HL Deb 20 December 2001 vol 630 cc347-9

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they believe that waste is the most difficult environmental issue facing the country after climate change; and what action they are taking to tackle the problem.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitt)

My Lords, since the Government's waste strategy was published in May 2000, there has been increasing recognition of the need to tackle the growing amount of waste that we are producing in a more sustainable way. The Government have set demanding statutory targets for the recycling and composting of household waste for each local authority, increased the landfill tax and consulted on a system of tradeable landfill permits in order to achieve the diversion from landfill required. We also set up the waste and resources action programme to help to create stable and efficient markets for recycled materials and products.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. I think that he would agree that at no time is the ever-growing mountain of waste so obvious as it is at Christmas. In the Government's waste strategy, they accept the need to break the link between economic growth and the production of waste. What are the Government doing about the increasing amount of packaging on all goods? We have moved so far away from the paper bag for, for example, fruit and vegetables, to plastic trays, plastic and mixed packaging, which makes recycling increasingly difficult.

What are the Government doing to create a better market for recycled goods? Green glass, for instance, has barely any market. While we may feel better—and I hope that we all will—I hope that we accept as we throw our green bottles away that it is a shame that there is no market for them.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, clearly the most important thing is to reduce the rate of growth of waste and, as the noble Baroness said, to break the link with economic growth and prosperity. Waste reduction is top of our hierarchy in the waste strategy. We are also encouraging the reduction of waste by making packaging recyclable or reusable and by trying to engage industry in reducing the amount of waste created in production.

As for Christmas, there will clearly be a lot of household waste to dispose of. I recommend to all noble Lords who receive a present that they dispose of the packaging in the special paper waste disposal facilities now provided by most local authorities. Likewise, most local authorities have a return bank which allows them to dispose of Christmas trees effectively.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

My Lords, the Minister will be aware, as are we all, of the considerable amount of litter left on our streets and in the countryside. Will the Government consider reactivating a strong "Keep Britain Tidy" campaign to inculcate that message to young people, who often cause a lot of the litter?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, litter is clearly a matter of some interest to your Lordships. There was a full debate on litter last night, to which my noble friend Lady Farrington of Ribbleton responded. I refer the noble Lord to her detailed reply. Litter is a major problem on our streets and we want to encourage both local authorities and the public at large to take seriously their responsibilities in that regard, whatever their age.

Baroness Thornton

My Lords, I have sympathy with the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer. Having spent four hours last night wrapping Christmas presents, I wondered whether there was a green alternative. Will my noble friend tell us in more detail of what the national waste strategy consists?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the waste strategy, which, as I said, was launched in May 2000—last month there was a waste summit bringing together all those involved—establishes a hierarchy of how to deal with waste, starting with waste minimisation and working through reuse, recovery, recycling, composting and energy recovery, right down to disposal by landfill, which is the least preferred option. We are trying to inculcate knowledge of that hierarchy in all commercial, private and public users. We have set statutory targets for local authorities to increase their recycling rates.

We have substantially increased the funding for waste management, which will rise by £1.1 billion during the period of the spending review. The permit system for landfill will also help to reduce our dependence on it. We must reduce landfill from its current high level—much higher than in most other European countries; about 80 per cent of our waste is disposed of in landfill—to our target figure of 35 per cent of what it was in 1995. That will take several years, but that is the essence of the strategy.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote

My Lords, given that the targets set are pretty high, that we are already falling behind them and that waste is growing by roughly 3 per cent per year, do the Government have any other measures in mind, such as incentives for citizens at home to do their best to reduce waste, or to encourage waste minimisation? That is where the target needs to be directed.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, as regards waste minimisation, as I indicated in my supplementary reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, we are working with the public sector, commercial enterprises and households to reduce the amount of waste produced in the first place. We are doing that on both an industry and a local basis. As regards local collection, we are giving local authorities substantially greater resources for waste management, which will enable them to differentiate types of waste, and therefore to maximise the amount of household waste, for example, that can easily be recycled.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, what is the Government's policy on waste incineration? Is the Minister aware that under modern systems of waste incineration, electricity and useable heat can be produced with minimum atmospheric pollution, yet despite that there is often local opposition to new incineration plants?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, there is indeed opposition, but it is important to point out the facts, as the noble Lord attempts to do. Incineration is about half way down the hierarchy and in many cases it is the most appropriate form of waste disposal. It is substantially better than landfill. Where there are proposals for new incinerators, and where the local planning authority has to consider them, it is most important that it recognises and communicates to the public that the degree of emissions from such plants are at a minimal level in terms of current technology. It is therefore important that incineration plays its role.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, having increased the landfill tax, what thoughts do the Government have about the increased amount of dumping that is taking place around the country? Dumping, not only in country areas but in towns, is a big problem. How do the Government balance the increased charges on landfill with the amount of extra dumping in the country?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, we want to reduce illegal dumping and fly-tipping and the use of landfill. It is therefore more appropriate to put a more economic price on the use of landfill.

We are encouraging local authorities to deal with waste that is disposed of illegally and part of their additional resources will enable them to do that. I agree with the noble Baroness that in some parts of the country dumping is a serious problem and local authorities are being given the resources to tackle it.

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