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Volume 508: debated on Thursday 25 March 2010

3. What steps his Department is taking to encourage the recycling of household waste; and if he will make a statement. (324048)

Local authorities are best placed to make decisions on waste management. We strongly encourage recycling through a range of measures, from targeted funding to help to set up recycling and composting facilities, to the landfill tax and the landfill allowance trading scheme. Direct support is also provided to local authorities through the Waste and Resources Action Programme.

Will my hon. Friend join me in expressing regret at Lib Dem-controlled Sheffield city council, which is proposing to take away the very popular blue bins for paper and green bins for garden waste, and replace them with green sacks, which are potentially dangerous, and small blue boxes for paper, which are heavy for pensioners to lift? Will he use his influence to persuade the council not to go down that route, because there is widespread public opposition and it could actually reduce recycling?

I fully appreciate that my hon. Friend is concerned that his constituents have great concerns about the issue. Indeed, I have been reading about it in the Sheffield Star, in which there have been some strong editorials. However, at the end of the day, it is a matter for local authorities to decide how they manage waste, although we would obviously encourage them to listen carefully to the communities that they serve, to ensure that they take into account their specific needs.

UK households generate enough waste in one year to power a town the size of Kendal for 65 years if that waste is recycled properly. It is vital that we recycle and reduce our waste, but it is also vital that we make good use—and green use—of the waste produced, so will the Minister tell us why, when Germany has 2,500 anaerobic digesters, the UK has merely 38?

The truth is that we are investing significantly in anaerobic digestion. We are very keen on it: it is an important technology, which we should be using much more effectively than we have done historically. I accept completely that other countries are ahead of us at the moment, but we are learning from their experience, so that we are not reinventing the wheel. I am confident that we will make significant progress through a range of incentives that we have created for that important process.

But will my hon. Friend look again at how private finance initiative credits can crowd out recycling, which can mean that we end up with what some of us do not want, namely the encouragement of incineration? That is happening in Gloucestershire, and it is about time that it was stopped.

I am not sure that I would accept my hon. Friend’s analysis of the situation. In fact, we have a good record on recycling. It has quadrupled in the past 10 years. I accept his point about crowding out, in the sense that we would not want to encourage anything to do with landfill or incineration if there are other options, but reducing, re-using and recycling are essential, and that is the thrust of everything that we say and do.