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Waste Collection Services

Volume 787: debated on Wednesday 22 November 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the current and future level of services for the collection of recycled materials and other refuse from domestic properties.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I remind the House of my registered interest as an elected councillor.

My Lords, noble Lords will be aware that government policy on waste and recycling is led by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, although we work together closely on these issues. Councils play a central role in achieving high recycling rates, and we want to see them provide comprehensive waste and recycling collection services that have the support of local house- holders. We have provided local government with over £200 billion for this spending period and, although councils make their own spending decisions, we expect them to prioritise what they do to deliver what their residents want to see and to ensure good waste management practice.

My Lords, as a neighbourhood service, refuse collection and recycling is subject to some of the worst cuts, which are being enforced by the Minister’s department and not Defra. As an example, in Lancashire, the county council is the disposal authority and has been providing an annual grant of almost £1 million to each of the collection authorities—the districts. It is scrapping that grant from next March because of its own financial problems imposed by the Minister and his team. This will inevitably reduce the amount of recycling, the frequency of collections and the quality of service. What does the Minister have to say about that?

My Lords, I have to say, first, that it is nonsense. The department does not dictate what is spent by Lancashire—or Pendle, the noble Lord’s collection authority. That is a matter for them within the budget. Noble Lords may not be aware that Pendle’s recycling rate is 35.5%, so there is certainly room to make up to get to the national average—but the national average is improving and we are on course to meet our recycling obligations under European and domestic law.

My Lords, did the Minister see the alarming findings on the disposal of plastics and the effects on whales, fish and other marine life described in the BBC’s programme “Blue Planet”? What advice are the Government giving to local authorities and others to deal more creatively with the disposal of plastics—and indeed the replacement of plastics by materials that can be recycled more easily?

My Lords, I did not have the privilege of seeing that programme, which I regret as I heard it was extremely good. The noble Lord is right to focus attention on some of the challenges we face. We are improving our position as a nation, but there is much to do. We are in favour of upping the targets that are currently being looked at, and what that improvement will be has yet to be announced—the current target is 60%. The noble Lord is right about the particular problem of marine challenges, which we are also looking at. Black plastics are a particular problem, and we have a working group looking at that.

My Lords, under the heading of “much to do”, will the Minister say something about the millions of plastic bottles that cannot be recycled and are simply being put into waste? Can we not have positive action to cut down the number of plastic bottles? They are a disgrace.

My Lords, the noble Lord will probably be aware that in the Budget speech the Chancellor announced that we will look at how we can tackle that problem, perhaps through taxation on single-use plastics. He is right that bottles are a challenge. However, we should not beat ourselves up too much: in 2000, 13,000 tonnes of plastic bottles were recycled; by 2016, it was 343,000 tonnes. There is much to do but we are on track.

My Lords, will my noble friend say what the Government are doing to encourage local authorities to have greater consistency of approach in recycling?

My Lords, the hallmark of what we do is to say that local residents should be involved and should give their views on recycling—that is important. That said, good practice is outlined in the litter strategy, and there is a litter innovation group that considers bids for attractive and innovative ways of tackling this. So, although consistency is important, there are individual ideas that we should encourage so that other local authorities can pick them up. Recycling rates vary enormously. The best-performing area in England is South Oxfordshire, with 66%. There are challenges in some of the urban areas. I can see that the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, is anxious to get to his feet—it might apply to Southwark, goodness knows, but I will not single out local authorities to shame them.

My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my registered interest as a councillor in the London Borough of Lewisham and a vice-president of the Local Government Association. Does the noble Lord agree that we should seek to always reuse rather than put into landfill? With food waste making up 30% of waste not set aside for recycling, will the Government look to introduce mandatory food waste collections and a ban on biodegradable waste going to landfill?

My Lords, the rubric is that we should first reduce what we use and then recycle what we use. That makes sense: do not use it, then reduce it or recycle it. We have looked at food waste, and the best-performing authorities tend to ensure that they are recycling food waste. It is a challenge for some of the urban areas, with which the noble Lord will be familiar; that is a consideration.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, rather than exporting difficult-to-dispose-of waste that cannot go to landfill as sites become full, as we are currently doing from the city of York to Holland, we should have energy from waste plants across Yorkshire and the rest of the country? That would get rid of this waste and give us an energy strand as well.

My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that there are rules under the Basel convention, to which we are a party, that ensure that we cannot export certain waste. There is other waste for which there is a market, which is perfectly legal under the convention and which is of course subject to export.