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Volume 787: debated on Wednesday 13 December 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress is being made towards establishing a single national standard for household recycling.

My Lords, England’s recycling rate increased to 44.9% in 2016. There is certainly more to do, and with WRAP we are working to enable households to recycle a single set of materials. In England, 88% of local authorities collect all five widely recycled materials—paper, card, plastic bottles, glass and cans. Many more now collect mixed, rigid plastics and separate food waste. Work is under way to standardise materials to be collected and recycled.

My Lords, I recognise that some progress has been made and that we need long-term objectives. However, there is a very poor understanding of the rules on recycling and about the destructive effects of, for example, black plastic, plastic fruit netting and plastic-coated coffee cups. Does the Minister recognise that many of us—who have experience with the public sector—doubt that local authorities will ever make the rapid progress that we need and excite the population to recycle in the way that they need to, unless we have one, simple system?

My Lords, that is precisely why we have published the report on a consistency framework, because we want better communications with householders and an improvement in the recyclability of packaging materials. There are some really good examples of what can be done. Stroud has seen a 14% increase in recycling, and Maldon an 11% increase, in one year. Indeed, the council which my noble friend Lady Williams of Trafford led for such a long time now has a recycling rate of 61.3% and is the only really urban local authority on that top list. We are working particularly with urban local authorities to improve the situation.

My Lords, the noble Lord is very good at choosing his statistics but he will know that I have drawn attention in the past to the success of Wales, which is now second in the world for recycling household waste—in comparison to England, which ranks 18th, behind South Korea and Slovenia among others. Is not the lesson here that the Welsh Government did not just leave the problem to local authorities but provided leadership, including on mandatory separate collections and statutory targets for recycling, which is what made all the difference? When are this Government going to follow their example?

I am delighted to congratulate anyone in the United Kingdom who does well, and I am very pleased that Wales is doing well. I also endorse those English and Scottish local authorities that are seeking to improve a situation that we all know is hugely important. That is why we are working with WRAP, local authorities and industry. This is an issue for which we have responsibility. We have a target of 50% by 2020 and we need to achieve that target. I am very ambitious that we go beyond it in the future as well.

My Lords, greenhouse gas emissions from waste have been falling rapidly, but this drop has flattened off notably over the last three years. Does the Minister agree that eliminating food and garden waste from landfill through better separation of household waste is critical and would help to drive further emissions reduction and meet our carbon budgets, and indeed that the separated waste could be used for biogas production?

My Lords, this is why we want to make progress. I was very alarmed to hear that 70% of food and drink waste comes from households. In fact, £700-worth of food is thrown away each year by a family of four, so we all have to try to change some of our behaviour. It is precisely why we need to encourage councils, 50% of which now have a food waste collection service. We are looking for that to increase. We also need to ensure that households no longer buy and throw away 20% of food.

My Lords, one of the most successful acts of the coalition Government was the 5p charge on plastic bags, which has reduced the problem considerably. What is the Government’s position on putting a charge on coffee cups, a large number of which are not properly recyclable? That would make a huge difference to our sustainable economy for the future and what we throw away.

My Lords, the noble Lord is right. We need to work strongly on improving our record in recycling. That is why the Paper Cup Recycling and Recovery Group is examining this matter in much more detail; it is really important to make progress on this. I am very conscious that at Defra we now use half the number of cups that we did in 2013, and I want to do much better than that. This is all work that needs to be done very quickly.

My Lords, in the past the Minister has quoted the very different levels of recycling in local authorities. Can he tell us Her Majesty’s Government’s thinking on how to incentivise local authorities that are not performing well to improve, and how to share best practice to increase their level of recycling?

My Lords, there are very good examples of where this has gone well. For instance, the Kent Resource Partnership has increased its recycling, involving 13 local authorities, with a £67 million gross benefit to Kent taxpayers over 10 years for only £7 million up-front. We need to work harder with WRAP on extensive guidance to local authorities on recycling to increase revenue from recycled material and on cutting contamination of dry recyclables. My honourable friend Thérèse Coffey has written to the 34 local authorities with the lowest recycling rates; we wish to work with them to improve the situation.

The Minister clearly will understand that incineration capacity is increasing quite fast but, at the same time, the residual waste stream that goes to incinerators is less than it should be to keep incinerators going at full capacity. What are the Government doing to encourage local councils not to support incineration of materials that could be recycled? We want to increase recycling, but we will not do so if it is all going to incineration.

My Lords, this issue is fairly complicated. The first thing that we have concentrated on in this cycle is prevention of waste. We all need to concentrate on how much less should go into landfill, how much less should go into incineration, and how much we can reuse and recycle. With incineration, we must remember that there is some energy recovery, but we certainly need to do better in this country on reuse and recycling. I will perhaps want to discuss the matter with the noble Baroness in greater detail, given the time.