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Mr. David Drew (Stroud): The biggest danger is that the location of incinerators is determined by the line of least resistance. That is both unfair and inefficient. We must make it clear to the Government that incinerators should not end up being built in areas where people are least likely to complain. I am sure that that point is made in the Select Committee report.

Andrew Bennett: My hon. Friend makes an important point. The Government could issue a challenge to all

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communities that an incinerator will be built close by if they do not make serious efforts at waste minimisation and recycling. Perhaps the threat of a CHP plant will be enough and it will not be necessary to build any at all.

I shall deal now with composting, a subject on which I hoped for a lengthy reply from the Minister. There has been much talk of commercial composting, but because of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs waste meat regulations, many proposals for composting have been put on hold. That is unfortunate. When we undertook the inquiry, I was appalled at the amount of waste in the food chain. For a start, waste often occurs in agricultural areas, because crops do not quite meet the supermarkets' specifications. The crops are not even picked; they are destroyed where they were grown.

It has been suggested to me that at least 25 per cent. of the food that goes into supermarkets, especially vegetables and bread products, goes to waste. That is a huge amount. Most of the big supermarkets were considering composting as a means of dealing with some of that waste, but have had to put their plans on hold because of the meat regulations.

Even more worrying is the suggestion that most households buy 25 per cent. more food than they need and that the surplus goes to waste. To a certain extent, the supermarkets are again to blame. The one that I use repeatedly has offers of two items for the price of one. That is not economic for me if I am purchasing for the family, and for pensioners, two for the price of one is no good at all. One item is probably more than they want at a particular time, but most people take home the two items, one of which may well end up in the waste stream.

If we are considering ways of making society more sustainable, we must find ways of cutting down food waste. Food that is not saleable or eatable should be properly composted. I hope that the Minister will tell us that ways will be found to prevent meat getting into compost material, so that it can be made safe, with no possibility of foot and mouth or other problems occurring.

We in the UK still do very little about reprocessing batteries. They are usually small and end up in the waste stream, where they produce a high level of contamination. It would not be all that difficult for the Government to insist that shops that sell batteries take back used batteries. When people change a battery, it would be easy to take the new one and hand back the old one. If batteries are collected in large numbers, they can be reprocessed.

I have tweaked the Minister on one or two occasions on the subject of fluorescent tubes. Once, opening a plant in Manchester, he rashly promised that the Government could find more than 1 million fluorescent tubes a year for recycling to remove the mercury. I do not think that he has got anywhere near that target, but it is a small point.

The European Union has been a significant driver of reform—for example, the landfill directive. We welcome the EU end-use directive for cars. That has led people to start thinking about manufacturing cars whose parts can be re-used or reprocessed. I am a little puzzled about why the EU should start with an end-use directive applying to cars, when there was a well-developed scrap industry in this country.

The EU has not turned its attention to other products that are much harder to recycle. One of my pet hates is tetrapaks. They are a mixture of foil, plastic film and paper, and are extremely difficult to recycle. They can

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just about be burned, but they have little else going for them. Why not make the manufacturers of such cartons responsible for taking them back and looking after the end-use?

What about disposable nappies, which are said to constitute 4 per cent. of the waste stream in the UK? Why not make the manufacturers come up with some system to take them back for recycling? Looking in dustbins or wheelie bins, you notice that products such as pizza boxes bulk up the refuse. Why not have an end-use directive for those items? Perhaps the Minister can throw some light on what will happen with regard to fridges, in relation to which it appears that we are in a bit of a mess. The establishment of some proper end-use directives for such issues would demonstrate that the country has a sustainable waste policy. Can the Minister also tell us what encouragement is being given in relation to anaerobic digesters?

The Select Committee discussed this matter in 1996, 1998 and last year. It has been fairly disappointing that this country has not made much more progress on sustainable waste management. I hope that the Government will seriously consider signing the nation up to the concept of zero waste. That may be a fairly idealistic aim, but unless we can get the message across that resources are being used unsustainably in this country, that we are living in a throwaway society and that that cannot continue, we will find it very difficult to change people's habits.

7.49 pm

Malcolm Bruce (Gordon): I congratulate what was the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs and the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett) on their excellent report, which considers in detail many aspects of the problem of waste management in this country. The hon. Gentleman dealt closely with many of those matters his speech, although the language of the report is rather more colourful and hard hitting than that which he chose to use.

The Government have a great deal to do if they are to convince anybody that we are anywhere near the frontiers of progress on waste management. Overall, the reality is that the UK is dragging its feet behind most of our continental competitors. On almost any indicator, we are neither achieving nor aiming to achieve the sort of recycling and waste reduction that our major continental competitors are and have been achieving. Indeed, they are the innovators. In truth, we are mostly implementing EU directives at the last possible moment, and sometimes not even then. The report states:

That is essentially what the Government have been doing. The Minister made a speech some time ago in which he catalogued a list of great environmental initiatives that the Government had introduced. However, one of my colleagues in the European Parliament analysed the speech and found that 70 per cent. of those great initiatives related simply to the legal requirements that had to be fulfilled if Britain was to meet directives passed by the European Parliament and the European Commission two to three years before. That is how we tend to proceed.

I should like to mention a concern that relates not only to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but to the way in which this Government operate.

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I thought that they had the problem only when they were in opposition. Understandably, they did not want to set out too much of their stall as an opposition party, but they have carried the problem through into government. I am all in favour of consultation, but my concern is that we have reached a point where the Government seem to be on an endless cycle of summits, taskforces, agencies, initiatives, challenge funds and bids, all of which are designed to try to implement policy, but the result is that everybody who is engaged in trying to deliver that policy becomes increasingly confused and mystified about exactly where the centre of decision making and leadership lie, and what will be done to achieve the aims.

Let me give an example. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish said that we needed a national recycling programme and a real objective, as did the Select Committee report. He referred to an ideal of zero waste, along with real and specific targets that can be achieved. The first proposed commitment—it was contained in the Liberal Democrat manifesto—was to a doorstep recycling service for every household in the country. We have estimated that such a service would cost about £200 million. As the rubbish and waste industry is worth about £5 billion, that does not seem an enormous amount. The money in WRAP, the waste and resources action programme, and Entrust, the environmental trust scheme regulatory body, adds up to about £200 million, but it is not being allocated in a way that enables local authorities, which must be the front line in providing a recycling service for households, to get on and deliver such a service. They simply need the money to enable them to do that. The Government should give incentives for the good performers, impose penalties for the bad performers and provide funding to ensure delivery.

I plead with the Minister to try to make the process more simple than it has been to date, as we have not reached a situation in which we have anything like a national plan or strategy. We have some very good local authorities that can be the model, while others are doing very little. I am saying not that the Government should deliver, but that they must take a lead and ensure that we get that delivery. We are currently talking about achieving a target of 30 per cent. recycling by 2010, but today Austria already has 60 per cent. recycling today. Indeed, even some local authorities in Britain have achieved better than 30 per cent. The 30 per cent. target therefore seems very unambitious, but on current strategies it is difficult to envisage that we will meet it, not least because the amount of waste that is being produced is increasing by several per cent. a year—and faster than we are introducing any recycling initiatives. We take the view not only that 60 per cent. is an achievable target, but that it would force the creation of more radical and imaginative policies.

We have encouraged the use of landfill, and there is a European Union landfill directive. The targets are distant, but they could become a problem for this country if we do not begin to take the necessary steps now. It is logical for local government to promote recycling household waste, but Governments must be responsible for recycling industrial waste. We need clear targets for that.

It has rightly been said that considering waste disposal quickly leads to examining how to reduce waste. Many of us have been debating the issue for years now, and it is

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extraordinary that most products appear to have as much packaging as ever. We have not created the climate or the culture of responsibility for reducing packaging and taking back any that is created by marketing and merchandising. The Government could tackle that.

There was a displacement factor in this country when Germany reduced its packaging legislation. However, that did much to ensure that Germany was prepared to recycle and that its marketing organisations tackled their responsibilities for the amount of packaging that they produced. We have not engaged seriously in that debate, either.

What we do with our waste lies at the heart of the problem. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish commented on that. I am sure that there is a campaigning issue connected to waste in every hon. Member's constituency. All of us have tips, landfill sites or other methods of disposal such as incinerators on or close to our boundaries. All are controversial. There must be engagement between the responsibility of Government and local authorities and that of individuals for the waste that society produces.

No one wants a landfill tip or an incinerator on the doorstep. It is reasonable to confront people with their responsibility for helping with waste management. It is not good enough simply to say that we tax landfill. That creates a revenue, but the idea is surely to reduce landfill and encourage waste reduction so that the pressure on landfill decreases. It would be better to use all the money to that end.

The Select Committee has expressed clear views on incineration—views that my party wholly supports. Indeed, the Committee has inadvertently supported Liberal Democrat policy. A Committee that approaches the facts objectively is likely to come up with Liberal Democrat policy, because it is common sense. As the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish said, encouraging the provision of new incinerators is becoming a soft option. If we transfer from landfill to incineration, we simply reduce the pressure for waste reduction in general.

A quote on waste strategy from the Select Committee report should go on record:

The final phrase is crucial. If we go down that road, we destroy our waste reduction strategy.

If the Government need any proof of the potency of incineration as a political issue, it is provided by my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty). Guildford has a Liberal Democrat Member mainly because of the strength of feeling against the incinerator that is being proposed for the area. My hon. Friend can make her own speech on that subject, and I am sure that she will.

This is a potent issue. In my part of Scotland, more objections have been received to the planning application to replace an incinerator than to any other planning application in the city's history. That is how strongly people feel. The Government would be well advised to accept that, although incineration may have a role to play, that role is neither urgent, nor major. In reality, the danger

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is that even accommodating incineration will destroy the beginnings of a real waste reduction strategy. A moratorium on new incinerators would thus be constructive for that reason.

My suggestion to the Government is that they need to adopt a more focused and less complicated approach. To put it simply, present policies will not allow us to meet our obligations under European directives, or Government targets derived from them. If we do not act soon, it will be too late to introduce policies that will turn the matter around. We need simple targets—such as ensuring that 60 per cent. of household uplift is recycled—and we must ensure that local authorities have the responsibility to deliver that within an agreed timetable. To do that, they will need funding, and the ability to impose penalties.

I suggest that the simpler the mechanism involved, the more likely we are to get results. At present, the mechanism is too complicated. Authorities have too much discretion to adopt differing approaches.

Finally, will the Minister clarify how we are to sort out the problem posed by cast-off refrigerators? In addition, how are we to avoid the similar problem with the recycling of electrical goods that will arise with the next directive coming down the track?

As I understand it, the Government started discussing the regulation on fridges three years ago. The final terms of the regulation were published in October last year. The regulation's wording made it clear that, by 1 January 2002, the removal of CFCs and related materials in fridge insulation would be a mandatory requirement. That is a specialist process for which we have no capacity in the UK.

My understanding is that someone in the Department misread the regulation and believed that it contained some degree of flexibility. I was told that the person involved believed that the regulation used the phrase "where practicable", and that that was considered an obvious excuse—that the UK does not have the necessary capacity, so the regulations' requirement with regard to fridges cannot be achieved and are therefore not practicable. As a result, it was believed that the European Commission would have to give us enough time to get the capacity in place.

In fact, the regulation does not contain those words. It does not allow any flexibility or discretion, yet this country has no relevant capacity.

I am told that it could be a year before the capacity is in place, which means that 2.5 million fridges—the number thrown out every year—will have to be transported to licensed premises, and stored there. Thereafter, when the capacity is in place, they will have to be transported again and disposed of in the required manner.

All that will cost a significant amount of money. The Department disputed the figures advanced by the Liberal Democrat party, and I have no quarrel with that. Our estimate was based on the information that we had gathered from various sources about what the average cost of moving the fridges would be. Even so, it is clear that a substantial amount of money will have to be spent, in part because a regulation was misread, and in part because we did not take steps to provide the necessary capacity in time.

Local authorities and retailers need to know what will be done to cover the shortfall in capacity until such time as we can dispose of the fridges. The Department has said

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that it recognises that a problem exists, and that it will do something about it, but no one knows exactly what will be done.

I have been asking local authorities for estimates of the cost. I received the latest figure, from Cumbria, today. That authority said that it estimated the extra cost of handling these fridges at £900,000. My local authority, Aberdeenshire, put the figure at £350,000. The figure varies according to the size of the authority, but the numbers that I have given are typical of what local authorities have told me. In addition, local authorities are not the only ones who will have to deal with the fridges, as retailers will also face certain costs.

I hope that the Minister will accept that we need to know what is going to be done—as well as how it is going to be done, and how soon—to avoid the problem of fridges being dumped by the roadside, in fields or in other places where we would not wish to see them.

The Select Committee that has now been replaced by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has done an extremely worthwhile job. It has set out clearly its aspirations for Government policy, most of which I endorse. I urge the Government to accept the Committee's recommendations as far as possible, and to act on them. My final plea to them is to simplify the process so that people know what is required and what the mechanisms are, so they can deliver. At the moment, the targets are unrealistic and the mechanisms are not in place.

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