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Waste Recycling

Volume 471: debated on Wednesday 6 February 2008

It is a delight to be speaking under your tutelage again, Mr. Cook. I am sure that you will keep us in order and tell us when to stop talking and move on.

Waste recycling excites the membership of the Norwich Labour party general committee much more than issues such as the bugging of the odd MP’s conversation or MPs’ expenses, on which we go rather quiet. If someone mentions recycling, everyone is an expert. Everybody uses it and knows something about it—people know where it is done better or worse, which country is best and so on. That is exciting, because it means that people care about how society gets rid of its waste, and, gosh, there is a lot of it around. We see packaging outside supermarkets—we saw it strewn all over College green yesterday afternoon—and wherever one looks, there is waste paper, waste resources and packets, so we have taken up the issue of how to prevent it.

I shall not go back to 20,000 BC, when activity was first recorded in this area. I shall not give a 20-lecture course on the subject, although once I got into it, I could see 20 lectures looming. Who knows, if things go wrong at the next election, that is where it might all end up—a nice little lectureship somewhere, perhaps Oxford, talking about waste recycling.

The passion is there, and it has been much amplified by the Government in the past few years. We have recognised that landfill is not sustainable. There are various estimates of how long landfill space will last in this country; for example, the Local Government Association has said that it will last for less than nine years.

There is real concern about recycling hazardous material. If toxic materials are dumped, it is easy for them to cause environmental problems. It was only in 1970 that recycling and its relationship to the environment were highlighted in the political life of this country. Mobile phones should be discarded in the right place and not just thrown behind a hedge. The batteries contain substances such as cadmium, palladium, beryllium and lead, all of which could be deposited in landfill and would, of course, contaminate the soil and cause various environmental dangers.

I want to pay a compliment to the Royal Society of Chemistry, which has probably inundated hon. Members with information about the research that it is doing on green product design, domestic waste, water waste, electronics waste and energy production waste, and the kind of research and technology that it is developing through its skilled membership—chemists and others—to try to handle these problems. This is a growing field with lots to learn and lots being done, and I shall amplify that point.

Of course, the key issue is the effect of waste on climate change. Most countries now accept that reducing carbon dioxide emissions is absolutely important to people’s welfare not only in the next few years but now and very much in the future. That has contributed much to the recycling debate. Whenever one talks about recycling, it is not long before somebody talks about climate change.

Recycling old materials obviously uses less energy and creates less CO2 than extracting new: 1 kg of aluminium saves approximately 11 kg of carbon, and 75 per cent. less energy is needed to make something out of recycled steel than to make it out of new. All in all, it is said that recycling in Britain reduces the nation’s carbon emissions by about 10 million to 15 million tonnes, which is no mean feat.

The United Kingdom dumps more waste in landfill sites than other European countries—it has been estimated that 22 million tonnes are dumped. Our record is not as good as that of other European countries, but recording the data develops arguments about how we measure progress. I was excited by this debate and went with two of my workers in the Norwich office to look at a site just outside Norwich, at a place called Costessey—they pronounce things differently in Norwich. We saw how the council is surging ahead and improving its percentage standards; we saw the lorries coming in with the rubbish and being weighed; and we saw bales of recycled paper and so on being transported not only to other parts of the United Kingdom but to the world.

We now recycle more than 23 per cent. of our household waste, which we have been very positive about, but it has been estimated that 60 to 70 per cent. of all household waste could be recycled. According to official figures, we still lag behind Germany, Holland and Belgium, where more than 50 per cent. of household waste is recycled, but that does not mean that we will not catch them up very quickly.

Of course, people have questioned certain practices. There are numerous examples of councils sending waste to China and India, which involves CO2 emissions. Some of those ships have come from there and would have to go back, so we are not adding to emissions in that sense, but we are certainly not handling the problem here in the United Kingdom. We want to know whether waste is recycled once it reaches those countries, and whether the quality of the recycled material is low or high. That factor must be considered in any assessment of how well we are doing, or in comparing ourselves with other countries or comparing different parts of our own country. Once markets develop in areas such as China and India, there will no longer be a demand for poor quality, contaminated waste, and we will have to do something ourselves about the problem. The future will be challenging on that front.

The Government have taken a positive approach and have ambitious targets—40 per cent. in 2010, 45 per cent. in 2015 and 50 per cent. in 2020. We want to ensure that support is given to local councils, which handle such matters, so that they can reach the targets. There are no penalties involved, but there is incitement to do something, to take up the challenge and to see how recycling can be done. That requires local leadership and looking at best practice in different parts of the country. Of course, I would say that Norwich is well up there in the top three. It is in bronze position, but aiming for the gold standard. That approach involves not only Norwich, but all the councils in the Norfolk area—all seven of them—working together in a kind of partnership, which I shall discuss later. The forthcoming Climate Change Bill will give us a chance to look at the issue in depth, and to use financial incentives at council level to encourage greater recycling. There are examples of that in Switzerland.

In this country, the landfill tax has been a major incitement to getting on with the job of recycling. It went up by £1 a year from 1999 and £3 a year from 2005, and it is due to increase by £8 a year from this April, which was announced in the last Budget.

Mobile phones are being added to the waste electrical and electronic equipment regulations to prevent phones from ending up in landfills and thereby polluting the environment. Those are some of the positive things that are happening. If one wants to dispose of a mobile phone, there is now a mechanism that involves phoning the local council to get rid of it. Of course, some of our young people want to get rid of a phone every week, which is a problem in itself. I just have to say quickly that I heard somebody the other night around the corner from their home phoning their Mum to run the bath water. Mobile phone conversations reach great heights, and one can understand the necessity of people changing their phone every week to ensure that Mum gets important messages.

The Minister said on 2 January that councils are

“helping in our battle against dangerous climate change”

with their recycling efforts. On 15 November, she stated:

“The case for reducing the amount of waste we all produce is clear—it is damaging the environment and contributing to climate change.”

We are all on board and things are beginning to move.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on obtaining this debate. This is almost like an away day for the second floor of Portcullis House, in that the Minister, the initiator of the debate and I are all immediate neighbours. My hon. Friend has focused on the domestic and the local, but there is a national strategy, and we also need to look at business. The Government have had a great deal of success over the past three years with their national industrial symbiosis programme, which diverts waste from landfill at 13p a tonne and reduces carbon dioxide by a similar amount for similar reductions. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important to sustain that sort of investment, which is a classic example of best practice in Government projects at work?

Of course I agree, but I am beginning to think that my hon. Friend has got hold of my notes, because that is exactly what I was about to move on to. The Portcullis House paranoia continues, because other hon. Members who are based in Portcullis House are in the Chamber.

Most waste comes from the commercial sector, and much more could be done about that. The treasurer of the business resource and efficiency waste partnership—BREW—has asked the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs to develop the programme and to return to businesses £284 million of the additional receipts from increases in landfill tax for three years to encourage and support resource efficiency organisation. That programme is beginning to move forward. The national industrial symbiosis programme, as my hon. Friend has said, brings businesses together to recycle waste and to create a sustainable waste management industry. I will discuss later how that can be taken forward, and whether it will be.

There is still a lack of education among the public. As I make my way to the station every Monday morning, it is interesting to see where young people live. Their green bins, which take bottles, are always absolutely full to the brim with bottles rolling on to the pavement. Outside the houses of nice people like me is one bottle of wine in our poor little empty bin—I joke, of course. Nevertheless, it is interesting to see from their waste bins how people live their lives. One can see that not only from e-mails that are not properly destroyed, but from the sort of wines that people have been drinking. One can almost tell where they got their bottles.

There is a lack of education, because people still do not know what to put in their bins. Our trip to the Costessey plant outside Norwich was precipitated by meeting people at a local fayre—that is how it is spelt in Norfolk villages—and they talked to us about what people put in their bins. In my area, we have two bins, but we are about to have three, as in many other parts of Norwich, because the programme is being rolled out. We were putting the wrong things in the wrong bins, and if we do so we may receive a yellow or red card. That is to educate people and to tell them that they must do better. It is easy to know where to put bottles, but more difficult with yoghurt tubs.

A major lesson in Norfolk—this may seem simplistic—is that we must not flatten cans because of the way in which they are separated from paper and other items. If a flattened can is put into the bin, it does not get taken out by the process, and ends up with newspapers and so on. It was worth going to that marvellous centre to learn something. One can always learn more about recycling.

We had a huge battle about incineration at the same site, and various quangos and groups fought to prevent that. I shall not go into the arguments about dioxins, gases and potential hazards, but the public did not want it, and they will now have an alternative, greener and friendlier destruction process. However, I saw in today’s paper that there is a threat that local politicians may be trying, sneakily, to bring back the possibility of incineration. There is a threat of an incineration plant in Suffolk. Incineration is popular with many people but, like wind turbines, there is no guarantee of introducing them, because the public have a feeling about incineration, rightly or wrongly. The public must participate in the process and understand why items must be separated. Open days and trips around recycling plants, of which there are quite a few in Norwich, are good for people to see how the process functions.

There have been consultation papers and co-operation between organisations to try to develop the industry in the United Kingdom. I am proud of the situation in Norwich and Norfolk. At the Costessey plant, I met Bob Wade from Broadland district council and Steve Jenkins, the local authority contract manager at Norfolk Environmental Waste Services Ltd. Throughout Norfolk, recycling figures are high at above 25 per cent. Where they have been low, as they were in Norwich until recently, they have suddenly increased and smashed through the barrier set by DEFRA, which I believe was 20 per cent. How was that done? Paper, cans and bottles are collected every two weeks by a door-to-door service. Garden waste goes into brown bins, and bottles into green. There are banks for textiles, plastics and bottles, and about 20 centres with Tetra Pak banks for apple and orange juice cartons. It is quite exciting to learn about that, and how much waste we produce in society.

There are small differences from one local authority to another, but Norfolk is leading the way. How do we do that? NEWS recycles dry waste, and it has a V-screen, which is a device to separate waste materials by shape. It separates paper from other materials, and newspapers and magazines from mixed paper. Unwanted material goes through electromagnets, and eddy currents separate steel and aluminium. Those materials are bundled and sold in the UK, and they can be seen outside the plant, where they are properly separated and available to produce high-quality products. The plant also handles plastics, and the various materials are used to make newspapers, cans, fibres for plastic containers, fleeces, and even duvets. They can be used to make a range of things, but if waste is not separated properly, a low-grade material is produced with cross-contamination, much of which goes to the far east, where we hope that it is handled properly.

NEWS is an arm of Norfolk county council, but it operates as a private company and receives no direct financial or operational input from the county council. Not only is it economically sustainable, but it makes a profit, which goes back to the council to help with other services. I must declare an interest, because I once did some work on air pollution for NEWS when I worked at the local university. I discussed how far microbes might travel on wind currents across the Norfolk countryside and whether houses in a certain small village would be contaminated and so on. I believe that NEWS used that information in some of its composting endeavours.

Something is happening not only in Norfolk, but throughout the country, and when one sees it at first hand, one feels proud that recycling is part of an important political agenda. All the district and city councils have signed up to NEWS, and they have similar recycling practices and separation. That was initiated by NEWS, which was a group of individuals who were enthusiastic about doing something. NEWS is not a profit-making organisation—none of those individuals is a millionaire—and there are no shares. That is not a Northern Rock situation, because NEWS was just a group of people who believed in climate change, and that leadership, á la Alex Ferguson, is important. When people have a desire to make something happen, they sit down, go through all the problems and manage to get there, and NEWS has done that.

NEWS has a red and yellow card system, with brown bins to recycle compost and green waste. Initially that happened only in some areas, but NEWS has now managed to wheel it out throughout the county. It has alternate weekly collections, and the top recycling councils nationally have introduced alternate weekly collections or other methods. They have increased recycling percentages, and reduced the amount of waste going to landfill.

That is pretty good, and a real start. I was brought up in a culture where waste was thrown over the shoulder, but I live in a very climate-conscious house, and I cannot drop anything without being told, “It goes in there.” That is important.

My hon. Friend mentions alternate weekly collections. He will be aware that the Opposition and their pet daily tabloids have run continuous campaigns to suggest that alternate weekly collections are damaging to the health and environment of the neighbourhood and should be ended forthwith. Will he say how important such collections are in Norfolk and Norwich? That type of approach can work and produce high levels of recycling without incurring great costs.

That is absolutely true. I am not saying that it was easy at the start, but it has worked out. People know exactly when the collections take place. They save the material, keep it in different sub-boxes before putting it in the collection cans. It is part of an education. When people really believe in something, they will work through the process. I hope that we do not end up with a weekly collection because it will mean that drinking has increased, and we want to cut that down as well. I do not want people to think, “I must fill up my box this week because they are coming.” A little bit of discipline can be quite a good thing, and alternate weekly collections work well.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is nothing magic about alternate weekly collections? What we must ensure is that each community devises a recycling scheme that is right for that community and does so with due regard to local people’s lifestyle and habits. It should not devise a scheme simply because it is under financial duress from central Government. All too often, systems are chosen because of the financial settlement and not because of what is right. In London, I have recyclables collected from my doorstep twice a week. At home in the country, the council has just switched to an alternate weekly collection, not least because of the financial implications of doing anything different. I welcome the driving up of recycling, but alternate weekly collections are only one way of doing that.

I do not think that that is a serious political issue, and we should not score points off each other. As the hon. Gentleman said, it is about what can be achieved in a local community. He may need to have his recyclables collected twice a week in London. He may drink twice as much as someone else.

I know. The hon. Gentleman may eat twice as much as well. It is what works for people. This has not been motivated by a financial incentive. Getting the collections to happen in the first place was the main problem in Norfolk. I do not mind whether the collections are once or twice a week as long as we can afford them. The more that recycling takes place, the more money there will be to help the local system to work. Money has to be spent on paying people to collect the recyclables in the early hours of the morning and so on. The more that we can encourage people to recycle, the better it is. That should be our priority, not point scoring. We should not have to say, “We do it twice a week. You only do it once a week.” That is a silly game that we must not get into. The issue is bigger than that, more political, more important and achievable.

Commercial interests in the private sector have been a problem. I visit Asda in Norwich once a month. One week, the bottle banks vanished and three more cars appeared in their place. I will not call that irresponsible, but it shows the kind of attitudes that develop in the supermarket climate. I will say more about that later. The national industrial symbiosis programme has tried to provide businesses with contacts to improve their recycling record. I think that supermarkets have a heck of a lot to do. They produce a lot of packaging and bottle waste. They need to work in partnership in a non-competitive way with a view to saving the planet and harnessing all the extra packaging that they produce. That is what it is all about.

Following the intervention by NISP, some 1,200 tonnes of paper sludge from a paper manufacturer have gone to a worm farm. NISP runs seminars in which it educates people. I welcome that kind of initiative. More and more of it is happening. It does not matter who does it as long as it is getting through to the public and into the business centres and they are taking up the issues.

Plastic bags are a problem. I sat through a Labour party general committee meeting for two-and-a-half hours and listened to how one handles plastic bags in different supermarkets. Behind my house in Norwich, there is a great “green” grocer’s shop, which sends some of its profits to the Green party. It sells a very good jute bag, which can be used again and again. That is quite positive. The shop also sell paper bags at knock-down prices.

There is also the case of Modbury in Devon, which became the first plastic bag-free town. Such initiatives illustrate that the spirit is there. Spreading the message is what it is all about. Progress has been piecemeal. Certain sectors of the retail trade do not care about saying, “Do you want to put your newspaper in a bag?” I do not want to put my newspaper in a bag.

Before my hon. Friend leaves the point on plastic carrier bags, I just want to say that there is evidence to show that in some areas, such as Ireland, in which there have been attempts to restrict the use of plastic bags, the production of plastic—plastic film and plastic containers—has increased dramatically. In Ireland, when people could not get a carrier bag in supermarkets, they simply bought a plastic bin liner to carry their goods to their vehicles. The life analysis of a plastic bag compared with a paper carrier bag always comes out in favour of the plastic bag.

I do not know whether my hon. Friend is saying that the plastic bag comes out on top in terms of financial cost or cost to the planet.

That may be the truth. I still think that it is better to reuse a plastic bag than to get another one. There is no substitute for reusing and recycling the same thing. Sainsbury’s provides a good example of the cynicism that can be seen in the sector. Anya Hindmarch, the queen of bag land, designed a fashion bag accessory rather than a useful tool for recycling. It was sold at £5 and it can be bought on eBay now for £350. To be seen with one of those bags was really cool and in, and they were sold on the basis of recycling. The idea was that, once 200 or 300 people bought the bag, it would not be a fashion icon any more; everybody would have it. There was a cynicism and salesmanship that went on there, which we must be careful about. We want to reduce, reuse and recycle.

Some countries tax plastic bags. China has abolished them. New York has a different emphasis, compelling the companies that use plastic bags to put in place schemes to recycle them. We need to compare our record with those of other nations, which may take a more interventionist stance. Some small successes have been made in that area. When it comes to industrial recycling, we must ensure that the Government keep making progress. They will need more support, more help and more money. I hope that the Minister will deny the report in The Guardian yesterday that stated that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will make a 25 per cent. cut to the budget of the waste and resources action programme despite its rather impressive record of saving 4.6 million tonnes of waste from going to landfill, and turning 5 million more people—12 per cent. of the population—into committed recyclers. I hope that the national industrial symbiosis programme and others will be given encouragement.

Let me finish by saying that we must examine many problems in the Government’s programme, which I think we can. We have a problem with incinerators that will not go away. We need to provide strong leadership to the local councils and ensure that they are funded for their different programmes. We need to give them more support at any level of recycling to provide new machines, new technology, more of the Royal Society of Chemistry stuff to develop new technologies, the best recycling strategies, and give them the powers to do that.

We should make the targets smarter. Shipping poor-quality products overseas to the far east is not a long-term strategy. We need to examine that. We need to consider the function of organisations such as NEWS. I cannot understand why, if it is a success—I ask the Minister to examine its record and what it has done—we cannot roll out the work of such an organisation throughout the country. We must increase the resources to deal with commercial waste, because that is still a major problem. NISP and WRAP should be maintained and strengthened financially; I hope that they will not be cut back.

We are making progress with very good targets. We can be proud of what we have done on recycling up to now. We are moving in the right direction, although as yet we are a long way from where we want to be. I am proud that I am in a county that is part of the movement to recycle waste, and that I can play a part in that politically and as a citizen. I know that people are worried about claims of a nanny state. I am not too worried about being part of a nanny state if it brings about the saving of the planet and all the advantages that go with the new recycling policy. The concern about the environment and climate change justifies all the efforts that we put in, be they successful or not. We must not allow this opportunity to improve our recycling record to go to waste.

Order. This is a 90-minute debate and I am obliged to call the first of the three Front-Bench speakers 30 minutes before its termination, so we have 29 minutes left for comment from the Floor. I ask right hon. and hon. Members who wish to engage in the debate to bear that time limit in mind when making their contribution and when accepting or responding to interventions.

Thank you, Mr. Cook; I will bear that in mind. I congratulate the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) on introducing this important debate.

I served on the Select Committee that looked into refuse collection, but I have a more personal, eccentric, almost spiritual interest in this topic. I dislike waste: I keep old bits of wood and metal just in case they ever come in useful, which is usually not the case; I discard old clothes with reluctance and sometimes under protest; and I treasure old machinery, keeping it in use in a one-man battle against entropy, seeing such manufactured goods as the embodied mind of old engineers. I even lament the piles of perfectly usable equipment that we see in scrapyards up and down the country. In fact, at the moment I am endeavouring to respray my own vehicle, which is 14 years old and has gone round the clock. I am the sort of person who has an old analogue TV in their garage. Worse still, for 30 years I have treasured a fog lamp from an Austin Westminster, which I am reluctant to throw out in case somebody comes past who wants it—so far, that has not happened, but perhaps if I give it some publicity here, somebody will offer for it.

Thinking about all that, I wonder whether it is rational behaviour, sentiment or signs of incipient insanity—I have not got round to hoarding loose bits of string and paper yet, so I suppose I am not that bad. I believe that the things that I have mentioned constitute useful waste. Being entirely rational, we could define waste sociologically as surplus material or property that we do not want—the richer people are, the more that they have. Then we could divide surplus material—waste, as I have defined it—into what would have a use for someone else, what we can reprocess and what we cannot do either of those things with, which we simply burn or bury. It is the last category that we are now driven to reduce, because either the material decomposes and emits carbon dioxide, methane and so on, which results in environmental damage, or it does not—for example, plastic—in which case it hangs around causing environmental and cosmetic damage.

There is waste that is useful but for which no users are available in any convenient way. There is material that is reprocessable, but the processes through which that is done are not economically viable or worth anybody’s time. Outside the developing world, the rag-and-bone trade of Steptoe and Son is not as lucrative as once it was. Now, however, given the environmental imperative, much can be done about the issue.

We can obviously improve networks, enabling demand and supply to come together better—car boot sales, eBay and so on do precisely that. Better communication is also important. For the Government, there is a role through regulation and support for recycling industries, producers and end users to do something about what is and what is not economically viable. That is an extraordinarily important part of the Government’s work.

The Government surely have another role, in getting the producers of the stuff—the primary producers; the people who create the stuff that ultimately becomes waste—to refine and reduce their production processes. Clearly, if we were to cut the number of plastics that are produced, we would improve the feasibility of recycling plastics. If we increase the durability of cars, which we have done quite dramatically—we see hardly any rusty cars on the road these days—we do something about the waste at the end. Car manufacturers are now checking that each piece has a use beyond the life of the car.

Such reduced production has a double benefit. If we produce less and industry produces less, we have a double win, because there are fewer emissions. Self-evidently, however, it is not in everybody’s interest to do that. Toyota has just cut production of its cars, and Toyotas are some of the most durable cars on the road. It has simply made its cars so durable that people replace them less frequently than they did. If it is not in everybody’s interest to have recycling, reuse and reprocessing, there has to be a strong role for the state in encouraging that.

There also has to be, because there will be conflicts of interest, a constant and serious assessment of the costs and benefits of the whole process—a cost-benefit analysis—because false environmental virtue is a possibility. There are green gestures that offer very little in the way of genuine green effects. That might involve lorries loaded with lightweight uncrushed plastic bottles rattling around the country belching out all sorts of emissions, 4x4 owners making the odd trip to the tip with half a dozen bottles or the introduction of heavier packaging and more waste because plastic has been phased out—I am sure that the hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) will make that point later.

Everybody assumes that the key agents—the people who have to sew all that together—are national and local government. They work directly under the landfill directive, which is an effective sledgehammer, but the use of that sledgehammer can lead to environmentally questionable behaviour. I wonder whether authorities collecting garden waste, which can adequately be composted in the garden, is as environmentally defensible as it might be.

There is good and diverse practice. The hon. Member for Norwich, North illustrated that point with examples from his own patch, but the system is not as good as it might be. Across the piece, there is insufficient planning and initiative. The hon. Gentleman made the point that sometimes there is not sufficient engagement by business and in particular by retail business. There is insufficient policy join-up.

I shall illustrate the point with a case from my constituency. We have recently changed to alternate weekly collections, and there has been a huge increase in demand for plastic recycling, because that makes up a big element in the residual bin collection. However, we are locked into a contract with a collector who is not contracted to do that work, who is not funded to do it and who does not have the crushing machinery necessary to do it economically. We have a waste disposal authority that has no particular plans to reprocess any plastic when it is collected, and I have to say that there is a persistently unhelpful attitude from local supermarkets. We have damned the supermarkets already in the debate. I wrote to them all saying, “What more can you do other than offering space in your car park?” The answer from my local supermarkets was not a lot—in fact, nothing at all.

Thinking ahead to what we will face in the future, a predictable volume of stuff is going into the waste stream, and we can all see it coming. I am thinking of cathode ray tube monitors from computers, analogue TVs, VHS recorders and so on. We understand the waste stream better than ever and can predict what will happen.

We do not have anything other than a patchwork of provision across the country. People say that that is bound to be the case because localism is the name of the game at the moment, and local authorities must decide things as they see fit, according to what their citizens demand. However, even if we agree with that, as I think we largely do, we still need local engagement on the part of national companies—I refer again to the supermarkets—and good Government support for local recycling initiatives, both public and private.

I know that there are problems with state aid rules, but let me give one simple example of what I mean. An innovative firm on the Wirral, not far from me, has set up a factory that uses a mechanism to reprocess CDs and DVDs, which we all receive in huge volumes from newspapers and from organisations that feel that MPs will look at their information. Huge quantities of those CDs and DVDs will end up in the waste stream, and I do not know what happens to them then. In the case of the factory near me, however, CDs and DVDs, which are made from polycarbons, are reprocessed, which is a valuable initiative. It may not necessarily go anywhere, and it would be some time before it was developed across the whole country, but the fact that it has not been developed is a matter of regret. Although we have good practice and a great deal of sound local improvisation, we need the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to take a strong lead to orchestrate our efforts.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) on securing the debate and on his interesting and entertaining speech. I agree with him about the strength of public interest in this important issue and the fact that that is a good sign of public concern about the sustainability of the environment in general. We are all increasingly aware that recycling can make a huge contribution to the conservation of resources and energy, and that must be the first line of defence and action against climate change. As he said, we are making progress, but there is still a long way to go in reducing landfill and in increasing recycling to the level of the best of our European neighbours.

I want to raise a few points by way of questions to the Minister, who is committed to dealing with these issues. First, to follow on from the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North, will she say more about the action that the Government are taking on commercial and industrial waste, which is an important dimension of the challenge that we face? In particular, has she considered imposing a ban on the landfilling and incineration of material that can be recycled or composted? Looking to the future, those are the sort of issues on which we need to be giving the right signals.

My second concern is about what can be done to improve the recycling of aluminium, which it is particularly important to recycle, given that a lot of energy is needed to produce aluminium from its ore, bauxite. Recycling it would therefore make significant energy savings and help to combat climate change.

That raises the vexed question of incineration, which my hon. Friend mentioned. When municipal waste is incinerated, aluminium in the form of cans, foil and so on is rendered useless and non-recoverable. I would be grateful if the Minister explained how the expansion of incineration can be reconciled with improved rates of aluminium recovery and, indeed, with our concern about climate change.

I would also like to ask the Minister whether she foresees waste incineration, like other industrial processes, being subject to some kind of carbon pricing. In Oxfordshire, the county council proposes to build a 200,000 tonnes a year incinerator. On reasonable assumptions, and using the Government’s 2007 shadow price for carbon emissions of £25.50 a tonne, that would result in an annual charge of about £5.1 million, which would rise substantially as the shadow price went up in future years. At the moment, that environmental cost is not factored into the decision on incineration. Does she agree that it should be?

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree not only that it is right to incorporate the shadow cost of carbon into such calculations, but that the shadow cost that the Government are using is much lower than the one recommended in the Stern report, so the real picture is even worse than he suggests?

I take the hon. Gentleman’s point, but it would be fair to point out that the Government envisage costs rising significantly in the future, which reinforces my point that we should factor in the real future cost of emissions from burning such volumes of waste in incinerators. Of course, we should take the best independent advice on the appropriate price.

Finally, do the Government intend to encourage, or even force, industry to recycle much more packaging by increasing the targets in the packaging regulations? We are waiting for the Government to make an announcement on that some time soon, and if the Minister is unable to make an announcement this afternoon, it would be helpful if she told us when she will be able to make one.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) on securing the debate and I am grateful for the opportunity to say a few words in the next few minutes.

I want to follow on from the point on which my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) finished. He mentioned levels of packaging waste, and I should declare an interest as the chairman of the all-party group on the packaging manufacturing industry. My first point on packaging waste is that only 3 per cent. of it goes to landfill, while the rest is recycled or dealt with in other ways. A minimal amount of packaging therefore goes to landfill, and it is difficult to see how increasing the targets will bring any further benefits. We have a bigger problem with household waste and particularly food waste, because we waste about 30 per cent. of the food that we produce, and it all goes to landfill.

My main point, however, relates to recycling systems, which my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North mentioned. One problem is that the recycling targets placed on local authorities are completely different from those placed on industry. As we have heard, different systems are in place throughout the country. The good news is that about 98 per cent. of the country is covered by local authority recycling systems, but the problem is that they are all slightly different, and different authorities collect different materials in different parts of the country.

We therefore have different targets. Local authorities are required to collect recycling materials in terms of their tonnage, whereas industry is required to recycle in terms of specific sectors and materials. It does not matter, therefore, how local authorities collect materials, which are simply jumbled up in collection systems throughout the country. When they arrive at industry facilities to be recycled, therefore, they are often unusable, which is why so much is sent to places such as China, as my hon. Friend said. I therefore ask the Minister to look at ways of bringing the recycling systems into sync with the collection systems and of getting local authorities to collect materials in such a way that they can be recycled.

I shall give a couple of examples. My local industry in Barnsley is glass containers, and the first bottle bank, as it was called then, was introduced on 24 April 1977 in Barnsley. We should rename them glass banks, of course, because contrary to the opinion of my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North they do not always collect only wine bottles; other glass items can be recycled as well. It was a way of collecting glass to be reused in the glass industry, because glass is a perfectly recyclable product. A glass bottle is melted, and it reconstitutes itself as glass. The problem is that if the colours are mixed together the glass all comes out green. If clear and flint glass or clear and amber glass are mixed, they turn green. Given the number of green bottles that we import into the country from wine-growing areas, we are awash with green glass, and the stuff is unusable for recycling except in road materials.

The quality of what we are now recycling is not very good. One of the biggest glass companies in this country is called Owens-Illinois, which recently bought United Glass. United Glass has a plant at Harlow in Essex, which I visited many years ago to see how it recycled its glass products. Owens-Illinois refuses to use the glass recycled from that plant, even though it owns it, because it is of such poor quality. It goes elsewhere to find a recycler that it wants to use in its glass production. There is thus an idea that we are co-mingling and not getting the synchronisation right between what industry can recycle and what is being collected. We have heard already that some local authorities do not recycle some materials that others will. Plastics is one example of a material that many local authorities will not recycle, although it is a valuable product when it is recycled. We should be doing a lot more to collect and recycle that product.

We need to improve. I have recently been given a press release on behalf of a company called Catalyst, which has made an estimate of what the cost of incineration will be as a consequence of the Government’s waste strategy. It states that to meet

“the Government’s objectives, as laid out in their Waste Strategy 2007 paper, the level of incinerated municipal waste will have to increase from 3 million tonnes per year today to 11.5 million tonnes by 2020—and this requires investment of circa £5 billion in some 50 plants.”

Incineration is something that many local authorities do not want on their doorstep, as my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North pointed out, but unless we recycle more, because we are running out of landfill, incineration is becoming the only alternative. It will require major investment.

I have one or two final points. The first is about lightweighting. The Government have made much of the idea that industry should lightweight products and packaging. Lightweighting simply means making something lighter. A bottle such as those we have before us today could be made with thinner glass and a certain number of grams of glass could be taken out of the product. It seems a very good idea, and one wonders why industry has not already done it. It would mean that industry used less glass to produce a unit—a bottle. The problem is, on a life cycle analysis, that because the product is lighter it is more fragile, and so in transporting the product the pallets, carriers and containers must be stronger. More energy is used to produce the pallets to carry the lightweighted product, so in the end we do not really save anything through lightweighting.

The plastic bag issue that is coming before Parliament is a popular one. My hon. Friend mentioned the plastic bag-free town in Devon, a local authority has a Bill before Parliament on the issue, and there is talk of China and New York banning plastic bags. Yes, everyone would like a reduction in the number of plastic bags littering our country. However, we must act so as to achieve what we set out to achieve, and not do as Ireland did. The tax on plastic bags meant that people did not buy them, or some supermarkets did not make them available, yet the production of plastic increased, because people found other types of plastic container to use as a substitute. We must encourage people to cut their use, or use alternatives, and not simply ban them outright or tax them, with the result that people look elsewhere to meet their needs.

I add my congratulations to those already offered by other hon. Members to the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) on securing the debate and, as ever, displaying great technical knowledge of the subject. He is right to highlight our poor position in the international league table on recycling and waste, but he is also right to give credit where it is due to the Government for some important initiatives.

There is a question that politicians are always asked at the hustings, which they slightly dread, about which of their opponents’ policies they support. My two stock answers—with respect to the Government, at least—have always been Sure Start, which I have always thought is an excellent programme for early intervention in children’s lives, and the business resource efficiency and waste programme, which is an imaginative programme that has done important work on improving waste resource efficiency and recycling.

The waste strategy contains many positive intentions and ideas, but in general it has not gone far enough. BREW stands out as an initiative that is working very well. I think that the Prime Minister agrees with me, because on a recent visit to China he used the national industrial symbiosis programme as a model, encouraged the Chinese to follow with a similar programme of their own and offered them our expertise in doing so. That programme clearly has the backing of Ministers at a very senior level, which is important, because, as the hon. Member for Norwich, North has stressed, household waste is a minor part of the overall mix—I think that it comprises less than 10 per cent. of UK waste—whereas BREW uniquely addresses commercial and industrial waste.

NISP’s performance is certainly dramatic. The hon. Gentleman has quoted some statistics, but NISP says that it has saved UK industry more than £70 million, attracted £66 million in private investment for reprocessing and recycling, diverted 1.7 million tonnes of waste from landfill, eliminated 285,000 tonnes of hazardous waste and reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 2 million tonnes.

NISP has also commissioned independent consultants to look at its performance. Scott Wilson consultants reported last year:

“The Programme’s ability to contribute to the seven cross-programme comparable BREW metrics”—

if hon. Members will excuse the language—

“puts NISP at the forefront of delivering the economic and environmental benefits to the UK and exceeds any similarly BREW funded programme.”

Thus NISP is probably the most effective part of the overall BREW programme.

The waste and resources action programme, which has been mentioned, is a little more difficult to evaluate. It makes great claims about recycling capacity, including the claim that an additional 9.9 million people in England are now committed recyclers. It also claims £182 million of investment levered into the recycling sector from commercial sources and increased industry turnover in the recycling sector of £1.3 billion. Of course, it is not entirely clear how much of that is due to WRAP alone and how much to other factors, but it has done some very specific work with the Olympic Delivery Authority, Sheffield city council schools projects and elsewhere with demonstrable benefit.

In a spirit of cross-party co-operation, I shall quote Conservative-controlled Gloucestershire county council, which credits WRAP with helping it to increase recycling in Gloucestershire by 9 per cent. over the past two years from 21 to 30 per cent. with the help of £467,000 of funding in awareness-raising and public engagement activities. In a less cross-party spirit, the increase might have been a little higher, if Cheltenham borough council had not fallen into the hands of the Conservatives a few years ago, because although the Liberal administration, having inherited a domestic recycling rate of 9 per cent. from an earlier Tory administration, nearly tripled the rate to 26 per cent., two years after the Tories regained control, sadly, no new kerbside recycling has been added to the Liberal Democrat initiatives on paper, tins, bottles and green waste, and the percentage has risen to only 28 per cent.

In fairness, however, even to the Conservative-controlled administration, there is a general problem in Gloucestershire in co-ordinating the best response locally between different councils, which the hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) has mentioned in a different context. The issue is about ensuring a high quality, cost-effective and co-ordinated recycling response across different areas. The Minister perhaps needs to consider how to assist local councils to bring together effective waste partnerships that move forward, because there seem to be barriers.

The statistics highlight the variation between different businesses and local authorities. Real political will is required to drive the issue forward, so it is alarming that WRAP is meeting the Secretary for State today, according to reports, to discuss budget cuts of 25 per cent. or more, and it has already made 31 staff redundant. NISP is also concerned. It has expressed the fear that overall funding for the BREW programme, from which it gets its funding, could drop precipitately from £125 million per annum to as little as £60 million.

I asked the Minister about that in a written question on 7 January, to which she gave the rather cryptic answer that

“future spending…will be carefully balanced with other departmental priorities”.—[Official Report, 7 January 2008; Vol. 470, c. 68W.]

I assumed that that meant that the Minister simply did not know about the issue at the time, but in the light of the meetings that are taking place today—the Secretary of State must have been briefed on the situation—perhaps she will clarify the funding situation for WRAP, NISP and the BREW programme as whole, because I am sure that the figures exist.

Where has the sharp downturn in funding come from? It was not flagged up in last year’s waste strategy, which mentioned continuing support for the BREW programme, and it was not flagged up in the DEFRA annual report. DEFRA has a £3 billion budget, but it is difficult to spot any specific plans for BREW organisations in the report, which does not include specific projections on landfill tax revenue. There was a clue in the Budget in March last year, which said that there would be an increase in landfill tax revenue. The Budget included lots of bold environmental claims, and it gave the impression that everything in the garden was rosy in relation to Government support for environmental initiatives. Nowhere was the crisis in funding anticipated, and the sector was not prepared for it, so where has it come from?

An article that appeared in The Guardian seems to answer the question. It said that there was potentially a £1 billion hole in the DEFRA budget over three years and that DEFRA and its agencies

“failed to find sufficient savings to meet a £300m shortfall from April. The ministry is still more than £100m short despite cuts”,

including those that are planned within the BREW programme. The reason is not difficult to find, and there are some reasonable excuses. The EU single farm payments have been more expensive than expected, and DEFRA had to set up contingency funds to cover the outbreaks of foot and mouth disease, bluetongue and avian flu. Those things were obviously necessary, but why can the Government as a whole not provide contingencies for such unexpected developments?

There is a parallel with the crisis in the NHS two years ago, when it was decided that deficits had reached a critical point and had to be cleared within one year. For some reason, that unexpected development had to be funded from within the Department of Health, and there was no possibility of transferring funds from other Departments. There seems to be a complete lack of joined-up government and contingency planning for unexpected developments. Perhaps that reflects a view in the rest of Government that waste recycling is an optional extra and a bit of a luxury, which translates into a lack of ambition in DEFRA.

That might be unfair. Last year, the waste strategy had much to commend it, but it also had many gaps. Most dramatically, reduction, as has been highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh), which is absolutely at the top of the waste hierarchy, was left out. We need not only to recycle more, but to reduce the need to recycle. The waste strategy promised a progress report in spring 2008 on actions and target solutions to reduce the impacts of products across their lifetime. Thanks to global warming, spring will reach us earlier than expected this year, so perhaps the Minister will tell us that the report is imminent or when it is due. Perhaps she will even tell us what will be announced in the report.

I suggest that the report should contain a few measures to tackle the producers and manufacturers of packaging and some of the packaging waste that we see in our waste bins every week. Why not attack some hard-to-recycle materials to reflect the cost of carbon at manufacturing level? Why not introduce a tax on plastic bags, perhaps learning from the Irish example and the risks associated with that approach? There are plenty of examples around the world of economies that exist without so much plastic bag packaging, including the United States of America, where paper bags are much more the norm. Frankly, if George Bush’s America can manage that, I do not see why we should not be able to shift in that direction. To give them credit, retailers such as Tesco seem to appreciate the problem and try to reduce the billions of plastic bags that they use.

I do not think that the United States’ record under George Bush on climate change is the best that the hon. Gentleman could have selected. If one looks at the carbon footprint and energy used in the production and transportation of paper bags, one sees that they exceed those of plastic carrier bags. I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but we must find a way to reduce the amount of plastic or the number of carrier bags, but in doing so we must not end up affecting climate change in another way.

The hon. Gentleman has made an important point. The matter is not only about carbon, because we are talking about waste that is going into landfill sites, the countryside and the environment around us, which will take many years to degrade, if it degrades at all. That one supermarket produces 4 billion plastic bags each year is an environmental disaster.

Other ideas could be included in the report, such as the right of return, which would mean that retailers and manufacturers should be required to take back packaging from customers. There are examples of good practice, such as that of Sony. I am looking at you, Mr. Cook, but I thought that I had 10 minutes. I hope that I am right.

I detected that you were impatient for me to finish, Mr. Cook, but I thought that I had a full 10 minutes left.

I apologise for that, Mr. Cook, and I shall finish shortly.

The two examples of best practice are the Sony initiative, which involves using what are effectively the equivalent of cardboard cartons to package things such as mobile phones, and the Dual System Deutschland scheme, by which people can package excess packaging in a bag and have it collected. That scheme was launched in 1991; it uses only 300 staff in the whole of Germany, and it has been very effective. We need to expand waste recycling and reuse programmes, not cut them back.

I shall endeavour to be as brief as possible. This has been an interesting and stimulating debate and good ideas have come from hon. Members both sides of the House. I congratulate the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) on securing the debate.

Waste is a complex and diffuse issue—it does not lend itself to simple answers. There are so many different elements to the waste sector, and it is difficult even for politicians to generalise. To summarise the main issues that came out of the interesting speeches from the hon. Members for Norwich, North, for Southport (Dr. Pugh) and for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley), and the right hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith), we need the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to do more. There is a clear requirement for leadership. Progress has been made, but, across the board, we are not moving at a sufficient rate, and there is no strong line from DEFRA, to quote the hon. Member for Southport, to pull all the different threads together. We need that and a real sense of vision and leadership at the centre.

Weighed against that is the fact that local communities must be able to forge their own solutions that are right for them in their part of the country. However, that does not negate the need for a compelling and ambitious vision at the centre.

As has already been pointed out, rather than work on an ambitious vision and providing that leadership, DEFRA is not meeting urgently today to hammer out a plan to tackle our nation’s waste, yet it has prime responsibility not only for waste but for the whole climate change agenda, which we all agree to be the most pressing and important problem facing humankind in the 21st century.

Today, the Secretary of State has convened a crisis meeting to address chronic mismanagement and overspending in a Department that, from media reports, appears to be falling apart. Despite making cuts of almost £200 million since April last year, DEFRA needs to cut a further £100 million from its budget in the coming weeks. That is not a sign of a Department rising to the huge challenges that clearly face it. Given the growing awareness of climate change, it is extraordinary that the Department should be trying to cut its cloth in that way, but in many ways the fault lies within.

We should not be allowed to believe that the majority of last year’s cost overruns were simply the result of unavoidable acts of God such as flooding, or bird flu. Much of the overspend was avoidable; it was the direct result of Government mismanagement. We learned this week that the waste and recycling sectors will bear the brunt of much of that DEFRA incompetence.

For instance, the business resource and efficiency waste partnership has already been mentioned. It seems likely that its spending will be cut by more than half, despite the fact that it has been responsible for more than 2 million tonnes of landfill diversion, 1.8 million tonnes of CO2 reduction and cost savings of £40 million last year. WRAP, which promotes recycling measures to reduce the use of landfill, confirms that its funding is to be cut by 25 per cent. Indeed, this week it issued more than 30 compulsory redundancies.

That is not the work of a Department that is in charge of its agenda and forging ahead. It is the work of a Department in retreat and in disarray. Although the Government are making much of their international leadership on climate change, they are undermining some of our most effective and efficient emissions reduction programmes.

Across the waste agenda, the Government are getting things wrong, and the results are plain to see. For example, the number of recorded incidents of fly-tipping has increased by 290 per cent. over the past two years. The United Kingdom has one of the highest levels of landfill in the EU, and 22 per cent. of our methane emissions, a gas that has 23 times the greenhouse effect of C02, is emitted from decomposing landfill. Why is more of that pollutant not being trapped and used for energy generation? It is not good enough to make the renewables obligation available for methane. Companies that are polluting in that diabolical way should not be rewarded with renewables obligations. They should be penalised for allowing those gases to escape.

Thus we see that the climate change agenda is becoming ever more closely wedded to the waste agenda. It is increasingly clear, in part due to the good work being done by DEFRA and the Minister to raise public awareness about climate change, that the British people not only care about climate change and want to feel informed about it, but want Ministers to take action.

It is clear that people care about the environmental impact of their lifestyle, which means that they want to produce less waste and recycle more. It is appalling that 20 tonnes of waste are produced for each tonne of consumer goods sold in Britain. However, we have seen a gradual but steady improvement in domestic attitudes to recycling and composting. I believe that people are trying to make a positive change in the teeth of often unhelpful and certainly indecisive Government policies

We rightly worry about waste because of its impact on the immediate environment, the global environment and climate-changing emissions. However, that increasingly obscures another issue—that of the unsustainable and inefficient use of resources in the first place. We must start seeing waste not as a problem to be solved only at the end of the pipeline, but as one that needs to be dealt with much farther upstream. The life-cycle of raw materials and products, how we design, make and use the consumables that we enjoy and how we dispose of them need to be addressed.

We need to take a far more holistic view of waste. That means reducing the amount of waste that we generate. We should be looking for ways to reduce packaging and to tackle poor product design so that product life spans dramatically increase and recyclability is enhanced. The reuse of waste is also vital. Useful and valuable items, such as building materials, furniture, white goods and computers should be taken out of the waste stream and reused. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Oxford, East raised the issue of Government action to prevent the incineration of recyclable materials, and I would be interested to hear what the Minister has to say in response. He certainly hit on an important thread.

I give a topical example of how an enlightened approach to waste can deliver a cost-effective and easy win. The London fire brigade is moving its headquarters to new offices in Southwark. Faced with the challenge of what to do with 6,000 items of furniture, weighing over 300 tonnes, which had to be removed from its old offices on the Albert embankment, the brigade developed a sustainable waste strategy that resulted in 69 per cent. of its furniture being reused, 27 per cent. being recycled and 4 per cent. being used for waste to energy—and 0 per cent. being sent to landfill or incinerated. That resulted in the brigade making savings of about £100,000, which illustrates the fact that saving on waste can mean financial savings—in this case, money that will be better spent helping the fire brigade to protect people and the city that it serves.

Most important, however, we must convince business and local government to see all waste as a potential raw material in an increasingly resource-scarce world. We should be providing a framework in which innovators, entrepreneurs and companies can find ways to convert waste into new and valuable commodities. The economics of recycling are clear. If we simply meet European directive objectives, we will need to treble the recycling and composting of waste. That raw material is estimated to have a market value of £590 million a year to the UK economy if it is recovered from the waste stream. We want the Government not to dither, but to start providing clear leadership.

Local empowerment and public consent are the key, as is the empowerment of business. The Conservative party appreciates the huge part that the market, industry and technology have to play in revolutionising the waste sector. The Government will solve our waste recycling problems—in tandem with the private sector, entrepreneurs and industry—only if they set out long-term policies to give business and local authorities the confidence to take new approaches and to make long-term investments.

Waste companies should be recognised as innovative businesses that create useful and valuable products out of waste. Regulations should be streamlined to reflect the changing attitudes to waste. For example, as soon as the regulations on waste management handling were changed under the waste management licence, industrial composting grew by between 40 and 50 per cent. The waste industry should not be restricted by the cumbersome over-regulation of waste disposal that does not recognise the value added by the industry. We need a clear, long-term objective.

Why cannot the Government see waste recycling as an opportunity to make Britain safer and greener, and an opportunity to generate new wealth and economic health for Britain in the process? We all need to recognise the opportunity to find profit and growth where previously we saw only waste and rubbish. In an increasingly resource-scarce world, where climate change is the overwhelming imperative, we desperately need DEFRA to get a grip on itself, and to provide the leadership that we all deserve.

I have only a few minutes to answer all the questions posed by the six Members who spoke, so I shall write to any whose questions I do not answer.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) on securing this debate and for the great enthusiasm with which he presented his case. If one becomes a keen recycler, I know that one really wants to do more. Many of the points raised by right hon. and hon. Members will be extremely helpful to the Government, and I shall take account of all that has been said—although perhaps not the criticism of our waste strategy made by the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker). I can tell him that our waste strategy for 2007 was enormously and enthusiastically received by all who were consulted. Indeed, it is moving on the way in which we deal with waste at a tremendous pace.

As we know, each year, we generate about 100 million tonnes of waste from households, commerce and industry. Most of that waste ends up in landfill, where the biodegradable part of it causes emissions of methane, which, as others have said, is a potent greenhouse gas. However, the overall waste is greater than that amount; there is also the absolute waste of those raw materials and, of course, the valuable energy that has been used in extracting, processing and making goods.

Therefore, when we published our waste strategy 2007 document, we put that strategy firmly in the context of climate change. Reducing waste is part of the contribution that we must make in our great mission to hold back dangerous climate change. Our aim must be to reduce waste by making products with fewer natural resources and therefore break the link between economic growth and waste growth.

Therefore, minimising waste is even more important than recycling itself and it is the next step that we all need to take in tackling waste. To that end, DEFRA has adopted a challenging new target of reducing our residual waste per person to half what it was in 2000 by 2020.

I am glad to say that residual waste has decreased and less waste is going to landfill. However, there is still a very wide gap between the best and worst performing authorities. The lowest percentage of municipal waste landfill in 2006-07 was just 7 per cent., but the highest was 93 per cent. The gap between those figures demonstrates what the challenge is.

Let me turn now to Norwich. Its recycling rate, according to the latest statistics that I have for 2006-07, was just 18 per cent. As the overall rate in England for that year was 31 per cent., I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North that Norwich was not one of the best performers. However, what is important is that that figure of 18 per cent. represents an increase of 3 per cent. Furthermore, from what my hon. Friend has said today, the most recent figures for Norwich, which of course have not yet been validated by the Department, will show a further increase in that rate. So I congratulate the local authority in Norwich on that and I am delighted to say that the way in which it is progressing, with alternate weekly collections and collections of new streams of waste, is very important indeed. I say that because we know that, of the highest performing councils on recycling in the country, the vast majority collect residual waste one week and recyclable waste the following week.

I will not have time to address the other questions if my hon. Friend intervenes now. Let me just say that the local authority in Norwich is making the right type of progress and taking the right kinds of action, and we are very appreciative of that work.

It was suggested earlier that there was a financial pressure coming from the centre to get councils to adopt alternative weekly collections, which I think should not be called “alternate weekly collections” because the councils collect every week; they just collect different things each week. There is not financial pressure from the centre; instead, there is a sensible desire for business efficiency on the part of the councils themselves. Clearly, if the councils have less residual waste to take to landfill, they will save on the costs of landfill. That is why that efficiency drive makes a great deal of sense. I am also delighted to learn about the Costessey plant, which I understand will turn food and garden waste into compost.

Let me now answer some of the questions that were put to me. A number of hon. Members raised questions about plastic bags. I can tell them that the desire of the Government is to end the free giveaway of the single-use bag. We do not believe that a tax is likely to be the best way forward. We are consulting; we have a forum coming up with all the retailers, in order to have a further discussion with them. The progress that has been made to date, which people may have noticed and commented on, has been made as a result of the Courtauld commitment, whereby we have reached an agreement with 92 per cent. of the grocery chain to reduce the environmental impact of those plastic bags.

Paper is not a substitute for plastic, and my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) explained why that is the case. It is the single use of the bag that is the problem. It is symptomatic of a throwaway society and we must end that practice.

A number of right hon. and hon. Members raised issues about BREW, WRAP and NISP. I am not in a position to tell them this afternoon the final outcomes of our discussions on finance. However, I would say that, just because particular work is done at a particular time does not mean that that particular work should continue. These programmes have been about innovation, encouraging businesses to adopt new practices and bringing businesses together. Therefore, much of that work has set a pattern and it is more than reasonable that business itself begins to engage in that pattern. People should not believe that, because, for example, WRAP has had to issue notices, all that change will necessarily come to fruition. Decisions have not yet been taken, and it is reasonable that we have had conversations with our delivery bodies.

I was asked about the recycling of plastic. It was suggested that there was a lack of co-operation by retailers. The landfill tax escalator is the tool that the Government are using to persuade commerce and industry that they should divert waste from landfill. The serious increases in price will mean that commerce and industry will be driven into carrying out more recycling and we are working with them on recycling plastics in particular.

I was asked about Government support for local recycling. Again, I would like to refer to the situation in Norwich and in Norfolk, because I obtained the figures for that area for this particular debate. In 2006-07, more than £1.5 million of Government funding went to that area to help to raise the performance on recycling and composting. In the current financial year, which will end soon, the same amount—more than £1.5 million—was again given to the area to promote that work. That is the type of support that the Government give. Sometimes, that support is given directly and at other times it is given through WRAP. That support has been given through the waste performance efficiency grants.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) asked about a number of issues relating to commercial and industrial waste, including a ban on the incineration of products and materials that could be recycled. In the waste strategy 2007 document, we said that we would consider such a ban. We would expect aluminium to be collected separately, and indeed we are talking with industry about the streams of metal waste in particular.

Briefly, I would like to return to the household sector. We are enabling people to recycle more easily. We are providing powers in the Climate Change Bill for five pilot projects, so that local authorities can examine incentives for reducing waste, and the rate for the national recycling of waste, as set out in the waste strategy 2007 document, will rise to 40 per cent. by 2010, to 45 per cent. by 2015 and to 50 per cent. by 2020. Although achieving those increases is incredibly challenging, we believe that we are on target and that we will reach the first of those major objectives by 2010.

We are also recycling new streams of waste. Earlier, right hon. and hon. Members referred to electrical and electronic equipment. Through the waste electrical and electronic equipment, or WEEE, directive, we are dealing with that issue and it is important that we do so, because UK households are throwing away around 1 million tonnes of that type of waste every year.

With WRAP, we have launched a programme to deal with food waste. We aim to achieve a reduction of 100,000 tonnes of food waste by March this year. As a society, we are throwing away a third of all the food that we purchase, so food waste reduction is an important new area for waste reduction.

The waste strategy 2007 document will encourage local authorities to collect different types of waste separately, including food waste. In particular, we are putting money into encouraging the use of anaerobic digestion, so that we can have a win-win situation whereby we take away the food and green waste, put it into a digester and then it can, I hope, be used both in agriculture and to produce energy. Furthermore, batteries are the latest product on which we are consulting, because each household is throwing away an average of 21 portable batteries every year.

In conclusion, we are placing a greater responsibility on businesses for the environmental impact of their products and operations. We are placing a strong emphasis on waste prevention, with householders reducing their waste, for example, through home composting and use of food waste, and we are encouraging business to help consumers, for example, by using less packaging. Packaging recycling has doubled over the past 10 years. People perhaps do not realise that industry is ahead of the householder in that regard and much more progress has been made in the industrial sector. Finally, we are issuing a challenge to see recycling extended outside the home and office and taken into public places, such as shopping malls.