Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1101 - 1119)




  1101. May I welcome you to the Committee. Could I ask you to identify yourself and your team for the record, please.

  (Mr Meacher) Michael Meacher, Minister for the Environment, as far as I know! On my left is Cath Shaw, who is Team Leader for the Waste Strategy. On my right, Martin Hurst, Divisional Manager for Air and Environmental Quality.

  1102. Do you want to say anything by way of introduction or are you happy to start?
  (Mr Meacher) I always think these priceless opportunities to read out prepared statements are a waste of time, so I will desist.

  1103. You know on these occasions that we have powers to send for people and papers. I am not quite sure whether that counts for your rubbish bin at home but we did wonder about asking you to bring that with you. However, we thought it might have been a bit messy. Then we thought about producing our own rubbish bin totally and asking you to rummage through it, asking you for a bit of advice. We have actually been very kind this morning because we have taken out the chewing gum, the cat litter, the privet hedge cuttings, the left-over trifle, we just have a few samples of things. What I thought you might like to do is just to have a look at some of the things that go into people's waste stream and tell us how you would deal with them. (Same handed) I do not know whether you would like to fish them out of the bag yourself or whether you want us to fish them out for you. It is a sort of lucky dip for you but I can assure you that there is nothing really nasty in there at all. You have brought out the pizza box. What should be really happening? Should those be filling up our dustbins?
  (Mr Meacher) I certainly think we need a much higher level of recycling of such cardboard containers. We need separation at source of such items.

  1104. So what does that mean? You have to persuade the pizza delivery man to take the box back?
  (Mr Meacher) That is a scheme which I think we certainly should consider. These producer responsibilities for fast foods of this kind is certainly an eminent example of returnable containers. We already do have, of course, a high level of recycling of paper and cardboard products. I think it is something in the order of 65 per cent.

  1105. That is not in the domestic bin, is it? Most people who receive one of those pizzas will put it into their bin and it will not be recycled, will it?
  (Mr Meacher) At the moment it will not be recycled. Some of it, of course, will be separated out at a later point and can be recycled but in many cases that is not so, I agree. I think a returnable scheme, producer responsibility on the part of fast food manufacturers, is certainly something which we would like to promote.[1]

  1106. Before you dig in—I do not suppose you want to open the lid—but I think there is a piece of rotting pizza there. What should be happening to that?
  (Mr Meacher) Rotting organic material can, of course, be composted.

  1107. But does it not encourage the rats?
  (Mr Meacher) Rats?

  1108. If you put in food waste, then that tends to encourage vermin, does it not?
  (Mr Meacher) It could do. It depends, of course, what is the composter. Rats would find it difficult to get into some of them but I appreciate that is a problem. Apart from putting it as a contaminant into a general waste bag under the sink, I certainly think that we would want to see organic waste, together with garden material, increasingly composted. We estimate that something like to 2 to 300,000 tonnes of household compost is achieved each year, with something like half of the total which is centrally collected, so it is quite considerable. I can tell you, Chairman, I do it myself.

  1109. Keep digging.
  (Mr Meacher) This is very exciting.

  1110. Perhaps you or I ought to describe it. It is a carton.
  (Mr Meacher) A Safeways pure unsweetened orange juice.

  1111. It has cardboard on the outside, silver foil on the inside, plastic on the top to stop you spilling it. Three or four different materials. It is a bit of a problem for recycling, is it not?
  (Mr Meacher) That is perfectly true. It has to be separated out, which increases costs and increases complexity. Again, I think if one had a requirement or initially some voluntary scheme with the manufacturer, it would encourage perhaps the preparation of containers which did permit recycling more easily. I certainly think that again, this is something we would want to encourage.

  1112. Right. Dig in again.
  (Mr Meacher) It happens to be the Financial Times. "Gore set for formal challenge" but that is not the point.

  1113. It is pink, of course, which perhaps is quite important to draw your attention to.
  (Mr Meacher) It certainly can, nevertheless, be recycled despite the pink hue. We do have an agreement with the Newspaper Publishers Association to increase the current production of newsprint from waste paper. It is roughly about 55 per cent. We have a target for 60 per cent, rising to around to 70 per cent by 2006.

  1114. We have to import recycled newsprint because we are not producing enough in this country.
  (Mr Meacher) That is perfectly correct. We are, at the present time, considering an application for assistance in regard to a second mill at Aylesford precisely to try and reduce that problem. Now this could be described as a nappy. Fortunately it is an unused one or a very well cleaned one.

  1115. Three and a half per cent, I understand, of the waste stream in this country is disposable nappies.
  (Mr Meacher) I did not know it was as high as that. That is considerable. There is innovation in the provision of nappy washing services in order to reduce landfill. I do not think it is our role to decide one form of nappy recovery as against another, or disposal.

  1116. What should happen to it then when it goes into the dustbin?
  (Mr Meacher) If a local authority is providing a nappy washing service, of course, again it has to be separated at source. That is absolutely essential. I believe that does already happen in a number of cases. What I am saying is that I do not think one can require that. There are still some environmental costs, even with nappy washing services, in terms of the environmental costs of the actual washing service and transport. I certainly think we would want to encourage such services.

  1117. Dig again—a fluorescent tube.
  (Mr Meacher) I cannot see any dark markings at either end which suggest it is still usable. I did myself open a fluorescent tube recycling unit in the north-west.

  1118. And promised them a million recycled tubes from government offices, which they still have not received.
  (Mr Meacher) This is quite right, and it is the cause of some embarrassment. I did say at the time, on the basis of advice as to what the potential was, that something like (as you say, Mr Chairman) a million fluorescent tubes could be made available to a unit like this. All I can say is that DETR has pursued other departments very vigorously. I think there has recently been some increase, but I accept that it is nowhere near the level of what it ought to be. This is one of the issues that in the Green Ministers Committee I have been pursuing. In the end we are dependent, of course, on other government departments.

Mr Donohoe

  1119. Your own Department is sending how many tubes in?
  (Mr Meacher) I cannot answer that. I hope we are.
  (Ms Shaw) Can we put that in writing?

1   Note by Witness: Fast food manufacturers do, of course, already fall within the scope of the packaging Regulations, which encourage reduction and re-use of packaging and require the recycling of packaging waste. Back

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