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Landfill (Maximum Landfill Amount) Regulations 2011

Volume 730: debated on Wednesday 7 September 2011

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved By

That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Landfill (Maximum Landfill Amount) Regulations 2011.

Relevant document: 25th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

My Lords, the purpose of the instrument is to set new maximum amounts of biodegradable municipal waste that can be sent to landfill. They apply to England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and, obviously, the United Kingdom as a whole. The new amounts replace the maximum amounts set out in the previous set of regulations, the Landfill (Scheme Year and Maximum Landfill Amount) Regulations 2004, with which noble Lords will no doubt be familiar.

The EU landfill directive sets challenging targets for diverting waste from landfill. That is in line with its overall objective of reducing the negative effects of landfilling on the environment, including reducing the production of methane gas from landfills. This fits with the Government's view, as stated in the recently published waste review, that landfill should be the last resort for biodegradable waste.

The new targets and the definition of municipal waste set out in the directive were transposed into UK legislation by the Waste and Emissions Trading Act 2003—the WET Act. The Act also set up the landfill allowance schemes to deliver this reduction. At the time, the schemes and the definition of municipal waste applied only to waste collected by local authorities. However, discussions with the European Commission have led us to agree that the UK's existing approach was too narrowly focused. Our environmental objectives would be far better addressed by a broader interpretation. The United Kingdom has changed its interpretation of municipal waste so that more commercial waste collected by the private sector is subject to the diversion targets.

The revised targets reflected in the instrument have been agreed by the European Commission and the devolved Administrations. The reclassification of municipal waste and the revised targets are not expected significantly to change the amount of waste dealt with by local authorities and the private sector respectively. Furthermore, it is not necessary to introduce new measures to meet the new targets. Continued increases to the level of landfill tax and other policies to encourage the prevention, recycling and recovery of waste are sufficient. In fact, as announced in the waste review, the targets will be met while removing a burden on local authorities, as England's Landfill Allowance Trading Scheme will be ended after the 2012-13 scheme year. I commend the draft regulations to the Grand Committee.

My Lords, these regulations are straightforward and well explained in the Explanatory Notes. Clearly, we need to do this. I am happy with the timetable, it all seems very sensible and if we do not do it, there will be infraction proceedings against us anyway. The Explanatory Note states at paragraph 8.1 says that consultation on the regulations did not ask for views on the interpretation or revised target, but on the policies needed to meet the targets. I do not wish to delay the Committee for very long, so my limited comments will be on the policy rather than on the new interpretation or revised targets, because those are straightforward.

Before I get into detail, could the Minister let us know what proportion of waste going to landfill is food waste? There is a question on the Order Paper tomorrow where these issues are pertinent to food waste fed to chickens and in pig swill.

As for policy, I know from the Minister’s comments during the Question in the main Chamber today that he is not a fan of targets. I understand that philosophical view. None of us is a great enthusiast for imposing targets on people, but if we are not going to use recycling targets to minimise the amount of waste going into landfill, I would be grateful if the Minister could set out what leverage he is going to use to ensure that it happens. I have heard, for example, stories about local authorities who, faced with funding constraints, are having to close recycling centres. What leverage is he going to have over local authorities to ensure that they meet their obligations so that England can play its part?

As he knows, because this was pointed out earlier in the main Chamber, other devolved Administrations are retaining targets and indeed setting more ambitious targets than those set out in the regulations. It would be interesting to know whether Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland overshoot their targets—which should be applauded—England could get away with undershooting, given that these are UK-wide regulations? Could it benefit from the more aggressive stance of the devolved Administrations?

I turn to my final question, and I apologise that I am not completely clear in my research on this. It has been suggested to me that it is possible to export material that would otherwise go to landfill without paying any kind of tax, despite a landfill tax being levied in this country. If that is the case, are any conversations going on between Defra and the Treasury to ensure that there is no incentive for local authorities to export their waste to avoid paying tax?

My Lords, I am pleased that the Government have met the previous targets. Although I do not want to take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Knight, I understand that this is all about targets and that they are driven from the EU—the final target, of course, being zero waste to landfill—so we are tied in. One of the benefits of the EU is that it keeps us to targets, however unpopular they may be; it forces us to take action, and the effectiveness of that is shown by the continuing progress here.

I am particularly pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Henley, was able to explain to us that municipal waste now includes commercial waste collected from, for example, catering outlets, restaurants and so on. Under this statutory instrument we are discussing biodegradable waste. It was difficult when there was one set of biodegradable waste collected from households and another stream that was regarded as commercial. The fact that those can now be regarded as one is a good step forward.

I am looking forward as well to the Question tomorrow. That is particularly pertinent when we are looking, for example, at traditionally fed pigs. Although we learnt a hard lesson through the BSE crisis, we need to move on and look at a much more constructive approach to what we do with what we may regard as waste—used vegetable matter, waste from the production of cheese and so on—and ensure that we are not importing, for example, soya that has forced further rainforest destruction, when we could have been using our waste to feed our own livestock that we then eat. That is the traditional way that it was done; people liked the taste of pork in those days, and there is no reason why we cannot go back to that.

Given the limited nature of the statutory instrument, those are my only comments. Were it any wider, I would ask the Minister what further responsibility the Government intend to give to producers, because producer responsibility is also an important way to reduce overall landfill. However, I see this SI as a good step on the way to zero waste, and I welcome it.

My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for their comments. I hope to answer some of them. First, let us deal with the Question on pigswill tomorrow. Let us hope that we can have a rational discussion on it and that it will not turn into one of those Parliamentary Questions that appear on Radio 4 the next day where they try to mock this House. This House can discuss these things properly, and let us hope that we can.

Secondly, moving on to the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Knight, about targets, I gave my views earlier. In general, I am not a great fan of targets because they have a danger of distorting how people behave. Targets can play a part, though, and they appear here. We have to live with targets sometimes because they are imposed upon us, but I think we all accept that targets do not always work in exactly the way that we would like.

Thirdly, the noble Lord asked how much organic waste, food waste and all that went to landfill. Obviously, we would like to put somewhere else all of what we call in crude terms “smelly waste”, and get it out of the black bag. It is not good that it goes there; that is a bad thing; it creates methane that seeps out; and there are better ways to dispose of it. How that should be done is a matter that, in the main, is best left to local authorities to decide in their local areas, because different areas have different ways of collecting refuse and different priorities.

Fourthly, the noble Lord, Lord Knight, asked for my general view on the waste review. It is rather difficult to give a complete summary at this stage of what we are trying to do. Subject to the usual channels, we might have a debate on it. Perhaps I may put it in very simple terms: our view is that we want to make it easy for people to do the right thing because we believe that people want to do the right thing. We believe that institutions and local authorities want to do the right thing, but we want to make that easy for them, rather than regulating and forcing them into line. We will have to pursue that and see how it goes. The noble Lord can propose a debate on this subject in future, when we can consider it at greater length.

Fifthly, the noble Lord asked about local authorities closing recycling centres. I have seen comments about this in the press. Local authorities, as noble Lords will know, have a duty to provide the appropriate amount of recycling centres for their areas. As I understand it, those local authorities have been closing sites that they felt were superfluous. Obviously, it is a question of fact and the degree to which they are still meeting their obligations. We and others will look at that issue. It is important that local authorities continue to provide appropriate cover, as they are obliged to by statute.

The noble Lord asked whether it would be sufficient if Wales and Scotland did better than us and we did slightly less well, but overall the UK was within EU targets. I had better take advice on that before I properly respond, but one has to accept that England represents about 85 per cent of the UK and it is therefore unlikely that super performance by the three devolved Administrations would be sufficient to get us across any boundaries. We will see about that and I will write to the noble Lord, if appropriate.

The same is also true of the Treasury—that dread word that the noble Lord mentioned. I am always very wary when anyone mentions the Treasury. He mentioned exports of landfill. We will have a look at that point and I will respond in due course, if necessary.

I hope that I have dealt with most of the noble Lord’s questions. If I have not done so, I shall write further. I congratulate him because his colleague in the Commons took up all of seven lines on this subject and the debate was completed in seven minutes. We have now reached 15 minutes, which shows that the greater scrutiny of this House is, as always, working as it should be.

Motion agreed.