of best practice, implement it, are suitably encouraged to use it and empowered to do so?

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the unacceptable differences in performance between local authorities. Some are already performing at the levels of our best European counterparts, whereas others hover just above single figures for recycling. We have a programme of engagement with the poorest performers and I plan to meet some of those in the weeks to come. Of course, they are all subject not only to our targets but to the landfill tax. If they do not increase their recycling and reduce their landfill, their council tax payers will pay a heavy price.

No, that is best left to local authorities as they know the circumstances of their area. It is not central Government’s job and I would have thought that Liberal Democrats agreed with that. We believe in devolution and allowing local authorities to determine the best way in which to collect their waste.

I am not sure whether my hon. Friend knows that Hackney council introduced compulsory recycling at the beginning of March. Recycling from street properties has increased by 3 per cent. since then. However, one of the challenges that remains for boroughs such as Hackney is how best to recycle plastics. Can he give some guidance about the Government’s progress in ensuring that that is cost-effective for councils throughout the country?

I congratulate my hon. Friend’s local authority on that improvement. Like several other local authorities in London, it has not always had a good recycling record and it is good to know that that is improving. We are recycling more and more plastics, not least because of the high oil price, which makes it more financially sensible for local authorities to recycle. The vast majority of plastics in the waste stream are now recyclable, but again, we believe that it is up to local authorities, working with organisations such as the Waste and Resources Action Programme, to devise the best schemes for their area, whether that means collecting plastics separately or together with other recyclables. I would encourage as many local authorities as possible to collect plastics. Indeed, the waste strategy includes new incentives to encourage the growth of plastics recycling by local authorities.

Will the Minister join me in congratulating the Havering branch of Freecycle, which is one of 412 branches in London? Freecycle is a website that facilitates the exchange of unwanted items—rather like eBay except that no money changes hands. The Havering branch saves 50 tonnes of household refuse from going into landfill every week.

I do congratulate the hon. Lady’s local branch of Freecycle. Third sector organisations play an important role in waste management and that role will be much bigger under the new waste strategy. It includes new measures to encourage third sector organisations, which can provide an important social benefit in an area and also tend to have better contact at community level to encourage people into the recycling habit.

The Minister will be well aware that household waste has gone up by something like 15 per cent. over the last decade. Should he not be tackling that and trying to reduce the amount of waste rather than increasing the amount of landfill tax that the Treasury raises?

I am afraid that what the hon. Gentleman says is not strictly correct. In fact, we have managed to break the link between economic growth and waste growth. In 2004-05, I believe that we had the first ever fall in the overall amount of municipal waste created. In the two years since then, it has been 0.5 per cent. growth, which is really very small indeed and far smaller than it has been historically. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that if we are to be tough with the waste hierarchy, the most important thing to do is to minimise waste. He will have noticed, I am sure, particularly if he has studied the strategy, that for the very first time we now have a waste minimisation or waste reduction target of 45 per cent. by 2020. That is quite a challenging target, but I am confident that we will meet it.

According to an answer from the Department of Trade and Industry earlier this week, 28 per cent. of civil amenity sites will be unable to process all the forms of electronic waste when the waste electrical and electronic equipment directive comes into force a week this Saturday. Given that one of the UK’s largest recycling firms has said that there will not be sufficient capacity to cope with the impact of the WEEE directive—a view echoed by the Local Government Association—what assurances can the Minister provide that the fridge mountain fiasco is not about to convert into a DVD, PC and TV fiasco? What assessment has he made of the possibility of increased fly-tipping over the summer months?

The figures that the hon. Gentleman has just given show that 72 per cent. of municipal sites are in a position to deal with the WEEE directive. He will know that this is an extremely complex area and that we have been working very closely on it with the DTI. My DTI colleagues tell me that they are confident that the sort of difficulties that the hon. Gentleman fears may arise will not arise, and I am confident in their predictions.