HC Deb 15 March 1991 vol 187 cc1395-8 2.17 pm
Mr. Lewis Stevens (Nuneaton)

I beg to move, That this House welcomes the Government's commitment to recycling of materials which reduces waste and conserves energy and raw materials; notes the important steps which this Government is taking towards reaching its target of recycling 50 per cent. of all reusable household waste by the year 2000 and that the £40 million being made available over the next three years will help boost recycling projects recognises the need for the Government to encourage research into greater use of recycling and for initiatives to encourage industry, commerce and the general public in the use of recycling; further recognises that recycling helps to reduce litter and generally improve the environment and that the Tidy Britain Group's National Spring Clean campaign will he a helpful contribution to public participation; and believes that the Environmental Protection Act 1990 will encourage recycling by introducing recycling credits and by forcing local authorities to publish recycling plans. May I first thank the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) for his courtesy in giving me quarter of an hour for my motion. I congratulate him on the manner in which he moved his motion and on his diligent research to provide the facts that he presented to the House. Regardless of whether we agree with every point he makes, we can always be sure that whatever motion he proposes, it will have been thoroughly research, will be informative to the House and will justify the case that he puts with great expertise.

My motion is designed to bring to the attention of the House the importance of the recycling of materials. In the United Kingdom today we are aware of the importance to the environment of many different aspects of what have, in the past, been accepted as processes that are merely part of our daily lives, with no real impact on us. We have become more and more conscious of the need to deal properly with the waste that we produce, both in our homes and in industry. We have also become aware of how it affects our daily lives if we do not treat it properly. Some of the tips and other means of disposal show us how dangerous waste disposal can be to our health.

Recycling has distinct advantages because it not only protects the raw material resources, but gives an important economic boost to industry allowing it to reduce the price of products. It also encourages all of us to keep our environment in a better state.

Energy—about which we talked in the previous debate, particularly oil—is something we greatly need to conserve and of which we should reduce our intake. Through the use of resources and through recycling, particularly of aluminium, we can produce great savings in energy. We can save on the cost of transporting new raw materials if we can reuse materials, particularly in their own localities. In so doing, we also save disposal costs. If we can properly dispose of and recycle some of those materials we reduce the risk of pollution as we prevent them from being destroyed or being released into the atmosphere and soil. We also reduce the demand for landfill space. In constituencies such as mine there is no shortage of holes in which to put waste, though the decision in which holes to put the waste is not always popular.

Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

Does my hon. Friend agree that protection is required for our rivers? As a patron of the Thames clean-up campaign, I assure my hon. Friend that all too often we find that items that could be recycled are dumped in the Thames, creating a messy and dangerous environment that is unpleasant for humans, swans, fish and associated life in and around our rivers.

Mr. Stevens

I agree with my hon. Friend. There is in my constituency a small river which, although it could not compete with the Thames, is the recipient of rubbish, even supermarket trolleys, creating an unsightly and dangerous area. I recall that when, 30 years ago, I worked in London, the state of the Thames was decidedly worse. There is much less floating debris now.

It would be wrong to imply that a great deal of British industry does not recycle waste. Indeed, in many ways our record is good. The latest figures that I have, though they are somewhat out of date, show that in 1986, British industry recovered 27 million tonnes of reusable material worth over £2 billion, including exports worth £700 million. With ferrous metals, copper and lead there has traditionally been much recycling and some of the amounts processed—82 per cent. of ferrous metals and 74 per cent. of copper—are high.

That has been done as a matter of economic necessity. In other areas, where the same economic necessity does not exist, the percentages are lower. In some cases reclamation is not economical. There is a temptation to think that all household and industrial waste can be recycled at reasonable cost. That is not so.

The Government are to be congratulated on financing research into ways of recycling materials, in particular materials that are difficult to get rid of without the possibility of toxins and other by-products being created. The Government devoted £10 million in 1990–91 into researching the recycling of waste products.

Recycling was not considered an important aspect of life 10 or 15 years ago. Mostly it was left to the rag and bone man, with newspapers and other waste paper being given to the boy scouts and others as a semi-charitable enterprise. We now recognise that recycling has an important part to play in the use and conservation of materials and for the good of the environment.

Much needs to be done to make the public aware of the importance of recycling. Bottle banks are common and "recycling cities" such as Sheffield have done much, with the help of the Department of the Environment. It is important to create such initiatives and people should be given the opportunity to separate and dispose of various waste materials that can be recycled.

There is still reluctance among the public which needs to be addressed. Trying to locate bottle banks is not always the easiest thing in the world, desirable as they are. It seems all right for them to be located in the car park of a large supermarket, but that can mean people travelling quite large distances. If one suggests that the bottle banks should be located in more residential areas, one finds that there is not the same welcome for or acceptance of those receptacles. That is also true of metal disposal—

Mr. Bowis

Does my hon. Friend agree that if the bottle bank is too far away, the owner of the bottles may spend more money in petrol and emit greater pollution into the atmosphere when getting to the bottle bank than the amount that is saved by preserving the glass?

Mr. Stevens

I very much agree with my hon. Friend. That is also true of collecting waste paper and newspapers for various charities. By the time people have got all the paper together, with all the money that that may entail, they could have given a bigger donation to the organisation concerned than the amount that the organisation can get from the waste paper.

The difficulty is to find the best form of recycling provision. Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, local authorities will consider responsibility for organising recycling plans and for deciding on the methods of waste disposal in their area. However, if the public do not have ready access to the recycling receptacles, we will not move on from the situation with which we have all grown too familiar. I refer to our hedgerows and any piece of ground being littered with various things, which are costly to get rid of. Clearing waste from such areas is far more expensive than picking up refuse from one site. In many cities and towns, however, the disposal sites, such as the local tips, are not readily accessible. As my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) pointed out, people have to travel considerable distances and there is therefore the temptation not to recycle, but to put the rubbish in a dustbin or to get rid of it in some other way.

As I have said, we need to carry out research into the best ways of disposing of waste and of separating one type of waste from another. We must also consider the best and most economic way of recycling our waste.

Plastics have proved particularly difficult to get rid of. We are now talking about biodegradable plastics which, if they can be developed to the right extent, will mean that we do not have to face the worry of something that will not break down for many years. The incineration of plastics also causes great difficulties, unless it can be carried out at high temperatures. Plastic that is not destructible causes a general mess.

Litter is another important issue. It is important that we solve the problems caused by packaging. We are better off not producing the waste and the litter in the first place than having to recycle it. We need to design our products so that unnecessary waste does not automatically accompany them. That would mean that we could start to reduce not only the initial product cost, but the cost of reclamation and disposal. Although a lot of work has been carried out on packaging, even today it is still possible to buy many things that come with plastic or even small amounts of metal packaging which could be reduced. The packaging could be replaced with a biodegradable material or with paper that could be reused.

We have moved a long way in our acceptance of and approach to the importance of recycling and I congratulate the Government on the initiatives they have taken. As the motion states, there is still a need to encourage research into greater use of recycling and for initiatives to encourage industry, commerce and the general public in the use of recycling". We must do all that we can to encourage people to be aware of the need for recycling.

The Tidy Britain Group has a part to play, and I hope that its national spring clean campaign will make the public aware of the importance of getting rid of litter and of the importance of recycling, encourage public participation in improving our environment and make products cheaper through encouraging recycling.

It being half past Two o'clock. MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER interrupted the proceedings