HL Deb 25 July 1994 vol 557 cc565-90

5.50 p.m.

Lord Ezra rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what progress has been made in achieving their targets for the recycling of waste materials.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I wish to express appreciation to those noble Lords who, on a fine summer's day, are devoting their time to this Unstarred Question. It is an appropriate time to raise the whole question of the recycling of waste materials, in particular domestic waste. We are just about at the half-way point between 1989, when the Government first announced they were setting local authorities the target of recycling half of recyclable household waste, subsequently endorsed as 25 per cent. of household waste, and the target date of the year 2000. It is worth seeing the point we have reached and whether any changes may usefully be introduced in the policy.

The Environment Committee of another place issued a report on recycling on 6th July. In a well-reasoned and comprehensive document, it argued that the time has come to relate the 25 per cent. target more closely to local circumstances and to include other ways of dealing with waste, such as energy recovery schemes. I should declare that for many years I have personally been associated with the problems of waste management. I am president of the Recycling Council, and I am involved with firms dealing with various aspects of waste management, including energy recovery.

Waste management is an essential and integral part of the efforts of any country to achieve a more sustainable pattern of development It is especially important in advanced economies such as ours where an abundance of resources and products has led us into a consumption trend in which a great deal of waste is produced. OECD countries are estimated to have increased their waste arisings by 26 per cent. between the mid-1970s and the late 1980s. Principle 8 of the Rio Declaration on Sustainable Development calls on all signatory states to reduce and eliminate unsustainable patterns of production and consumption. In my opinion, waste management is an essential element in the UK's commitment to sustainable development. We need to look at recycling in that context.

I believe that the Government were right to draw attention to the issue in dramatic fashion by establishing the 25 per cent. target. In 1989, when the target was set, the national average rate of the recycling of domestic waste was in the region of 2 to 3 per cent. The most recent information suggests that the average rate is between 5 and 6 per cent. That is a long way off the 25 per cent. target.

There is a wide range of achievement behind the average figures, as one would expect. For instance, as has been widely reported, Adur District Council reached the target rate by the end of last year and intends to go well beyond it by the year 2000. A number of other councils, such as Milton Keynes and Sheffield, have noticeably exceeded the national average. However, the low average figures emphasise the difficulties that are being encountered by the majority of councils.

It is interesting to note that other European countries have encountered a similar situation in relation to recycling targets. For example, in Germany some very high rates—up to 70 per cent.—have been achieved in sample communities of about 100 households. High rates are much more difficult to sustain on a larger scale. The reason is that householders need to be strongly motivated, with constant prompting and inducements, to maintain high separation rates.

Another factor affecting the achievement of higher rates of recycling is the big range of difference in the market value of recycled materials. For example, at the top end of the range, aluminium fetches in the region of £300 to £600 per tonne, which works out on average at about one penny per can. At the other end of the scale is waste paper, which is the most plentiful form of recyclable material and which often costs more to collect than it is worth in the market.

Who is responsible for ensuring that the recycling targets are achieved? In the UK, responsibilities for waste collection and disposal are invested in the local authorities. District councils are established as waste collection authorities. They are the people who ensure that dustcarts visit our doorsteps each week—more frequently if we are lucky—to remove our waste. They have a major role to play in the recycling system. County councils are established as waste disposal authorities and are able to take a strategic view of planning systems and networks. In the metropolitan areas', collection and disposal functions are combined. Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, Sections 49, 50 and 51, both collection and disposal authorities are given duties for recycling.

Recycling plans have to be produced by district and borough councils. These plans detail what action will be taken and what is expected to be achieved. There are 366 schemes, all of which aim to achieve the 25 per cent. target. But what will be their ability to do so in view of the cost of recycling systems and the difficulty of securing markets for recycled products?

A number of local initiatives have been tried, such as bottle, paper or can banks; or kerbside separation of waste. But if large quantities are to be handled a more strategic approach is required with the establishment of centrally-sited materials recycling facilities (MRFs), which disposal authorities would seem best placed to provide.

I have seen MRFs in action in Hampshire and in scale they certainly surpass other systems. I cite the county council and 13 district councils of Hampshire as an example of local authority partnership pursuing a policy of integrated waste management. I have had a number of dealings with the county council and I have attended some of its conferences. I am much impressed with its approach to the question of waste management as set out in its recent publication The Way Forward. It analyses the flow of waste materials into long-term markets, provides for a system of regional recycling, processing and treatment units and includes other methods of dealing with waste, such as energy recovery.

It seems to me that this is the way in which the issue should be handled from now on, particularly in view of the major problem presented by the availability of landfill. Suitable and safe sites are increasingly difficult to find. The costs of landfill are going up, irrespective of whether there is to be a landfill levy. Thus we can no longer consider landfill as the easy, cheap and simple solution to waste disposal.

There have been a number of interesting initiatives in energy recovery from waste. I have the honour to be the independent chairman of Sheffield Heat and Power Limited. The company was set up under the initiative of the Sheffield City Council to make use of the waste heat from the city incinerator. This waste heat, through a system of hot water pipes, provides heat to a large and growing part of the city of Sheffield. This form of heat replaces alternatives, all of which would add to emissions into the atmosphere. Other examples of energy-to-waste, in this case converting domestic waste into electricity, are provided by the plant at Edmonton, which has operated for some time, and also that in south-east London where the recently constructed SELCHP plant is taking some 400,000 tonnes of waste from two neighbouring boroughs and generating 32mw. of electricity. I believe that the noble Earl, Lord Arran— I thought he would be replying to the debate but other events have intervened—has visited the SELCHP plant, which is operating to full capacity. Schemes such as those demonstrate the benefits of adopting an integrated policy towards waste management.

The essential feature of a waste management strategy is that it must embrace the hierarchy of waste management options: first, minimise the production of waste; secondly, re-use and recycle materials wherever practicable; thirdly, recover energy from waste; and, finally, use landfill for final minimal disposal. A broad-based integrated waste management strategy is needed to achieve that hierarchy.

I should like to ask the following questions of the Government. First, do they consider that the time has now come to broaden waste recovery objectives as advocated in the Select Committee's report on recycling to which I referred? Secondly, do they consider that energy from waste plants should play a major role in a revised policy? My attention was recently drawn to a statement by Mr. Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment, on 20th July in response to the Royal Commission's report on the incineration of waste in which he seemed to support that view. Thirdly, will the Government encourage local authorities with waste collection and disposal responsibilities to combine as appropriate to prepare integrated waste management strategies on the lines initiated by the county and district councils in Hampshire?

Lord Renton

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, in the course of his extremely interesting speech I did not hear him mention plastic waste, of which there are very large quantities. That is part of household waste—especially bottles and containers. So far, local authorities have not got round to doing anything about that. Is he able to help us at all about that?

Lord Ezra

My Lords, the noble Lord is right. There are large amounts of plastic waste. I did not go through all the elements of waste. The problem in relation to plastic is that the different types of plastic must be separated in order to achieve the greatest value. It is not sufficient merely to put together all plastic elements. Therefore, that has created a real problem.

I know that a great deal of work has been done in the area, but, again, it illustrates the problem of taking recycling beyond its economic viability, which was one of the main thrusts of my remarks.

6.2 p.m.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, as usual, the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, has chosen a particularly good day on which to introduce his Unstarred Question because it falls outside all the hurly-burly of other matters which have occupied us over the past few weeks. While the noble Lord may feel extremely passionately about recycling and waste disposal, the summer months and the months going into the autumn will give many of us an opportunity to think more coolly about the problem.

The noble Lord explained, in his usual clear way, some of the problems. He mentioned the fact that the Government have introduced those targets and he felt that that was extremely good. I believe that the introduction of targets which are not attainable has a detrimental effect. Although the target came down finally to 25 per cent., the noble Lord explained that achievements are more generally in the region of 5 to 6 per cent. He asked why that should be.

The noble Lord drew attention to the value of some of the waste and to who wants it. Years and years ago boy scouts collected wastepaper and made enormous amounts of money. But who wants it today? The only piece of usable waste in the household bin is the aluminium can. Very broadly, that is due to the efforts of the steel industry in manufacturing a can which is easily collectable and, in particular, easily recyclable.

The noble Lord went on to describe a number of aspects, one of which was the motivation for collection in the household sector. I wonder whether the Government will pay heed to the House of Commons environmental committee report which the noble Lord praised. I endorse that praise and I should add that I found it to be an extremely readable document. At paragraph 149, one of its secondary recommendations is the provision of what it calls recycling credits to third parties. That might give a spur to those third parties to make a greater effort.

Later in my speech I wish to turn to the district and borough council efforts within that context. But essentially in his concluding remarks the noble Lord said that we should be spending a great deal of time on the minimisation of waste. Two matters arise from that. First, in 1992 the motor industry, with which I am rather more familiar although I have no interest to declare, with the Bird Group and the United Engineering Steels, set up ACORD —the Automotive Consortium on Recycling and Disposal.

A great deal has happened since that time. It has now been established that certainly by the year 2015—which may seem a long way away but within the context of the motor car manufacturer it is not a long time at all— about 95 per cent. of the body weight of a vehicle will be recyclable. That is a fairly good achievement, and to me that demonstrates the necessity to target quite specifically and explicitly various industries rather than treating waste as one great pile of stuff which includes plastic bottles, hazardous hospital waste and so on. It seems to me that that would be a better way forward.

However, what struck me only recently was that the Department of Trade and Industry, through the Minister, Neil Hamilton, at a meeting in June when the first year results of a programme in the North West of England called Project Catalyst were announced, said: We hope these results will help convince companies that waste minimisation could work for them as it has for the companies who took part in Project Catalyst. This is a powerful message which we are keen to promote". Despite the ministerial enthusiasm for that, the DTI has declared that it will not sponsor any further regional waste minimisation projects along the lines of Project Catalyst. It said: We would want to avoid supporting something that has already been done". That might have been done and done very successfully in the North of England, but there are other places where sponsorship—I suppose that one could call it pump-priming —could have a significant value. It could show more people what can be done and could demonstrate the value to a company of designing into the product its waste and its waste disposal.

I believe that it is rather sad that, on the one hand, the Government make those exhortations and yet fail to put their money where their mouth is. It does not need a lot of money.

In the report at paragraph 65, the committee deals at some length with the subject of landfill. In that regard I should declare an interest in that I am an adviser to the National Association of Waste Disposal Contractors. But I should explain—and the reason will be clear in a very short while—that not only is that association comprised of big and small companies in the business of waste disposal but it is engaged also in the business of waste management. Paragraph 65 of the report states that there is no sense at this time in imposing a landfill levy. I hope that the Government will follow that piece of advice.

Up until a short while ago—up to the time of the Environmental Protection Act—it was the practice to dump everything into a hole and call it landfill. However, now that the regulations are very much more strict that option becomes less acceptable.

Alongside the recommendation to which I referred, the committee also makes another recommendation in paragraph 56 encouraging the Department of the Environment to commission a study into the environmental benefits and externalities of recycling. Noble Lords may remember that the department commissioned a report, commonly known as the Pearce Report, on the environmental externalities of landfill. It was a most hopeless document, conjuring, as it did, figures out of the air with no substantiation whatever. Indeed, it was a mishmash of half a dozen people making their contributions to a report. However, my understanding is that the report has been shelved. If the DoE commissions work of that nature, I hope that it will be on a rather more pragmatic basis than the last effort.

I said that I wished to mention something about the district and borough councils being the responsible authorities for promoting schemes and plans for waste as regards both disposal and recycling. It is most disappointing—and I believe that the failure of a number of district and borough councils to come forward with a meaningful plan and actually implement it is significant—to note that over two-thirds of local government collection contracts remain under the control of local government organisations, the DSOs. For example, of the 376 contracts awarded in England and Wales since the introduction of compulsory competitive tendering, 67.6 per cent. (254) have been won by client authority DSOs.

But I am not very surprised about that. When I look at some of the figures contained in the tendering documents, it is abundantly clear that DSOs load in so many factors which could easily be omitted. Were the CCT arrangements more sensibly adopted and more aggressively monitored by the department, I believe that we would see very many more outside contracting companies from the industry being able to make a very much more significant impact.

Alongside the latter there is the problem which again was reported quite recently; namely, that of the European directive on co-disposal of landfill. Apparently the Government have signed up to the directive, but now the department has conceded that the wording is ambiguous and is not sure just how such co-disposal sites are to operate. There seems to be a good deal of confusion on the government side as to exactly where we are going—and, like the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, I think that the minimising of waste is the first and primary objective—what we are going to do when we get the stuff and how we are to fit in with our European colleagues.

It is a big problem and much has to be done. It is easy in your Lordships' House to make the declaration that we do over so many things—that something must be done—and then rush into all sorts of rather hare-brained schemes which fail dismally to achieve the results and yet cost manufacturers, the public and eventually everyone concerned enormous amounts of money. Therefore, whatever the Government propose to do in implementing at least some of the Select Committee's principal recommendations, I hope that they will think a fairly long way ahead with a plan that can be implemented and that they will support its implementation.

6.15 p.m.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, for introducing the debate. As a vice-president of Waste Watch I take a keen interest in the progress of recycling in this country. As we have heard, the 25 per cent. target refers only to domestic waste but the annual waste production, if I may put it that way, in this country is 400 million tonnes. As an example of how that figure is broken down I should tell the House that agriculture is responsible for 80 million tonnes and that mining and quarrying are responsible for 110 million tonnes. Therefore, the 25 per cent. of household waste, admirable though it may be as a target, is really peanuts in the overall picture of waste production which amounts to 15 million tonnes from weekly household collections throughout the country.

It is worth noting at this point that we imported 47,000 tonnes of hazardous waste in 1991–92. Perhaps the noble Earl who is to respond can tell the House whether we import waste other than hazardous waste. I know that that was the case at one time, but I am rather hoping that that no longer happens. Perhaps the noble Earl could enlighten us on that point when he replies. Although I welcome the setting of a target for domestic waste, it should be understood that that is a minimal part of the problem. We should not ignore the far larger problem of waste from other sources.

The three R's of waste, which were referred to under another title by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, are: reduce, re-use and recycle. I believe that it is widely recognised that recycling comes last in that hierarchy and that reduce comes first. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, was very firm on that point. For obvious economic and environmental reasons it is better to reduce the amount of waste produced to begin with. That was the first recommendation in the Select Committee's report which has just come from another place. It would be encouraging to hear that the Department of the Environment has taken the report's recommendations seriously. I hope that the noble Earl will be able to give us some encouraging comments in that respect when he responds. I also hope that he will tell us how such recommendations are to be achieved, especially in industry, if the Government support them.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, referred to Project Catalyst which, I understand, has been most successful. However, perhaps I may give the House some figures in that respect which I do not believe the noble Lord quoted. In fact, 14 companies took part in the project and they say that they have saved £8.9 million per year as a result of the operation. That is an important sum by anyone's standards. I hope that the Department of Trade and Industry will think again before it withdraws its support from pushing that project forward in other parts of the country. I believe that more than one project is needed before the whole concept takes off.

The second item in the hierarchy, which is re-use— primarily of packaging and returnable containers— seems to grow less viable as transport and handling costs increase. However, where it can be used the savings to the environment are very considerable, especially in terms of the energy saved in remaking the objects which have been re-used. But the greatest hazards for a successful recycling programme are the maintenance of markets, which was mentioned by both previous speakers. In the case of domestic waste, efficient and reliable arrangements for collection come second to that consideration.

There is a growing willingness among members of the public to take part in recycling exercises. I am sure we have all taken part in those exercises and know others who are doing so. A number of local authorities have received approaches from housing estates asking for recycling facilities to be provided. The increase in the amounts collected, even with the present primitive and inadequate arrangements, is proof of a good degree of public support. However, we must find ways of making recycling easier. At the moment unless one has a car, or access to a car, and is prepared to drive to the nearest centre, there is not really much alternative to putting one's recyclable waste in the dustbin. I believe that apart from Sheffield, and one or two other places where small experiments in this field have been tried, no place has offered kerbside collections.

The question of markets for the materials collected is, of course, even more complex. As we know, the paper market fluctuates considerably. Incidentally, I should mention that I collected some envelopes from the Printed Paper Office this week which used to bear the recycled paper mark in the bottom corner, but that is no longer the case. I hope that does not mean that we have ceased to supply recycled paper envelopes in your Lordships' House. I believe that we should be setting an example.

Glass and aluminium have assured markets and so, I have recently discovered, have textiles. I was recently involved in a seminar, organised by Waste Watch, on textile recycling and I was interested to discover that it is one of the oldest recycling activities and is still one of the most successful. In fact, the various industries involved would welcome an increase in supplies of textiles, yet this particular area was not listed in the Select Committee's report and as far as I know it receives scant attention in most publicity exercises.

I might mention to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, who mentioned plastics in his intervention, that I discovered at the seminar that a particular kind of plastic bottle is in great demand because it can be taken down to its elemental fibres and made into very expensive fashion garments. The industry cannot get enough of that particular plastic at the moment. It is used to make those furry things which are so fashionable. They are often made from old plastic bottles. That is encouraging. Perhaps the noble Lord would also like to know that although the input of plastic into the waste stream in terms of numbers has increased dramatically over the past decade, in terms of weight it has scarcely increased at all because all the manufacturers of plastics have gone in for what is called "thinning" which means they use far less in each item that they produce. Therefore, the situation is not quite as desperate as it may seem.

However, markets for recyclables must be developed and encouraged if we are to achieve and to maintain the target. It is not enough just to achieve the target grandly in the year 2000 and then to fall back because we fail to maintain the markets. It would be helpful if major purchasers such as the Government would require a minimum recycled content in all their purchases. This can be done if due notice is given to suppliers of goods to various government departments. Eventually, going beyond household waste, surely there is scope for ways to apply the three Rs to industrial waste. I mentioned reduction earlier on. One obvious application would be to use recycled materials in road construction. This would have a double benefit in that the use of recycled materials in road construction would reduce the impact of mineral extraction on the countryside which, as your Lordships will know, causes great anguish to CPRE and other bodies.

As the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, said, recycling is an important element in the Government's attempts to achieve sustainable development, and I know that the Committee of your Lordships' House which is sitting on this subject at the moment is about to turn its attention to waste and no doubt will mention recycling. However, that requires a positive approach from all departments and it simply cannot be pigeon-holed as a responsibility of the Department of the Environment. I repeat that I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, for giving us the opportunity to debate this subject. I hope that the Department of the Environment is to produce a serious answer.

6.25 p.m.

Lord Nathan

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, for putting down this Question because his great knowledge in relation to waste management, upon which he spoke today, is illuminating and is vitally important.

It is not that I am uninterested in waste management as a whole: I am indeed very interested in it. I am also very interested in minimising waste, but I thought that in this short debate I would focus rather on the question of markets, very much on the lines of the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol. That means that one has to consider what exactly it is that one is talking about in relation to recycling.

I think there is a measure of confusion, not in your Lordships' House but elsewhere, over what recycling is. It seems to me that it can be quite simply defined as the separation of reusable products from other rubbish at source (or at a central sorting facility) and processing the reusable products so that they can be substituted for virgin materials at manufacturing plants. Put in another way, it is the return to commerce of those products from the waste stream which can be reused. I put this to your Lordships at some length because I think there is some confusion with regard to recycling, incineration and generation of power from waste which seems to me to be an entirely different though important matter.

Incineration, even for the purpose of generating electricity, is not recycling (though some would like to believe it is) and to treat it as if it were fudges the issue, sometimes intentionally, to indicate that targets have been achieved which have not been achieved. The target which has been set by the Government is 25 per cent. recycling of domestic waste. That may be good or it may be bad, but that is the target that the Government set. It does not include, to my mind, incineration.

It has been said that recycling will be undertaken only if costs of landfill are raised, and to that end some have suggested the imposition of a landfill levy. Clearly no local authority, or anyone else, is going to embark on recycling if disposal to landfill is far cheaper. If landfill standards were to be substantially improved, costs would inevitably rise and there would be a concurrent improvement in environmental standards. That surely is the course to pursue and it is urgently required for good environmental reasons. Its impact on recycling should be regarded as incidental. It would be interesting, if the Minister felt able to do so, to indicate what the policy of government is in this regard, and in particular their attitude to the proposals coming out of the European Commission.

The key factor in promoting recycling is the development of markets for the recycled materials. Collection has widespread popular support and it also has moral support among the public generally in that the public support sustainability. That is widely supported in the community. Were it not so, collection points such as bottle banks and so forth would not have been set up. However, no business can be created without the existence of a market for the recycled products. Indeed the impact on the wider economy of dumping quantities of unwanted materials can be catastrophic, as was exemplified in the German DSD experience. The position in that regard is well summarised in the report on recycling—to which reference has been made by each speaker this evening—of the House of Commons Select Committee on the Environment at paragraphs 77 to 81.

In brief, DSD, a public limited company, undertook for packaging distributors their legal obligation for the recovery of packaging waste. The scheme vastly increased the amount of waste collected for recycling in Germany, and much of the paper and plastics collected was sold on the open market in the European Union. As a result, surpluses and consequent falls in price were experienced throughout the European Union. It was a serious setback to European recycling efforts. Therefore, collection of waste for recycling and the manufacture of recycled products without a market can produce disastrous results.

Markets for recycled materials extend not only to the manufacturers who use them but also the users of the finished products. So recycled plastic may not be usable in the food industry. Likewise, there is a question among certain supermarkets as to whether they are prepared to accept recycled plastic bags or whether they require those plastic bags to be made from virgin material.

Have the Government specific programmes and policies for the development of such markets? Do they require that government offices shall use specific proportions of recycled materials in products they use? I had noted that their use of recycled paper is well known, but in the light of what the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, said, perhaps I should revise that sentence in what I intended to say. Do the Government seek to influence their suppliers and agencies, offshoots and others, which between them create a substantial demand?

Of course there has been a general increase in recycling—and its products—in the United States as well as in the European Union. Therefore it is of the first importance that the Government in pursuing their recycling policies should bear those factors in mind.

In a report in The Times of 20th July (on page 26) reference is made to a programme of Aylesford Newsprint to increase its production of newsprint in the coming year from recycled newspapers and magazines by some 280,000 tonnes per year and that about 25 per cent. of that increased production will be exported. That is an exciting prospect and it would be useful if the Minister could say something about the basis of the grant and the impact of the increased production.

The 25 per cent. target for recycling relates, as I said, to domestic waste streams. Do the Government consider that it would be helpful either in relation to the process of collection, recycling or the establishment of markets if local authorities were also to address commercial and industrial waste streams when introducing the recycling projects and developing recycling strategies?

It is generally believed that recycling is "a good thing" and that it is environmentally beneficial and contributes to sustainability. However, it seems that not much consideration has been given to pollution and other environmental disbenefits arising from the whole process: for instance, collection and journeys to collection centres by the public, the impact of spillage and litter there, transport to the processing plant and the impact in the processing plant itself. It would be helpful if the Government could give some response to the question as to whether any inquiry has been made in these fields, which are of importance to the public who, as I have said, are very favourably disposed to the whole project. Every encouragement should be given.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may ask him a question relative to his remarks about a landfill levy against the background of the Select Committee's report, with which he will be familiar. I paraphrase the Committee's fourth recommendation that it is clear that new regulations affecting landfill sites under the EPA brought into effect in May 1994 will increase landfill costs. The Committee does not believe that there is a case for the imposition of a landfill levy at the present time. Should circumstances change it may be necessary to look at the matter again. Does the noble Lord dissent from that view at this time, or does he want to see, as suggested by his remarks, an immediate levy?

Lord Nathan

My Lords, I certainly do not think that a levy of any kind now or in the future is the right course. I believe that the right course is the improvement of standards, possibly by pre-treatment of waste before it is put into landfill and the whole question of leachate treatment and the finishing off and covering of sites. I believe that the effect of the increased standards that would be required would be the closure of many sites. I do not believe that a levy is the right course.

6.35 p.m.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, for having given us the opportunity for the debate. When the noble Lord opened the debate I thought that he said it all. However, I have been fascinated to hear others add usefully to what he said. I shall similarly endeavour not to waste your Lordships' time.

This is a most important topic and one of international concern. I remember debating the issue as a Member of the European Parliament some 10 or more years ago. Much more recently we have considered the issue in debates and in the course of committee work in the Council of Europe. Like the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, I shall be glad to hear from my noble friend the Minister at the end of the debate the latest developments and requirements on the European Union front in particular.

At its worst the international aspect means, as has been said, that waste may be shipped around the world and end up in our back yard. There is also the effect of the German experience on recycling markets. The noble Lord, Lord Nathan, referred to that. Nevertheless, the ideal is that we should be able to ensure internationally that we pool our knowledge and experience for the benefit of everyone.

I speak today as the President of Waste Watch, which is the national agency for co-ordinating the activities of local voluntary bodies together with industry and local authorities in order to educate not only the public in general but also the Government and people close to government. It was the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, who got me involved with Waste Watch in the first place. Therefore, it is most appropriate that I should contribute to the debate.

We can point in Waste Watch to many excellent local projects which are taking place up and down the country. It never ceases to amaze me how inventive people can be when they get involved. A typical national effort is a "waste line" for centralised recycling inquiries, while information is supplied both of a national and local nature. A very successful "Watch your Waste" campaign involved a pledge to which many of your Lordships as well as many Members of Parliament signed up. Indeed, all the relevant Ministers and the Prime Minister agreed to sign. From the look on the face of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, it appears that he may not have done so, but I am sure that he will be only too happy to rectify that. I hope that my noble friend the recently appointed Minister at the Department of the Environment will also be inclined to follow suit.

All these ideas, projects and initiatives are useful and important to the educational approach and to recycling. It is vital that we use every possible method to change attitudes. I am happy that the Government support the efforts of Waste Watch both in funding and at a personal level. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State attended a recent seminar and spoke convincingly. My honourable friend the Minister for the Environment, Mr. Robert Atkins, also spoke at the recent annual conference. I therefore believe that the Government are putting their mouth and money behind Waste Watch.

As a number of contributors to the debate have said, waste minimisation must be the first aim. That involves less packaging, and manufacturing items for durability. I was interested to learn at the recent Waste Watch conference that a vast number of consumer goods are thrown away each year. I do not refer to every-day short-life items, but to six million kitchen appliances, three million vacuum cleaners and two million cars— all at a considerable environmental cost. Increasing the lifespan of products would provide a more fundamental response. I believe that increasing the durability of goods is a matter to be tackled at the appropriate level.

There are other ideas under the waste minimising heading. No one has referred to the compost initiative; it is one of the latest initiatives. The London borough of Sutton has sought to reintroduce home composting by offering a choice of compost units to residents. Local community groups have also been involved in encouraging residents to adopt that initiative which could be undertaken more widely and thereby minimise the amount of waste and cost of collection.

I recognise that waste minimisation involves changing attitudes and habits. That may be difficult. After all, recycling requires positive action. One has to take bottles to the bottle bank; one takes cans to be crushed; and one takes paper to be disposed of. One can obtain satisfaction from doing so. The problem about undertaking less recycling is that one does not attain the same feeling of satisfaction. It is therefore important that we tackle the issue on an educational level.

Perhaps I may cite another small example, although, spread across the country, it may not be so small. Sainsbury's rewards people for re-using one of its plastic bag; it refunds lp. That may answer the question raised by my noble friend Lord Renton. The idea could be carried out more widely.

Most of the other points that I had intended to raise have already been referred to. I look forward with great interest to hearing the Minister.

6.45 p.m.

Lord McNair

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend Lord Ezra for introducing the debate in such a comprehensive way. The problem about speaking later in such a debate is that those noble Lords who are more experienced have already spoken and most of what one would have said has already been said.

I am not sure whether my noble friend considered that we should back away from the 25 per cent. target or whether he thought that we should go for it and seek energy recovery. I believe that it is important that we should stick to targets; and I believe that the Government may be slipping back. It is easy to make the right noises and then quietly to retreat from the position that one has adopted. I fear that that may be happening.

There is a role for energy recovery. However, I would hope to see the proportion of goods that we recycle increased at the expense of landfill. We should do everything we can to recycle.

I noted in an article in Materials Reclamation Weekly this month that Cardiff is also about to achieve the target of 25 per cent. Many councils have exceeded the target. There may be special circumstances in such cases. But if some councils are able to attain the target, I believe that the main ingredient of the success must be political will, and it is that will which is lacking where the target has not been reached.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, partly answered this question. Has the Department of the Environment any official system for monitoring and collating information about action that is being taken in one part of the country which could usefully be applied in other parts? I refer to policy initiatives, methods of organising people or technical breakthroughs.

The noble Lord, Lord Nathan, has referred to the problem that the German regulations have caused for several European countries. I had thought that the problem applied only to Britain. Could environmental policy be co-ordinated? I realise that regulations and directives come from Europe to the various countries. However, the implementation of those policies and directives needs to be co-ordinated to ensure that we do not endlessly recycle recycled products from one country to another.

The environmental Select Committee, of which I was a member, was invited to visit Marks & Spencer. That company obviously sought to impress us. I do not know how willingly it would share its information with other companies, but in implementing good recycling and waste minimisation policies it had achieved economic benefits. What that company was undertaking was remarkable. There are lessons to be learned from such action.

6.49 p.m.

Lord St.John of Bletso

My Lords, ambitious goals are never to be discouraged. However, those goals must be realistic if they are to be useful. When the Secretary of State for the Environment, Mr. John Gummer, recently declared that the Government's objective was for 25 per cent. of all domestic waste in this country to be recycled by the turn of the century, many experts in the industry, and many noble Lords who have already spoken today, were less than convinced that that could or would be achieved.

What can be established beyond dispute is that today barely 6 per cent.—I believe that that was the figure mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra—of Britain's household waste is being recycled. Clearly there is an enormous amount of work to be done. As the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, has already mentioned, domestic waste makes up a small percentage of the overall amount of waste produced every year in Britain.

Against that background I am pleased that this afternoon's debate has focused on those policies and measures which can bring these important goals within reach. I join in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, who is rightly recognised in this House as one of the most committed and knowledgeable environmental spokesmen, for introducing today's debate.

I should like to concentrate my remarks on the issue of how the recycling of household waste can be made affordable, and to propose that the best way forward would be to promote a shared responsibility among consumers, recycling service providers, product makers and of course the Government.

Affordability is perhaps the major stumbling block. The principle of recycling is supported by almost everyone. But this enthusiasm tends to wilt as the costs mount. There is a need for the Government to sponsor more national education programmes on recycling. The reality is that recycling and energy recovery are not cheap options. There are a number of recognised systems for recycling domestic waste, from source-separation techniques such as those that have been developed in Scandinavia to those which have already been discussed which are currently practised in Germany. But, whatever the method, the procedure has shown itself to be expensive.

The cost to local authorities of achieving the Government's targets will probably result in higher council taxes. It should be appreciated that the purpose of recycling is not to save money but to save natural resources and to protect the environment.

Of course, government policy has primarily, and quite rightly, been aimed at reducing the amounts of waste created at source. These include clean technologies, on-site re-use and recovery of materials used in production such as packaging.

The Environmental Protection Act introduced competitive tendering to promote more affordable recycling of household waste. Yet the fact remains that when push comes to push and shove to shove in the boardrooms and council chambers across the country, it still works out much cheaper to landfill rather than to recycle. When faced with a decision to have materials recycled or developing waste-to-energy facilities rather than disposal-to-landfill, most find the price differential—typically £10 to £30 per tonne—too much and sign up their waste to landfill. I fear that this practice will continue to be the case until the Government take action to increase disposal costs.

One proposal which is supported by the waste industry itself is not to impose the punitive landfill tax that the Government are considering but to raise the required standards of disposal to landfill, restrict the types of waste that can be landfilled without pre-treatment and close down a multitude of poor quality sites that currently exist and have no prospect of being upgraded to modern standards. Such measures could substantially raise the cost of landfill, causing waste producers to re-examine their costs against the benefits of savings in adopting recycling and minimisation. The environment will certainly benefit all round, with less material sent for disposal, preservation of scarce resources and higher environmental standards at the remaining landfill sites. That seems to be a positive scenario, but it is one that the Government do not appear to have acknowledged.

It is also true that the high costs of recycling could be partially recouped by the improved marketing of recycled materials. That point has already been raised most eloquently by my noble friend Lord Nathan in his speech on the market for recycled goods. There appears to be a degree of consumer reluctance to buy many recycled goods. There is the perception that they are second-hand goods. It is well known that for a waste disposal contractor to operate effectively in the United Kingdom an enormous amount of capital injection is required for them to establish the recycling infrastructure for the collection, the sorting and the marketing of the materials to be recycled.

The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, has already mentioned the Milton Keynes Borough Council, which has opened, I understand, Britain's largest recycling plant at a cost of £6 million and spends a further £100,000 a year on running the plant. The costs of collecting the waste, at £60 to £100 a tonne, add a further £800,000 a year to the bill. However, according to the council, most of that amount is recovered through the sale of its recycled products to manufacturers in the region. It is estimated that Milton Keynes already makes a profit on metals and plastics and is close to break-even point on paper and glass.

Unfortunately, however, Milton Keynes is only one of a handful of local authorities which have made significant progress towards the household recycling target. Many more councils will have to follow its lead if the Government's target of 25 per cent. of all domestic waste by the turn of the century is to be achieved.

Perhaps the Government could refocus some of their attentions away from the various schemes to collect and process waste to encouraging more of an after-market for the sale of the recycled materials—for in all the uncertainty there is one issue that is beyond doubt: there is no point in collecting and recycling domestic waste if no one uses it. Before I stood up, my noble friend Lord Nathan asked me to pass the question to the Minister as to what degree the Government can give assurances that, if their target of 25 per cent. of all domestic waste is recycled by all councils, there will be an after-market for all the recycled products.

The Question of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, was what progress has been made in achieving the Government's 25 per cent. target for the recycling of domestic waste. Against what many noble Lords have said today and the reservations expressed by experts in the waste industry, I believe that with a clear, concise policy and, most importantly, with a shared responsibility among consumers, recycling service providers, product makers and government, that target could potentially be achieved. Ultimately, however, the Government must take the lead.

6.59 p.m.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

My Lords, the gratitude of the whole House is due to my noble friend Lord Ezra, not only for initiating a most informative and interesting debate but for making us focus on this question of the recycling of waste and the progress, or lack of progress, towards the Government's target of a 25 per cent. reduction by the year 2000. I hope that when the noble Earl replies he will find himself able to respond fully to the three specific questions asked by my noble friend.

There is a tendency now among the chattering classes to think that somehow the environmental issue has become less salient than it was a few years ago, and that somehow the constraints of recession have made us less green as a nation than we were. I myself do not believe that that is true. There is certainly less chatter but I do not believe that there is any less concern. We have heard this evening from both sides of the House—the noble Baronesses, Lady Nicol and Lady Hooper—about Waste Watch. From my observations environmental concern now embraces not just the global aspirations of Rio but the very real local worries that people have about clean water and clean air—that has been much on our minds in the past week or two—about conservation of the countryside and about cleaning up litter. There is a decent human reaction to those environmental concerns. People ask: what can I do to help with the environment?

I believe that that concern is the mainspring for the participation of so many conscientious households in the collection of glass, paper and metal for recycling. That motivation is important. We must continue to encourage people, as the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, said, to believe that they can make a contribution to cleaning up their own environment. We shall not solve any of our environmental problems without the engagement and education of the general public. Mine may be a puritanical attitude, but I believe that waste is abhorrent. Waste should be minimised. I cannot help feeling that a throw-away society cannot have a sustainable economy. We do not wish to be a throw-away society. We wish to be an unwasteful society.

More can and should be done. I believe that it requires a genuine partnership between central and local government, industry and the domestic household of the kind described by the noble Lord, Lord St. John, in his most interesting speech. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, mentioned the remarkable achievements of Adur District Council and the councils in Hampshire. He also mentioned Milton Keynes, as did the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso. We should remember that those councils' efforts have been sustained over a long period. They have been strategic efforts. They have cost a lot of money. They have not been sudden publicity gimmicks but have had to operate over time.

I believe that there is a case for the national waste policy and priorities called for so very recently by the environmental committee of the other place. We need more energy recovery—ideally, as combined heat and power. We need more frugal packaging by manufacturers and supermarkets —the example of Marks and Spencer in recycling was given by my noble friend Lord McNair. We need more composting of the kind described by the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, pointed out, we should remember how small a proportion household waste forms of the whole: perhaps 5 per cent. of the total waste of the United Kingdom.

It is also worth remembering that waste is not only environmentally menacing; it is also economically undesirable. I believe that it should be a primary target for industry and government to improve waste management just as much as the improvement of energy efficiency. They should do it for the sake of running better companies and better government as well as for higher productivity. After all, in the modern world we may well find that the fruits of the earth become more expensive and scarce as labour—people—become more available. The issue of recycling should be as much the concern of the DTI as it is of the Department of the Environment. And it is not just a matter of recycling; as many noble Lords said, it is a matter of waste reduction and waste minimisation across the board. If we are to be green, we must first be lean. We must be lean and green.

I noted with very great interest the point about incineration made by the noble Lord, Lord Nathan. But perhaps I may say how much I personally agree with my noble friend Lord Ezra that energy recovery through high standard incineration is generally a prior and preferable alternative to the ultimate option of landfill or dumping. I wonder whether the noble Earl agrees that public education is needed in that regard. I find that among the general public there is still widespread fear of the effects of low standard incineration.

In summary, we have the classic political challenge which the Government must take up. It is a matter of mobilising public goodwill behind realistic central and local government programmes. Perhaps I may say in parenthesis that the Government must be careful not to fall into what I shall call the Beaverbrook trap. It would not be advisable for the Government to follow the example of the Minister in the wartime government and persuade the general public to tear down park railings under the misapprehension that they would be converted into Spitfires. In this sphere of waste recycling, symbolic activity is totally useless.

I believe that we need a clear strategy, realistic policies and achievable targets if the public are to be able to make their contribution willingly and effectively. We hope to hear more about that from the Government when the noble Earl replies.

7.6 p.m.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, for asking the Question this evening. Perhaps I may first address myself to the Question on the Order Paper, which is to ask Her Majesty's Government: what progress has been made in achieving their targets for the recycling of waste materials". As I understand it—the noble Earl will no doubt correct me if I am wrong—there is only one target. The Department of the Environment adopted a 25 per cent. target for the recycling of household waste by the year 2000. That was to be achieved by local authorities. I am not aware of any other target. I shall come to what that target means in a minute.

Many noble Lords referred to the report of the Select Committee of another place. In that report we read that doubts have now developed about the feasibility of the target. Indeed, it is clear from my researches that, although local authorities have been set that target, they have not been given any particular resources with which to meet it. Officials now apparently describe the target as "aspirational". They were unable to provide the committee with any detailed evidence of how it would be achieved. We are informed that only about 40 per cent. of local authorities, according to the recycling plans that they were requested to supply to the DoE by August 1992, believed that they would be recycling 25 per cent. of household waste by the year 2000. The accuracy and details of some of the plans have also been questioned.

So the Question which the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, quite rightly asked—what progress has been made?— seems to resolve itself into a question of what progress has been made on that one particular target. I am not aware that there is any other target in question. It is my understanding that, despite the efforts of many local authorities, the United Kingdom currently recycles only 21 per cent. of glass (less than any other country in the European Union) and only 16 per cent of aluminium cans, which are possibly the most effective product to recycle, compared with 63 per cent. in, say, the United States of America. Having said all that, I hope that the noble Earl will be able to answer the question which I put. I believe that it brings into focus the Question on the Order Paper.

Let me expand a little on waste reduction in general. It is perfectly obvious—noble Lords have already pointed this out—that the best environmental option is waste reduction. That point was made by the noble Lords, Lord Ezra and Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and by my noble friend Lady Nicol and the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper. The Government could easily set targets for the amount of waste produced by a specific sector, such as packaging, which is responsible for one-third of total household waste. But where waste is generated the best option is to recycle it.

As the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, reminded us, one of the reasons for the low level of recycling is that markets for recycled products are not well developed. It is no good simply setting up the infrastructure to collect waste; we must also be able to sell the products from the recycled waste. That was an important point that the noble Lord made extremely effectively.

The Government therefore should be encouraging the use of recycled goods by public procurement policies and perhaps through the fiscal system. Where recycling is not an option, and incineration is therefore the next best alternative, it should be in a plant which generates electricity and sustains the higher standards of emission control. I understand that the Government are supporting a Community directive on the incineration of hazardous waste which fails to set any limits on emissions of dioxins and purines, some of the most dangerous pollutants. I hope that when the noble Earl replies he will tell us what stage that has reached.

A number of noble Lords spoke of landfill sites, and that is the worst environmental option of all. Pollution from landfill sites affects nearby surface and groundwater; and gas migration can be a serious danger to surrounding houses. For a long time—noble Lords may be interested to hear this—we have advocated a levy to increase the price of landfill and to encourage the use of better options. The environmental case for increased costs of landfill is that the polluter should pay the full costs of waste disposal and that increasing the price of landfill will lead to waste reduction and more re-use and recycling. In our view the experience in Denmark bears that out. But we would target the most expensive and dangerous wastes and maximise incentives to reduce them. We propose also to introduce credits against the increased charges for landfill sites which install equipment to generate energy from the landfill methane gas. The main impact of such increased charges would be to increase the amount of waste incinerated.

The United Kingdom produces around 13 million tonnes of waste every year. More than 2.25 tonnes of rubbish is produced per individual, of which around only 6 per cent. is recycled. Dealing with that quantity of waste is increasingly problematic. What is needed— and here I join with the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham—is a planned approach to waste management based on the options that I have given to your Lordships.

7.13 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Earl Howe)

My Lords, the House is grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, for introducing a debate on this important topic. Noble Lords made a number of points relating to the Government's policies and programmes to promote recycling, and I shall respond to as many of those as I can. However, the House may find it helpful if I first describe the overall context within which the Government's policies are set.

This year my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for the Environment, Mr. Gummer, launched a series of documents which followed a commitment made by the United Kingdom at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. One of those was called Sustainable Development: The UK Strategy. Any strategy for sustainable development must take account of two key objectives: to minimise the amount of waste society produces; and to make the best use of the waste that is produced, thus minimising the risk of pollution.

The Government's policy on sustainable waste management is summed up in what is known as the "waste hierarchy". At the top is waste reduction. That is followed by re-use and recovery—which encompasses recycling, composting and energy recovery from waste. At the bottom is the least sustainable option—final disposal without energy recovery. At the moment most of the controlled waste produced in this country goes for final disposal, with some 70 per cent. going to landfill. The Government's objective is to deal with a greater proportion of our waste by means of the more environmentally beneficial options towards the top of the waste hierarchy which I have outlined.

Historically, in seeking to move further up the waste hierarchy, materials recycling is the area to which most attention has been given. Recycling of waste is a complex area, not least because it covers a whole range of different techniques and approaches. Recognising that, the Government first formally proposed an overall target for recycling household waste in the 1990 Environment White Paper, This Common Inheritance.

Our target is to recycle half of all recyclable household waste by the year 2000. That equates to roughly 25 per cent. of all household waste. It is a challenging target but by no means unobtainable. However, introduction of the target did not mark the start of recycling in Britain. Recycling has been going on for centuries. However, we had to face up to the fact that social and economic changes had led to waste management practices which were not at all sustainable in the long term. It was obvious that more needed to be done. The recycling target sent a strong signal to all that the time had come to take action.

However, simply setting a target was not enough. We took the view that it was important to bolster the target with a legislative and economic framework in which successful recycling could take place. The Environmental Protection Act 1990 therefore introduced measures designed to create a more favourable climate for recycling. The Act introduced new tougher standards for waste management. In future, higher standards mean that it will tend to be more expensive to dispose of waste, making waste reduction or recycling more attractive. The 1990 Act also introduced recycling credits. In the past, local authorities which collected household waste for recycling did not benefit from the savings in disposal costs which arose because the waste was recycled rather than sent for disposal. Now, through recycling credits, authorities share in those savings; so there is a much greater financial incentive for them to recycle.

Waste collection authorities were also required to draw up recycling plans. That was designed to encourage the development of a strategic approach to recycling. Every authority in England has now drafted a recycling plan. Some, including the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, have argued that our 25 per cent. target is the wrong target since it ignores the important recyclable waste arising in the commercial and industrial sectors. As the noble Lord, Lord Holme, pointed out, household waste is after all only 5 per cent of the total of 400 million tonnes of waste that arise in the UK annually.

We concentrated on household waste partly because industry is already very successful at recycling its own waste, and established recovery systems are in place. Only 5 per cent of household waste is estimated to be recycled compared with 25 per cent. of commercial and industrial waste. Moreover, the household waste target has been useful more generally in focusing minds on recycling issues—because we are all householders. The public awareness issue was rightly emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Holme.

Having set the initial framework we had to ask ourselves how far this would take us nationally in terms of the 25 per cent. target. This was and remains difficult to forecast. For successful recycling to take place on a large scale it must be economically worthwhile to those taking decisions about the waste. With that in mind we published two reports; a general one on those economic instruments which might be introduced to increase the level of recycling in the UK, and one on the feasibility of introducing a landfill levy which would make recycling a more attractive option. Many possible instruments were investigated, but these were narrowed down to two key areas: a programme of producer responsibility for waste and a system of landfill pricing.

Last year we introduced the concept of "producer responsibility" for waste. The idea is that those who make and sell products (and the packaging around them) should take some responsibility for making productive use of the waste which arises from these products once they have served their original purpose.

One of our primary purposes is to address the problem of packaging waste, since it has been estimated that 25 per cent. to 30 per cent. of the contents of the average dustbin is made up of used packaging. The packaging industries were asked to submit a plan for recovering 50 per cent. to 75 per cent. of packaging waste by the end of the decade. The target was chosen to ensure that we would be able to fulfil our obligations under the proposed EC directive on packaging and packaging waste. That point was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Nathan. My noble friend Lady Hooper also expressed an interest in it.

The common position on the directive, achieved under the Belgian Presidency last December, calls for the recovery of between 50 per cent. and 65 per cent. of all packaging waste. It also sets a target for recycling between 25 per cent. and 45 per cent. of that waste. These are realistic but challenging targets, which we hope can be preserved in the conciliation process that now seems inevitable; and that final adoption of the directive will not be unduly delayed.

The packaging industry has now submitted a draft producer responsibility plan which was made available for public consultation. The industry's draft plan aims to recover 58 per cent. of packaging waste by the year 2000 and to extend "close-to-home" recycling facilities to eight out of 10 homes. This will make a considerable contribution towards the 25 per cent. target. Other producer responsibility initiatives cover newspapers, batteries, tyres, electronic equipment and vehicles.

As I mentioned, we have also carried out research work on a landfill levy. Historically, landfill costs have been relatively low in many parts of Britain. If disposal became more expensive there would be greater incentive to minimise waste and to recycle or re-use products. We have published a great deal of research on this topic. Careful consideration is now being given as to whether the benefits of such intervention in the market outweigh the costs, together with the practical implications of a levy scheme.

Your Lordships may say that all the measures I have described are at the collection and waste management end of the chain. What we really need, as many if not all noble Lords have emphasised, is markets. If we are to have a sustainable recycling culture within the UK we need stable end markets for collected materials. In other words, it is important that we have matching supply and demand for collected materials, at reasonable prices.

It is of course the case that collection, sorting and marketability of materials are inter-related. Indeed, companies considering whether to invest in plant to process recyclable materials need to be assured that the material will be available in sufficient quantities of adequate quality and at the right price. Therefore, measures to encourage steady supplies of materials, suitably sorted, are in themselves part of the process of building markets.

We are aware that many of our European partners are introducing recycling schemes for packaging and in some of these schemes there is an alarming imbalance between what is collected and the ability to reprocess it. We need to ensure that we get this balance right and that we sustain the recycling infrastructure which has been painstakingly built up so far. Targets and timescales should therefore take account of industry's capacity to use the collected material. One way in which we might achieve this is built into the producer responsibility initiative for packaging. Companies which use packaging, and the retailers who are their main customers, are now in a strong position to demand that recycled materials are used in packaging. They will do so because the initiative gives companies a financial incentive to make these markets work.

The noble Lord, Lord McNair, asked what the Government are doing and what more they can do to co-ordinate recycling policy with our European Union partners to counter dumping in particular. We have taken the lead in negotiating the EC directive on packaging and packaging waste to minimise the problems of dumping of waste paper. We have pressed the Commission to take action against the German packaging ordnance on competition grounds and that is producing results.

Successful recycling of household waste is best achieved by combining the strengths of industry with the collection skills of local authorities. Industry, in particular the Producer Responsibility Group for packaging, will need to work closely with local authorities if their recovery targets are to be reached. Co-operation is vital. For example, the group aims to carry out a number of large scale demonstration projects which will be conducted to determine how more economic collection methods can be developed.

The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, asked the Government to encourage waste disposal and collection authorities to work together to develop integrated waste management strategies. I fully endorse that idea. The Government have always encouraged waste collection authorities and waste disposal authorities to consult each other and work together to ensure a co-ordinated approach to waste management within their areas. The integrated approach shown by Hampshire County Council and the districts is to be commended. The system being set up in the county is a first-class example of an integrated approach. I am pleased to say that the Government have been able to support the initiative by allocating more than £800,000 in extra resources to the county council and districts to cover the capital costs of developing their recycling schemes in 1994–95.

The noble Lord, Lord McNair, asked whether there was a mechanism for collecting information on advances in recycling practice and technology. The environmental technology best practice programme promulgates information and advice on recycling and waste minimisation. In addition, the DTI funds demonstration projects for businesses. The DoE distributes its research results and waste management papers.

We have come a long way since the publication of the White Paper in 1990. Sometimes we can be so absorbed in where we have to get to that we forget how far we have come; and I believe that real progress has been made in the past four years. Since 1990 the number of collection facilities has increased substantially. For example, the number of glass bank sites has risen from 4,000 in 1989 to over 16,000 today. There are now over 1,150 save-a-can banks compared with 200 in 1990. Local authorities have made considerable progress in achieving the 25 per cent. target. Adur District Council was, as the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, mentioned, the first authority to recycle 25 per cent. of household waste well before the year 2000. Milton Keynes, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord St. John, is close behind. Others such as Bath, Cardiff, Sutton and Test Valley are catching up quickly and expect to reach 25 per cent. by the year 2000.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams, complained that the Government were not allocating any resources to local authorities to achieve their targets. In fact £15 million in supplementary credit approvals was allocated to local authorities for 1994–95 for investment in recycling schemes, and we trust that that will be of considerable assistance to them.

While the recycling target has focused our minds on household waste and materials recycling, that is not meant to detract from other options within the waste hierarchy. Waste minimisation and the other options in the waste hierarchy together provide a package of options from which to choose the most appropriate for particular circumstances.

The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and my noble friend Lord Lucas mentioned the recent Select Committee report on recycling which was published on 14th July. The report has a number of recommendations about our recycling policy. I was pleased to see that the Select Committee believes that the 25 per cent. target has been helpful in achieving a step-change in the level of recycling for household waste. It recommends that other steps should now be taken to relate the target more closely to local circumstances; for example, by setting regional targets. We will be considering the report and its recommendations very carefully before making our response.

My noble friend Lord Lucas and the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, mentioned waste minimisation and regretted that the DTI was not to fund further projects. Project Catalyst and the Aire and Calder project demonstrated considerable potential for waste reduction and cost savings. I believe it is unlikely that further projects would add to companies' understanding of the issues. We now want to concentrate on getting the message across. The joint DTI and DoE environment technology best practice programme will do just that.

In response to recommendations from a number of bodies, including one contained in the report on incineration by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, the Government have agreed to draw up a national waste strategy. The Government will, therefore, publish later this year, as a basis for consultation, a draft waste management strategy for England and Wales. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, also asked us to consider whether energy from waste plants should play a major role in our waste management policy. That was also a concern of the noble Lord, Lord Nathan.

Recovery of energy from waste is a useful means of recovering value from waste destined for final disposal, particularly where material recycling is uneconomic, technically difficult or presents a health risk. It can be a significant factor in the success of wider schemes to encourage beneficial uses of waste.

The main recommendation arising from the report on incineration by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution was that incineration, with energy recovery, should play a larger part in waste management in the future. In our response to the report, published on 20th July, we accepted the general thrust of the commission's argument.

The Government intend to review the whole question of targets in the waste management field when drawing up their national waste strategy. While the need for a waste strategy may command a consensus among those with an interest, there will be considerable debate and divergence over the possible contents, including the role of waste to energy. I look forward to an informed debate which will help us to achieve the right balance of waste management options.

The noble Lord, Lord Nathan, asked what the purchasing policies were for recycled paper—in other words, in government departments. All government departments have purchasing policies geared towards green housekeeping, including the use of recycled materials. All used paper contains some recycled content and the DoE gives guidance to suppliers and other departments on this.

The noble Lord also asked what the basis was for the government grant to the SCA newsprint recycling plant at Aylesford and what effect it would have. The Government will provide £20 million towards the development of a new mill at Aylesford, which is about 10 per cent. of the total cost. The new mill will take about 400,000 tonnes of wastepaper each year; 80 per cent. will be post-consumer waste, mainly newspapers collected through the network of about 10,000 paper banks. That will make a significant contribution to the Government's target of 40 per cent. recycled content in newspapers by the year 2000.

I believe that we are making good progress towards reaching our target for recycling 25 per cent. of household waste by the year 2000. Nevertheless, we realise that there is still a long way to go before the target will be reached. However, I am confident that we are developing a recycling infrastructure that will be sustainable in the future and one we can build upon to take us nearer our goal.

House adjourned at twenty-six minutes before eight o'clock.