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Household Waste Recycling Bill

4.10 p.m.

Baroness Gale: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

I am pleased to be able to introduce this debate on a Bill that, despite being short in length and proposing only a simple change in the law, could make a dramatic difference to the way we deal with waste.

Dealing with waste is one of the most serious environmental problems we face in this country. Without action, we face a waste crisis. The total amount of rubbish thrown away by households in this country continues to grow every year and communities do not want new incinerators or landfill sites. Existing landfill sites are running out of space in some areas of the country, and even where we still have space, EU law—the landfill directive—requires the United Kingdom to make swingeing cuts in the amount of material landfilled each year. This is the most obvious aspect of the problem: not having anywhere to put the rubbish we generate. But failure to recycle causes other problems too.

The need to find new materials to replace the various things that are thrown into landfill or incinerated also damages our environment. For example, in Iceland a wilderness area vitally important to Icelandic reindeer, seals and pink-footed geese which spend the winters in this country, is threatened by the construction of a huge aluminium smelter and the hydro-electric dams

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required to power it. In parts of Scandinavia, wildlife-rich, old-growth forests have been logged and replaced with mono-crop forests to make paper, yet every day tonnes of paper and aluminium are thrown away when they could be reused.

There is a further problem. By not recycling and instead acquiring and processing fresh raw materials, we are wasting energy. Every time we recycle a glass bottle rather than make a new one from raw materials, we save enough energy to power a 100-watt light bulb for one hour. Saving energy means that recycling also helps to prevent climate change, and this could make an enormous contribution. The United States Environmental Protection Agency created a model to determine the flow of climate change gases. Applying the model to the UK waste stream suggests that every year we could save 4.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions through recycling. That is equivalent to the energy that would be saved by a 12 per cent reduction in traffic. So to reduce the pressure on our landfill sites and to stop the need for new incinerators, to reduce our need to dig up or clear-cut wildlife sites, and to prevent climate change, this Bill will of course be a great help.

The UK has lagged far behind other countries in terms of its recycling. In its report of October 2002, the Green Alliance compared UK policies and performance with seven other countries or regions in a report called Creative policy packages for waste: lessons for the UK. The report found that the UK had in place fewer legislative and incentive-based measures to encourage recycling than most of the other countries studied. It had only three measures, compared with eight in Denmark and in the Flanders region of Belgium, seven in Sweden, and six in Switzerland and the Netherlands. We also recycle less than other countries, managing at the time of the report to recycle just 11 per cent of municipal solid waste compared with 62 per cent in Flanders, 45 per cent in Switzerland and the Netherlands and 38 per cent in Sweden.

Survey after survey has found that recycling is popular. People will take part if they are provided with the facilities to recycle. The Government's own strategy unit commissioned MORI polling to inform its report and it found that the demand for kerbside collection services is high. Three out of four people said that they would recycle more if the facility were available to them.

The initial evidence suggests that this claim is borne out in reality. In London there is a correlation between the availability of kerb-side collection and self-supporting levels of recycling, which have more than doubled relative to those that do not have a collection service.

Qualitative evidence suggests that access to a collection service also plays a role in catalysing wider environmental awareness, even though many initially only used the service because it was available. The act of participation itself seems to foster a greater sense of environmental responsibility. In May 2002, the Environmental Agency carried out similar polling and

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found that nine out of 10 people would be very likely to separate their rubbish if provided with the facilities to do so.

That is the background against which the Bill has been drawn and is no doubt the reason that it made good progress in the other place. It is clear that recycling has major environmental benefits; that the UK is far worse at recycling than we should be; and that improving our performance would be very popular.

Before taking your Lordships briefly through the Bill, I should acknowledge the help given by various people in getting the Bill this far. The honourable Member for Lewisham Deptford deserves particular thanks as it was her decision to adopt the Bill after being drawn in the Private Members' ballot that provided Parliament with the opportunity to debate it. She piloted the Bill skilfully through the other place and I owe her great thanks.

Similarly, the Ministers who responded positively to her efforts deserve thanks. Both the former and current environmental Ministers played an important role. It is also important to pay tribute to the Opposition parties in another place that have supported the Bill. The Conservative and Liberal Democrat Front Bench spokespersons have enthusiastically backed the Bill, meaning that it is a real cross-party proposal to improve our environment. The Bill has also received support from hundreds of organisations.

It will perhaps be helpful if I briefly explain the terms of the Bill and the thinking behind them. The Bill seeks to add to Section 45 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. This is the section that puts a duty on local authorities to collect waste from households in their area. Clause 1 of the Bill inserts, after Section 45, a new section that requires English waste collection authorities to ensure that arrangements are in place by the end of 2010 to collect at least two recyclable materials separately from the remaining waste.

Waste collection authorities can avoid this duty if they are satisfied either that the cost is unreasonably high or that comparable alternative arrangements are in place. Concern has been expressed that these two provisions could become opt outs allowing councils to get out of providing the separate recycling collections we want. However, I have been encouraged by the Government's commitment, given in debate in another place, that the opt outs are narrow, a commitment which I hope will be repeated here today.

On costs, I accept that in a very small number of places it does not make sense to recycle. In fact, the current law allows such exemptions from very remote households that may not even get their rubbish collected. My view is that if a council is going to a house to collect rubbish, there is no reason why it cannot collect recycling. Split-bodied collection vehicles can allow both collections to be made at the same time in a single trip. Alternating rubbish collections, so that rubbish is collected one week and recycling the next, has also been used successfully.

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Successful recycling projects already operate in two areas where cost is often quoted as being prohibitive—rural areas and tower blocks. I therefore think it is hard for existing councils to argue that these schemes could be very expensive. Such an argument was put to the Minister in Committee in another place by the honourable Member for Mid-Bedfordshire, who asked:

    "Would the Minister accept that if a local authority can produce a good recycling scheme that is economic, there is no adequate excuse for another local authority that is not able to do as well?".—[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee F, 10/6/03; col. 22.]

I was encouraged by the Minister's reply of "I entirely agree".

As to what will be considered "comparable services", I see no problem with a provision of extremely high density collection points. I can envisage a new housing development where a point was built for the recycling and dustbins of perhaps 10 to 12 surrounding homes, for example, as matching a doorstep scheme—and perhaps even more convenient for the householders, who would not need to keep recycling boxes in the home.

However, any council trying to argue that a few extra bottle banks provided a "comparable service" should certainly be prevented from getting away with that. This argument was put to the Minister in Committee in another place. The honourable Member for Bexhill and Battle tabled an amendment requiring any "comparable facilities" must allow householders to recycle within 100 metres of their home. Although the amendment was not pushed to a vote, it led the Minister to say:

    "We want to put in place the best arrangements. In relation to a bring-site, 100 m is quite a long way—perhaps it should be rather closer than that".—[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee F, 10/6/03; col. 21.]

I am therefore content that Clause 1 provides a reasonable balance and will result in almost every if not quite every home having a recycling service that is as convenient as it can be for them.

There are two other aspects in this part of the Bill on which I should like to comment. First is the number of materials to be collected. Various supporters of the Bill have argued for the collection of four materials to be required rather than two. I sympathise with that view. There is also evidence that increasing the number of materials recycled makes people better at remembering to separate their waste. However, those backing the Bill accepted two materials—and let me point out that the Bill refers to "at least" two materials—as a compromise, so that we could take an important step forward with Government support. I hope the Government can give advice to councils to ensure that the scheme they set up can be cost-effectively upgraded to collect more materials in the future.

Finally, there is an option in subsection (5) of new Section 45A for the Secretary of State to allow up to an extra five years to meet the requirements of the Bill. I confess I would prefer the Bill without that option,

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and I hope it will not be used. I know my noble friend the Minister may not be able to promise this today, but I hope she will go as far as she can in that direction.

Clause 2 allows the same power that Clause 1 places on English waste authorities to be applied to Welsh authorities if the Welsh Assembly deems that appropriate. Coming from Wales, I am very pleased that the Welsh Assembly now wishes to have this power if it needs to use it. Waste is a devolved issue in Wales, so should Wales wish to follow England in requiring doorstep collections, it would require changes in primary legislation that are beyond the Assembly's powers. This clause gives them the necessary powers.

Clause 3 requires a report to be made by the Secretary of State no later than October 2004 detailing progress on recycling. I think that is a sensible requirement, as it allows us to see how we are making progress and will, it is to be hoped, focus minds on meeting the challenge set out in the Bill.

The remaining provisions are, I hope, self-explanatory. They give definitions, make minor drafting amendments required to keep the earlier 1990 Act consistent and give the Title and the extent.

The Bill is not complicated, and would make a huge difference. Recycling provisions have been increasing recently, but we still have a long way to go. This country has a bad record for missing the recycling targets that it has set itself. Indeed, as far back as 1990, we set a target to recycle 25 per cent of our waste by 2000. The latest figures show that in 2001–2 we managed less than half that amount—just 12.4 per cent. At the current rate of increase, we would meet our 1999 target in about 2014. We need to break the cycle of failure, and I believe that the Bill would play a huge part in achieving that. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Gale.)

4.26 p.m.

Baroness Hooper: My Lords, my interest in this subject stems from the days when I was a Member of the European Parliament and vice-chairman of the European Parliament's environment committee. I also, at that time, had the fascinating task of preparing a report on containers of liquid for human consumption, more generally known as the beverage containers directive. Therefore, I was very much involved in all issues of reuse and recycling of household waste.

However, the main reason for my contribution today is that I am currently the longstanding president of Waste Watch, the national agency that works together with local authorities and other organisations to advise, support and encourage better management of household waste and which has been involved in developing many imaginative and successful projects. Waste Watch operates under the slogan, "Reduce, Reuse and"—only then—"Recycle"; in other words, recycle only after considering other forms of disposal.

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We were involved in the consultations leading to the drafting of the Bill and were very much behind the original Bill.

I recognise the need for the Bill, as outlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Gale. Therefore, I feel able to welcome it and to congratulate the noble Baroness on presenting it as she has to your Lordships' House. I understand that this is her first Private Member's Bill, and I am sure that it will be the first of many.

It is disappointing that there are not more speakers today, as there is no doubt that the subject is very important and that many members of the population take a great interest in it. Anyone who has been to a local authority recycling centre, particularly at weekends, will know what hives of activity those centres can be. I am constantly astounded at the quantities of materials that people are willing to separate and prepare for recycling.

To diverge for a moment from the main theme, I am not really surprised at how few people put their names down for the debate. The new electronic system that has replaced the time-honoured fashion in which we could put our names down to speak in debates has given rise to some confusion.

As for the provisions of the Bill, and the amendments that were made in another place, I would have preferred there to be percentage-based targets to encourage local authorities to move beyond the targets provided by the landfill Act. I should also have provided at least four materials to be collected separately as a consequence of the Bill. Nevertheless, as the noble Baroness said in presenting the Bill, the fact that it provides for kerbside collection of at least two separate materials means that we can build on that in future. I trust that, from the start, many waste authorities will see the advantage of going beyond the minimum of two. I think that part of the problem in this respect is that, with only two materials being collected separately, it will tend to be the heavier materials, or garden waste, which are collected. It will not encourage the recycling of plastics, for example, but I believe that that is essential.

I have a few questions, the first of which I direct to the Minister. Can she reassure me that the Government believe that the Bill, when enacted, will enable local authorities to achieve and improve on the targets provided by the landfill Act? Secondly, in relation to the kerbside collection of separate materials and any future possible increase in the number of materials, will the Government be prepared to issue guidance—to which I think the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, referred—so as to encourage local authorities to prepare for an increase in number, so that any vehicles they may be purchasing, for example, can be adapted to collect more than the minimum number of materials? Thirdly—and this is directed either to the Minister or to the noble Baroness, Lady Gale—as the Bill refers only to England and Wales, what will happen in Scotland and Northern Ireland?

Again, I welcome the Bill. I wish it good speed through your Lordships' House and an early implementation.

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4.31 p.m.

Baroness Maddock: My Lords, in introducing the Bill, the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, pointed out that it has all-party support. That is true on so many environmental issues. We on these Benches are very pleased to continue the support of our colleagues in another place.

The noble Baroness referred to the problem of landfill. It is not a new problem. I am sure that the European Parliament was talking about it when the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, was a Member. It has long been talked about, but we in this country have been very slow to realise the size of the problem. She also pointed out that we are way behind other countries in this regard. In speaking to another environmental Bill, I referred to the time many years ago when I lived in a Scandinavian country—a consequence of which is that I still frequently visit Scandinavia. As noble Lords may know, on trains in Norway, for example, one is able to recycle goods in the refuse bins. One is continually reminded everywhere in Scandinavia of how to sort one's rubbish.

In examining this issue we have to be careful about how we establish facilities and deal with recyclables. The noble Baroness touched on that point when introducing the Bill. We need to ensure that we recycle the items that are most profitable to recycle, and I am talking about profitability in the wider sense. Energy is required to collect, transport and reprocess recyclables. I am sure that the previous speakers will agree that even before we reach the recycling stage, we need to reduce the number or reuse the items used. That will make recycling a more reasonable proposition.

The noble Baroness, Lady Gale, talked about the problem of tower blocks. Last year almost to the week, I was in Sweden looking at regeneration projects, including those involving blocks of flats built when I was living there 30 years ago. In those days, blocks of flats usually had a chute in which to put bags of kitchen rubbish. As part of the regeneration, however, all the chutes were closed and—just as the noble Baroness said—there was a site containing many tubes in which people could put their recyclables. Such an arrangement is certainly possible.

The noble Baroness did not mention the important role played by composting. It is particularly important now that so many people wish to have an allotment and grow their own vegetables so that they can have a guarantee of what is put on them.

We are trying to tackle recycling when we have an ageing population. To illustrate the point I refer to the system in Berwick, where I live. It is difficult for elderly people to carry items to recycling centres. That is why kerbside recycling is so important. As with energy efficiency that we discussed earlier, implementation of recycling measures varies hugely among local authorities. The Bill's purpose, which these Benches support, is to try to give a bit of oomph to those authorities that are not taking recycling sufficiently seriously in terms of trying to educate people to recycle where they can.

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I am pleased to say that the borough of Berwick-upon-Tweed where I live has instigated a two bin collection. It has not been going for very long but it is successful. We have a blue bin collection. The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, discussed which recyclable items would be recycled in a second collection. Once every fortnight I get rid of the rubbish that I think can be recycled. There is a list of the things that can be recycled and put in the blue bin. The system appears to work well. I was amazed that some people became upset because they thought their rubbish would be collected once a fortnight. However, there is still a weekly rubbish collection, although it may take place at a different time. Such a system concentrates the mind. It certainly concentrated my mind in terms of composting. I am much more committed to taking my compost down the garden—so much so that I managed to lock myself out one day.

One of the biggest problems in taking forward recycling is finance. Grants are available to local authorities, particularly for set-up costs. I refer to timescale, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Gale. It is unfortunate that in Britain, one of the wealthiest nations in the world, we still need a Private Member's Bill to improve our recycling effort. I give the Bill my full support.

4.37 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, like every other speaker, I join in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, on bringing the Bill forward. Private Member's Bill or not, it is at least a Bill and it is at least coming forward. We do not have a particularly good legislative record in this field, not that legislation should be necessary. People are convinced that recycling is necessary and they ought to be able to persuade their local authorities to take the necessary action. That is happening. We should acknowledge the good work that is done in some communities and some local authorities.

The Bill is welcomed by all parties. However, we should not duck the fact that it is not the Bill that was introduced in the Commons. Earlier my noble friend Lady Miller of Hendon spoke on the Sustainable Energy Bill. That Bill chimes very neatly with the one we are discussing. They could almost form one debate; that would not be inappropriate. My noble friend Lady Miller said that the filleting knife had been taken to the Sustainable Energy Bill. The filleting knife has been taken to the Bill we are discussing. As I say, it is very different from the Bill that was originally introduced in the Commons. That does not mean that it is unwelcome, but instead of being a strong Bill it is now a rather unambitious Bill. However, it is somewhat better than nothing.

I have two questions. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, will be able to reply to them. The first relates to the Waste and Emissions Trading Bill which we considered in this House some months ago and sent to the other place. That was largely directed to dealing with the problems of biodegradable municipal waste, but that waste constitutes a large part of the problem that we are

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discussing. There is therefore a clear and distinct relationship. That Bill has not come back. The Commons has considered it in part, and has certainly not finished its consideration. It would be rather interesting to know, if the noble Baroness could tell us, when it will return to us. I do not dare ask in what form it might return to us, as I suspect that it may well have been filleted a little as well.

In due course, we face a barrage of orders to enable this country to comply fully with the latest European directive on the subject. It would be interesting to know, if the noble Baroness were able to tell us, whether any of those orders is likely to overtake or come into conflict with anything in the Bill. That may be asking for advance information that she is not able to give, but I for one would be most grateful to receive any indications.

I have a question for the noble Baroness, Lady Gale. For the arrangements for separate collection of recyclable waste, new Section 45A(3) states:

    "The arrangements are arrangements for the collection of at least two types of recyclable waste together or individually separated".

I can understand two types of recyclable waste individually separated, but two types together may be a problem.

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