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Waste Management: Recycling

Volume 700: debated on Monday 17 March 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they have plans to review domestic waste recycling to simplify the procedure for users, and to take account of the particular issues regarding the classification of recycling in inner cities.

My Lords, the Government do not tell local authorities how to carry out household waste collections. Local authorities should provide a convenient and practical waste service to residents, accounting for local circumstances. As recycling schemes become more mature, good practice will spread, leading to collection arrangements which are better understood by the public and businesses alike.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. However, is he aware that there is a major problem in that each local authority seems to be in the hands of its contractors, whereas if there were a national list, everyone would be obliged to recycle everything on it? Is he also aware that the vast majority of waste in the Cities of London and Westminster is commercial but that the local authorities get no credit whatever for it because it is not classified as domestic waste? In Westminster, 65 per cent of the waste is commercial and it is collected very conscientiously. Is that not a disadvantage for those cities and inner-city areas?

My Lords, I do not quite follow the noble Baroness. Those local authorities do not get any credit for commercial waste because they get money for it, whereas they have a duty to provide a collection scheme for domestic waste under the council tax system. The two are treated separately and that is quite normal. This matter is best left to local authorities. They have national and international frameworks and from April they will have three targets. Decisions on how and when to collect, the schemes that they operate and how they dispose of the waste are best left to them. They are much better placed to make these decisions than is the man from Whitehall telling them exactly what to put on the list.

My Lords, local civic community sites are an important part of local recycling but many of them operate quite bureaucratically. That is very frustrating for the public, who are just trying to do the responsible thing. Have the Government commissioned any research into best practice and, if not, will they consider doing so? Although this matter is best left to local choice, it is good to share best practice.

My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Baroness, although I am unaware of bureaucratic difficulties at the sites. I recommend the Wigmore site in Gloucestershire—I use it myself—as an absolute model. In the past, it has won awards for recycling the maximum amount and I have never noticed any excessive bureaucracy. It is true that inner-city, more concentrated areas—perhaps in some of the London boroughs—are particularly keen to ensure that traders and commercial operators do not abuse the sites because they are essentially for domestic residents, and that may be where a touch of bureaucracy comes in.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that many local authorities have extremely good recycling schemes, including in Essex, where I live? However, does he agree that an enormous amount of waste is still going to landfill and that manufacturers and producers need to get much more clearly in their minds the necessity of reducing packaging and increasing the amount available for recycling? What are the Government doing to encourage that?

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. I congratulate Essex on having a good plug this afternoon. There has been a massive reduction in packaging waste in the past 10 years. The recycling rate for packaging waste has increased from 27 per cent in 1997 to 56 per cent in 2006. There have been increases for UK business targets. The announcement on 11 February this year, which came into force following consultation just last week on 14 March, provided a whole new list, particularly for packaging waste and its recovery, which annoys people immensely. Business has woken up to the fact that there is money in what people used to call waste. It should not be called waste; it is an asset.

My Lords, it is pleasant indeed to hear Conservative authorities being praised by the Minister. We on this side are not complacent because this is a major issue. The waste strategy for 2007 for England promised a Defra-led waste strategy board and waste stakeholders groups. How often have they met and are the minutes publicly available? In short, what is being done to set up those bodies and what are they doing?

My Lords, to be honest, I do not have any information on that. I hope that the answer is very little. I hope that we are not having lots of meetings in Whitehall about things that everyone is quite clear about from the legislation that has been passed. I am not here to make petty party points: I had forgotten who ran Gloucestershire, but I know who runs Essex. I shall check on this and contact the noble Lord later today.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that his normal sunny nature may be leading him to be a little overoptimistic about people accepting with pleasure the present system? At the moment, some postcodes have their household rubbish collected every week and many others have collections only once a fortnight. There is much concern about that. Although the noble Lord is quite right about it being a local matter perhaps, when advice is given, it could involve more equal treatment between postcodes.

No, my Lords, the Government are not ordering local authorities to collect at any particular rate. It depends on what is best for them. We shall pilot some schemes to give them even more flexibility. I invite all noble Lords—the Bill team will not thank me for this—to turn up tomorrow afternoon for the Report stage of the Climate Change Bill, on which we have reached the part dealing with waste. It provides for legislation to set up five pilots to give local authorities more choice and flexibility about the way in which they organise their affairs. Uniformity will not work, simply because of the nature of society and the housing structure in the country.

My Lords, how can we meet our climate change targets if the man from Whitehall has very little influence?

My Lords, the influence is there in setting the framework for local government, setting new targets and encouraging it not to use landfill simply because it is more expensive, as has been happening. That is what the man from Whitehall can do. What the man from Whitehall should not do is say, “You will collect this particular range of recyclables on such a day”. It is much better for local authorities to judge the local circumstances and then to deliver against the national targets.