Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, these regulations seek to set new recovery and recycling targets for packaging waste for 2013 to 2017.
Packaging performs an important role. Last year 11 million tonnes of packaging were used in the United Kingdom to get products from where they were produced to where they were consumed with minimal damage and wastage. However, once packaging has fulfilled its purpose, the question becomes: what should be done with it? Reusing packaging would be ideal but as this is not possible in many cases, recycling is usually the best option for recovering the value—in both economic and environmental terms.
The Government want the UK to move towards a zero-waste economy. Rather than an economy where no waste at all is produced, we envisage one where resources are fully valued. We want to see material resources reused, recycled or recovered wherever possible, and only disposed of as a last resort. The targets before the Committee today will play an important part in achieving this vision. They will help the UK go further in recovering the value of discarded packaging materials and help tackle the wasteful practice of burying them in landfill.
Furthermore, like other EU countries, the UK is required by the EU directive on packaging and packaging waste to recover each year a minimum 60% of all packaging waste, of which 55% must be recycled. Within this overall target, there are also recycling targets for individual packaging material types, including metal, paper, glass, plastic and wood. The UK achieves these targets through the producer responsibility system we have put in place, established by the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 2007.
The existing regulations set recycling targets for packaging producers until the end of 2012. We now need to put measures in place to ensure that the UK continues to meet the EU packaging recycling targets in future years, and to ensure packaging waste continues to be recycled. If we do not, this will result in the removal of important financial support for the recycling system in this country, and we can expect current recycling rates to drop. Furthermore, we can expect costly infraction proceedings for failing to implement the EU directive. However, there is a more important reason for these targets. As valuable resources for our industries get scarcer and more expensive, we need processes in place to recycle properly and recover them to maintain as much of their value as we can in the economy. The proposed targets for the period 2013-17 will maintain the current levels of recycling of paper, wood and glass. They will also set a trajectory for increased recycling of aluminium, which we want to see increase by 3 percentage points per year; plastic, by 5 percentage points per year; and steel, by 1 percentage point per year.
The largest increase under the targets proposed will be in plastic packaging recycling. The target under consideration today will increase the UK’s plastic recycling rate from 24% to 42% in 2017. This is an ambitious target compared with where we are now. At present the UK’s recycling rate puts us towards the bottom of the EU league table. I acknowledge that there are concerns about this, but we need to do better. Our analysis shows that this target will deliver a net benefit to UK plc as a result of the increased revenues generated by the greater volumes of valuable plastic material collected for recycling.
The regulations before the Committee also introduce a split target for glass. This is a reflection of the two main types of end market for recovered glass: use in remelt, so glass bottles are turned back into glass bottles; and use in non-remelt applications, such as aggregate used in construction. As remelt uses offer greater environmental benefits than non-remelt applications, the split target will in effect freeze the proportion of recovered glass which can be sent to non-remelt applications at the 37% seen currently. These targets offer both economic and environmental benefits. They show that economic growth and improving the environment can go hand in hand.
I accept that the economic benefits are not shared equally by everyone. These regulations will place an increased cost burden on producers of packaging materials and I know that some of these companies believe we should have lower targets or targets that escalate more slowly. The Committee will hear some of these concerns in the debate today, but overall these targets will provide benefits to businesses, including creating jobs in the recycling sector. Under the PRN system, money paid by producers of packaging goes to reprocessors and exporters. They then spend this money on collection, developing capacity and creating end markets for material. Government predictions are that average annual sales growth in the UK is expected to accelerate to 3.8% each year in recycling and recovery, and 3% in waste management over the next five years. The new recycling targets will help to support that growth.
Importantly, these targets set the future direction for the UK’s recycling economy and provide business with the confidence with which to plan and invest for the future. Just in the past few months, we have seen exciting developments in the plastics recycling sector despite the very challenging economic climate. We have seen the opening of a new plastic recycling facility in Rainham. This £5 million investment has created 45 jobs. A new plastic recycling plant has also opened in Lincolnshire. This represents a £15 million investment creating 30 new jobs. These facilities were in the pipeline before the Government announced their decision to introduce these targets in the Budget. However, that announcement has undoubtedly helped to boost confidence in the sector and these examples give a flavour of the developments we can expect to see.
As well as economic, there are clearly environmental benefits to increasing the amount of packaging which is recovered and recycled. The key environmental benefit of the targets is the greenhouse gas savings associated with diverting material from landfill and better resource efficiency. Replacing the use of virgin materials in packaging with recycled ones leads to significant energy and carbon savings. Overall, we estimate the whole package of targets will provide a net benefit to the UK economy of over £180 million, including about £9 million arising from reducing carbon equivalent emissions by 2 million tonnes over the period 2013-17.
These regulations will help enable the UK to achieve its ambitions on recycling, ensure that we continue to meet our EU obligations, and generate economic and environmental benefits. I hope that I have explained what is intended and I look forward to hearing the views of the Committee. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for explaining so clearly the purpose of these regulations. I suspect that over the past couple of weeks he has had to undergo something of a crash course in recycling and the associated functions that go with it. Later I will refer in more detail to a meeting that he was able to hold with me and with representatives of the plastics industry as recently as 8 November, which is less than two weeks ago. I have to say that there has been a huge amount of activity since then.
Perhaps I may take a moment to rehearse the earlier history. I should declare an interest in that for some 13 years I worked in the plastics industry, although it was a very long time ago. However, I am familiar with some of the materials we have been discussing. On 1 May, I was approached by representatives of the two main trade associations, the British Plastics Federation and the Packaging and Films Association—films meaning bags rather than movies—who came with very clear messages. They said that they had been seeking to discuss these matters with officials in Defra, but were given the clear impression that they simply were not listening. They had asked to see a Minister, but were told firmly that that would be wholly inappropriate. They then sought my help.
My first move was to approach my noble friend’s predecessor, my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach, for whom I have very high regard. After some hesitation his private office said that no, a meeting would be quite inappropriate. I have never discovered why, although I have made inquiries. I then said to his office, “Look, the noble Lord cannot refuse to see me”. That is par for the course since he really is obliged to do so, and eventually we were able to fix a date on 25 June. However, nearly two months had now gone by since my first approach. I put the case to my noble friend in his capacity as the former Minister, who said, “Yes, of course I can agree. The difficulty has been removed”. But I am afraid that I never understood what the difficulty was—I have a horrid suspicion that the difficulty may be sitting behind the Minister now, but that is a different matter to which I shall come later.
It took a month before the Minister’s private office came up with a date. I saw him on 25 June, and on 25 July his officials said, “The Minister will be pleased to see your deputation on 23 October”, by which time four months would have gone by. I asked why the meeting had to be as late as that, and was told that the Summer Recess was coming up and that it would not be possible to meet the deputation during that time. This is a matter of no criticism whatever either of the department or of the present Minister, who on 23 October was faced with having to deal with the Statement on badgers. I have said to many people that, in his position, I would have done exactly the same. I would have said, “Clear my diary. This Statement is going to be difficult to handle”, and that is inevitably what happened. So, in the end, we had the reshuffle and the Minister changed. I welcomed very warmly my noble friend Lord De Mauley’s readiness to hear the case, and the meeting was fixed for 8 November.
The industry put its case very clearly and in some detail as to why it felt that these targets were wrong. Its main message was that they are unachievable. It made the point, and I made it myself, that there really is no point in Governments setting targets that they are told by the people who are going to have to deliver them are unachievable. No doubt my noble friend will confirm this, but I got the impression that he was impressed by the strength and detail of the industry’s case. He turned to his officials and said, “Surely the right thing here is for the two sides to get together and find a compromise”. We were all rather shattered when the senior official present answered blandly, “Well it is just too late—the order’s been laid and we can’t change it now”. They had been talking for an hour before the Minister was told that there was no point in listening because it could not be changed. The industry was very angry, as I am sure noble Lords will understand, and the meeting broke up in some tension.
I had a few words with the Minister afterwards when he very kindly agreed to stay and he has moved very quickly since then. There was an immediate invitation to the industry to set out the details of its objections to the order in writing. A meeting took place in the department and officials were instructed to respond to those objections point by point. A paper setting out the arguments would then be submitted to my noble friend for his approval, which was then to be sent to me. That is, in fact, what happened, and I duly got the paper last Friday. It consisted of 14 closely typed pages of print, including point and counterpoint, which, with the benefit of computers, I was able to forward immediately to the industry. It goes into a great deal of detail and I do not propose to weary the Grand Committee with that now. However, the immediate reaction of the industry, which I found very interesting, is in a quote that it sent me by e-mail:
“It is the first time they have responded in detail to our concerns”.
This was as a result of my noble friend’s initiative, which we very much welcomed. At the meeting, the industry had continually asked where the department’s evidence was to support what it had put into the order and why officials had so far taken no notice of the concerns that the industry had first voiced during the consultation period earlier in the year. At least now, they had to answer the points, which are in that 14-page paper.
I asked the industry for its comments over the weekend and I got them late on Sunday night. This time, it was 15 pages of very detailed analysis of Defra’s answers. However, the industry was still dismayed that there was absolutely no sign of the department recognising the validity of its concerns. As I have said, my very first reaction to all this was to ask why this was not all done months ago, why all these exchanges— 29 pages of exchanges—did not happen before and why we had to wait for my noble friend the Minister to intervene before his officials were prepared to answer the industry’s concerns.
The essence of the industry’s case has been, from the beginning, that it has no quarrel whatever with the department’s objective of increasing the collection and recycling of plastic waste. Indeed, its own objective—to which it has given the title, Plastics 2020 Challenge—is to ensure that no plastic goes to landfill by 2020, and that the maximum amount should be recycled and reused. This is something I would have thought the Government would have accepted. The department’s objective, which my noble friend spelled out, was that the policy should go further and faster than that, and indeed further and faster than was required by the EU directive of some years ago. Again, I will not go into the details of that, but it is a fact: the department is going faster than the EU directive requires.
Moreover, the industry’s complaint is that the department seems entirely to have ignored the recommendations of its own expert advisory body. I will get the right title as I must quote these things properly. It is the Advisory Committee on Packaging, generally known as the ACP. It has nothing to do with Conservative Peers. The committee gave very clear advice in 2011 about the maximum speed at which plastics recycling could develop in the United Kingdom. The department simply assumed that there was far more scope to accelerate the rate of collection and recycling, even of some of the more difficult materials to which my noble friend referred a moment ago—and in particular assumed that there could be a substantial increase in the recycling of commercial and industrial waste, although it is widely recognised that for a variety of reasons this has very nearly reached its maximum.
The ACP stated in its 2012 annual report:
“Meeting the stretching plastic recycling targets set by the Government represents a significant challenge to industry”.
When my noble friend said “ambitious”, he was understating the case. The report continues:
“However there is also a particular challenge in plastics because it is a much more diverse material than the other categories, with a large number of different polymer types and formats with very different characteristics, which mostly cannot be mixed for recycling”.
I recognise that some of the new equipment that has recently been installed has quite high technology and is beginning to be able to do some of that mechanical sorting—but there is still a great deal that cannot be done.
My first question to my noble friend is: why did officials ignore the warnings by the ACP about the very challenging nature of the targets they were minded to set? But the situation is worse than that. Here I come to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Paragraph 12 of its report—I will quote only one sentence—refers to the consultation and states:
“Overall, despite specific concerns, respondents supported the proposals for increased targets”.
I looked for the source of that statement and discussed it both with the clerk to the Scrutiny Committee and with my noble friend Lord Goodlad, who is chairman of the committee. The Explanatory Memorandum stated clearly:
“Overall, respondents were supportive of increasing targets”.
It went on to mention some of the concerns that my noble friend mentioned a moment ago.
In these circumstances, it is not surprising that the scrutiny committee used the same words and gave the impression that there was no controversy about this. The scrutiny committee remained totally unaware that the producers of plastics, on whom the order places the entire responsibility for meeting these targets, had from the outset declared their grave concerns and deep unhappiness about what was in the order. Noble Lords may wonder why the department couched that in such neutral language—it was to mislead the scrutiny committee, which in turn inevitably has misled the House. I find this really very disappointing.
I ask my noble friend for three undertakings as to how this situation can be rescued. First, I return to the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Packaging, which said very clearly that there should be a mid-term review of the impact of the order. The ACP report said:
“The ACP will continue to monitor progress on a quarterly basis to show progress. In its response to the consultation on the review of targets the ACP suggested that a formal review midterm would be helpful especially as delivery depends not solely upon producer responsibility”—
but also the contributions of local authorities in collecting the material concerned. The reports—29 pages of detailed exchanges—give a number of very good reasons why there needs to be a mid-term review.
The Minister’s paper contains several references to documents that still have to be published. There is a document to be called the “quality action plan”. It is very clear that that has not been published. Nobody knows what is in it. There are references to a number of very questionable statistics, which the department has not wholly denied. These need to be clarified. There are references to a growing evident unwillingness of the Chinese Government to continue absorbing the huge quantities of recyclate that have recently been shipped to them. Given these uncertainties, the argument for a review has become absolutely overwhelming and I hope my noble friend, in his reply to this debate, will be able to agree with that.
Secondly, if the review is to be properly informed, the discussions that have been going on so far for less than two weeks, following my noble friend’s intervention, should be continued. I put this to the two trade associations this morning and they agree. Despite their earlier unhappiness, they have told me they are very ready to continue the discussions in good faith. I ask my noble friend to instruct his officials to respond also in good faith.
Thirdly, and perhaps most fundamentally, I have been left with a very clear impression that my noble friend’s officials, having reached their decision on the policy and its implementation, closed their minds to any criticism or to any alternative route to the agreed objective. They had made up their minds and nothing—nothing, my Lords—was going to be allowed to deflect them one inch from that course.
It is not only the plastics industry that has had this experience. It so happens that last week I met representatives of the glass industry who are wanting to set up a glass academy, which I totally support. I asked them for their reaction—they are dealt with in the order, as my noble friend rightly said. They told me and put it in writing afterwards:
“There have been very few attempts to set up face-to-face discussions with industry representatives. Instead, a broad document has been developed which takes into account individual, written responses. When British Glass has sought to set up meetings in order to rectify this, its requests have been ignored or side-lined by delays”.
That sounds familiar.
“As a result, there have been very few meetings held with the Defra official responsible, Ian Atkinson, in the last year. When meetings do take place, they tend to be very one-sided. Whilst officials listen to industry during the meetings, and may agree on issues during the meeting, there has been no resulting action taken”.
I am not alone in viewing this as an extremely unsatisfactory state of affairs. If the department is allowed to continue in the same vein of simply not listening to people with genuine complaints, it surely puts at risk the success of a very important part of the department’s environmental and recycling objectives. It cannot be right all along to alienate those upon whom the department is going to rely for the delivery of the policies it seeks to implement. Yet that is precisely what has been happening and I hope my noble friend will agree that it must be stopped.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend for introducing these draft regulations and setting out the objectives that he and his department seek to achieve. I preface my remarks by declaring an interest as a non-executive director of British Polythene Industries, Europe’s largest manufacturer and recycler of polythene products. BPI has production and recycling operations in the UK, the European Union, North America and China.
I wholly associate myself with the remarks of my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding. I have had access to much of the same documentation and analysis from the industry that he has had, in addition to the analysis and forecasting that is available to companies such as BPI. There are, as my noble friend set out, a very large number of detailed concerns about the substance and detail of what these proposed regulations seek to implement. I do not intend to go into the depth of those details, nor do I intend to dwell on the real unhappiness that many in the industry feel about so many of the issues that relate to the process that culminated in these proposed regulations. Once again, my noble friend has set out some of the specific concerns related to that process—indeed, the unhappiness is manifest and deals with many more points than any of us would be comfortable about.
The nature of the discussions between the industry and the department has left many in the industry very upset. The extent to which the industry has felt that its input and advice has not been efficiently, effectively or actively sought, welcomed or understood is another source of unhappiness. My noble friend mentioned the difficulties the industry has had in being able to engage with the relevant Minister. The extent to which the department is felt by many in the industry to have based the case on evidence that it has been assembling has caused serious unhappiness, given the very late hour at which that evidence became evident to the industry.
For the purposes of this debate, suffice it to say that we are where we are. The main focus should therefore be on how we move forward from these draft regulations, and perhaps look at that more than how we arrived at this unhappy state of affairs. It is in that spirit that I echo my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding in stressing that the industry remains ready and willing to engage positively in whatever is the best way forward.
With that as a starting point, soundings from some of the key players in the industry suggest that it is not so much a question of not being able to achieve the targets set out in this draft regulation, but much more about the timescale attached to those targets. Given the depth of the industry’s concerns about the calibration of targets and timescale and the importance and scale of those in the industry who have these concerns, there must surely be a strong case for reviewing the timescales in respect of the targets and allowing amendments to be made mid-term if there is a case for them. In putting that point, I echo a similar point made by my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding.
It is undoubtedly unfortunate that discussions to date between the department and the industry have not enabled more realistic timescales to have been developed or the proposed timescales set out in these regulations to have been fully discussed and reviewed, so that if a sound case had been made, they could have been amended. We would then have been looking at regulations that commanded a much greater degree of unanimity. I would therefore like to put two questions to the Minister, which are much in the same vein as those of my noble friend. First, given the industry’s willingness to engage positively on these draft regulations, before they become enshrined and implemented is there not an opportunity for the industry and government to review and if necessary revise the details, especially the timescales set out against the targets?
To have got to this stage with such a difference of opinion is not satisfactory. I do not say that just as someone currently involved with the industry, but as a former deputy chair of the Better Regulation Commission and a former joint chair of the Government’s Risk and Regulation Advisory Council. It cannot be good governance or good regulation to bring forward a statute where there is such a stark difference of opinion and such conflicting assessments between those who set policy objectives and those who have to deliver them. So my first question to the Minister is whether there is not still an opportunity before these draft regulations take effect to review and if necessary revise the timescale attaching to the targets.
My second question is in line with what my noble friend Lord Jenkin put to the Minister. If it is not possible to review and revise what is before us, can we now have a commitment from the Minister on behalf of the Government that there will be an interim review of the details set out in these regulations, specifically of the timescales attached to the targets set. If it is at all possible, could we seek to entrench that commitment in the legislation so that in, say, two years’ time there is certainty that the timescales will be reviewed and that that review process will lead to a revision if a proper case is made for it?
My Lords, given the debate so far, the Minister might be pleased to know that we support these regulations which build on the 2007 regulations brought in by the last Government. Obviously we are mindful of the impact assessment on the estimate that £400 million-worth of overall benefits have derived from them, so it is good that there are occasions when this Government believe that statutory targets and regulation can bring an economic benefit. That is not always the message we hear. However, I note the comments that have been made by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, and the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay. Given the first question put by the noble Earl, I am also concerned about the timing of the regulations. Should the Minister listen to our debate and decide that, unlikely as it may seem, it might be best to withdraw the regulations and think again, there would not be time to bring forward new regulations before those currently in force will run out at the end of the year. We would then be in a very awkward position.
In effect, there is a fait accompli in respect of these regulations. I do not think that that is desirable and it is not good, transparent law-making. Indeed, the sorry tale of lack of engagement with the industry related by the noble Lord also suggests that there are some in Defra who perhaps need to smell the coffee in terms of how good law-making is conducted. The days of “Whitehall knows best” are over so far as the public are concerned, and we need to ensure that there is proper engagement—even with those who you know are going to oppose the laws we are making—so as to ensure that the best possible compromise between the competing interests is arrived at. I think that the estimate in the impact analysis was that there would be losses of just over £22 million to business as a result of these regulations. There are going to be losers as well as those who will benefit from the jobs and economic activity that attaches to recycling. I want to make those points of sympathy, even though we are on different sides of the argument in respect of these regulations, for the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, and the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay.
The only questions I have for the Minister are to try better to understand what criteria he used in setting these new levels. We have heard figures like three percentage points a year for aluminium, five for plastics, one for steel, while glass is being held on the assumption that the target will be split by end use. There are other targets for paper, wood and so on. The department must have carried out a sensitivity analysis of what is the right level of increase that is sustainable for the packaging industry and in terms of capacity in the recycling industry. Even if he cannot give us a detailed assessment now, it would be interesting if he could either point to where the analysis is in the Explanatory Notes—if it is there, I have lost it—or if he would drop us a note to let us know. I am sure that that transparency will be useful as the ongoing discussions take place.
My second question is asked in part on behalf of my noble friend Lord Haskel, who was hoping to speak in the debate, but while he has been able to move in and out of it, unfortunately he missed the opening speeches and so feels unable to contribute. He, too, is critical of these regulations. One question that he was going to ask—it is in his speaking note, which I have seen—concerns the adequacy of local collection services, and what analysis the department has made of the capacity of the services to deliver on these regulations. Clearly, if the recycling cannot be collected, the system will not work very well. Any answer on that for my noble friend and for me would be gratefully received.
Finally, I am interested in the Minister’s views on what will happen after 2017 when the regulations run out. I am sure that if he is sympathetic to the notion of a mid-term review, which he has been asked about, we would be interested to hear that, too. Does he think that continuing with targets is the right way forward post 2017, or is this a measure to extend the existing approach while he thinks about a new one? What is his view on whether the infrastructure is broadly right, and whether it will remain stable and go beyond 2017? Any indication on that would be well received by the interested parties who will be listening carefully to his comments as the responsible Minister. I know that often he has to respond for other Ministers in the department, but in this case we are hearing the words direct from the Minister’s mouth, and anything he can give us to elucidate these matters will be warmly received. As I said, I am broadly supportive of the regulations.
In making that comment, the noble Lord reinforces his point that engagement with the industry is a wise course, alongside engagement with the recycling industry, which stands to gain more business and more employment as a result of these regulations.
My Lords, I start by thanking noble Lords for taking the time to get into this very complicated subject and to debate these important issues today. I listened very carefully to the points made, including to very specific concerns about aspects of the regulations, and will try to answer as many of them as I can. Before I respond to the points about targets, I will address concerns raised about the process of developing the regulations.
First, I assure the Committee that all responses received to the consultation were given due consideration, and that information presented was taken into account when building the evidence. I can only apologise sincerely to my noble friend Lord Jenkin for the time it took him to get a meeting. I will add that I hear clearly the message of my noble friend Lord Lindsay. As part of the consultation process, my department considered carefully the advice of the Advisory Committee on Packaging. This is an important body that represents most of the packaging chain.
My noble friend Lord Jenkin suggested that the Explanatory Memorandum accompanying the regulation did not provide an accurate summary of the consultation responses received, and that opposition to the plastics targets was not properly represented. The memorandum states that overall, taken as a whole, respondents to the consultation were supportive of increasing the targets. However, it acknowledged that there was some concern about the level of increase for certain materials, notably plastics. I ask my noble friend to accept that this reflected the fact that the plastics producers who opposed the preferred option on the grounds that it was unachievable represented between 10% and 15% of the total obligated tonnage for plastics. The majority of respondents who expressed a preference supported the higher targets; only a minority expressly opposed them.
My Lords, the calculations I have been given indicate what I have just stated. Furthermore, I understand that there were opposing views even among the members of those associations who responded to the consultation. I do not argue with the fact that there has been opposition and that it is important to consider it. Indeed, I have and am considering it.
I have a question about the Advisory Committee on Packaging. It used to be an arm’s-length body, but after the review it was taken into Defra. I think that this Committee would find it valuable to know what opposition was expressed within that committee. Is the Minister willing to publish the minutes of the advisory committee’s meetings to see how the debate was represented?
If I may, I shall come to the advisory committee later in the debate.
My noble friend Lord Jenkin referred to his concerns about the achievability of the targets. I shall go into some detail on that because I think it will be helpful to noble Lords. The 42% recycling rate was consulted on and, as I said, the majority of the consultation responses supported the proposal. I acknowledge that the target is challenging and we will monitor progress closely, calling on the expertise of the Advisory Committee on Packaging. In responding to the consultation, waste companies, reprocessors and local authorities felt that the infrastructure was sufficient to deal with demand and that further infrastructure would come on stream by 2017 to cope with increased supply and demand—I think that that is the question to which the noble Lord, Lord Knight, referred. The quality of recyclates is also something that the Government take seriously. My officials are working on an action plan, to which my noble friend referred, to address the quality of recyclates, and it will be published shortly.
I turn now to the targets themselves. As I say, it might be helpful to noble Lords if I go into a little detail on these. Defra has conducted a full analysis of how the targets can be achieved. As with any projections, assumptions have been made. That is why we exposed our analysis to scrutiny through public consultation and we asked industry if we had got it right. Most of the organisations that will be required to collect, sort and reprocess the additional material thought that the higher targets would be achievable. However, as we heard today, some in the plastics manufacturing industry remain concerned about the achievability of the plastics targets. Officials have met representatives of the industry and, as my noble friend said, I myself have met them. I have carefully reviewed the concerns raised and the evidence provided.
I will take the different targets in turn, starting with plastic bottles. The lion’s share of hitting this target will fall to bottle recycling. Good progress has been made, with the UK now recycling just over half of the bottles that are thrown away. However, around 240,000 tonnes of household plastic bottles that are disposed of in households with access to plastic bottle recycling collection points still end up in landfill. This makes no sense. The material has a value of at least £18 million. We must get it out of landfill and into recycling. This can be done relatively cheaply because the infrastructure is already in place. Nearly every local authority in the country is collecting bottles, while the sorting and reprocessing infrastructure is well established and the end markets are thriving. The key to capturing thousands more tonnes of plastic bottles is communication. I want to see industry and local authorities working together to communicate to the householder. For example, the plastics industry could follow the model adopted by the metal packaging and reprocessing industry under its “Metal Matters” campaign, which has increased householder participation in recycling schemes by up to 40%.
The other source of plastic packaging we expect to make a major contribution to achieving the targets is from the commercial and industrial sector. Our estimates suggest that a significant tonnage is currently being recycled but is not being counted by the PRN system. Indeed, in 2005 almost 350,000 tonnes of commercial and industrial plastic packaging was collected for recycling compared with apparently less than 280,000 tonnes in 2010. We believe that the disappearance of 70,000 tonnes was largely because there was no need for the material to be counted towards meeting the recycling targets, but that it actually continues to be recycled outside the PRN system.
Does the Minister not recognise that with that additional amount put in, it will simply be a question of counting it? It will not get any more, because it is very nearly complete. A vast quantity of the commercial and industrial plastic weight is already being dealt with. Therefore, how can there possibly be a substantial amount still to go to meet the targets? I am sorry; the argument simply does not stand up.
This includes recycling more plastic pots, tubs and trays and more plastic films. We recognise that increasing the collection and recycling of these types of plastic represents a challenge, but we are seeing some encouraging trends. For example, in the past four years more than 100 local authorities have introduced collections for pots, tubs and trays. This has seen the recycling rate for these items more than treble over the past five years from 5% in 2008 to 18% now. To meet the proposed plastic recycling target we are looking for the recycling rate to increase from the current 18% to 28% over the next five years. There is also a range of planned waste policies that will encourage local authorities to collect a wider range of plastics for recycling. In particular, WRAP is investing £5 million, through its mixed plastics loan fund, by which it means to deliver, by 2015, a further 100,000 tonnes of recycled pots, tubs and trays—double the 50,000 tonnes we anticipate will be needed from this stream to meet the overall target.
Of course, the higher packaging recycling target being debated today will help provide extra stimulus for local authorities to roll out collections and for MRF operators to invest in new sorting technology to handle a wider range of plastics. Other waste policies will encourage greater collection of plastics. These include the landfill tax, which is set on an increasing scale, making disposal of these items less economically attractive, and the revised waste framework directive, with its focus on separate collection of plastics and other dry recyclates by 2015.
We recognise that there are concerns about infrastructure capacity. However, I understand that most new sorting facilities, or MRFs, are being designed to handle mixed plastics or will have suitable capacity to add additional materials at a later date to support changes to local authority collection services. Furthermore, the Environmental Services Association, the main trade body for waste management companies, has stated that there are plans for an additional 6.6 million tonnes of MRF capacity to come on stream between 2013 and 2017. On that basis, the 50,000 tonnes of additional plastic anticipated should be manageable.
My noble friend Lord Jenkin referred to glass and asked about meetings. There was recently a meeting with British Glass to discuss the targets for 2012. I am not aware of wider requests for meetings from the glass sector. It is important to recognise that the glass targets before your Lordships today are flat and only slightly above the minimum 60% necessary to achieve the target set in the EU directive.
I listened carefully to concerns about the costs of the new regulations on certain business sectors. I ask noble Lords to accept that this needs to be seen in the context of the overwhelming benefit to the economy as a whole, including the UK’s recycling and reprocessing industry. Most businesses on which the obligation to meet the proposed targets will fall are in favour of them. In setting them, we sought to balance the costs to businesses, and we did not increase them unless there was a sound business case for doing so.
My noble friend Lord Jenkin asked about exports. I am fully supportive of the need for a level playing field. As part of the ongoing review of the packaging regulations, we are exploring the issue and considering options for how it may be addressed. I believe that there is significant scope for growth in domestic demand for recovered plastic. Security of feedstock has been cited as discouraging some reprocessors from entering the market. We believe that the proposed targets will provide greater confidence in supply, plus the financial support to enable investment in increasing domestic reprocessing capacity.
My noble friend Lord Jenkin referred to the Advisory Committee on Packaging suggesting lower plastic targets in its report of work carried out in 2010-11. The ACP’s response to the consultations actually supported the Government’s preferred option of higher plastic packaging recycling targets. Its report of work in 2011-12, published earlier this year, confirmed its advice that the higher plastic packaging targets suggested by the Government would be achievable provided that there was an increase in the provision of collection infrastructure and that participation rates increased. Furthermore, more new infrastructure is, as I have said, coming on stream to cope with supply and demand.
My noble friends Lord Jenkin and Lord Lindsay asked for a mid-term formal review. I think that I can go further than that. I assure the Committee that my department will monitor progress throughout the period in question and will take appropriate action if needed. The ACP has a standing agenda item at its quarterly meeting to review packaging recycling achievement data and to advise Defra on trends and impacts on achievability going forward. I will keep a close eye on that. I am also happy, as my noble friend requested, for discussions to continue between those he represents and my officials.
My noble friend Lord Lindsay suggested—perhaps I am paraphrasing him unfairly—that Defra used its own evidence. Defra used a range of evidence sources, including WRAP research on collection costs, industry data on waste from groups such as PackFlow and the ACP, as well as evidence submitted as part of the consultation.
My Lords, I will clarify what I said because the paraphrase did not quite catch the point that I was trying to make, which was that the evidence that the department used to underpin the regulations currently before us was not seen by key players in the industry until such a late stage of the process that, while they had reservations and doubts about some of it, there was no time to properly discuss it with the department before it became a fait accompli.
I accept that, my Lords. I apologise to my noble friend. I hope that I have covered the point quite extensively in the debate.
The noble Lord, Lord Knight, asked what would happen beyond 2017. That is some way in the future. I am clearly not in a position to answer it now. It is one of the things that will be taken into account as we move forward. I referred to the review process that will be going on. I hope that that helps him.
The noble Lord asked for the publication of the ACP minutes. I would need to talk to the committee. Perhaps I cannot go quite so far as to commit to doing so in this Committee, but I will certainly look into the possibility. He also asked about the criteria used to set the different targets for different materials. There was a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis. If it would be helpful to noble Lords who have participated in the debate, I am happy to send them documentation to support that.
To sum up, these regulations will allow the United Kingdom both to continue to meet its EU regulations and to achieve our ambition to increase recycling rates. They demonstrate that economic growth and improving the environment can go hand in hand. I recognise that some targets are more challenging than others, in particular the plastics targets. Decisions about the targets were based on the best available evidence and reflected consultation with key interests throughout the supply chain, but dialogue should not stop there. I assure noble Lords that my department will continue to monitor progress towards achieving the targets throughout the period in question and will be very open to discussion. We will maintain regular dialogue with the industry and others, and will take appropriate action if needed.
I hope that I have gone some way to allay the concerns of noble Lords, as well as assuring others of the Government’s intent to improve the UK’s performance on recycling. I will, of course, review the debate and write regarding any questions that I have not fully answered. For the reasons that I outlined, I believe that the targets are achievable and will support investment and growth in the UK’s recycling sector, which will be good for business and good for the environment.
Before the noble Lord sits down, his noble friends Lord Lindsay and Lord Jenkin of Roding were quite critical of the civil servants in his department. Even my noble friend Lord Knight of Weymouth mentioned that Whitehall did not have all the answers, was not in total charge and did not hold the same sway that it had previously. Despite the Minister’s excellent job of answering all these questions, he did not fully answer the points about the behaviour of his department. I remind him that a former Conservative Prime Minister said that “advisers advise, Ministers decide”. How much responsibility do Ministers take for the behaviour that the two noble Lords criticised? I do not include the noble Lord because he was not there, but how much responsibility belongs to Ministers and the Government, rather than to civil servants who cannot answer for themselves?