HC Deb 10 January 1996 vol 269 cc143-63

11 am

Sir Roger Moate (Faversham)

First, I must declare an interest as I am the parliamentary adviser to the British Paper and Board Industry Federation. Just in case I am accused of trespassing on the new rules about advocacy, however, I must make it absolutely clear that it is very much a constituency matter that has caused me to seek this debate on waste disposal and recycling or incineration and it is certainly a matter for the county of Kent.

I should like to take this opportunity to put on record the fact that the borough of Swale, which covers my constituency, can describe itself with some justification as being among the greenest in Britain in terms of recycling. The steel mill at Sheerness is among the most advanced in Europe and recycles 1 million tonnes of steel a year. The United Kingdom paper mills and St. Regis paper mills at Sittingbourne and Kemsley are at the forefront of European technology and also recycle about 1 million tonnes of paper each year.

More than most, the area understands the importance of securing more recycled materials in an environmentally acceptable way. We now face a proposal that is unacceptable environmentally. The draft Kent waste local plan proposes a waste-to-energy incinerator plant at Kemsley, near Sittingbourne, to deal with a large part of the county's municipal waste. It is to be one of four possible proposed sites to handle up to 1 million tonnes of waste each year, as we steadily and rightly move away from reliance on landfill. I suspect that that story is familiar in other parts of the country.

The Government recently published a White Paper, Command Paper 3040, "Making Waste Work", which is, as yet, undebated in the House. That is not a criticism, because it was published only in December. The way in which Government policy relates to proposals such as the one for Kemsley makes it right for the House to study that classic example and the consequences for local areas of Government policy—the way in which such policy translates down to local areas. This House is not a local planning inquiry and hon. Members would be impatient if one tried to treat it as such, but I hope that they will forgive me for dwelling briefly on the Kemsley location, for the reasons that I have just given. I must emphasise that any proposal for a large-scale municipal waste incinerator located at or near Kemsley, or at nearby Ridham, would be totally unacceptable on environmental grounds.

Swale borough council has made its total opposition clear in a cogent and powerful argument against the case. Local residents are united against it and landowners and industrial landowners are opposed, as am I. This is a matter for the Minister. The Government office for the south-east, GOSE, is also critical of the plan. Our area is part of the Thames gateway planning framework which, according to the GOSE document, seeks to bring forward a new environmental standard for the area in order to raise perceptions and encourage new sustainable development which contributes positively to the environment which has suffered in the past. In that respect, GOSE calls the waste plan "disappointing".

I repeat that we are part of the Thames gateway planning framework. The work of introducing new environmental standards for the area has been helped in my locality by a remarkable committee called the Kemsley and district pollution liaison committee, which was formed five years ago. It comprises representatives of 2,000 local residents, the borough council, the National Rivers Authority, local industry and Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution. It has met and has achieved a great deal in an area that has suffered from pollution and a perception of low environmental standards. The House will understand, therefore, why there is such opposition to the proposal. Apart from the host of other environmental objections, the fact is that the plant, like all large plants of the kind, could generate up to 400 vehicle movements per day.

On the opening day of the inquiry into the draft plan, the inspector asked the county council three crucial questions: why incineration, why four locations and why those four locations? I hope that I am not being unduly optimistic in perceiving from those questions that the inspector shrewdly and quickly realised the misconceptions on which the strategy was based. I hope that he will respond accordingly and will assist our county in a major rethink of policy. I also hope that he will take into account debates such as this, as well as the on-going debate that is taking place in the country. I hope that he, and we, will reject the almost blind acceptance that seems to be fashionable—the belief that incineration is, or should be, the principal means of disposing of mixed municipal waste as the principal alternative to landfill.

I shall give some of my evidence, and it is evident that such an assumption is wrong. Better recycling options are available. They are better, cheaper, tried and tested. If Kent and other counties become committed to the long-term contracts needed to support such large and costly incinerators, which have capital costs running into hundreds of millions of pounds, we could be making a strategic mistake that will have profound consequences for many years to come. They will include: first, an appalling waste of valuable, recyclable materials that should and could be recycled; secondly, the generation of large-scale lorry movements to support large, centralised plants; thirdly, excessively high gate fees per tonne of waste, which could consequently waste millions of pounds per annum throughout the country; and, fourthly, the continued fear of dioxin emissions. As for the latter, whether it is perceived or real, the fear will be there. All that is true for Kent and I think that it is also true for the rest of the country.

Mr. Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent)

On the possible emissions, I am sure the hon. Gentleman will have been confronted with the argument that incineration is a safe form of disposal. How can people arrive at that conclusion when one considers that all the chemical compounds that are produced as a result of the incineration process have still not been identified? Without such information, how can people arrive at the conclusion that incineration is the best method of disposal? Perhaps you could elaborate and tell the House what responses you have had when you have asked such questions.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that he must address the Chair and that interventions should be short.

Sir Roger Moate

The hon. Gentleman has an important point about not merely what scientists say today but the continuing fear about what will be learnt. I shall return to the subject of dioxin emissions, although that is not the key part of my remarks. We have received assurances, but the fears, the debate and the controversy will certainly continue.

I was about to say that we should not criticise waste disposal authorities for having moved rapidly to consider the incineration option on a large scale. That has, indeed, been the prevailing mood. As we move away from landfill as the answer to waste disposal, it is not surprising that such authorities have grasped that option, nor should they be criticised for doing so. We should now pause, however, and re-examine other technologies that are on offer. One wants to be balanced and sensible about the matter. We must have a balanced approach and different situations require different solutions.

I am sure that incineration and recycling technologies can and should work together, although different areas and industries will advance different arguments and favour different methods of handling waste. A debate such as this will inevitably involve generalisations about incineration versus recycling, but I see nothing wrong with examining the principles on which we are operating.

We are, I think, right to fear that the incinerator philosophy has gone too far, and to believe that it should be checked and that, at the very least, all incineration proposals should be tested rigorously against the available recycling options. Kent tells us: There is a growing national and international recognition that incineration with energy recovery is the only acceptable method currently available for disposing of household waste in the quantities required…Recycling is essential but for the foreseeable future is likely to be an adjunct to mass treatment like waste to energy rather than a substitute. That reflects the statement on page 11 of the summary of the White Paper "Making Waste Work": there is substantial potential in England and Wales for the expansion of waste to energy power generation particularly in urban areas where it is the main alternative to disposal by landfill. I emphasise that last point, because I do not agree: waste-to-energy generation should not be seen as the main alternative to landfill.

Even the 17th report by the Royal Commission on environmental pollution—which is widely cited as favouring incineration—says the opposite. Although it deals with incineration and shows how it could be made acceptable, its conclusion in chapter 10 states that energy recovery should be pursued only when waste cannot be recycled. In the so-called waste hierarchy—as perceived by both the European Community and this country—recycling ranks above energy recovery. We should remind ourselves of the existence of that hierarchy, and favour recycling whenever it is a practical option.

The speed of change seems to have caused people to overlook the new technologies that have become available. In trying to solve the problem of emissions, we have tended to ignore other developments in the world. I understand that many integrated recycling plants—mechanical plants that do not use incineration—are currently operating, some in this country. Such plants take a mixed waste stream—the contents of the familiar black sack or wheelie bin—and separate the waste mechanically. They process paper, card, metal, plastic, glass and kitchen and garden waste—charmingly described as "putrescables"—leaving 10 or 20 per cent. that can be used for compost or building blocks, or for landfill. A modest amount is always likely to be used for landfill, but the proportion is vastly different from what we are discussing today in regard to either incineration or recycling.

I understand that Berkshire is currently deciding on the use of just such a plant. The specification is impressive: the plant has a design capacity of 175,000 tonnes, and will recycle all the municipal waste that I have described, leaving a very small residue. The result will be splendid, if it can be achieved—and there is no reason to doubt that Berkshire takes practical considerations into account before signing such contracts.

What is remarkable about the plant is that it is such good value, as well as being environmentally better and more popular than the alternatives. The capital costs of such plants are much lower—which means that the gate costs will inevitably be lower. There need be no debate about toxic emissions, because no incineration is involved.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

Rather than examining a plant that is still at the planning stage, the hon. Gentleman should visit West Yorkshire, and Leeds in particular. It is one of the leading-edge authorities, which has developed a first-class recycling technology. We need not discuss theories and plans; the hon. Gentleman should come to see what is already being done, and could be done even better if money were invested in recycling rather than the alternatives.

Sir Roger Moate

That bears out what I have said about the availability of alternative technology. It is puzzling that a number of authorities still seem to base their strategies on incineration. Although I shall resist the temptation to examine more waste disposal facilities, I agree that we should concentrate on what is happening in practice.

I was describing the cost advantages of recycling. I have found it difficult to obtain the precise figures during the short time in which I have studied the subject in the context of our county plan because, understandably, they are said to be commercially confidential; some local authorities, however, need to know the figures in order to make strategic decisions. There is a conflict between the need for commercial confidentiality and the need for transparency.

Mr. Llew Smith

I have had considerable experience of the problem of commercial confidentiality in attempting to obtain information from incineration companies, as have local authorities that would like to provide the information. Surely the answer to such difficulties is a freedom of information Act, which would enable the hon. Gentleman to obtain the type of information that can be obtained in the United States through pressing a button in the local library.

Sir Roger Moate

There will always be a need for commercial confidentiality, but once a local authority has entered into a contract the figures ought to be publicly available, because the charge payer is footing the bill.

I have heard that the gate fee for the Berkshire plant is about £20 a tonne. That is not much more than the landfill costs, including the new landfill tax. I am told that the gate fees for large incinerators can be as much as £30 or £40 a tonne, or even £50. I am also told that recycling plants can be viable at about 50,000 tonnes per annum, with a gate fee of about £25 a tonne. Whatever figure we take, however, there appears to be a large differential in favour of recycling rather than waste-to-energy plants, which must be very large to be economically viable. A differential of perhaps £10 can mean charge payers in any one county or waste disposal area having to pay millions of pounds a year. That is serious money, so we must get it right and not make mistakes.

Small local plants—the 50,000 tonne variety that I have described—have many other advantages. For instance, they avoid one of the main environmental problems: the large-scale movement of heavy lorries that is involved in nearly all major operations. The smaller and more localised the plant, the fewer problems—which generate understandable opposition among local residents—will be caused. Given the Berkshire example, I do not see why Kent should not have a network of smaller recycling plants, involving no burning of waste, minimising lorry movements, maximising the recovery of raw materials and reducing landfill by 80 or 90 per cent.

The arguments might be very different if we were convinced that waste-for-energy plants could produce low-cost electricity on a large scale, at a competitive price and in worthwhile quantities, which would make them viable in the long term. I confess that I should be happy to receive much more information on whether we are producing low-cost electricity compared with other forms of energy generation, and whether we are producing it on a large enough scale. I suspect that we are producing extremely expensive electricity that is sustained by the high gate fees that local authorities must pay to send in their waste and by temporary financial support by levy associated with the non-fossil fuel obligation.

To replace all the recyclable materials that are destroyed by incineration requires five times as much energy as can be generated from their destruction, so it is hardly the right way to save energy. It takes much more energy to recreate paper, metals and other materials, which should be recycled. It would be helpful to know the figures and to have a range of statistics to allow local authorities and hon. Members to judge the financial advantages or long-term commitments of those options.

I have not dealt with dioxin emissions and do not intend to do so. I readily believe that scientific and technological controls can be imposed to eliminate most dioxins, but whether that cost can be met and permanently sustained I do not know. I also readily believe that the extremely stringent new emission controls will greatly reduce emissions. HMIP recently published a review on dioxin emissions, but I am not sure whether that is the end of the story. It would be helpful if my hon. Friend the Minister could say whether he expects further reassurances, reviews or statements from HMIP on that point, because those would influence decisions now being made on incinerator proposals.

Whatever reports are issued, people will continue to fear pollution, perhaps justifiably, with all the attendant controversy and local objections. Nothing will remove people's worry about the possibility that new pollutants will be put into the atmosphere. It would be much better to avoid the whole argument by seeking a better recycling option, with all the advantages that I set out earlier.

I make no apology for returning to where I began—Kemsley in my constituency. There are overwhelming arguments against the development there. Industry and the community, reinforced by Government officers in the south-east Thames gateway planning framework, have been striving successfully to raise environmental standards. The House will understand why any new developments that resurrect the spectre of unhealthy emissions will be particularly resented. I hope and believe that any such threat will soon be removed with regard to the Kemsley proposal and that our county, encouraged by the Government, will now pause and ensure that smaller-scale recycling plants, not large incineration plants, are at the heart of local plans for disposal of municipal waste.

11.23 am
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Faversham (Sir R. Moate) on introducing this debate. It proves that the best way to proceed is to make a speech in the House on a matter that starts with a constituency interest, as that leads one to do a great deal of homework. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on grasping all the essential principles of the balance between waste recycling, incineration and burial. Those of us who have long been interested in this subject believe that a balance is important. We shall always bury and incinerate waste. Intelligent and highly sophisticated incineration that produces energy is much better than the incineration that we have seen over a long period in this country, which simply burns waste and produces toxic emissions.

Those of us who have passionately supported recycling for a long time want the Government to back it in terms of both tax policy and a direct lead from the Department of the Environment to make recycling both possible and probable. That needs firm Government action. Although I congratulate the Government on some aspects of their White Paper, I believe that they have dilly-dallied for too long compared with our European neighbours, who have followed best practice. We need to move fast not only to encourage recycling but to ensure that it is the first option to be considered.

I suggested tongue in cheek that the hon. Member for Faversham should come to see Leeds and West Yorkshire. If all local authorities in Britain were as good as the best, we would be a long way down the line. We must strike the right balance, and recycling must always be the first option. The hon. Gentleman was spot on when referring to energy costs. Once waste is transported long distances, all the benefits of energy conservation are wiped out. It is self-defeating to transport glass, aluminium or other materials for recycling over long distances.

I shall keep my intervention brief. The hon. Member for Faversham is welcome to join the parliamentary group for sustainable waste management to carry on this debate. It is about time that we had a serious debate of the White Paper in the House. As usual when the House debates an important subject that has such a great effect on the lives of our constituents, there is a deplorable lack of press interest. I hope that we shall have a continuing robust debate on this subject.

11.26 am
Dame Peggy Fenner (Medway)

I appreciate the opportunity to contribute to a debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Sir R. Moate) because we are subject to the same waste disposal plan. I agree with the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) that the best debates start with a vested interest in a matter concerning one's constituency. Within a few miles of each other in my constituency are two of the four incinerators, so it will not surprise hon. Members to know that my constituents are concerned. They have not gone in for spectacular lobbying but have set up an organisation in the village of Halling to think of alternatives. They did not simply say, "We do not want the incinerator in our back yard." They have called their organisation "Waste-Not-21—A waste disposal plan for the 21st century".

Although I rise to speak against incineration because we have insufficient assurances about it, I am well aware of the problems of waste disposal in a sophisticated packaging and waste producing country. The United Kingdom shares that problem with all its European colleagues and internationally with enormous countries that produce a great deal of waste, such as the United States.

My constituents all attended that conference on a Sunday afternoon, which is not a great afternoon for inviting people. However, they are working people and they were all available, as I was. My constituents had the benefit of the knowledge of Professor Paul Connett—a professor in chemistry from St. Lawrence university, New York—about the dangers of producing dioxin. He pointed out the dangers of an amount of dioxin the size of a pinhead. He was not trying to frighten my constituents to death, but chemists worry about the carcinogenic properties and genetic effects of dioxin. The people who are considering incinerators today will not be around to defend their actions if we discover problems in later years. Chemists also worry about the effects of dioxin on breathing. The action group wanted to bring the breath of life to Halling, not destroy it.

The meeting also had the benefit of hearing Professor John West, who is responsible for a company called Environmental Reclamation International. As my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham mentioned, that company is currently providing recycling facilities near Reading, in Berkshire. I was interested to hear from the hon. Member for Huddersfield that he has very good recycling facilities in his county. More information about recycling would be helpful to my constituents.

Professor West has instigated recycling approaches in Europe, and the hon. Member for Huddersfield referred to advances in Europe. However, not all the initiatives in Europe have been advances. I recall that Germany got into such a mess with waste disposal that it put an extra levy for waste disposal on every package and every bit of waste. It then paid money to export waste from Germany. That is not the right way to go—to export one's waste elsewhere.

My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham referred to the recycling initiative that Professor West initiated. When Professor West came to that Sunday afternoon meeting and spoke to my constituents about the recycling initiative, it sounded to me to be a very good alternative. It produced no toxic hazard, and the residue was only 10 per cent. Even with incineration, some residue is produced which has to go into landfill.

My constituents have, for some years, been well aware of the hazards of transporting substances from one area to another. My constituency has the most desirable mineral deposits in north Kent and consequently, for years, we have had lorries carting valuable chalk for cement over our roads, mainly over the infamous A228. The waste for the proposed incinerators would also have to travel over that road. My constituents are worried about shifting the waste by road to the two incinerators. Ironically, it would not even be their waste. The process is centralised, and waste would come from other constituencies and other district council areas.

Kent county council held a public inquiry last autumn. Mr. Hargraves, on behalf of the Halling action group, went to give evidence. Professor Connett also flew in from New York to give evidence on behalf of my constituents about the chemical hazards of incineration. We are awaiting the inspector's report, and my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham asked the Minister to let him know about other reviews with evidence about incineration. I understand that the chief medical officer is carrying out an investigation into the dangers of dioxin. My constituents are awaiting the result of that investigation because it must affect the public inquiry held by Kent into incineration.

We are committed to considering all methods of dealing with waste, and as the 21st century approaches we shall have more and more waste. However, we must be sure that the policy we choose is not one that we shall regret or change our mind about in a few years. We have the time now to study the options before we embark upon a course of action. I have carefully considered the quite tough targets for reduction in the production of waste set by the Department of the Environment. As the chairman of the all-party group on the retail industry, I also know that that industry has quite a burden to reduce waste considerably. That is the first thing we have to do.

I expect that housewives—and there are not many of us in the Chamber—will be buying their washing powder and liquid in biodegradable refills, so that there are not so many plastic bottles to get rid of. When plastic is burnt in incinerators, it becomes lethal. If plastic is not burnt and instead is dealt with in other ways, it does not produce such disastrous pollution.

My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham referred to how much energy could be produced by incinerators. That is a powerful argument. If one could get rid of waste by recycling it into energy, that would be good, provided that the chemical reactions were acceptable. The figure quoted was 18 MW of electricity. However, we have not been told how much energy would be used to produce that 18 MW. Surely we need to know that, if the arguments about the possibilities of creating energy are to be believed.

Even if we can find a safe way in which to incinerate which produces enough energy to make it worth while and valuable, it still produces exceedingly toxic ash, which has to go into landfill. The United States has reduced the landfill requirement by 50 per cent. by recycling alone. The proposed incinerators would reduce the landfill requirement by 60 per cent., but by what we regard as a rather doubtful method.

I wrote to Kent county council because I was extremely worried about the proposals for two incinerators in close proximity along the river at Halling and at Kingsnorth. The council assured me that no planning application would be considered until the inspector had made his report after the inquiry, at which time the issue of whether there should be any incinerators would be decided. The report on the safety of incineration was not yet available so I was quite reassured that no action would be taken until it was available, and the chief medical officer had reported on the dangers of dioxin.

I was concerned to learn this week from the Kent director of transportation and highways that he has advised his staff that they should start to prepare contracts. It seems that the director is accepting the principle of the incinerators before the matter has been decided and before the valuable reports are in the hands of my constituents. When they have received the reports, they will know that, if incineration is the option decided on, every effort has been made to ensure the safety of the system.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will tell me that there will be no decisions about contracts or even any move towards contracts until the two reports are in place and we know for sure what is happening. I also hope that my hon. Friend will ask his Department to look at Professor West's interesting initiatives on recycling.

We have had much waste disposal in north Kent over many years. As soon as mineral holes have been dug, they have been filled with waste, with the consequence of heavy traffic for my constituency. My constituents are incensed. They are prepared to make arrangements for their own waste, but they do not see why north Kent should be the repository for waste from around the county. Not least among their arguments is that to cart waste from other areas into the Medway towns adds to the cost of waste disposal. It also places a heavy burden on an already over-burdened transport system.

11.40 am
Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)

This debate is an extension of our debates on the Environment Act 1995. As a result of those debates being guillotined, we were denied the opportunity to discuss many issues that we would have liked to discuss. This debate on waste and recycling is significant and it is a matter in which I have a great deal of interest. In West Yorkshire, we have the largest landfill and reclamation site in the area, following the quarrying and mining there. West Yorkshire generates substantial waste because of the industrial opportunities there and domestic waste is generated as well. This debate is, therefore, important.

To say that we must do something about reducing the amount of waste in landfill is an understatement. We must do everything that we can to reduce the amount of waste that is being deposited in landfill sites. Valuable materials can be recycled and more emphasis should be placed on recycling waste.

Recently, there have been traumatic discussions about the packaging industry and about how the levy that is being set by the Government should be imposed. Sadly, we could not find a suitable system for imposing the levy. I understand that a compromise has now been reached with the V-WRAG people as the result of a division within the group. The decision is not unanimous, but the compromise is being accepted and we hope that it will work. It has to be reviewed in two years' time. That is the kind of debate that we should be pursuing. I hope that the Minister will refer to the V-WRAG proposals on packaging waste and I hope that he will tell us how he considers the new compromise will help to reduce the amount of packaging and to encourage the recycling of packaging waste.

The landfill tax is designed to reduce the amount of waste that is deposited in landfill sites. Some aspects give rise to concern. It seems that the landfill tax, which is due to be implemented in October, will be applied across the board without further consideration of the consequences for areas where waste is generated beyond the control of man. I refer to our waterways.

The Aire and Calder navigation, which is still in use, flows through Normanton. It has to be dredged to ensure that boats can travel along it. We are advised that the waste from the dredging, which will be deposited on the land, will be subject to tax. We have a ridiculous situation. Beyond the control of anyone in the Chamber or anyone in the Government, waste will be generated and it cannot be recycled. Some of it will be valuable as cover at the landfill sites and for base material. However, paying £7 or £7-plus for each tonne of waste generated by dredging our waterways will be a tremendous burden on the inland waterways business.

I therefore make the point strongly to the Minister that some consideration must be given to that anomaly. In his Budget statement, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the levy would apply to all waste. I make the plea this morning that consideration should be given to waste generated by our waterways in the form of dredged material. I hope that the Minister will be sympathetic on this point because the tax will have a tremendous impact on our waterways.

The Institute of Wastes Management is working hard with Members of Parliament, the Government and local government to improve communication with the public about waste management. In an October 1995 publication entitled "Communicating with the Public", the institute says: There is a genuine need for the Waste Management Industry to change its attitude towards communicating with the public. The institute admits that it has not communicated properly with the public on the control of waste, the deposit of waste and the collection of waste. It now wants to correct that. It continues: The collection of our commercial and domestic waste is generally regarded positively, as a public service. There is still, however, a need to keep people informed of such things as changes in the service or proposals for recycling. All those involved in waste depositing and recycling are now making a specific effort to work with the House, the Government and local government to ensure that people are made aware of the advantages that can develop from recycling waste. Many members of local authorities are as keen on recycling waste as we are in the House and many people work voluntarily to help recycle waste. As has been pointed out by other hon. Members, people in local government have a substantial interest in recycling waste. Parliament should give all possible support to those in local government who are interested in the matter and who are determined to ensure that waste is both recyclable and recycled. We should give all possible support to the packaging industry because it works hard to reduce the amount of waste to landfill.

In the House, two all-party groups are considering that problem. My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) referred to the sustainable waste management group. We also have the waste glass recycling group, which meets frequently to discuss ways to improve the recycling of waste materials.

Incineration was mentioned earlier, but certain products of waste will have to be recycled. I refer in the main to waste tyres. We have tried to use tyres for building walls and making barriers, but there are so many of them that disposing of tyres is a problem.

In Yorkshire, Sheffield city council has introduced a scheme for disposing of waste tyres, and I consider that the experience that Sheffield has in generating heat from waste will benefit the communities of Yorkshire and Humberside especially, and those in a wider area, in disposing of waste tyres.

We have a wide area to cover. The problem is not confined to plastic bottles and paper packaging. We, as Members of the House, should analyse a host of other materials. The Government should support at all levels the efforts of people who are bringing pressure to bear to reduce the amount of waste to landfill. Recycling brings benefits.

I hope that, following the debate, the Minister will respond to some of the anxieties expressed by hon. Members. I hope that the Government will adopt a positive approach by sustaining the argument in all sectors that waste and recycling issues matter as much to the Government as to people in local government and in the industry.

I am pleased to take part in the debate. I hope that we may have further debates on that subject, because of its importance.

11.51 am
Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate)

I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Sir R. Moate) on initiating the debate. It happened that we both sought permission to initiate Adjournment debates on the same subject, and I am pleased to join him in today's debate and release my Adjournment debate for tomorrow night to another colleague.

It is important to balance recycling, incineration and landfill. Instead of considering specific elements in isolation, we must consider as a whole all those different ways of tackling the escalating volume of waste.

The debate gives me an opportunity to welcome the Government's recently published White Paper, "Making Waste Work", which will stand for many years as a guide to best practice in the waste management industry. I warmly congratulate my hon. Friends in the Department of the Environment on the work that went into the preparation of that report.

I shall concentrate on the contribution to effective, integrated waste management of energy from waste plants. By "energy from waste", I mean the process whereby household waste is burnt in modern plants to create energy and reduce the volume of waste going to final disposal, which was spoken about earlier so eloquently.

The White Paper rightly recognises the role of energy from waste and its increasing importance in the United Kingdom. It says: using waste of one type or another to supply useful energy is a well established method of obtaining added value before final disposal and will increasingly represent the best practicable environmental option for many wastes". At the moment, as hon. Members know, landfill remains the dominant route for disposal in the UK, and accounts for about 85 per cent. of the 35 million tonnes of municipal solid waste. However, in many parts of the country, such as London and the south-east, the status quo is an option that is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain, owing to the scarcity of landfill spaces.

Several years ago, the village of Rufforth in my constituency was chosen for a new landfill site by North Yorkshire county council. When the site was identified, there was a great deal of opposition from local people, as might be imagined. The plan involved creating a hole in the ground and using the soil from the hole to cover the waste as it gradually filled up. It has a 13-year life. That emphasises the shortage of landfill sites that confronts local authorities. We must ensure that other options, including waste to heat and recycling, are considered thoroughly.

The White Paper sets important new targets, which will aid the transition to more beneficial uses for unavoidable waste. When considering the role of energy from waste plants, I emphasise that I do not mean old-style waste incineration. Such plants, largely designed and built in the 1960s, are being rebuilt or phased out and replaced by modern energy from waste power stations, which have greatly enhanced environmental performance to set alongside their energy recovery capabilities. However, as the White Paper says: the incinerators and their gas cleaning plants will operate to substantially higher technical and environmental standards". My hon. Friend the Member for Medway (Dame P. Fenner) mentioned dioxins; I shall discuss them shortly.

Energy from waste plant capacity in the UK should now enjoy a time of expansion. It is thoroughly sensible to use waste to create energy, and especially to provide electricity and heat to people who live near such plants. The overwhelming environmental advantages of treating municipal solid waste in modern energy from waste plants instead of landfilling raw waste are become more widely accepted, although there is a great deal of ignorance on the subject.

Mr. David Evennett (Erith and Crayford)

I am very interested by what my hon. Friend says. Does he agree that we should therefore hold a full debate on the White Paper as soon as possible, so that all of the issues may be discussed in a longer debate?

Mr. Banks

I would strongly welcome a full debate, because many more hon. Members than will be able to speak today will want to take part in it. There is scope for a wide-ranging debate on this subject.

We can draw on evidence from the Royal Commission on environmental pollution—the organisation that proved that using energy from waste plants is the best practicable environmental option. Developments in Government policy are starting to create a more level playing field, so that environmental considerations, not only those of cost, influence local authorities and other people charged with finding waste management and disposal solutions.

There was huge local opposition to the proposal for a landfill site at Rufforth, which led ultimately to the local authority managing the site extremely well. People no longer complain—the site is well screened by trees.

A modern energy from waste plant operates at South East London Combined Heat and Power—SELCHP—which is a power station in south-east London that I visited recently. It is in the constituency of the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock), whom I am delighted to see on the Front Bench today. I apologise to her for not extending to her the courtesy of knowing that I was going to visit that power station before doing so.

Major redevelopments are in hand in Coventry, Edmonton, Nottingham and Sheffield. An energy from waste power station is nearing completion at Tyseley in Birmingham and another is under construction at Cleveland.

Older-style incinerators are being substantially upgraded to meet new environmental standards set by the European Union and Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution. SELCHP is an especially good example. It is an excellent building. I commend the architects on using their design skills to create an attractive building. People who live close by no longer complain, because they were consulted at all stages of that development and it provides them with heat and power. I pay tribute to the developers of that plant, who discussed the design and practicalities of that plant exhaustively with all the people who live in the vicinity.

Ms Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)

I must place on record, because my constituents would expect it, that many of the people who have newly purchased homes in the district did not know of the presence of that facility when they undertook to make their purchases and are very unhappy about what they regard as a facility that affects the market value of their property. There are other people who, as the hon. Gentleman rightly says, were properly consulted and are happy with it.

Mr. Banks

I am interested to hear that observation. I shall deal later with the point about the construction of buildings. If the building did not have a chimney, I dare say people would not be so worried. If they knew the facts about the cleanliness of the atmosphere in their area, and the remarkable steps that are taken to clean the flue, they would perhaps come round to a different view.

Energy from waste has important environmental advantages. It reduces the volume of waste, avoids the environmental impact of gas and contaminated liquid seeping from raw municipal solid waste in landfill sites and conserves fossil fuels. It displaces pollution that would result from alternative generation and reduces significantly greenhouse gas emissions, which are with increasing confidence thought to be a cause of global warming—a point that we need to discuss in a wider debate. I hope that such a debate will be held.

Energy recovery from waste in high-technology plants is recognised world wide as safe, efficient and environmentally beneficial as part of an integrated strategy for sustainable waste management. There still remains, however, a considerable challenge for the private sector, in partnership with local authorities, to introduce schemes that surmount the contractual, planning and public attitude hurdles new plants may face.

My hon. Friends the Members for Faversham and for Medway referred to the difficulties with local opinion when such proposals are made. NIMBYism is, unfortunately, a strong deterrent in the UK, notwithstanding the significant success of SELCHP. I would advise my hon. Friends' constituents who are concerned to visit SELCHP and see for themselves what the plant looks like. They could also be briefed on what it is doing.

A subsidiary of Powergen is seeking approval to build a Thameside energy from waste power station in the borough of Bexley to produce 130 MW of electricity and consume 1.2 million tonnes of waste. It is faced with the same problem of winning over local opinion to approving the project.

In addition to the waste strategy White Paper, the non-fossil fuel obligation and landfill tax are the chief economic instruments that are helping to ensure that the cost of waste disposal via energy from waste plants is comparable with that of landfill. That is a sensible Government policy to have instigated.

The energy from waste industry, through the Energy from Waste Association—the industry body that promotes best practice and consults the Government and local authorities on all issues relating to energy from waste—has strongly argued that combustion residues should be landfill-taxed at the lower rate: £2 as opposed to £7 a tonne. It is important that the benefit of the tax in closing the gap between the cost of landfill disposal and energy from waste is not destroyed by the cost of disposal of the ash residues that result from the combustion of waste as a renewable fuel.

Ultimately, energy from waste can succeed only where it can demonstrate greater environmental benefits than other available waste management options. This key point, obvious enough to waste management professionals, is often missed by the industry's opponents. It simply will not do to criticise energy from waste against some imagined absolute standard of desirability.

It is important to look at energy from waste in the context of other forms of waste management and recycling. In considering the waste hierarchy, the term given to grading waste management options in terms of their environmental benefit, energy from waste, materials recycling and composting should be placed on the same level after reduction and re-use. To place, as some do, recycling on a higher level than energy recovery wrongly suggests that recycling—this is where I depart from my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham—is invariably of greater merit than energy recovery, and should be pursued to the exclusion of an integrated strategy including energy from waste.

The Conservative party is a broad church, and I think it good that we can debate these matters and disagree with each other about them.

It should be remembered that even the hierarchy has its limitations. Re-use may not have a lower environmental impact than, say, recovery. A holistic approach surely offers the best prospect of achieving sustainable waste management solutions at affordable cost. The White Paper takes that line.

Indeed, some experts are beginning to take the argument even further. In a recent paper, Dr. Lyndhurst Collins of Edinburgh university argued that recycling paper, specifically, could lead to an increase in the level of carbon dioxide. He says that new assessments show that incineration of waste paper to generate energy is a viable and more beneficial option for the environment than recycling.

My point is that energy recovery and recycling ought to be seen not as two mutually exclusive options but as parts of an integrated waste management programme. In the UK, we achieve low levels of both—7 per cent. and 3 per cent. respectively—yet other countries are demonstrating how it is possible to have far higher levels both of recycling and of energy recovery. For example, Germany recycles 18 per cent. of its waste, with 36 per cent. energy recovery; Switzerland recycles 29 per cent., with 59 per cent, energy recovery; and Denmark recycles 23 per cent., with 48 per cent. energy recovery.

I believe that we need to motor fast with the policies of recycling and energy from waste. Currently, the UK's performance in terms of recovery could and should be improved, and that would have a beneficial effect on rates of recycling.

The Government are examining other ways to give improved guidance to local authorities, as part of a plan to achieve higher recovery rates. In addition, given the shortage of suitable sites for energy from waste plants, the Government should strengthen regional co-operation and co-ordination so that the provision of new facilities is not left to the vagaries of the local planning system. The White Paper should give an important boost to the development of regional solutions.

I am conscious of the fact that time is evaporating and that the Front-Bench spokesmen are anxious to speak, so I shall turn finally to the subject of dioxins—an important element in the equation. New concerns about dioxin emissions from energy from waste plants were raised last year by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. There has been disagreement about the integrity of the science basis of the EPA draft, both in the United States and in Europe, and the feeling persists that it was unjustifiably alarmist. The eminent toxicologist, Professor Bridges, of Surrey university, told a Manchester conference recently that the dioxin issue was largely political.

The royal commission has not changed its view on energy from waste, and the Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food has not altered the tolerable daily intake for dioxins, which is the amount the committee considers people can be exposed to every day with no adverse health effects. There nevertheless remains a concerned and rational international consensus on the need to reduce environmental dioxin.

Since 1993, incinerators have been tightly regulated—more than many other processes. All plants must meet the new standards, including a very low dioxin limit, required by HMIP; they will have to close if they do not. Some incinerators have been significant sources of dioxins, but the industry has put its house in order and, by next year, will account for an insignificant proportion of the overall dioxin burden, even if there is a large increase in the waste processed.

To give some idea of the scale, a modern energy from waste plant emits a tiny fraction of 1 gramme toxic equivalent a year, against, for instance, measurements of 40 grammes from sintering—carried out in steel making—and an estimated 1 to 2 kg arising from a single accidental plastics fire, to say nothing of the emissions willingly caused by the public on Guy Fawkes night.

I warmly welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate, and I hope that a better understanding of the importance of energy from waste will be heard.

12.7 pm

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Faversham (Sir R. Moate) for raising this subject. It is not particularly romantic, as we know, but it is crucial. The debate also gives me an opportunity for a five-minute rant on a subject I feel strongly about—the fact that our country, and especially my borough of Newham, is litter strewn.

Litter is a big problem in Newham. I seem to represent some of the dirtiest constituents in the country. [Laughter.] What is more, I say so regularly in the local newspapers. That was the gist of my new year greetings to the good folk of Newham—that they were a pretty filthy bunch who should clean up their act.

People in my area, Forest Gate, ask me what the council is doing about the mess. I have to keep pointing out that the council officers do not creep around at midnight dumping litter on the streets. It is the people who live in the area who are responsible for the mess. The council has done its best by putting as many bins as possible around the area. Miraculously, the bins seem to move up and down the street, always managing to avoid the places where the litter is dropped.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Timms); when he was leader of the council, he was keen to introduce the extra bins. His predecessor, Ron Leighton, used to go out with teams of people picking up litter, trying to set an example to the people in the area.

I do not know why people are so filthy—it is difficult to understand. Perhaps they lack a sense of community. Perhaps their homes are as filthy as the streets. I do not know—I suspect that they probably are not—but a feeling exists that, somehow, public property is second class and unimportant and one can litter the streets because it is not important and someone else will clear up the mess. It is an irresponsible attitude but, in many ways, it is based on the Government's philosophy that private property is sacrosanct and must always be highly regarded, protected and enhanced; public property is second hand and second rate and people do not have to have the same regard for it. That philosophy spreads its way through society. That is my theory, for what it is worth.

Many hon. Members have said that recycling is the key. Of course recycling will play an important role in waste disposal, but it is difficult to recycle if people simply dump their litter in the streets. I have a number of straightforward, on the street proposals. First, we need far more education in schools about litter and waste. In many cases, kids are responsible.

Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham)

Although I do not wish to comment on whether the hon. Gentleman's constituents are dirty, I agree with the point that he has just made. Does he agree that educating people about waste minimisation and the advantages of home composting, which could deal with one third of all household waste, is an excellent way of moving forward but has not been mentioned so far?

Mr. Banks

I agree. Education is the key. Many of my constituents might be dirty in that they drop litter, but they are also politically astute. I must say that in case it is thought that I am being unusually critical of my constituents.

All confectionery and fast-food shops, and those that sell wrapped items, should be required to have litter bins outside their premises. Shopkeepers should be required to clear the immediate vicinity of their premises. Many good shopkeepers do precisely that.

We have heard a lot about the peace dividend, which we welcome, in Northern Ireland. I should like to have a peace dividend in terms of the return of litter bins in London Underground stations and in mainline terminuses in London, which would be helpful as well.

We should require manufacturers of all products that eventually become waste, including motor vehicles and tyres, which have been mentioned, to take them back for recycling. That is done in Germany and a number of other countries. The Government should seriously consider that.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has just come back from Singapore. No doubt he saw that the streets were very clean. Singapore has a good way of dealing with the problem. I think that people's hands are chopped off or people are birched if they drop litter in the streets. I am not so extreme, but we should be far stricter with people who litter our streets.

One of the good things that Singapore has done is ban chewing gum. I am a great chewer of chewing gum, but I do not spit it on to the streets or on to underground train seats, which many people seem to do. A large number of poor old pigeons can be seen limping around because their claws have got caught up in a ball of stinking chewing gum. Perhaps we should make Wrigleys responsible for cleaning the streets and underground train seats.

I had so many more good ideas to put to the House but, unfortunately, time has run out and I must resume my seat so that Front-Bench Members can, speak.

12.12 pm
Ms Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) not only for ending his speech there but for cheering us all up for this debate's final round. I congratulate the hon. Member for Faversham (Sir R. Moate) on securing the debate, and I especially pay tribute to my hon. Friends because they have given the House the benefit of examples of good practice by Labour authorities in this sector.

I have a special interest in waste disposal because, as a newly elected Member of Parliament, illegal fly tipping was the first community problem that was brought to me. The residential community had been terrorised by criminals who, over a period of years, dumped thousands of tonnes of rubble in their midst. Two years later, my private Member's legislation was placed on the statute book, creating a registration scheme for waste carriers and heavy penalties for tippers.

People who live near the generation or disposal of waste have long known its environmental costs, but until recently, the public at large appeared oblivious to the enormous cost, in terms of pollution, raw materials depletion and human illhealth, of our consumerist, throwaway society.

For 10 years, the Government observed the problem of massive growth in waste of all sorts: inadequate landfills, illegal dumping, cowboy operators, poor monitoring and the development of dangerous incinerators, and that was just on land. The scope of today's debate is necessarily limited, but we should remember the massive dumping of radioactive waste, munitions and sewage sludge in our coastal waters and the wider seas, and the continuing pollution of our rivers from current industrial sources and abandoned mines.

In essence, the subject of today's debate is the Government's waste strategy, published as a White Paper just one month ago. It is long overdue. No Government can be pledged to a strategy of sustainable development, as this one say they are, and not produce a national waste strategy, yet on waste, as on so many other crucial topics, the Government have struggled to reconcile the need to regulate and to enforce with the dogma of deregulation and privatisation.

Even now, 15 years on, we have only a White Paper. Laudable though its proposals are, they apply only to England and Wales and no statutory force is promised for the strategy before 1997 "at the earliest". I can therefore say with some confidence that the responsibility for implementing a national waste strategy for the United Kingdom will fall to a Labour Government.

Labour has long accepted that the creation of a national sustainable strategy for waste is an integral part of an overall strategy for sustainable development. The Government seem to accept that in their White Paper, yet they have no energy policy and no strategy for sustainable transport. I have no doubt that, if, as is deemed will happen, the Environment Agency is given the resources and, more important, the political space in which to propose a national waste strategy to Government, it will create a sea change in waste management.

Labour has long accepted the notion of the waste hierarchy and was among the people criticising earlier Government proposals that failed to put waste reduction at the top of that hierarchy. Even now, its inclusion, which we welcome, is inadequately dealt with in the White Paper. Ministers claim lack of accurate data, yet only one year ago they proposed stabilising household waste generation at 1995 levels, with progressive reductions as soon as possible. Why has that proposal been abandoned?

There cannot be any individual household, business or institution in the land that could not reduce its waste production with a little thought and effort. The Government's promise to introduce a strategy by the end of 1998 is frankly pathetic. Although that may be a realistic target for the collection of national data, much more positive action on reduction should be sought in the meantime.

Controversy also surrounds other parts of the hierarchy. Re-use follows reduction, with which we wholeheartedly agree, but again the Government say little. Industry, however, can offer some good examples and other nations have done much to use market mechanisms such as deposit refund schemes to encourage re-use.

In our view, and that of most environmentalists, the next stage in the hierarchy should be recycling and composting. The Government have chosen, however, to include both under the heading "recovery" and to give energy from waste equal status to them. That brings me to the heart of today's debate.

Is there any potential conflict between recycling and incineration? I think that we would all agree that the hon. Member for Faversham argued a persuasive case in favour of recycling. Nationally, because recycling, composting and incineration account for such a small percentage of actual waste treatment, the scope to develop all three is vast, but at local level, conflicts can occur.

The South East London Combined Heat and Power plant in my constituency, which has been mentioned and which, I hasten to add, is a state-of-the-art incinerator that is carefully and properly monitored, faces such a potential conflict. Its financial viability obviously depends on securing waste contracts of sufficient magnitude to run the plant efficiently. If its existing local authority contractors were to seek dramatically to increase the percentage of waste they recycled, which the Government propose they should do, clearly, they might want to plan for smaller future contracts with the incinerator company. I raise this only by way of illustration because I am aware of the need properly to evaluate recycling processes which themselves consume energy and can have environmental consequences and because I am also aware of the value of energy recovery through the burning of waste. It is our belief that environmental considerations should be paramount in the decision-making process.

It is clear that, to reduce pollution and transport costs, much recycling and recovery need to occur close to the point of waste generation. That means close co-operation between business, industry and local authorities. As the Government appear to have accepted that, will the Minister tell us what will be the regional basis for decision making of that kind?

Let me return to the waste hierarchy. After reduction, re-use, recycling and recovery comes disposal. As we have heard in the debate, that is a point of great controversy. There is not just the issue of incinerators; no one wants to live next to a landfill. I remind the hon. Member for Medway (Dame P. Fenner) of the factory farm site at Borstal, an appalling landfill which has caused great distress to her constituents.

Because hundreds of millions of tonnes of controlled waste are generated per annum, we know that there will be a need for incineration and landfill to continue in the short and medium term. Our guiding principle should be to minimise the dangers to the environment and to health from such facilities. That means proceeding apace with the closure of all incinerators that do not meet the highest modern standards, ensuring public access to data for all waste disposal facilities and minimising the need for new facilities by a comprehensive strategy with targets for the entire waste hierarchy. That is where the Government signally fail. Setting and achieving targets on the top two rungs of the hierarchy is essential to making progress in ultimate disposal. Instead, the Government simply appear to be relying on one blunt market mechanism—the landfill tax. Shifting a proportion of disposal from landfill to incineration may be desirable, but only if overall waste is reduced.

The Government's targets are modest in the extreme—a mere 10 per cent. in the proportion of controlled waste going to landfill over a 10-year period. Even the mechanisms are not clear. Local authorities are expected to play a significant role, not least because 90 per cent. Of household waste goes to landfill. The White Paper proposes a target of 40 per cent. recovery of value from municipal waste over the next 10 years and a target of 25 per cent. recycling of household waste within five years.

Will the Minister tell us how the landfill tax will impact on local authorities and will he give a clear indication of the financial implications for local authorities of the White Paper targets? Can he explain the reference to supplementary credit approvals in the context of waste collection that is subject to recovery rather than disposal? That is in the White Paper, but my reading of the recent public expenditure settlement is that such supplementary approvals to encourage recycling projects will be cut by two thirds within two years. Will the Minister confirm that? If that is so, can he explain how the Government intend the proposals to work or is that perhaps the secret of their strategy—a laudable White Paper, a load of good intentions but no political will to implement them?

12.23 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. James Clappison)

I welcome the opportunity to respond to the debate. I join other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Sir R. Moate) on securing it. It has been a good, constructive and well-informed debate and, perhaps inevitably, much of the focus has been on recycling. That was certainly the case in the contributions from my hon. Friend the Member for Medway (Dame P. Fenner) and the hon. Members for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), who spoke briefly and to the point, for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) and for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). I was not sure whether the hon. Member for Newham, North-West was recycling some of his jokes or disposing of them. I was interested in his method of greeting his constituents in Newham. He made some interesting points.

The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock) could have been a little more forthcoming in welcoming the Government's targets and accepting that they are ambitious targets. She will know of our target to reduce the amount of household waste going to landfill and to bring about a 25 per cent. target for recycling and composting of household waste. She knows of our targets for landfill and for municipal waste. The hon. Lady will see that our strategy is wide ranging and comprehensive and is backed by initiatives and ambitious targets.

I was interested in the hon. Lady's comments about energy recovery from incineration. She seemed to criticise that at the beginning of her comments, but there was a lack of detail about the basic point of where energy recovery from incineration would fit into her hierarchy—whether it would be alongside recycling, composting or somewhere else. She fell silent on that issue.

My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham was concerned about a number of detailed points in his locality. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Medway, he spoke forcefully about local issues and local views, which are always important and need to be taken into account. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham will understand that I cannot go into detail about the Government's view because there are obvious reasons why I cannot comment on matters that are still within the province of inquiries. However, it will be open to inspectors at inquiries to take into account the general approach set out for recycling in our strategy document entitled "Making Waste Work", which was issued just before Christmas.

My hon. Friend referred to what he saw as the blind acceptance of incineration as a principal alternative. I can reassure him that that is not the way in which incineration fits into the strategy overall. I invite him to see the strategy as a method that seeks to bring about the best practicable environmental option in any given case. The hon. Member for Huddersfield and my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) referred to a balanced approach. The Government's approach in the strategy document is balanced and can bring about the best practicable environmental option in each case.

I invite my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham to see incineration, alongside recycling in its place in the hierarchy, as something that must be analysed in each case. We must consider the environmental advantages and disadvantages, some of which were dealt with by my hon. Friend.

My hon. Friend was also concerned about dioxins. He looked for assurances from me about the Government's approach to that and about future statements from HMIP. In September last year, HMIP published a report entitled "A review of dioxin emissions in the United Kingdom". It examined known and possible sources of dioxins in the United Kingdom and updated the estimates which my Department published in January 1995 as part of its response to the United States Environmental Protection Agency's draft assessment, about which we heard earlier. The HMIP report predicts that full implementation of integrated pollution control by HMIP and other control measures by local authorities will reduce the figures for dioxin emissions appreciably.

My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham talked about the relative cost of recycling and incineration. It is difficult to compare like with like in this situation as there are no typical examples. Fees will vary according to size, location, type of waste, outstanding capital finance liabilities and other factors. My hon. Friend may find it helpful to know that generally energy from waste costs between £10 and £30 per tonne more than landfill. Recycling costs vary widely, depending on the factors that I have identified.

My hon. Friend also made some important references to the general benefits of recycling and those matters will be taken into account. However, he will not be surprised to hear that I cannot agree with him that it is always a simple case of either/or—both recycling and incineration with energy recovery may have a part to play. The two are not necessarily exclusive. It may be that, in any particular case, both can combine to bring about a solution.

On that note, I want to emphasise that the Government have an appropriate and comprehensive strategy which sets ambitious targets. Hon. Members are concerned whether individual cases will fit into that strategy. I promise that I will give hon. Members a detailed reply by letter.

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