HC Deb 11 March 2004 vol 418 cc1650-2
12. Sandra Gidley (Romsey) (LD)

What steps she is taking to reduce the amount of waste generated by (a) households and (b) businesses. [160290]

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Elliot Morley)

Current action to encourage waste reduction includes the waste and resources action programme on waste minimisation, funding for local authorities for waste minimisation through DEFRA's waste minimisation and recycling fund and the envirowise programme, jointly funded by DEFRA and the Department of Trade and Industry, which aims to reduce the environmental impacts, including waste, of businesses and industry.

Sandra Gidley

The Minister mentions minimisation several times, and I hope that he agrees that that is an important part of the strategy, but the issue is a double whammy. Some years ago, the Women's Environmental Network highlighted the fact that a large percentage of packaging, particularly in supermarkets, is unnecessary. Some supermarkets have made great strides forward by introducing crates instead of generating cardboard waste, but what will the Minister do to put more emphasis on that? Would he support a repeat of the "wrapping is a rip-off- campaign, in which people were encouraged to leave excess waste at the checkout?

Mr. Morley

It is useful to raise awareness of the unnecessary use of wrapping and packaging; the Women's Environmental Network has done an excellent job on that and I meet its representatives regularly. The Government published a waste hierarchy in our strategy, and waste minimisation is at the top. The waste packaging directive applies to supermarkets and manufacturers and it is having an impact. However, I accept that there is more to be done, and we are addressing the issue.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)

Can the Minister get into a bit more of a campaigning mood on this issue? There is an almost impossible quantity of packaging from Sainsbury's, Tesco and—most importantly—the Co-op, and it is difficult for pensioners, many of whom do not have the manual dexterity of a younger person, to get into some of it. The worst example is CD packaging.

Mr. Morley

I accept that some packaging, especially bubble-wrap packages, are hard to get into, and it must be difficult for elderly people. The priority must be to minimise waste, and that means a change of culture in the way that products are packaged and offered to the public. Some big retailers have made genuine progress, and the Co-op is a case in point. We need to do more, including raising awareness and tackling the issue at every level—individual, company, retailer and manufacturer. I shall look seriously at what more we can do to support awareness-raising programmes.

Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley) (Con)

Given that the ban on swill feeding is imposing extra costs on hotels of up to £1,000—not least in south Oxfordshire—and given that that necessitates the employment of a new council tax-funded waste inspector and that landfill sites have room for only another three years of waste, can the Minister say what steps he is taking now to reduce the baleful effects of that ill-thought-out, vexatious and bossy piece of legislation?

Mr. Morley

I was not aware that the pigswill industry was so important in Henley, but I will bear it in mind. However, whether we like it or not, there are major risks associated with the pigswill sector. I acknowledge that some people in that sector have acted responsibly and professionally, but the risk is considerable. On the issue of compensation, I have sympathy with the industry, whose representatives are talking to the Department at present, but I remind the hon. Gentleman that it was a former Conservative Government who did not compensate the cattle head deboners for the ban that was applied to their work.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley) (Lab)

Does my hon. Friend agree that while we need to continue to address the issue of packaging, one of the big growths in waste is the generation of paper by e-mails? Often, only one page is wanted but a whole mass is produced and tipped into waste bins.

Mr. Morley

My hon. Friend makes a good point. E-mail has the potential to enable us to make progress towards paperless offices. That is an issue for all of us, especially in how we deal with constituency cases. We all have a responsibility, as individuals—not just companies and organisations—to think of what we can do to minimise waste, and utilising new technology is one way to do so.