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Local Authorities: Recycling

Volume 783: debated on Tuesday 11 July 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to issue guidance to local authorities clarifying what can and cannot be recycled.

My Lords, we are committed to achieving higher recycling rates. In May this year, the Waste and Resources Action Programme, WRAP, published updated guidelines for local authorities on what can and what cannot be recycled. I shall be placing a copy in the Library of the House. With WRAP and the waste industry, we are working to ensure that more is recyclable. Information on what householders can recycle locally is available on the Recycle Now website.

Does my noble friend the Minister recognise the frustration of consumers, who despite the good work to which he has referred are frequently confused about what is recyclable and by the variations in the rules and indeed even in the colours of the bins in local areas? Will he do his best to simplify the system further into a single set of clear rules for what is recycled and what is not? For example, I believe black plastic of any kind wrecks the recycling. Will he initiate a public information campaign using social media to bring about a step change in recycling, both among consumers and in business?

My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend that we need to encourage clarity. Indeed, that is what WRAP’s consistency framework is intended to achieve. It is of course for local authorities, in consultation with residents, to determine the most appropriate arrangements, but the recycling guidelines already make clear what is recyclable and what is not. The Recycle Now campaign uses social and digital media. Work is ongoing to address the issue of black plastic.

My Lords, there has been considerable success in the rate of recycling of plastic bottles. But what I think the noble Lord might be alluding to is that as part of the litter strategy, for which I have established a working group, we are going to look at a number of measures to improve recycling. One of them is to have a full and proper look at the impacts and benefits of different types of deposit and reward-and-return schemes for drinks. We want to set up that group very shortly and I am looking forward to its report early in the new year.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the way in which illegal landfill sites are being identified by new satellite technology, and will he make sure that the most use is made of this technology?

My Lords, we need to use every new or modern system we can. Fly-tipping in particular is a huge point—it is disgraceful. I think there are about 628,000 instances, with household waste as well. We need to ensure that we have the right level of fines and custodial sentences. That move might be extreme for some, but the level of fines needs to be as high as it can be. Indeed, a company was fined £23,400 last week for fly-tipping in Epping Forest.

My Lords, according to WRAP’s annual tracker survey, two-thirds of households say that they are unsure how to correctly dispose of items. Does the Minister agree that significant cuts to local authority communication budgets driven by central government cuts are contributing to falling household recycling rates?

My Lords, it is far too simplistic to suggest that. For instance, in Richmondshire District Council, there was a 14.7% increase in recycling rates in one year; in Tameside, a 7.8% increase; and in East Riding, an 8.6% increase. This is all about increasing the amount that is recycled and separating food waste. Of course there are financial conditions, but I suggest that there are many good examples of what local authorities are doing in stressful times.

My Lords, one of the key areas of the packaging industry’s work and what we need to do with WRAP is to ensure that we do not package unnecessarily and that packaging is recyclable. There are some good statistics on that—increasing packaging to 60% recyclable—but more needs to be done.

Can the Minister help me? At home, we rigorously sort out all our waste for collection, but sometimes we have too much and I have to take it down to the tip. I take stuff that I have rigorously separated according to the instructions of Bromley Council, but when I get to the tip, I have to throw it all in the same container.

My Lords, I will take that point back because that is—I think I will use the word disappointing. That is not what is intended by the whole thrust of getting to a circular economy of reusing and recovering much more. That defeats the object, and there is value in a lot of the materials that we are recycling.

My Lords, this is intriguing, because in South Oxfordshire, for example, it is 66.6% and in the London Borough of Newham, it is 14.7%. One issue that my colleague Thérèse Coffey is dealing with is that many councils in urban areas of all political persuasions are finding recycling much more of a challenge, so we need to work on that.

My Lords, we need to be realistic about the overall recycling rates. The fact is that in England, recycling levels are falling according to the latest WRAP figures. We are now in danger of not even meeting the 50% recycling target by 2020 in England. When we talked about this before, the Minister agreed that we could learn a great deal from the Welsh Government, where rates are already at 63% and rising: they are going up in Wales and down in England. What lessons has he taken from the Welsh Government about how we could improve things in England?

It is certainly important that we learn from where there are good examples. I referred to good examples in England; there are indeed good examples in Wales. We need to listen and learn from them. In Wales, a single blueprint is published; in England, there are three suggestions in the consistency document. This is all about how much we mingle—I gather that that is the word—recyclable produce. In some areas, it is easier to mingle it all and in others it is easier to separate it. The problem with that is that you might get five bins or you might get three. That is the issue that we need to wrestle with.

My Lords, I applaud the noble Baroness for bringing this up; it is obviously a hot topic that we all care about. As a Green, one of the big things for me is that far too much goes to incineration. Can the Minister say, hand on heart, that for this Government, incineration is the absolutely last resort for waste of any kind?

My Lords, the last resort is landfill, which we are absolutely determined to work on. Obviously, some incineration is the generation of power. In fact, whether it is anaerobic digestion of food waste or use of an incinerator, if we are clever about it, we can use those resources to our advantage. But we need to recycle more.