HL Deb 24 February 1997 vol 578 cc982-5

8 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Hendon rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 29th January be approved [11th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, these regulations are being made under Sections 93 to 95 of the Environment Act 1995 which give the Government powers to make producer responsibility regulations. We have two reasons for proposing to introduce these regulations now: first, to give effect in relation to packaging to the Government's initiative on producer responsibility for waste which endeavours to place on the producers of waste more of the real environmental costs of waste production and disposal; and, secondly, to provide a system for achieving the recovery and recycling targets in the EC Directive on Packaging and Packaging waste.

The directive which came into force at the end of 1994 provides a single market framework for the free circulation of packaging and also requires member states to put systems in place to achieve recovery rates of 50 to 65 per cent. of packaging waste, with a minimum of 15 per cent. recycling of each material. The Government propose to meet the directive targets through the regulations that we are discussing today.

British industry, in discussions with the Government, made clear that it wanted to see all parts of the packaging chain share in any obligation to recover and recycle packaging waste. It also wanted to see underpinning legislation to deter free riders, and it wanted provision for collective, business-led schemes to be set up to help businesses achieve their obligations.

Following two wide-ranging consultation periods in 1995 and 1996, the draft regulations were finalised. The underlying approach includes the following elements. There is a staged approach to the new system which brings in the largest businesses first, the smaller ones in 2000 and leaves the smallest out altogether. The system starts in 1997 with registration and data provision, and the first recovery and recycling targets come in at the end of 1998. Provision is made for industry-led collective schemes. The regulations will be reviewed annually.

The draft regulations before us impose three main obligations on certain businesses who handle packaging. These obligations are: first, a registration obligation. Businesses must register with one of the environment agencies and provide packaging data, at the latest by 31st August 1997. Secondly, there is a recovery and recycling obligation. Businesses must take reasonable steps to recover and recycle specific tonnages of packaging waste that are calculated taking account of the amount of packaging flowing through their business, the function that they perform in relation to the packaging (for example, whether they convert or fill packaging) and the UK's recovery and recycling targets. Thirdly, there is a certifying obligation. Businesses must certify annually that they have recovered and recycled the required tonnages of packaging waste.

The Environment Agency in England and Wales and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency in Scotland will monitor compliance with the regulations and will have powers of entry and inspection, if necessary, as they do in relation to their other activities. In extreme cases there is provision for criminal offences and prosecutions, but I assure your Lordships that we expect no more than a negligible number of such cases.

In conclusion, producer responsibility is an innovative approach to achieving our environmental goals in a sustainable way and in partnership with industry. The system that has been developed in the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations is comprehensive; involves all the relevant business sectors but has a light regulatory touch; gives wide discretion to industry on how to discharge its obligations, including the establishment of industry-led collective schemes; reduces the environmental impact of packaging waste without placing unreasonable burdens on business; and will enable the UK to achieve its recovery and recycling obligations under the EC directive. I beg to move.

8.5 p.m.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest as a parliamentary adviser to the Biscuit, Cake, Chocolate and Confectionery Alliance which represents the manufacturers of those products. That alliance is an important member of the Food and Drink Federation, which has advised me in my contribution to this debate.

I thank my noble friend Lady Miller of Hendon for her easy to understand and brief introduction to the regulations. As the FDF sees it, under these regulations packers/fillers and retailers will together carry the majority of the responsibility for the recovery of packaging waste—a minimum of 83 per cent. FDF, together with the Alcoholic Drinks Industry Group and the British Retail Consortium, representing jointly almost the entire retailing and food and drink manufacturing sectors, strongly believe that the regulations will meet the essential requirement for an environmentally sound, effective and equitable method of sharing producer responsibility for packaging waste across the whole packaging chain.

The regulations are based on an industry agreement reached on 15th December 1995 between all four principal parts of the packaging chain on the share of responsibility to be taken by each sector. This close industry involvement has continued throughout the development of the regulations. In particular, the Advisory Committee for Packaging appointed by the Secretary of State for the Environment, which comprises senior representatives of the four sectors of the packaging chain, has advised upon the detailed provisions of the regulations. Some packaging manufacturers which carry only a relatively minor burden of 11 per cent. activity obligation for the recovery of packaging waste now claim that the regulations are unfair. The Food and Drink Federation, together with the ADIG and the BRC, do not support this view. In passing, I believe that the Secretary of State and his department have dealt with this very complicated problem and brought it to a conclusion in a splendid way.

The Advisory Committee for Packaging will continue to review, and advise the Government on, the effectiveness of the system before the final recovery and recycling targets take effect in the year 2001. However, it is vital that the regulations come into effect this year, since they will create an obligation to provide data on packaging flows and will encourage industry-wide compliance schemes, such as Valpak, to be set up and to operate successfully. The ACP will then be able to ensure that the burden of legal obligation remains fair across the different sectors of the packaging chain and recommend changes to the regulations, where necessary. Accordingly, I strongly support the early introduction of these regulations.

8.8 p.m.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon

My Lords, we on these Benches give a guarded welcome to these measures that we hope will reduce some of the 8 million tonnes of packaging waste generated in this country each year. We hope that these regulations will ensure that we meet our European obligations to recover between 50 and 65 per cent. of our packaging waste by the year 2001. We are however concerned about the level of bureaucracy involved in managing the system. There is the awful example of the German green spot system that went so badly wrong.

It is important that the whole packaging chain is involved and that the system does not work mainly to the advantage of large retail stores which may claim transit waste in their totals. The Government's attempt to achieve a shared approach, although laudable, has not worked well in the context of deregulation and competitive market forces. The exemptions for small businesses with a turnover of less than £5 million a year are welcome, but they will not protect medium sized firms. It is probable that the different sectors of the market will be in competition with one another. It is therefore feared that waste management firms will be able to cream off profits and will have no obligation to reduce packaging waste. However, these regulations are already months behind schedule. Their intentions are laudable and honourable but, as interim targets must be achieved in 1998, it is vital that the scheme goes ahead so that the practical difficulties can be identified at the annual review and the regulations adjusted to iron out the anomalies and unfairness that are widely anticipated in various sectors of the market.

8.10 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, I welcome noble Lords' support for the regulations. They represent a sustainable approach to package waste management which has been achieved through discussions and consultations with the industry itself. I recommend the regulations to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.11 to 8.20 p.m.]