HL Deb 05 December 1984 vol 457 cc1407-35

9.25 p.m.

Lord Irving of Dartford rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will establish schemes to encourage the reclamation of all kinds of waste material, and to ensure the recycling of as much reclaimed material as possible, in order to reduce imports, save money and preserve the environment.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am sorry we have had to wait for such a long time. I have no doubt, however, that the debate that kept us waiting was a very worthwhile debate. I hope that noble Lords will not believe that the lateness of the hour diminishes the importance of the matter that we are about to discuss. I think I should make two declarations of interest impinging on this particular theme before I start my speech. One is that I am a member of a local authority where most of the action will have to take place if we succeed in getting what I am asking for and what I hope the House will ask for tonight. Secondly, I declare an interest in having a very long association with the paper industry.

The Government Green Paper of 1974 said: The Government believes there should be a national effort to conserve and reclaim scarce resources—a war on waste involving all sections of the community. We all feel instinctively that there should be something wrong in a society which wastes and discards resources on the scale we do today". It is clear that this subject has a moral as well as an economic dimension. Indeed, it is broader even than this, as it is concerned not just with the preservation of scarce resources but with the preservation of the environment, with the vital question of import substitution and our balance of payments, with financial and energy savings, and with our EEC obligations. Properly organised, the Taunton Think Tank, which has done a great deal of work on this subject, believes that, with the use of reclamation teams and central depots, some 100 people in each district or borough could be employed on this work, many of them between 17 and 25 and at present without work. This would mean a net gain of something like 25,250 jobs. Already a number of schemes involving local councils, charities and the Friends of the Earth are being funded by the youth opportunities and the community programmes.

But despite the brave words of the Government Green Paper, there has been no national effort. The Think Tank says that between 1974 and 1979 less than 1 per cent. of solid waste was reclaimed. Recent years have produced increasing glass recovery but a decline in the amount of paper and textiles recovered. By 1981 we had reached 1 per cent. Although figures are hard to get, we think that it may be about 1½ per cent. at the moment. Each year in the United Kingdom around 20 million tonnes of household waste is collected, transported and disposed of at a cost of approximately £700 million, 55 to 60 per cent. by weight and 75 to 80 per cent. by volume consisting of recyclable materials such as glass, plastics, metals, paper, cardboard and textiles. They are worth at least £200 million at current prices, although, of course, in this equation, there would have to be some infrastructure costs, before we could achieve that sum of money.

Industrial society is dependent upon finite basic resources which should be conserved for future generations. We cannot go on for ever cutting down trees for wood pulp. In other fields, by creating acid rain we produce a direct threat to the supply of such raw materials. Most materials and the waste with which they are mixed are buried in "landfill" sites. Land suitable for this purpose is becoming increasingly scarce and expensive. There is a movement through some districts like Dartford of more than 1,000 trips a day. To give your Lordships an idea of the scale I can say that at certain times of the day vehicles are passing any given point at the rate of at least one a minute, and sometimes more. This is an increasing nuisance to people living on these routes and they are, I believe, entitled to some relief.

In regard to glass recycling, the United Kingdom recycles less than any other European country—only 5 per cent. In 1982 less than 1 per cent. of the United Kingdom's aluminium cans were recovered. In value terms, it costs an average of £33.57 to collect, transport and dispose of each ton of household waste. This is from the data published by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, relating to the year 1981–82. It is therefore possible to calculate in the most general way when it is economic to recover and recycle. Many materials are worth many times more than this as recoverable and recyclable waste.

I should like to say a few words about paper. Since 1977, 1.8 million tonnes of waste paper has been consumed annually in the United Kingdom's mills, and currently 57 per cent. of total fibre input—some 200,000 tonnes—is exported. Utilisation of secondary fibre at this level makes if difficult to achieve spectacular increases in usage. There are, however, other uses for waste paper in the United Kingdom, including shredding for animal bedding, and later for use as fertiliser, as insulation materal, as building board and for moulded products. This use alone is estimated to be in the area of 100,000 tonnes per annum.

While wishing to operate in the free market—and the paper industry seldom asks for subsidies—the industry believes that the Government should encourage the use of recycled fibres, first of all by encouraging purchasing bodies to review specifications and use more waste-based products; by allowing industry to operate in a free market situation, including exports; by encouraging local authorities to charge economic rates for the collection of refuse from commercial premises; by encouraging the separation of waste to facilitate recovery; by encouraging and aiding education; by assisting with public relations and publicity; by committing themselves fully and positively to a reclamation and recycling programme on a national bases, with the first priority being the formation of a dedicated cell or department or Ministry; by encouraging greater local authority involvement with the private sector—and I shall say something more about this later on; and, finally, by promoting and monitoring research and development in this industry.

It ought to be realised about paper that one tonne of it used as secondary fibre saves up to three cubic metres of wood. As that represents 15 medium-sized trees the ecological significance of paper recovery is obvious. The recycling of paper as a substitute for virgin materials halves the energy requirement and eliminates the air and water pollution associated with pulp processing. The British Waste Paper Association have urged the Government to implement Section 12 of the Control of Pollution Act 1974, requiring them to make an economic charge for refuse collected from commercial and industrial premises. I am conscious that any additional increase in charges will be regarded as an increase in industrial costs. However, as the purpose is to encourage the separation of materials, with the co-operation of industry, in my view this could be achieved by concessions for such separation before the materials are removed from their premises.

Considerable savings in energy can be achieved in the glass industry by the recycling of waste glass, known as cullet. Glass represents 9 per cent. by weight of all domestic refuse in the United Kingdom and the energy saving that could be achieved by involving the public is great. In 1977 the Glass Manufacturers' Federation introduced a bottle-bank scheme, and many noble Lords will have seen it in operation. There are containers, conveniently placed, where people deposit their used bottles, and it is part of my weekly routine to take my own bottles to the bottle bank, to set an example to others. I am glad to say that an increasing number of people are doing the same.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, who takes the cans back?

Lord Irving of Dartford

My Lords, the collection, treatment and delivery of cullet requires 78 per cent. less energy per tonne than the equivalent virgin raw materials. This is equivalent to 30 gallons of oil per tonne of cullet. In fact, 250,000 tonnes of this would reduce the demand for raw materials by 300,000 tonnes. The principal ingredients are sand and limestone, which in the United Kingdom are often quarried in environmentally sensitive areas. The number of bottle-bank schemes has increased from four in 1977 to something like 300 in 1984, and the number of sites has risen from 17 to the best part of 2,000.

In 1981 the United Kingdom recycled less than any other European country—5 per cent. The others all managed at least 20 per cent., except for Ireland and Denmark. Holland recycled 41 per cent. and Switzerland, which has made much progress since then, was second with 36 per cent. The United Kingdom glass recovery target for 1984 is 250,000 tonnes—only a 12.5 per cent. increase on the 1981 target, which is some indication of the little extent to which we are moving to bigger targets.

In certain cases where the collection authorities are operating the bottle-banks, the disposal authorities recognised the saving through a rebate of a fixed amount per tonne of the glass recycled. Although the industry instigated the scheme and has recycling plants built to clear as much of the glass as can be supplied, increased public participation must be promoted by local authorities. In Spain, (to give some idea of what some other countries are doing) the Spanish glass container producers launched a five-year scheme in 1982 with a target of 30 per cent. of national glass consumption by the end of that period.

As regards metals, probably the greatest savings in the consumption of energy can be achieved by using reclaimed metals. It takes at least three times as much energy to convert iron ore into steel as is needed to convert ferrous scrap into equally good steel. Almost half the steel produced in the United Kingdom is made from scrap. The biggest deterrent is the price, which is 20–30 per cent. higher in this country than it is in other European countries.

Recession has dramatically reduced the demand for iron and steel, and many plants have been closed. Demand has fallen from 8.8 million tonnes in 1979 to four million tonnes in 1983. However, British exporters face big disadvantages because of the inadequacy of port facilities. Both equipment and working practices are alleged to be out of date. In Rotterdam, scrap can be loaded into ships at roughly twice the rate as that which can be achieved in British ports. In the case of non-ferrous metals, the benefits of recycling are even more marked. The recycling of aluminium scrap saves 90 per cent. of the energy used in producing aluminium from bauxite. This is an enormous saving. The energy saving in the case of copper is even more startling. To produce wire bar from grade 1 copper scrap demands only 3.2 per cent. of the energy required to convert virgin ore into metal.

Although high values should be very attractice, large quantities are lost because of the difficulty experienced in reclaiming them from domestic waste. As virtually all non-ferrous metals used in the United Kingdom are imported, the effect on the balance of payments is obvious. Whereas almost 45 per cent. of current lead requirements come from recycled materials, this proportion is even higher in the United Kingdom, currently around 60 per cent. This is one of the highest recovery levels in the world for any industrial metal. It represented 185,000 tonnes in 1983, and had it not been recovered the cost to industry to import it would have been £50 million. So vital is lead that we ought not to be wasting any at all, because none of it is mined in Britain.

I turn to plastics. The plastics which reach the consumer amount to something like 485,000 tonnes, but post-consumer recycling schemes are limited because the plastics arise in small quantities (about 5 per cent. by weight) in the dustbin, and the polymer types are mixed. There are about 30 different types of plastic in daily use, which are very difficult to identify from each other and, if mixed, cannot be efficiently recycled. The British Plastics Federation's view is that plastic waste cannot at present be recycled as a commercially viable proposition, even though it is possible to separate the polymers.

However, a few schemes are run by voluntary orgnisations. For example, the Friends of the Earth in Stratford-on-Avon collect polystyrene yoghourt pots, cream tubs and polyethylene film from several points in the town on particular days each month. These are then sold to local recyclers. So an effort can be made by voluntary organisations in this field.

One of the polymers, polyethylene terephthalate, is used for containers that are more easily identifiable than others, and has a relatively high value. In 1981 the British Plastics Frederation launched an experimental scheme called PET-a-BOX to recover plastic bottles. Initial results of the experiment have shown that PET bottles can be identified fairly well, and it is planned to extend the scheme to a total of 10 sites in Bradford and Leeds. If the scheme proves to be economic at the end of its two-year trial period, it will be extended on a national scale.

The Government have on several occasions stated that they encourage industry to act in its own enlightened self-interest, by recycling and reclaiming waste materials where it makes commercial sense to do so. It is a little like saying, "When you do not need any help, we shall be there to help". The most recent comment of this kind was made by Dr. David Trippier, MP, a Minister at the Department of Trade and Industry, at the Metals Society seminar only a couple of months ago.

The paper and other industries recognise that viable schemes for waste disposal must be established and do not look for subsidies. Excess stock schemes for the stabilisation of demand have a poor history here and abroad. Nevertheless, there is a need for a national programme of waste reduction and resource recovery as the only way to ensure that all recoverable resources are put to good use.

Several organisations have called for a national effort. In evidence before the Commons Select Committee on Trade and Industry there is a request for a Minister to head a department of waste instead of the division of responsibilities falling on four different Ministries. BRIC, INCPEN, and other organisations have urged that a properly co-ordinated effort with a working partnership between industry, local Government, and central Government be established.

A comprehensive investigation into reclamation and recycling projects is needed, first, to identify and define realisable targets for improving utilisation of waste in each community; secondly, to define the role of each of the major participants in waste management, including the role of Government, manufacturing industry, local authorities, the reclamation and recycling industries, and of waste disposal contractors; thirdly, to consider the overall structure and, where necessary, the legislative framework to achieve effective co-ordination; fourthly, to assess the areas of research needed to promote the use of wastes in existing and new products and the development of the funding required to take these products to market; fifthly, to create markets for the materials recovered and develop recycling technologies; and, finally, to boost the fiscal incentives for the use of secondary materials.

However, the Department of Energy has made a large effort on waste-derived fuels. It has spent over £500,000 on research and development and has committed a further £4.5 million to demonstration projects. We in this country are also co-operating with the United States on research and development with the use of wastes and fuels under the bilateral memorandum of understanding signed by the two countries. In this country there are reclamation plants in a number of places—Byker, Doncaster, Westbury, Eastbourne, Witton, Humberside and Manchester. But Governments of both political persuasions have declined to offer incentives to local authorities to overcome the disincentive of potential financial loss as a result of the operation of market forces.

The Association of District Councils' view has been that, without firm safeguards, perhaps allied to some action on capital controls with grants for equipment, the relief of road tax on trailers, disposal authority contributions to collection authorities, with relaxation on bonus schemes, the role of local authorities in waste paper will continue to decline.

We need a proper application of effort to provide imaginative and innovative solutions like the work done, for example, by Mr. Ingemar Bjurenvall in Sweden and England, where he has developed a system which returns to the age-old principle of clearing the straw from the fields along with the grain.

This system saves energy, eliminates waste of natural resources, provides a valuable new material for industry, and solves the vexed question which has troubled this House more than once of straw disposal. Mr. Bjurenvall has shown that straw can be used effectively as a nutrient additive in cattle fodder, and as a fuel for high efficiency industrial boilers. In a demonstration quite recently in England he showed that the logistic problems of the collection and storage of straw can be handled effectively. What is necessary now is encouragement from the Government for research into the technology and funding to secure its adoption in industry. The Report of the Straw Disposal and Utilisation Group, chaired by Lord Belstead, also indicates a number of other uses for straw: for the reinforcement of building materials, insulation and packaging, poultry litter, traffic separation, and as hydro-mulch.

The Commons Select Committee will be reporting tomorrow on its report Wealth of Waste—a fact of which I was unaware when I put down this Unstarred Question, although, as noble Lords will be aware, the proposition has been on the Order Paper for some 18 months. I hope that when the committee reports, as it will tomorrow, the Government will give urgent consideration to creating the national effort we so desperately need. We have everything to play for. I hope that the Government will not lose the opportunity provided by the Select Committee's report to do what is necessary.

9.47 p.m.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, we are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Irving of Dartford, for having raised this important Question. In my remarks I should like to complement and support what he has had to say. I should also, as he has done, like to declare an interest in this matter as I am chairman of the Keep Britain Tidy Group and have been involved in all aspects of the problem of litter abatement, waste collection, disposal, recycling, and reclamation. I have mentioned all those words because I believe that this is, and has to be seen as, a comprehensive process. There are many valuable efforts being made at the present time at various stages of the process but it is a comprehensive, continuous process which needs to be encouraged in that form.

The Keep Britain Tidy Group is doing what it can as a largely voluntary organisation with some measure of state support, but its efforts to try to make sure that there is effective litter abatement would be greatly helped if what was previously Section 24 of the Control of Pollution Act 1974 and is now Section 4 of the Litter Act 1983 were brought into effect. Let us face the fact that litter is the unacceptable face of waste. It is part of waste which has gone astray. If we really want to solve this whole problem of dealing effectively with waste we must start there.

This has been attempted by this group by means of what is known as the Community Environment Programme which consists of advising local authorities on how they can systematically bring about an abatement of litter, more effectively collect waste, dispose of it, and use every opportunity for reclamation and recycling. There are many remarkably effective instances of local authorities who have followed this path with vigour and enthusiasm. One that comes immediately to mind is Leeds which for a number of years—I believe it is seven years—has operated the "Save Waste and Prosper" scheme which shows that by a concerted community effort in a local authority area, a great deal of enthusiasm and effective collection of waste which would otherwise not be collected and re-used has been generated. They have added the incentive which has appealed to a number of ratepayers to participate in this; namely, that a large part of the proceeds from this effort go to nominated charities.

There is here a great deal of initiative and enthusiasm to be kindled. Many industrial enterprises have also taken up this subject. The various areas of recycling are well known. The main ones are paper, ferrous metal, non-ferrous metal, textiles and glass. In spite of the efforts which are being made in various parts, whether in local authorities or by industrial and commercial concerns, so far as one can tell the efforts being made here are less effective than those in neighbouring countries on the continent.

Statistics are difficult to come by but glass recovery, as Lord Irving mentioned, in one statistic that has been fairly well established. Whereas here our recovery of glass represents something like 8 per cent. of the total amount of glass in use, in countries such as the Netherlands the rate of recovery is as high as 48 per cent. In France, it is over 30 per cent.; in Italy, it is 22 per cent. These are the sorts of comparisons which are factual, so far as one can tell, and which demonstrate that we really could go very much further here in this effort of waste recovery and of making good use of materials which would otherwise be lost.

This is not the only way in which we can make effective use of waste. There is also, as Lord Irving mentioned, the question of incineration and pelletisation; in other words using waste material as an energy source. This has the benefit that a number of non-reclaimable waste materials can be used for this purpose. Here too I must declare an interest because I am chairman of a firm which is working in this field. We believe that there is a long way to go and that we could make a substantial contribution to the energy requirements of this country by further extending the efforts made for incineration at such schemes as the Edmonton scheme or that in the City of Nottingham to use ordinary domestic waste as a source of heat or as a source of electricity generation. In more recent times, there have been successful experiments in converting waste into a transportable solid fuel by pelletising it. It has a lower calorific value than coal; but, on the other hand, it is very consistent, very low in sulphur and other noxious emissions and can be easily handled. Here is another area worthy of development.

I note, as the noble Lord, Lord Irving, has mentioned, that we are soon to receive the report of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry in another place on this whole subject. I have no doubt that it will contain some very positive recommendations about how we can further mobilise the many efforts to achieve much better results in using valuable materials otherwise going to waste—I hope that effective action will be taken in the light of those recommendations.

9.55 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, often enough in this Chamber your Lordships have heard me say things that were not very nice about the Greater London Council, but on this occasion I intend to speak well about them because I strongly support what they have done and are doing in the reclamation of waste.

In my own constituency I went to the opening of the Barrowell Green recycling depot in September, and I now have the figures of what has been achieved there since then. In that time—it was not all September, but September and October—they have recycled over 47 tonnes of metal, nearly 30 tonnes of paper and cardboard, 7 tonnes of rags, 8 tonnes of glass and 2,300 litres of oil. The value of all those products in that time is £1,683. That does not seem a very large amount, but it is a beginning. That is a new recycling plant, and it is designed in a way that makes it attractive to the public. It is a drive-in, easy-access depot, with self-separation and self-labour so that you put your goods into the containers.

I understand that in the summer months similar recycling areas, of which there are two others in Enfield—and no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Graham, knows them well—actually get queues of cars waiting to drive in and dispose of large goods which the council do not take away as refuse. I have not seen those places, but I have studied this one carefully. There is ample room to drive in; and it has replaced a former civic amenity site, which was not so spacious or well laid out and which caused a degree of nuisance to local residents living around it. Now the access is so good that there is no trouble caused to residents in the area. A person drives his car in and pulls up in turn at each of the very large skips, which are clearly marked, and people sort their own rubbish, depositing it according to type.

I am told that out of the 33 (as there now are) such recycling centres in Greater London—and there are four more in the pipeline—various pieces of information have been gleaned. One is that it is very easy to educate the public to divide their types of glassware according to colours: the green, the brown and the clear. They have taken that in and started using this very easy and simple system. But when it comes to metals it is much more difficult, as few members of the public stop to think exactly what their container is made of; and, indeed, manufacturers tend to be slightly confusing over this.

There is a most interesting scheme now in operation in London. It started in Barking and is called the Ali-Can scheme. This scheme is encouraged by the Greater London Council although it is actually operated by a private company. That company provide sacks, and then, when there are 30 full sacks, they come and collect them, free. The sacks have to be full of crushed all-aluminium cans, and each sack takes about 200 cans. They will pay approximately one penny per can, or 40p per kilo, for that aluminium, which is then sent to Wales for reprocessing. I am sure that the Welsh Members of your Lordships' House will be pleased to think that work is being sent there. The material is later sold for making new cans.

I saw something of this type in Sydney when I last went there and visited the Royal Sydney Show. There, the grounds of this very large Easter show were free of all aluminium-can litter, because people were being paid to bring back cans. I think only a very small amount was paid for five or 10 cans, but the children, who did not really find enough to do at the show, were busy collecting all the cans as soon as anyone let them fall, or they would even come up to you and ask: "Have you finished your drink? Can I have your can?" Then they were taking them off and selling them; so that the place was kept quite litter free.

This present scheme, of course, will be a great source of fund-raising for charities, parents' associations or schools, and I think it will probably be a great success. It began only in Sepember, so it is still fairly new, but the difficulty arises where a can is made of iron yet topped with aluminium. That can is not useful to the all-aluminium can manufacturers. When the firm comes to collect the goods they are tipped into a hopper which passes under a magnet and the magnet will pick out any ferrous metal; thus you will be paid only for the aluminium element. It seems a shame that the manufacturers in the first instance have to mix their metals to an extent where it does complicate the recycling and re-use of the material.

It is a question also of being sure that those who are going to a great deal of trouble to raise funds in these good ways for charities do not find themselves suddenly left with hundreds of bags of aluminium cans. I certainly remember clearly when this happened with waste paper. Near my surgery there was a vast warehouse. Everyone was encouraged to deliver their waste paper to the warehouse and it was sold for recycling for the benefit of nearby hospitals and other good institutions. Suddenly the bottom fell out of the waste paper recycling business and the poor people who had very graciously given the warehouse found that every day more and more people drew up and, even if it was closed or locked up, deposited the waste paper on the footpath outside. Vast mountains of this paper developed without any sale or use. Therefore, it is terribly important that any recycling must be a continuous process, and people must be assured that if they are going to save material it will actually be usable and saleable at the end of that time.

The Greater London Council in its present recycling centres has an interesting scheme to encourage members of the public to bring their items. For every tonne of material that is recycled at those centres the Greater London Council donates £1 to a charity. A different sponsored charity is chosen each month for this donation and charities are able to apply to be the charity of the month. It is an interesting idea because it is promotional. I do not consider that to be a waste of ratepayers' money because the aim is to develop the recycling process.

Price of course is a very important factor, as I mentioned with regard to the waste paper. At the moment aluminium is still profitable. Many other materials are profitable. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, mentioned the Edmonton incinerator which has been in operation since the early 1970s. A considerable value of metal is extracted from the residue after the incineration process and that is recovered and used. But there is also a very substantial production of electricity from the power that can be generated there, and that produces an income of more than £4 million a year. As far as I know, that £4 million was at the rate of selling electricity last year. Your Lordships will remember that a Bill was passed in this House to enable that electricity to be sold for a more realistic price. So I am hoping that that might mean that it is now producing in excess of £4 million.

Unfortunately, there is no recycling centre in central London. This is mainly because land is at such a premium and there is not sufficient space, but the Greater London Council hopes eventually to bring into use an old waste transfer station in Camden. I am sure that most people already know that a waste transfer station is one where the refuse collection service takes the rubbish and the refuse disposal service takes over to dispose of it. It is a small station that is no longer used and it is hoped that it might become suitable.

Perhaps the greatest protection of the environment and the greatest saving would come about if we all used less paper. When I was sent abroad recently to a conference for two weeks I asked that my Greater London Council post be kept in the building rather than sent to me. When I returned at the end of two weeks my desk, which is 6ft. by 4ft., was 18 inches deep in paper over the whole surface. I cannot believe that that quantity of paper is needed; and I cannot believe that anyone can possibly read it all or take in what it says if that is the rate of production. That is something to be thought about. We must economise in the first place. It is not only a matter of recycling waste. We must avoid unnecessary waste in whatever field it is.

At the opening of the depot in Barrowell Green the chairman of the Greater London Council, who is himself a school teacher, made a superb speech to all the school children who arrived. He told them that the centre is to teach them not to waste and to think of the future of everything they use and what good it could do for other people. He told them that they should think before they used anything and to think before they threw it away. Those are very valuable points. Perhaps recycling is only part of it.

In California there is now a system in use which takes old motorcar tyres and grinds them up in such a way that they can be converted into oil and eventually into energy. It is a major contract and one way of using a waste product that otherwise has very little use. One noble Lord, a scientist, mentioned to me the fermentation of waste in the production of methane and how effective that could be. There is no doubt that there are many possibilities.

Another noble Lord asked me whether one needs to have vast storage facilities at home. That must be thought about very clearly because people cannot accumulate large quantities of waste in their own homes. No one has the space for that and would not wish to have the waste piling up. That means that any self-sorting centre must be readily available. It must not cost so much in petrol to get there that one thinks twice about whether to take it there or throw it away and leave the rubbish people to sort it out.

As regards recycled paper, I recently purchased a microwave oven. A great feature in the use of a microwave oven is paper kitchen towels. Instead of being cooked in the normal ways, everything is covered with a paper kitchen towel. However, the instruction booklet states that one must be careful what brands of paper kitchen towels are used because some are made from recycled paper and may cause sparking. That leads me to the point that either manufacturers should identify whether or not their products are recycled or whether or not they are spark-free. If this is to become a major use for paper kitchen towels, people need to know whether recycled material is safe. It also indicates to me that there must be some problem in sorting the actual metal products from the recycled paper because it is the metal that causes the sparking.

Bottle banks are very effective. They certainly would have saved the embarrassing situation in a street in which I live where, after a dear 90-year-old died, 750 empty gin bottles were found in one of her rooms. One of her relations told me that the old lady found them too embarrassing to put into the rubbish bin. If there had been a bottlebank, she might have been able to take them along.

The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Irving, about mixed plastics not being suitable for recycling was most interesting. Surely the manufacturers could think about that and when they produce plastic cups or containers of any sort they should consider marking them during the manufacturing process with, say, an "A" or a "B", or some mark to indicate the type of material. It would then be very simple for even the little Brownies to pick up, say, 50 marked "A" or 50 marked "B". It would be one way whereby the public could identify products.

I shall not continue because it is late and I have spoken long enough. This is a most interesting subject and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Irving, for bringing it before the House.

10.9 p.m.

Lord Energlyn

My Lords, you will recall the old saying, "Where there is muck, there is brass". I would add to that, that where there is money, there is also an opportunity for creating employment. I think therefore that the Question that has been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Irving of Dartford, is a very serious and a very constructive one. I should like to congratulate him on the very profound and really remarkable survey of the aspects of the question that he has in mind I also join with the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, in focusing attention for the need for co-operation on the part of the Government in their thinking regarding activities such as the noble Baroness has just referred to. At the moment, as the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, has implied, there is a bewildering number of people who are giving thought to this problem but effectively doing very little about it.

It also raises the question of where capital comes from to initiate—or rather to get off the ground—some of the imaginative ideas for the reclamation and reprocessing of waste materials. I should like to suggest to the Minister in reply that he might give thought to the success of two of his colleagues—namely, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and the noble Lord, Lord Belstead—who set up think tanks in the Ministry of Agriculture to which I had the pleasure and honour of belonging. These two tanks—if I may use the phrase—created in the first case a new industry—namely, the production of fermentation plants for the production of bio-gas. It only took us two years to take that off the ground. We are now considering the various uses of straw, and it is quite illuminating to see how effective this group of individuals has become in suggesting to the Minister—and through the Minister to the Government—effective ways of dealing with troublesome waste materials.

One of the most important substances which is allowed to go to waste because it is very difficult to control is water. Without it, we would not be on earth; it would be like the moon—uninhabited. If Ethiopia had spent some time developing water supplies, they would not have been persecuted today by the famine which hits them.

One must give serious consideration therefore to any method or any device which conserves water. I have recently seen a very simple and remarkable industrial development for the control of water in schools, in hospitals and in large flats, etc. It is an insertion into a tap, and it is made by a company called Flow Control. They can prove that if they had been operating full-scale throughout this country, we would not have had to suffer the drought that we had this summer. We should look seriously therefore at devices of that kind. They have developed a lot of those devices, and they are using the home market as the taking-off ground for exports. You can see that this device is going to have widespread sales throughout the Mediterranean Islands and the Middle East. So here is a case where you can take a waste product or a waste potential and convert it into an industry.

If I may remind your Lordships, at the beginning of this century small coal was a very troublesome substance. Miners were fined if they filled small coal into trams along with lump coal. A German called Rudolf Diesel saw it as a waste product which he could potentially make use of. He designed an engine which simulated an explosion in the mine. That was the embryonic Diesel engine. It did not continue to be the fuel of the Diesel engine because of the inorganic matter in the coal which wore out the bearings of the engine; and so he turned to oil, and that was how diesel oil came into being.

From that we can quite easily follow a line of thought which is not, I suggest, too romantic. The constituent which Diesel was using for his combustion—which indeed is the fuel which triggers off a coal-mine explosion—was that ingredient of coal which is activated carbon, called fusain. If we could make a suspension of fusain and that could replace diesel oil in an engine, and that engine could drive turbines, we should no longer have to use coal to boil water and pollute the atmosphere with the associated constituents of boiling water. Here is an area of R & D which is practically complete but which needs massive capital to bring it into being. It is quite beyond industry to provide such R&D capital. It would have to come from the Government or from the NCB.

Let us stay with coal for one moment. My noble friend Lord Rugby told me of a remarkable experience that he has had of taking up an agricultural suggestion that pigs love eating coal. For many years I supplied coal to ladies who wished to eat it. The whole thing adds up to a fascinating picture—namely, that coal contains ingredients which have remarkable chemotherapeutic properties. Why do women eat coal? When I made a survey of them—and there were about 80 of them—I discovered that they were all pregnant when they wanted coal. They wanted the coal because it dissipated any heartburn that they may be suffering from. Likewise, when an epileptic is about to have a fit, he has an intense area of heartburn and the coal dissipates it. A coal-miner in the old days would have a big breakfast, go up to the coalface, start to dig coal and suffer from heartburn. He found an immediate cure by sucking a piece of coal. Those are facts.

If we add all that together, the pig digests the coal, increases its appetite and also—and this is the point that fits into the debate—creates an excreta no longer full of the toxins that are normally associated with pig excreta. Therefore that excreta can be used for agricultural purposes to an extent not otherwise thought of. Here is an interesting new venture, one might say, for coal. Coal can be added to organic matter and become feedstuff for cattle.

I could go on illustrating that theme by many other examples. For example, a new industry could be formed by extracting enzymes from sewage. I could also illustrate how sewage could be used instead of coke for smelting metals. I have a patent on it. I must declare that interest. I could go on to indicate what happens when dust is collected from an oil-fired burner. That dust is quite fantastic. It contains enough vanadium to supply the whole of the needs of this country. That happens in America. But what the Americans have not yet realised is that this dust also has surface chemical properties which make it into a catalyst. It needs a lot of money to take that into actual production. So where does this money come from?

I would suggest that it would be in the interests of this subject if either the Department of the Environment or the Department of Trade and Industry sets up a think tank very similar to that which was set up in the Ministry of Agriculture, to which the noble Lord, Lord Irving, and I have referred, to consider the wider aspects of the subject which has been brought before your Lordships tonight.

10.21 p.m.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, not only am I, too, very grateful to my noble friend for raising this very important issue; I am also extremely admiring of the very clear and wide ranging way that he presented this subject. So, as I am not an expert like the previous speaker, like the noble Lord, Lord Energlyn, and as the subject has already been very well covered and it is becoming very late, I should like to make two rather simple and more general points.

First, I should like to stress—and I think it is an important thing to remember—how very positive is the attitude of the British public towards environmental issues generally and conservation of resources and recycling programmes in particular. Seondly, I should like to make some comment on the recycling of glass programmes, which seems to be an area which attracts a great deal of public interest and response.

I think there is one thing of which we can be quite sure. It is the fact that people in Britain really do not forget, and are very much influenced by, the old saying. "Waste not, want not". I think it is still a very primaeval need for us all to conserve and not to waste. I should just like to quote a few statistics to prove that this still appears to be true.

For example, the 1983 MORI poll, held to assess the reaction to the publication of the United Kingdom response to the World Conservation Strategy, showed that recycling waste ran top of a list of issues which respondents most favoured. It even showed that 20 per cent. of the respondents would actually consider switching their vote if conservation became a party political issue.

To further this particular aspect I should like to take the instance of glass recycling and quote from a document dealing with research carried out between 1978 and 1981 to survey public attitudes towards the use of bottle banks. This was presented in the House of Commons Trade and Industry Committee's report (which the noble Lord has already mentioned) called The Wealth of Waste, the result of which is to appear tomorrow. The research company opened the document with these words, which I think are very relevant: It is very unusual in our experience for a survey to show so few objections being raised at a new scheme or for such a scheme to be so widely accepted by all classes and age groups. It is equally unusual to find such a very wide awareness not merely of the existence of such a scheme but also of its purpose and of the way it works". So that shows that there is a general acceptance from the public at large.

Here are just one or two examples of the most revealing figures. For instances, when the respondents were asked whether more recycling schemes should be introduced to cover the material from non-returnable bottles and cans, 91 per cent. agreed, 3 per cent. disagreed and 6 per cent. did not know. As many as 87 per cent. of the respondents, did not like throwing glass into the dustbin". Eighty three per cent. agreed that bottle banks are a more convenient place to put glass than the dustbin. Ninety-four per cent. agreed that saving glass was important because of saving valuable resources. The research document went on to prove that a vast majority of people would use bottle banks if they existed in their close proximity. Indeed, they would even go to some distance to use them if they could. Moreover, further evidence given to the committee showed overwhelmingly that a large majority of people were so concerned that they themselves had thought out all sorts of schemes as to how bottle banks should be set up and how they should be publicised and operated. They had some very innovative ideas.

Surely, there is unequivocal proof that, unlike the response to some proposed changes which authorities might produce—for example, to the new pound coin that has been presented and which the public has rejected—in this case ideas put forward receive a very positive response from the public at large. Indeed, authorities can count on wholehearted support. It is a pity therefore that in this case the two are going in opposite directions. The public want the authorities to produce ideas and the authorities are not producing enough.

On my second point, may I briefly point to the terrible dearth of opportunities offered to the public particularly in the recycling of glass. With 305 local authorities operating some sort of scheme there are, to be precise 1,868 bottle-bank sites in the country. My noble friend Lord Irving has given the figure. This compares with 28,000 sites in West Germany. The Glass Manufacturers' Federation in its evidence to the House of Commons committee made the following points: first, that only 8 per cent. or 127,000 tonnes of the total tonnage of container glass consumed is derived from cullet; and secondly, that it had hoped to get to twice that figure, that is, 250,000 tonnes, by 1984 but had completely failed although it knew that other European countries had achieved much higher targets. The federation representative admitted that the vast number of bottles coming from hotels and restaurants remained an untapped source of cullet. He went on to point out that there was a greater incentive in other European countries for the collection of cullet and recycling it and that government encouragement and direction on the Continent has been a great deal stronger than in this country.

In fact, he made it clear that it was, and had been for a number of years, the earnest desire of the federation to see more and more bottles sent back for recycling in order to conserve the 30 gallons of oil the nation saves for every tonne of waste glass recycled. However, the difficulties of transportation of the cullet to the recycling plants, the shortage and ill-spaced positions of the plant and the dearth of schemes and indeed Government apathy combine to make it impossible to attain its target of recycling 250,000 tonnes of cullet.

Indeed, the representative from the Glass Manufacturers' Federation proved his own total commitment to the principle of recycling when he admitted that of the two recycling plants operated by his own company, the price that they paid for cullet was equal to the price of raw materials. When asked why he did it. the economic argument being the same, he said: Because we are part of the community and some of us in the industry feel that we ought to be doing it". I should like to conclude by putting these few points to the Minister. First, as recycling has implications for so many aspects of economic and social life, should not the three departments most closely concerned—that is, Industry. Environment and Energy—co-operate more closely over planning policy and setting up schemes? The noble Lord, Lord Energlyn, made this point. It is a most important one. Secondly, should not the Department of Industry consider a system of grants for small businesses wishing to start collecting cullet from commercial sources? Thirdly, it would be very interesting to have a list of the recycling schemes that the Department of the Environment is encouraging. It would also be interesting to know how much the department is spending on recycling generally this year. Finally, I would be interested to know how many publications have been issued on the subject of recycling.

The last question concerns the conservation schemes set up by the GLC. The noble Baroness. Lady Gardner, has told us about some of the most imaginative ones. It would be interesting to know the schemes set up by the GLC and the metropolitan counties. I believe they represent a very high proportion of the total operating in the country. It would be good to have an assurance of their continuation, at least, after the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan counties, even if, regrettably, there may be no intention of adding to the number of these schemes.

10.31 p.m.

Lord Molson

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Irving of Dartford, in his comprehensive and well-informed speech, has established the fact that we are a shockingly wasteful community, and he has established the fact that a great deal could be done to save and recycle, reclaim, material which has been used. It must be remembered, of course, in the first place, that much the greatest volume of reclamation is done by industry itself in its own workshops, but when all that has been done there still remains a tremendous amount which has to be dealt with by the public sector. Anything that can be done in that way is economy; and, of course, it also diminishes the amount of waste that has to be disposed of.

I want to draw attention to the strategy (shall I say?) by which waste ought to be dealt with, and I want to refer, if I may, to the changes which are likely to be made in the local government Bill which will be coming before your Lordships in the new year. I propose to deal with London, although the same considerations apply, to different degrees, to the municipalities in other parts of the country. I would say that under the Acts of 1970 and 1974 waste is dealt with in the correct way. The boroughs are responsible for collecting the waste, and they pass it to the Greater London Council for disposal.

I am much concerned at the implication in the Bill, or, rather, the statement in the Bill, that the disposal of waste is going to be transferred from the central authority to the boroughs. We have been told in a remarkable review by the County Surveyors' Society and the County Planning Officers' Society, working in partnership, that in their opinion it is impossible for boroughs to deal satisfactorily with the disposal of waste.

Waste, having been passed to the central authority, is dealt with, roughly speaking, in five ways: first, by reclamation or recycling, to which the noble Lord. Lord Irving, has devoted his attention; secondly, in suitable cases it is used for the generation of electricity (as at Edmonton), which is efficient and makes a profit for the benefit of the ratepayers; thirdly, it can be used for district heating, for the producing of methane gas or for fuel for industry; fourthly, it can be incinerated; and, fifthly, it can be used for dumping, which in many cases is a costly way in which to dispose of what cannot otherwise be used, but in suitable cases it can be used as an aggregate for road construction.

It seems to me clear that the disposal of waste is essentially something that must be done by a central authority with large resources. In the case of London, for example, surely it is clear that there ought to be—indeed there must be—a central authority. London has not the space available to use mineral workings and so on for landfill; it is obliged to enter into arrangements with the planning authorities of counties in the vicinity in order to dispose of its waste which is required for landfill. Landfill is the way in which 95 per cent. of all the waste in England and Wales is finally disposed of.

What is the optimum area for the centralised disposal of waste? It may be the area of the Greater London Council; when the matter comes up for review it may be an area larger than that of the GLC; it may be a smaller area; and it may include areas beyond the present existing local authority areas. It does not follow in the least that, because a certain boundary line is appropriate for some purposes of local government, it is necessarily the appropriate line for the collection and disposal of waste.

I should like to see—and here I want to make a constructive suggestion—a quango for the disposal of London's waste. I have undertaken to support the abolition of the GLC, but in the debate on the paving Bill I said that I thought that further thought ought to be given to how London's waste was to be disposed of. I know that the present Government have in many cases expressed a dislike of quangos but that, in fact, is exactly what they have introduced as regards London Regional Transport. There is a great similarity between the kind of organisation which is appropriate for organising the transport of people inside London and the organisation appropriate for the disposal of waste.

I support the democratic principle of elected local authorities to deal with all matters which take into account human requirements, such as education and housing. But I see no reason at all why there should be democratic elections for dealing with a perfectly technical and administrative problem such as that of disposing of waste. The type of quango that I would have in mind would be one appointed by the Minister and an experienced and successful administrator would be the chairman; a transport expert would be a member, as well as a financier, and certainly an industrial chemist for the reclamation and recycling of materials. As the noble Lord, Lord Irving, has emphasised in his informative speech, this is a matter of modern technology and it should be dealt with by experts rather than by popularly elected people, however estimable and hardworking they may be.

There is a tremendous amount that can and probably will be done in the future in this way. Many years ago I spoke in the other place representing the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. At that time I was shown in the laboratory—I think it was the Warren Spring Laboratory—a wonderfully ingenious machine for processing waste. It separated different kinds of waste, and ferrous metals were extracted by a powerful magnet. At that time and in its model form, it was not of course an economic proposition. But on a much larger scale and when the value of raw materials has probably gone up, what at that time was only—shall I say?—an ingenious scientific experiment which was likely immediately to be useful inside factories, might well be something which might economically be introduced for the extraction of materials from the very large quantities of waste which are produced in London. The importance of the recycling of materials is illustrated by the fact that 63 per cent. of the output of steel in this country comes from scrap.

I had intended to say something about the appalling waste involved in the throwing away of bottles, but the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, has referred to that and has brought out the shocking fact that only 8 per cent. of glass containers is derived from cullets.

We must also remember the great danger of pollution—pollution of the land, of the air and of the water. In the European Economic Community there is growing concern at the increasing danger of the serious pollution of the North Sea. All this is an argument in favour of disposal of London's waste—and, as I say, the same applies to other great centres of population—by a highly organised expert quango at the centre of things to which material can be sent by local authorities.

The noble Baroness has drawn attention to the fact that a committee of the House of Commons is at the present time investigating the whole of this question of the possible recycling and reclamation of waste. I am very glad indeed that that is taking place in another place, and the noble Lord, Lord Irving of Dartford, has rendered a public service in ventilating the same matter in this House.

10.43 p.m.

Lord Rugby

My Lords, I should very much like to associate myself with the Unstarred Question of the noble Lord, Lord Irving of Dartford. The noble Lord has raised a very important point, not only for the urban area of London, but for the whole country. I am a countryman, and perhaps one of the biggest areas where we have an accumulation of scrap metals of all kinds is actually in the countryside, where we can also find other materials such as straw.

We find ourselves in the situation that the very type of person who is being dissuaded from starting a business is the very person who would recycle all those materials, bring them back into industry and clear up this mountain of scrap metal, and thus restore the countryside to some semblance of order. Therefore, I think that we should establish a change of heart in this country in our educational attitude to a technology which can only be brought out in our schools.

I believe that where we see, for instance, a television set which has had its day and is then put into a rubbish bin, the children who see that scrap should be taught by the people whom we put at the bottom end of the scale—namely, the scrap dealers—exactly how those valuable and vital metals can be extracted in an orderly way and put into their component parts to be identified, and eventually to find their way back into the various industries which can return them to usage.

When we ask for a Ministry, or even a portfolio, for recycling and reclamation, that should be an important portfolio, and perhaps more important than quite a number of other portfolios. It should be brought into our educational system, and those people who are recycling should be upgraded and be given a higher status than they are given at the moment.

10.46 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Irving, does the House and the national imperative a signal service in securing the time of the House for this important debate. He has demonstrated—although those of us who have known him over the years did not really need the demonstration—that he brings to this subject a unique blend of experience and expertise. They are not always the same thing. From his former service to the people of Dartford, right in the centre of the paper industry, he reminds us that that constituency interest has continued unchecked ever since.

His voice on these matters is valuable and important. I believe it has been listened to with attention and respect. He calls for a war on waste. I trust that the Minister found his speech as illuminating as did the whole House, and that the Minister will acknowledge this by making several important announcements here tonight. The noble Lord dealt with the nature of the industry. We also have to examine the political dimensions of what he said. In this I am encouraged by some of the remarks made by the noble Lord.

We have not been without firm guidance in these matters. Let me give one illustration. A Member of this noble House, Lord Gregson, lends his name to a valuable report, the Gregson Report, which reported in 1981 upon the disposal of hazardous waste. It emphasised the importance of control by waste disposal authorities and effective site licensing. It also drew attention to the waste disposal authorities' planning responsibilities, and concluded: The evidence makes very clear that districts and counties are not big enough units to plan facilities for hazardous waste disposal. Arisings and potential disposal sites often do not correspond; some areas have great geological and topographical problems; and specialist facilities need a large catchment area … the case for regional planning, which was supported by a wide cross-section of witnesses, is overwhelming". The Gregson Report recommended that waste disposal authorities should be formally linked into regional groups as waste disposal regions, and considered that such regionalisation should be formal. The report did not believe that the many informal arrangements in existence were capable of achieving the desired results. Nor would informal bodies be able to provide the scientific services envisaged.

With the Second Reading of the Bill to abolish the GLC and the six metropolitan counties last night in another place, we are faced tonight, and for some time to come, with an extra dimension to a debate of this kind. When we debate in this House next year all the aspects of that abolition Bill, we shall demonstrate service by service that the Bill is an ill-thought-out expedient, a hotch-potch, cobbled together for political ends. But tonight we cannot avoid putting this debate in the context of what the Government propose should be the organisation of our waste management services in the decades ahead. I can tell the Minister that those plans, as demonstrated by an earlier speaker this evening, fill his friends as well as his political enemies with dismay and despondency. As I heard the former Prime Minister, Mr Edward Heath, say last night, "We do seem to be upsetting a lot of people lately".

What do we find when we examine the situation? Sadly, the Government are proposing nothing less than the complete destruction of a system that has been carefully constructed, brick by brick, over the last 20 years and which is universally accepted as the only practical system of waste disposal control in a city of the size and complexity of London. Waste disposal in virtually every major capital city in the world is administered by a single, strategic, waste disposal authority. London in this context can be no exception. The record in waste disposal of the GLC and the metropolitan counties since their inception is impressive. Nowhere have the consultation papers which have been submitted sought to suggest otherwise.

Indeed, many of the advances the paper seeks to retain have come about only because of the expertise, the economy of scale and the high professional standard of the GLC and the metropolitan counties. There is not a single word justifying the abolition in the waste disposal consultation paper. There is not a single suggestion that the GLC and the metropolitan counties have failed to deliver the goods on any aspect of waste disposal management. The Government proposals—and we cannot divulge the proposals for the future; and that is tonight's topic: the future management of our waste disposal resources—in the future are certain to mean that different standards will operate in different boroughs. This is the very point that was made by the noble Lord opposite earlier.

Taken with rate-capping proposals, it is possible that economies may be required in certain areas which will make life uncomfortable for people. Waste disposal will become the Cinderella service of the boroughs. Revenue expenditure will be pared down to the bare, statutory minimum and significant capital investment will be halted. The Government proposals will take London and the metropolitan counties back to the inefficient, haphazard years before 1964 and in the long term will build up precisely that situation and those problems which those authorities inherited.

The Association of County Councils, which in most matters are to be relied upon to support this Government, were strong supporters of the abolition proposals per se; and the noble Lord has indicated his involvement here. Nevertheless, the Association of County Councils are distinctly unhappy when it comes to the waste disposal proposals. Clause 9 of the abolition Bill returns the waste disposal service to the London boroughs or the metropolitan districts. I can tell the Minister that the ACC feel strongly that waste disposal should be carried out by the largest practicable units.

I am told that, to the ACC, the GLC in particular and the metropolitan counties in general appear to have made a very good job since the reorganisation of waste disposal. I am told that so far as the shire counties are concerned, they view with depression the likely emerging need for the home counties to have to treat with, possibly, as many as 33 London boroughs, including the City, each of which may be independently seeking land-fill sites in the home counties. Not one authority; but 33 of them! There are fairly limited numbers of these and the more units that are responsible for waste disposal, the more competitive they will be and the fewer co-ordinated disposal operations there are, the more criss-crossing of lorry loads there will be on already overcrowded roads.

The House will forgive me if I share some of the pride which shone through the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, when she talked with justifiable pride of the excellent facility which I use, if not every week then every other week, because I live within a mile of the Barrowell Green facility. I can vouch for everything she said as being, typically, accurate and faithfully recorded. It is an excellent facility, and one which I simply suggest is better able to be provided—it may not have been provided at all by anyone else—by an authority with an over-view of the size of that of the GLC and the metropolitan authorities.

Reference has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Molson, to the Edmonton facility. Such a technological innovation must be capable of being funded and sustained over many years. I can recall when I was on the council in Enfield in the early 'sixties talking about things which are only now coming to fruition, in the middle 'eighties. It takes a number of years and sustained dedication in budget after budget to make these provisions.

At Edmonton, rubbish which is burned produces £3½ million-worth of electricity a year; and the GLC has successfully reclaimed natural gas from rubbish tips, which is then piped and sold to adjoining factories. The GLC is leading the country in bottle-bank schemes and recycling centres, recovering 100,000 gallons of oil, 8,000 tonnes of glass and 200 tonnes of tin. I believe that this is a remarkable record, which is part of the story; and I am glad that the noble Baroness took the opportunity to introduce it. It is part of the whole story of what a large authority such as the GLC can do.

Reference has already been made to the major work on refuse recovery and disposal by the GLC. I called for some background material from the GLC: no doubt the noble Baroness is better briefed than any of us. I have documents here entitled, No Time to Waste and Planning for London's Wastes. This might have been part of the documentation on the noble Baroness's desk when she returned and could not see the leather for the paper. It takes a bit of reading, but it is very impressive to see an authority being so far-reaching in considering what its responsibilities are.

I think the House ought to know of the responses made by some of the people who were consulted by the GLC on the forward-looking plans of the GLC. The Institute of Pubic Health Engineering said: The institution congratulates the GLC on the formidable array of statistics assembled, and the soundness both in economic terms and in flexibility of implementation of the courses of action proposed". The Institute of Wastes Management said: The Institute fully endorses all constituent parts of the planning statement". The Thurrock Borough Council said: The borough's concern is the prospect of responsibility for waste disposal being transferred to London Borough Councils. They endorse the reasons given in A Return to Victorian Standards for the retention of the GLC's responsibility for waste and instance the Aveley site". The Basildon District Council said: Generally the document is welcomed but severe concern is expressed that the constructive attitude taken by the GLC to its neighbours on waste disposal matters would inevitably be fragmented and lost in the event of London's waste disposal problems being split between the London Boroughs. The Kent County Council said: Your Council is informed that the needs of the capital are recognised and that positive plans for using waste for the reclamation of land in Kent will be welcomed". The Dartford Borough Council, well known to the noble Lord, Lord Irving, said: Welcome objectives for the use of waste material as a positive resource and the prevention of hazards to public health, improvement and protection of the environment and efficient operation at minimum costs". My Lords, time is pressing. What this debate has undoubtedly demonstrated is that with the growth of the "disposable society", the society of built-in obsolescence, there comes a terrifying responsibility for this Government—for any Government—at any time, but crucially now and over the next few years. What we expect from the Minister tonight is a clear, positive and concise statement of what the Government are doing and what they plan to do in the future. There can be few spheres of our economic life and of the better use of our resources that demand such a sure and steady hand to harness the energies of disparate organisations—regional and local government units, individuals, private organisations and professional bodies. This Government have made a bad start and are going from bad to worse. It can only get better, but we shall have to wait and see.

11 p.m.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I should like to begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Irving, on being able to persuade the usual channels that this Unstarred Question should be debated today. I know that the noble Lord started his niggling on 14th May this year when he asked a supplementary question to the Question of the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs. As the noble Lord said, it is quite fortuitous that this debate comes on the eve of the publication in another place of the report of the Trade and Industry Select Committee on the recycling of waste. Of course we have yet to see the report, but we await its findings with interest.

Government policy on waste recycling and reclamation is quite straightforward. In the words of that remarkable book 1066 and All That, it is a good thing. We fully recognise the importance of recycling and reclamation where this is technically and economically feasible. I do not believe that this is a policy that your Lordships would require me to justify. I agree with much that the noble Lord, Lord Irving, has said this evening. Recycling can reduce the call on raw materials and the energy required to process those materials. It can reduce the dependence of the United Kingdom, as a manufacturing nation and exporter of finished products, on imported materials. It can minimise the cost of disposal of waste to both industry and local authorities, as well as the local ratepayers and taxpayers, and also reduce the quantities of waste requiring final disposal; and, as an important spin-off, it can demonstrate that industry and local authorities are environmentally conscious.

There are obvious benefits to be gained if raw materials are conserved and unnecessary waste avoided. However, waste recycling and reclamation cannot be an end in itself. It must not use more resources or more energy in the recycling process than are saved by the re-use of the reclaimed materials. The incentives to recycle are equally straightforward. It is for local authorities and industry, who are most directly involved, to determine for themselves whether to opt for disposal or recycling—or a combination of both—taking account of the technical and economic advantages, providing of course that the option chosen is acceptable environmentally.

Equally, it is for those involved in production processes, that is the customer—or potential customer—for the reclaimed materials to choose between using raw or virgin materials and secondary materials. This will be based on normal commercial practice; that is, price, delivery time, amounts available, and so on.

But while recycling initiatives are very important, we must be careful not to precipitate sudden violent changes in the demand for products, thereby causing disruption to manufacturing industry. I am thinking here, for example, of the concern which has been expressed about the EC proposal for a Directive on beverage containers. The principle behind this draft directive is very commendable; that is, to reduce the consumption of energy and raw materials by encouraging the refilling and recycling of beverage containers. It is therefore fully in line with the Government's own philosophy. But what we do not want is to instigate a dramatic change in the market from, say, drink cans to glass bottles. The repercussions of such a change on employment in the steel industry and in can manufacturing might be serious. The Government are therefore trying to persuade our partners in the Community to adopt a recommendation instead of a Directive. A recommendation would allow us to take into consideration the particular circumstances of the United Kingdom market and to build on the voluntary arrangements which we already have and to which I shall turn later.

With considerations of this kind firmly in mind, it would not be appropriate or desirable for the Government to intervene in this decision-making process and it is certainly not our intention to introduce legislative requirements or controls in this respect. I know that a number of noble Lords have in the past taken the view that legislation is the best way to encourage greater recycling; for example, measures such as the Beverage Containers Bill which the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, brought before this House some time ago. The Government do not, then, share the view that either European or domestic legislation is necessary in this field.

As I have said, we believe that there are already ample incentives for recycling. Together with research and development and the setting up of pilot projects to demonstrate the efficiency of new recycling processes and, in particular, the merits of new technology, this provides adequate proof to all concerned that recycling and reclamation can and does work when conditions are right. But, as with all innovation, it requires investment and commitment on top of all that has been done if our long-term goals are to be achieved.

There are real difficulties in recycling waste; for instance, they may be economic. Recycled material must be competitive in terms of price, availability and quantity. The difficulties may also be technical. I am thinking especially that desirable developments in manufacturing technology can inhibit recycling of materials; for example, the adoption of laminated packaging to improve the shelf life of foodstuffs. Another inhibition is the fact that industrial processes have in the past usually been described with only the end production in mind, with little or no consideration for process wastes, and their potential for re-use, either in in-house or outside processes.

On the positive side, I have already referred to the success of United Kingdom industry in dealing with its industrial process wastes. There have been, in addition, important developments in other sectors of industry. For example, there is the glass industry's purpose-built glass recycling plants at Alloa, Worksop, Knottingly and Harlow, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs. I should like to tell my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes that Australia does not have things entirely its own way. I recommend that she questions me more deeply on the development of a plant in the Midlands to recycle waste automobile tyres to produce fuel and to extract scrap steel.

I also know of a scheme in East Sussex which is run by a local authority to produce fuel from mostly household refuse. I know of other schemes in the North-east of England. These are just a few of the diverse examples of industrial activity in the field of waste recycling and reclamation. All this I regard as industrial enlightened self-interest, and we are delighted to welcome the situation where one plant's waste is another's raw material. That is as it should be.

I also welcome the recent establishment by industry of the United Kingdom Reclamation Council, which will seek to, identify and examine particular cases which have reclamation and recycling potential". The Government will certainly give what support they can in pursuance of this worthy aim.

Local authorities also have an important role to play, and many have collaborated with industry on recycling schemes for mutual benefit, most notably in the fields of glass recycling through the Glass Manufacturers' Federation's bottle bank scheme, but also through the collection of ferrous, aluminium and other non-ferrous cans, the collection of waste, oil and paper (often at council civic amenity sites) and polyethylene-terephthalate plastic bottles. The bottle bank scheme has in particular proved very successful and is now operating in over 50 per cent. of local authorities. My department has been talking to the Glass Manufacturers' Federation about how we can increase this percentage.

For their own part, local authorities have long had the statutory powers to develop recycling schemes in their areas, and increasing numbers of authorities are considering waste recycling as a serious disposal option in order to reduce the amount of waste requiring final disposal, especially in large conurbations where, as was pointed out this evening, landfill space is becoming increasingly difficult to find. Some authorities have become directly involved in large-scale projects to produce energy from their municipal waste. We have heard from two of your Lordships this evening about the scheme at Edmonton. Similar schemes operate in Sheffield and Coventry.

Central Government is also a partner with local authorities and industry in certain research and development projects, and my own department's involvement in the fields of mechanical waste sorting and waste-derived fuel is an excellent example.

In conjunction with the Department of Trade and Industry's Warren Spring Laboratory, the DoE has given substantial financial and technical assistance in the development of the experimental plants at Newcastle and Doncaster for deriving fuel from municipal waste. The success of these experimental plants has led to further plants being commissioned in Merseyside and the West Midlands. The department has published a general guide to the use of waste as a fuel and recently helped organise a seminar for local authorities on resource recovery, which was a considerable success.

My noble friend Lady Gardner spoke of exciting developments on the waste recycling front from the GLC. I am always delighted to get good news from the GLC, but before I leave the role of the local authorities, I should like to say a word about this subject in relation to the Local Government Bill which had its Second Reading in another place yesterday; indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Graham, would not let me get away from this Dispatch Box this evening if I did not. This Bill devolves responsibility for waste regulation and disposal, including recycling, to the London boroughs and metropolitan districts. It emphasises that these authorities will need to satisfy my right honourable friend the Secretary of State that they have planned really effective co-operative arrangements for discharging these new functions, including proposals to ensure that proper standards are maintained. A reserve power for the Secretary of State to set up statutory joint arrangements is also provided for if voluntary co-operation does not materialise. But, my Lords, once local government has got over the culture shock and knows that abolition will go ahead in 1986, I do not believe that this will prove necessary, and so here I must take issue not only with the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, but also, regretfully, with my noble friend Lord Molson.

I dispute the claim that London, even though the scale and complexity of waste disposal is greater than elsewhere, is uniquely different in a way which could justify my counselling my right honourable friend to set up a waste quango for the capital. I would, however, be prepared to exert every effort to have waste collection competitively catered for and further to increase the involvement of the private sector in the operational aspects of both waste disposal and recycling. In this connection I would remind the noble Lord, Lord Graham, that one public company would solve the problems of the former.

On the GLC recycling plants enumerated by my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes, we know where all the existing ones are; but my noble friend spoke of four, I think, in the pipeline. Regretfully, we are not privy to the GLC's plans for the future. This is exactly the sort of information which we need concerning London boroughs in order to plan for abolition, but which the Greater London Council are not providing us with. This shows yet one more reason for the Local Government Interim Provisions Act which we passed this year.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, the noble Lord indicated that the Government were not aware of the plans of the GLC. We are talking of waste disposal. I am not an expert, but there were two documents. One was an attempt to comply with a statutory requirement to produce a plan. There are queries about the status of the plan, but this was the first attempt. Then there were the responses to it, including that from the Department of the Environment. Surely the plans for all aspects of waste reclamation are well known. Is the Minister referring to reluctance to cooperate with the Government in supplying statistics?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I was referring to the need for the GLC to provide information of all kinds, and not just statistics to both the successor bodies and the Government. Is the noble Lord saying that it is complete information on the subject? I rather doubt it. But perhaps I may be allowed to go on with my speech after that exchange.

I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, that we shall look at all aspects of the proposals for the future organisation of waste disposal which we have asked London boroughs to put forward to us by the end of February 1985; and that their proposals for the future of recycling facilities inherited from the GLC will be looked at very carefully. I see no reason why abolition should result in a reduction in those facilities.

The Government do not leave the development of waste recycling and reclamation entirely to local authorities. The Department of Energy, through its Energy Technology Support Unit at Harwell, supports a number of projects as part of its energy efficiency demonstration scheme fuel-from-waste programme. It also supports research and development, as I have already said, at the Warren Spring Laboratory and under the Department of Trade and Industry's support for innovation scheme.

I turn now to my department's role in encouraging recycling and reclamation. As I told the House on 14th May, we took the lead earlier this year by announcing our decision that in future all letter-headed stationery used in the Department of the Environment and the Property Services Agency will be made from 100 per cent. recycled paper, made in Britain—once, of course, existing stocks are exhausted. I am delighted to be able to tell the House that my speech this evening has also been typed on 100 per cent. recycled paper. The Department of Trade and Industry and the Welsh Office are, I know, considering the use of recycled paper and paper products. I would again urge all other public bodies to consider very seriously whether it makes sense for them to use more recycled paper. On that note, I would conclude by re-emphasising the Government's commitment to recycling and reclamation of waste materials where it is both cost-effective and practical to do so.

During the course of the debate I was asked a number of questions, some of which I am able to answer tonight; others I am not. The noble Lord, Lord Irving, in summary wanted to know the recent progress that had been made in glass recycling. I understand that 50 new bottle bank schemes were established in the United Kingdom last year, providing an additional 12,000 tonnes of glass for recycling and extending coverage of the scheme to nearly 300 district council areas. From all sources some 17,000 tonnes more glass was recovered in 1983 than in 1982, making the total of recycled glass last year around 127,000 tonnes. The noble Lord quoted the United Kingdom percentage recovery of glass in bottle banks as being about 5 per cent. It is, I am advised, approximately 10 per cent.

Several noble Lords were interested in the subject of waste paper collection. There has been a decline in the demand for paper products, and hence a reduction in the price of waste paper. That has meant that collection systems have been unable to operate profitably. The Department of Trade and Industry is seeking to increase usage in response to the 1981 EEC recommendation on the re-use of waste paper, though it should be said that the United Kingdom's record on waste paper recycling already compares favourably with that of other member states, with currently 56 per cent. of industry's total fibre requirement being met from waste paper.

There are some indications that markets for waste paper are improving. Virgin pulp prices have increased dramatically recently, mainly due to the weakness of the pound against the dollar, the main trading currency for paper. As a good environmentalist, I should like to think that the fears on acid rain would have had something to do with this as well. This has had the effect of stimulating demand for waste paper, and there are some reports of temporary shortages, although I am told that this may be due in part to increases in exports by merchants.

The noble Lord also spoke about Sections 12 to 14 of the Control of Pollution Act 1974. I accept that they could be an incentive for the recovery of materials from commercial waste. However, these provisions could also lead to increased costs for local authorities. The Government are now, however, seriously considering the appropriate time for implementation of these provisions.

The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, declared an interest, as chairman of the Keep Britain Tidy Group. I look forward to being recycled tomorrow when, for the second year running, I am to present the Kentucky Fried Chicken awards. The noble Lord also referred to the unimplemented provision in the Litter Act, requiring the preparation of litter plans by local authorities. The provision has not yet been brought into force because of the need to contain public expenditure. In the meantime, we do indeed highly regard the work of the Keep Britain Tidy Group, as I am sure the noble Lord knows.

The noble Lord, Lord Energlyn, spoke of a think tank, in my department, on the problems of waste recycling. I cannot go as far as that this evening. However, I am prepared to commit my department to examine all your Lordships' views as expressed this evening, in parallel with the Select Committee's report.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, asked me a whole range of questions—first, about co-operation between the three major departments. We will consider this in the light of the Select Committee's report, but I should not like to commit myself on the issue now. She asked about grant for small businesses wishing to collect waste materials. My provisional answer is that I see no reason why existing DTI and COSIRA help should not be available for small businesses wishing to carry out this activity, in the way that it is available for any other small business. But I will of course look into the details of this and let the noble Baroness know.

The noble Baroness asked for a list of schemes supported by the Government. The House absolutely detests being given, and I detest giving, shopping lists. That comment also refers to the noble Baroness's fourth question, on how many publications have been issued by the department. After this debate I shall provide her with one further good example carried out by the DoE and the Department of Trade and Industry together. Recycling is mentioned in the whole series of waste management papers provided by my department and the excellent sheets provided by the Department of Energy and the Technology Support Unit at Harwell. Again, I shall be delighted to give the noble Baroness copies of them at an appropriate moment.

I am confident that industry, in its own enlightened self-interest, and the local authorities, in response to the increasing need to reduce their disposal costs, are becoming increasingly attracted to the very real benefits that recycling and reclamation of waste materials offer as an alternative to, or as a complement to, disposal. It is accepted that market forces may not always be enough to ensure optimum recycling and reclamation in some areas. There is therefore a clear need for informed advice and information on new technologies and processes, and research and development, in order to stimulate and permit investment in the new technologies which are currently and potentially available.

Education and research, not formal legislative schemes, are, I believe, the answer to this need and the Government are pursuing this energetically within the inevitable limitation on resources. We shall continue to do so and to work closely with industry and the local authorities to achieve success.

House adjourned at twenty-five minutes past eleven o'clock.