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Waste Management: Recycling

Volume 689: debated on Monday 5 February 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

How much rubbish collected in the United Kingdom for recycling is recycled.

My Lords, in 2005-06, an estimated 6.8 million tonnes of household waste collected by local authorities in England was recycled. The small proportion of this waste that did not meet the standard for recycling was sent for energy recovery or landfill, depending on the availability and cost of local facilities. Waste is a devolved issue, so figures for the whole of the UK are not available.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for that helpful reply. Is he aware of the reports that 2.2 million tonnes of recyclable materials were exported from the UK to the Far East and China in the past 12 months and that a large proportion of those materials ended up not recycled but in unregulated landfill sites? Can he comment on the truth of those reports, and what action do Her Majesty’s Government intend to take to prevent such exports?

My Lords, the answer is not that different from the one that I gave a fortnight ago. It is illegal to export waste outside the UK other than for recycling and recovery. You cannot export waste from the UK or from the EU for landfill. It is as simple as that. It is illegal. It is up to the authorities and organisations concerned to police this. The Environment Agency polices the system and I understand that some prosecutions are pending. Regarding the reference by the noble Earl to 2.2 million tonnes, I do not have a figure on that. Essentially, we now have a good record on waste recovery in this country and are doing more recycling than ever before, but sending material abroad for landfill is illegal.

My Lords, are the Government aware of how important it is to recycle aluminium cans because aluminium can be recycled infinitely? It is a more economical process than bauxite mining. Therefore, I hope that the Government are putting great emphasis on the importance of collecting and recycling aluminium.

My Lords, depositories for recycling aluminium cans have appeared around this building in the past couple of years. There is more recycling than there has been previously. The noble Baroness is quite right to say that aluminium can be recycled infinitely—although we will never know whether that is the case because we will not be around. The energy saving is massive when compared with the amount of energy used in converting bauxite into aluminium.

My Lords, many millions of people in this country are now setting aside and separating waste for recycling. Would not the worst possible thing be if scare stories that a lot of this material was not being recycled for whatever reason gained credence? Therefore, would it not be a very good idea if each local authority that collects waste for recycling issued from time to time a clear statement to the residents in their area as to where the waste goes and what it is used for?

My Lords, that is an excellent suggestion, which local authorities concerned with best practice would be well advised to adopt. They should not only tell their residents but do what a local recycling area that I have used is doing. Wingmoor Farm at Bishop’s Cleeve is a household civic amenity award winner and recycles more than 60 per cent of what arrives at the site. On each bin or container the public are told what will happen to what they put in the bin. Giving people such information allows them to make a connection between what they are doing and the end product. It is a very useful suggestion.

My Lords, given the almost universal perception that the quantity of packaging of goods sold in many areas has grown over the past few years, can the Minister assure us that enough of it is recycled? Is he happy with the results so far? Can more be done to ensure the availability of products with less packaging, which is very difficult to get into, particularly for older people?

My Lords, it is not always older people who have trouble getting into packaging. The noble Baroness is quite right; massive programmes are under way with industry to cut the amount of packaging waste, both on food and other products. We are recovering more industrial waste than ever before. The waste recycling action programme, which is partly funded by my department, works with industry to cut down the amount of packaging waste and to recycle waste better.

My Lords, on the subject of packaging, could the officials responsible for sending out the Official Report ensure that it is not contained in a material that must be separated from the report and placed in a separate container because it is not paper? Surely, in this place, we ought to be giving a lead regarding the sensible use of coverings that can be recycled.

My Lords, I am pleased to say that I answer at this Box for the Government, and that question will be passed to the appropriate House authorities.

My Lords, has the Minister seen some of the documentaries about what is happening to our waste in China? Rivers and land are being polluted and people’s health is being affected. Have Her Majesty's Government done anything to ask the Chinese Government to protect their population, including very young children, who scavenge from our waste?

My Lords, I have not seen any of the programmes, although I have read notes about them. People from the Environment Agency and from some local authorities have been to China. The Chinese Government are as concerned about these deficiencies in the system as we are, because it concerns the health of their own people. It is illegal to export waste for landfill and work is ongoing with the Chinese authorities and the Environment Agency. As I said, some prosecutions are pending on this.

My Lords, this country used at one time to recycle 98 per cent of its vehicle batteries, which was one of the best records in Europe. Regrettably that situation has considerably deteriorated, with hundreds of thousands of batteries going to landfill or, too often, fly-tipped. At the same time, nothing visible is happening to ensure that the smaller but very convenient batteries used around our houses are recycled. Do the Government have a satisfactory explanation for that?

My Lords, I am pleased to announce, although I do not want to upset any Euro-sceptics, that a batteries directive is on its way for next year which will deal with the very issue that the noble Lord has raised.