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Volume 793: debated on Tuesday 9 October 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what proportion of goods sorted for recycling by households in England eventually ends up in landfill.

My Lords, English local authorities collected 11.1 million tonnes of waste for recycling in 2016-17, the most recent year for which figures are available. Around 90% of this was from households. An estimated 1.3% of the 11.1 million tonnes ended up in landfill in this country. We will publish plans to increase recycling and boost the UK recycling industry in our resources and waste strategy later this year.

My Lords, I certainly welcome the second part of my noble friend’s reply. We must examine how we can progress these issues. I hope he agrees that we need to draw on expertise from all sources and provide greater consistency and clearer labelling to avoid recycling chaos. I find the figure he gave me encouraging—it is low—but does he agree that we should also be concerned about UK recycling ending up in landfill overseas, as recently reported in Poland and previously in China?

My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend that our ambition is to handle much more of our waste. We will set out proposals in precisely that area in our resources and waste strategy. Of course, across the European Union we and all other member states are working on the circular economy package. The aim is to have a 65% recycling rate by 2035. We in this country are ambitious and wish to meet or exceed those environmental benefits.

My Lords, is it not time that the Government introduced a national system for recycling? There is a huge problem with recycling bins being contaminated with items that are not appropriate to be recycled. A recent BBC report found that 97% of rejected recycling that had got mixed up was then sent to landfill. We know that part of the problem is that people do not understand what is appropriate to be put in the bins in their area. Surely the time has come to have a national scheme for this. It happens in other countries; if they manage to do it, why are the Government so slow to act on this? We have debated this issue time and time again. The solution seems clear and the Government just need to act.

My Lords, that is exactly what we wish to do. We wish to accelerate the consistency of what is recycled across England. Of course, we want to learn lessons from other countries where it has gone well, but we are clear that, for our environment and the world environment, we need to reuse and recycle very much more. Some local authorities have very high recycling rates while others have very low ones. We need to work on that because consistency is precisely what will be so important, along with increasing food waste collection.

My Lords, while I welcome very much the Government reminding us that landfill has gone down substantially, the real risk in waste disposal is that energy from waste will very soon exceed recycling. When we build energy-from-waste units, should we not make it mandatory to have recycling centres at the front end of that process so that we burn less and recycle more?

The noble Lord hits upon the waste hierarchy and the importance of reuse and recycling before considering incineration as an energy source—and of course landfill is a very last resort. That is why our ambition is to have zero waste in landfill, and why we all need to work on the circular economy and getting recycling rates much higher across the piece.

My Lords, is the Minister aware—I doubt that he will be—that many years ago when we were in opposition, I put this point to the Labour Minister at the time? I asked why we could not have a national scheme and the reply from the Labour Government, which I am sure noble Lords can check in Hansard, was “No—why would we want a nanny state?”. So could the Opposition now explain how and why they have come around to thinking the other way—which I tried to convince them of many years ago?

My Lords, on this side of the House we believe in localism; we believe that local communities and local authorities are the best people to look after these matters. But we think that there should be consistency, precisely to ensure that as much as possible can be recycled and that there is clarity for residents and businesses about what can be recycled. It is in all our interests that we reuse and recycle more; I do not believe that that symbolises the nanny state.

My Lords, there is a serious problem with the recycling or disposal of larger household items, such as carpets and furniture that have had flame-retardant chemicals put on them. Many of these chemicals have now been banned, but the furniture is still in use or needs to be disposed of. The current flame retardants contain organophosphates, and I know quite a lot about them. What advice is given to people who own these items of furniture and carpets about disposing safely—I repeat, safely—of their materials?

My Lords, I think that I had better write to the noble Countess with the absolute requirements. Clearly, any hazardous waste of that sort needs to be disposed of responsibly. Bearing in mind the examples that she raises, I will write to her and put a copy in the Library.

My Lords, is it not a fact that nanny is sometimes right? The gentle exhortations of the Minister are, I am sure, appreciated by local authorities—but when was the last time that his department issued a directive on this issue and what did it say?

My Lords, we are working in collaboration with local authorities because we think that that is the civilised way in which we will get the results that we are expecting. Indeed, that is why there are local authorities recycling 65%, which is a very high figure, and others that are not, and why we are working with local authorities, particularly in inner cities and towns, where this is proving a problem. We need to address that, which is why the resources and waste strategy, the clean growth strategy and the industrial strategy will all be engaged on getting a better situation.

My Lords, is it possible to bring back the totter? Could we not have all those little microconsumers going around picking up goods that have some value, such as bottles and cans? Could we not get manufacturers to put a value on them so that we could bring that stuff back into the community and use it?

My Lords, what the noble Lord said is important. That is precisely why, subject to consultation, we will be introducing, for instance, a deposit return scheme in England which will be an important part of our collaboration with business to ensure that we reuse and recycle more.