Draft Landfill (England and Wales) Regulations 2002

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Mr. Meacher: I shall try to answer the range of proper and interesting points raised.

The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) made several points. I wish that he had shown a little more humility about the record of the Conservative Government rather than simply making carping assertions against the present Government. Considering the low base from which we started, we have made substantial advances. The hon. Gentleman cited Canberra and Flanders—examples selected to make a point—but might better have referred to London, Birmingham, Daventry and Newcastle as examples of what we have done.

The hon. Gentleman raised a serious point on late implementation of the directive. We appreciate that that has caused uncertainty, but the directive is complex and its implications are wide-ranging. It will lead to massive changes in waste management in the UK, which is why we must co-operate with waste producers. It was important to consult widely, and we did so twice—in October 2000 and August 2001, when we also sent out a copy of the draft regulations. We have allowed time for proper consideration of our proposals and their drafts in order to ensure that we get implementation right first time.

The UK is by no means the only member state in that position. Seven other member states—Germany, significantly, and Belgium, Portugal, Luxembourg, Greece, Italy and Finland—have not yet implemented the directive. Although the regulations are late, they will, on the assumption that Parliament approves them, come into force before their requirements bite on landfill sites in July, which is the critical point. The Environment Agency has used its existing powers as far as possible to apply the directive's requirements to new sites.

The hon. Gentleman asked about co-ordination with Scotland and Northern Ireland. I agree with the hon. Member for Gordon that the idea of large amounts of waste being trucked north of the border is an unlikely one. The Scots seek, like the rest of the country, to put the directive into position. The Scots will consult later this month, and Scottish Executive Ministers will issue directions to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency to apply the requirements of the directives until the regulations are in place. Northern Ireland will follow early in 2003.

The next point made by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire related to hazardous waste and waste acceptance criteria. It was an important point, and we

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share industry's frustration at the unavailability of the European waste acceptance criteria. We appreciate that the absence of agreed criteria has caused uncertainty and has made it difficult for operators to make decisions about the type of site, though that is, of course, a commercial decision for them. Their absence may also have delayed decisions about investing in alternative treatment facilities until the standards to which waste must be treated to gain access to a landfill site have been finalised. I recognise that all that is perfectly true, but the UK has done its best to drive the process forward.

The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire was kind enough to refer—he does so in every speech—to fridges. Let me point out again that the UK was in the vanguard when it came to raising questions about the application of the regulation. We did so nine times before receiving an answer, and something similar has happened with the points before us. The UK has probably done most to drive the process forward, leading and funding much of the modelling work that is informing the criteria. We have hosted meetings and emphasised to the Commission the importance that we attach to securing criteria as soon as possible. The Commission intends to put forward final proposals in July—a year later than originally envisaged. In the light of that delay, we shall argue for an extended transition period to allow time for a smooth transition.

Malcolm Bruce: Leaving aside who said what to whom about the preparation of drafts, the practical point is that the directive clearly requires that all chlorofluorocarbon materials need to be removed from fridges. When will the UK be in a position to do so?

Mr. Meacher: The hon. Gentleman takes us slightly wide of what we are discussing today. By insisting that a meeting was held in June 2001—outside the normal cycle of twice-yearly management meetings in March and October—we managed to ensure that that matter was finally resolved. However, that has not given adequate time to put plant and technology in place. I shall not dwell on the point, but two mobile plants operate in the UK. The German company SEG—Schaltanlagen-Elektronik-Gerate—is considering the introduction of three or four more, and we expect two fixed plants to be operating by the end of June or early July. That is still not adequate, but it is a substantial and fairly quick advance on the impossible position into which we were put in the middle of the previous year.

The European waste acceptance criteria are currently under negotiation in Brussels. The Commission had intended to end the negotiations last July, but it considered that the need for further modelling work to underpin the criteria meant that that date was unachievable. It has announced its intention to bring forward a final proposal that will be voted on in July 2002, and the current indications are that that deadline will be achieved. In the light of that delay, we will insist that there should be a sensible transitional period to implement the criteria, which will allow sufficient time for alternative infrastructure to come on stream—I do not directly blame the

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Commission for the delay, but it is certainly not something for which any member state is responsible.

The fourth point made by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire was about alternative disposal—a central issue. Some of the waste that is banned from landfill is not currently landfilled. As regards such waste that is landfilled, research for my Department concluded that sufficient alternative disposal systems are either in use or being planned, to cope with the large volume of organic process waste streams requiring diversion from landfill. Examples given included pyrolysis and gasification, which are commissioned in some major industrial sites already, and merchant treatment plants for organic wastes offering pre-treatment, such as air stripping or pH balancing—do not ask me what that is, but I am told that that is an alternative and satisfactory process. Existing landfill leachate plants could treat a range of aqueous organic waste streams, and further developments could provide a wide range of outlets for organic waste. Some water companies are encouraging greater use of their spare capacity in aerobic and anaerobic treatment systems, and solvent recovery plants have some spare capacity and are planning investment to recover useful materials from aqueous feed stock.

The hon. Gentleman did not ask about tyres. In order not to extend my remarks unduly, I will not go into detail, but we are considering the ban on tyres and alternative sites in which they can be stored. We are confident that such sites will be found in due course.

The fifth point that the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire made was about the recycling rate. He asked—I presume rhetorically—''Why are we such laggards?'' A major reason is because we inherited a situation in which the recycling rate in 1992 was 2 per cent. Granted, the rate had risen to 6 per cent. by 1997, but as the hon. Member for Gordon rightly noted, under the previous Administration, we had the highest levels of landfill of any member state of the European Union. That is the legacy from which, under the terms of this directive, we must shift away. That is a major task.

Sue Doughty (Guildford): Does the Minister accept that an opportunity to divert waste from landfill and from incineration was lost through failure to tax incineration and substantially increase landfill tax in the Budget? Money from such taxes could then have been used to achieve the necessary investment in recycling markets. That would have helped to avoid the current situation whereby those in the industry get their recycled plastic from Belgium rather than from us.

Mr. Meacher: The hon. Member for Gordon also made that point. We do not believe that an incineration tax is necessary to ensure that the objectives of the waste strategy are met. Those objectives form a hierarchy: the first is waste minimisation; the second is recycling, reuse and recovery; incineration comes third; and landfill is at the bottom. Of course, we wish to move as far and as quickly up the hierarchy as possible.

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There are constraints on incineration. I believe that there are only 11 incinerators in this country. Many of the so-called ''green'' countries in the European Union such as the Netherlands and Sweden—and Switzerland, which is not in the EU—have high recycling and incineration. Rightly or wrongly, they do not regard incineration, which is subject to adequate and proper controls that were immensely tightened in the incineration directive that came into place on—I think—1 October 1996 in the directive, as something that should be avoided.

Under that directive, standards were tightened, which caused the closure of many incinerators in the UK. The standard under that directive was that dioxins, of which people are most fearful, could be present in no more than one nanogram per cu m—no more than one part in a billion. In fact, a new waste incineration directive currently being considered in Brussels proposes to tighten that standard 10 times, so that there should be no more than one part in 10 billion. Standards have been tightened a lot. I will return to the point the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) raised about the health effect. However, with regard to incineration, we want much more to be done about waste minimisation

We want a huge increase in recycling, but it is a fantasy to think that everything can be recycled or all waste minimised. There will continue to be a place for incineration, whatever one does, partly because recycling is not always the best practical environmental option—especially in extreme cases—although it is in most cases. Some things—for instance, clinical waste—need to be incinerated, should not be landfilled and cannot be recycled.

With regard to waste minimisation, the UK, like every advanced industrialised country, needs to decouple growth—we want high and rising sustainable and consistent growth—from the environmental impacts of waste that arises from it.

It is true, and I am the first to admit it, that that waste is increasing far too fast. It is increasing at least as fast as, if not slightly more than, economic growth itself. That is totally unsatisfactory. Our objective is to reduce the increase in waste from 3 to 2 per cent., then to 1 per cent, then—preferably—to a minus figure. If statutory recycling targets are put in place, we can double recycling by 2003–04 and treble it by 2005–06. We need to provide money—I have given the figure many times and will not repeat it today. The Government have made available extensive funding for that purpose.

In addition, the waste resources action programme, which is an arm's-length, industry-run body, is considering the creation of new markets so that the waste products of one process can be incorporated as an ingredient in and input to a different process. We believe that that will improve recycling and go some way towards waste minimisation. The problem is how to incentivise waste minimisation other than by increasing the cost of producing waste, which we are doing already. Landfill tax is increasing by £1 a year—the rate is £13 a tonne for organic waste. That rate is

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low, and we are reviewing what it should be in five years time. We will make a statement about that before long.

With regard to packaging waste, the reprocessing requirements are being tightened all the time. The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire has referred to the fact that we did not achieve 50 per cent. this year, although we came extremely close. Just one company's substantial failure to achieve its obligation caused that to happen. I assure the hon. Gentleman that much discussion is taking place about that.

With regard to the recycling record, about which I have probably said enough already, I am absolutely committed to the attainment of our 17 per cent. target by 2003–04, and that of 25 per cent. by 2005–06. We are monitoring local authority performance and will bring incentives and pressure to bear as appropriate.

The hon. Member for Gordon mentioned the time scale. He was right to cite 2009 as the deadline for compliance with all the requirements. However, sites that cannot comply with the directive on the basis of the information provided in the site conditioning plan will be closed as soon as possible—almost certainly within 12 months. Many requirements come into effect before 2009—for example, the bans, the pre-treatment requirement and so on. Most importantly, all sites will have to obtain new permits by 2007. It is not as though we are allowing seven years leeway: in the great majority of cases, things will happen much faster than that.

The hon. Member for Gordon referred to incineration, and I have dealt with that in my answer to the hon. Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty). He also referred to 81,000 vehicles being set alight in the street—I was not aware of that figure, but I am sure that he is right. The Government are concerned about the rise in abandoned vehicles, which is due to the plummeting price of scrap metal. A few years ago, a large lump of scrap metal, such as a car, could be sold for £50; today one has to pay to have a car taken away. That is why there has been a sharp increase in abandoned cars. The hon. Gentleman may have noticed that the Government introduced a new regulation on 10 April 2002 empowering local authorities to remove vehicles that are of no or little value—obviously it is important to take care when establishing the value—within 24 hours of notification. The vehicles are taken to a pound and if they are not recovered, they can be destroyed.

The directive follows the success of Operation Cubit, a police and fire brigade operation in Kent that dramatically reduced the number of abandoned cars. It successfully intruded into the habits of the local criminal fraternity, who exchange cars in the pub and use a lot of them for the purposes of petty crime. The operation had a dramatic effect and we are looking at how far it would be possible to extend it.

 
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