Packaging and Packaging Waste

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I am concerned that the Minister has frequently had to apologise slightly, in a kind and courteous way, for not been able to deal with other matters connected with waste because they fall into the province of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I serve on the Select Committee that monitors that Department's activities, and I am beginning to learn more about the problems associated with waste. The Committee is about to embark on an inquiry into the subject, and joint witnesses may well be required. It would be helpful to have some better indication of how matters are being co-ordinated across not just Government but the United Kingdom.

Although I respect the uniqueness of the different legislative arrangements in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, we are discussing United Kingdom targets. As hon. Members have mentioned, it is important that all sections of the UK play their part in meeting the exacting targets, and that policy is properly co-ordinated. That is where the question of refrigerators is relevant, because the evidence that was taken by the Committee that I chaired indicates that there were deficiencies in co-ordination between different branches of Government, which led to a failure to realise the scope and scale of that problem.

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This has been a useful debate. I congratulate the Minister for being pragmatic and practical, and I hope that he can achieve further improvements in the way that we tackle enhanced targets, when they are agreed.

6.5 pm

Mr. Luke: I wish to make a brief contribution, as I have been involved in these matters for some time.

Europe is often a dirty word to many hon. Members, but it has a clean track record and plays a positive role in setting targets for waste management. Many of the companies that are involved in waste management are international organisations. As a result of competitive tendering, many companies that are based on the continent operate contracts to pick up waste in English cities. With regard to packaging, because of the freedom of movement of goods and services across European borders, waste that is dealt with here might have been produced abroad, so a co-operative approach is needed.

I welcome the targets that we have set. However, I also agree that it is necessary to extend the deadlines. There has been progress, but a great deal more progress must be made. I have discussed the matter with many people in my part of Scotland, so I know at first hand that a lot more collaborative work needs to be done, especially with regard to looking at using new technologies to create new ways of dealing with waste materials.

I raised the issue of plastics. Our streets and parks are awash with different types of plastic, such as bottles. I took part in an exercise to collect different types of waste and packaging; we collected an immense amount of empty plastic bottles in one morning on a beach in Dundee. If we cannot tackle the problem of surplus refuse, we will face a frightening future.

Both the national and devolved Governments must play their part by encouraging waste management operators and local government authorities throughout the UK to develop best practice with regard to handling this type of work. The Minister has a strong track record in Scotland, as is indicated by his previous ministerial appointments.

My city has a strong track record. It was the top recycling city in Scotland, if not in the entire UK. It has slipped from that position, because of changes in the market and a lack of focus at times, but it continues to work hard. There are clear divergences in the way that different local authorities manage such matters. That is also the case with regard to home energy, which I have discussed with the Minister; some councils have excellent track records on that. We need to reproduce that success, so that all local authorities hit their targets.

Obviously, there is a need to encourage more collaborative efforts between the private sector, local government and devolved Administrations to ensure

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that the planning is in place. My big fear is that, although we set targets, there is no infrastructure to enable them to be met. I know that that is the case in my area, although the Scottish Environment Protection Agency has played a positive role. We have talked about Wastepack: it is an English company that operates north of the border, and I have had discussions about schemes that it wanted to put in place to make recycling more manageable and more accessible to citizens. Such local area waste management plans should be produced throughout the UK.

At the end of the day, there are problems. The point has been made that in order to hit the targets, we will have to tap domestic waste streams in a much bigger way. However, some local authorities that have developed waste energy incinerating strategies are under contract to give all their domestic waste to a privately owned incinerating company, and they would face penalties if they did not continue doing so. Therefore, problems would be caused if that waste were recycled rather incinerated. These difficulties must be addressed.

We should delay the targets and put back the deadlines. The targets should be welcomed and I hope that a delay would allow for a more comprehensive approach. We all hope that the targets will be hit because we must work comprehensively to address the big problem in cities throughout the United Kingdom.

6.10 pm

Mr. Wilson: We have had a useful and interesting debate and I am grateful to all hon. Members, who contributed in a constructive spirit. There is agreement on the need for the measures, and questions asked were about implementation and practicalities rather than the ultimate objective.

Hon. Members recognise that progress has been made. This is not a party political point because the process began in 1994, but in 1997 we recovered only 30 per cent. of packaging waste, which was approximately 3 million tonnes. By 2001, that amount had increased by more than 1 million tonnes to 4.5 million tonnes. Equally importantly, the increase in the quantity of packaging stopped during that period and, consequently, we are discussing a fairly static target rather than one that is constantly rising. I shall pick up on several of the points that were made. The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge placed much emphasis on cost-benefit issues. I have said that I shall make further inquiries into whether I can give him figures on the point at which it becomes uneconomic to recover or recycle each specific material.

The directive is not only about economic cost-benefit analysis. The motivation that underlies it includes a contribution to our climate change objectives, to sustainable development, to improved resource productivity and to the Government's

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overall waste strategy. The cost-benefit analysis is fair enough, but it must be conducted on broad terms as well as with regard to narrow economic factors.

Mr. Hammond: Does the Minister accept that in addition to the economic cost-benefit analysis, an environmental cost-benefit analysis must be conducted? The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Luke) mentioned the problems of recycling plastics. Is one such problem that recycling several plastics is environmentally costly due to energy consumption and the production of greenhouse gases?

Mr. Wilson: Yes, that is part of the reason why the proportion of plastics that should be recycled is lower than that of other materials. On the other hand, how wide does one draw the cost-benefit analysis? My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East implied that plastic lying about all over the place causes a major intrusion on people's lives and their enjoyment of society because beaches are covered with plastic and a person cannot walk down a street without plastic bottles and packaging lying about. If we can tackle that, a cost-benefit analysis would show that there would be benefits that were not necessarily economic, but social and environmental.

I remember meeting with a company called Anaplast, which is based just outside my constituency. The company had developed a scheme, which was almost a sideline, to collect fertiliser bags from farms. The company was reprocessing those bags into black plastic sacks. That was a large scheme for a while, although I do not think that it survived. I was astonished to learn that farmers simply bury huge numbers of fertiliser bags in the ground. If there is no way of reprocessing them, there is a cost. That cost might not be economic, but it is not clever to dig a hole and to throw thousands of heavy plastic bags in it. There are wider issues at stake. The scheme is not just a good thing in its own right because it makes a wider contribution.

I agree with the hon. Member for Teignbridge and my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East about the role of local authorities. There is much scope to learn from best practice. I do not know whether I am technically qualified to send out that strong message, but it cannot be ignored. Councils cannot continue their traditional methods and behaviour, and it makes sense for them to look for commercial opportunities and partnerships with the private sector to develop businesses that will be beneficial economically and will enable them to deal effectively with such materials when the measures are in place. I hope that there is a widespread realisation among local authorities that they face a major challenge.

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The hon. Member for Teignbridge asked about information packages and teaching the public. The packaging directive requires us to explain the motivation and purpose behind it. The forthcoming WEE directive—more terminology with which we shall become familiar over the next year or so—and the end-of-life vehicles directive have the same public information requirements. There is much work to be done in getting such messages across to the wider public and we are all ultimately responsible for participating in that process.

The right hon. Member for Fylde referred to co-ordination.

Mr. Jack: Across the Government.

Mr. Wilson: Yes. The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. No matter which Government are in office, one Department cannot be responsible for everything, although there will be cross-boundary issues. Obviously, it makes sense to work closely with other Departments and I am sure that my officials work closely with DEFRA. Given the devolved responsibilities to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, it is important that people are involved both at governmental level and with agencies that are charged with delivery of the directive throughout the UK.

Mr. Hammond: Will the Minister reiterate the UK Government's commitment to the exemption for small enterprises from the effects of the directive and their intention to fight vigorously to defend that exemption should it come under attack from the Commission or elsewhere?

Mr. Wilson: It is the policy of the United Kingdom Government that small and medium-sized enterprises should be excluded from the effects of the directive. In fairness to the European Union, there is nothing to suggest that it is about to challenge that policy.

We have scrutinised the directive and I have explained our strategy for its implementation. I am grateful to members of the Committee for the way in which it has been discussed and I am glad that we have finished in time to see the European cup final.

Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee takes note of European Union Document No. 15194/01, draft Directive amending Directive 94/62/EC on packaging and packaging waste; welcomes it as a positive step towards achieving high levels of environmental and single market protection, whilst limiting the impact upon UK business; and supports the Government's negotiating line.

Committee rose at eighteen minutes past Six o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:

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Atkinson, Mr. Peter (Chairman)
Cunningham, Tony
Henderson, Mr. Ivan
Hesford, Stephen
Jack, Mr.

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Ladyman, Dr.
Luke, Mr.
Murrison, Dr.
Swire, Mr.

Younger-Ross, Richard
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    The following Members also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(5):
    Caplin, Mr. Ivor (Hove)
    Hammond, Mr. Philip (Runnymede and Weybridge)
    Laxton, Mr. Bob (Derby, North)

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    Wilson, Mr. Brian (Minister for Industry and Energy)

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Prepared Wednesday 15 May 2002