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Mr. Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent): On the possible emissions, I am sure the hon. Gentleman will have been confronted with the argument that incineration is a safe form of disposal. How can people arrive at that conclusion when one considers that all the chemical compounds that are produced as a result of the incineration process have still not been identified? Without such information, how can people arrive at the conclusion that incineration is the best method of disposal? Perhaps you could elaborate and tell the House what responses you have had when you have asked such questions.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes): Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that he must address the Chair and that interventions should be short.

Sir Roger Moate: The hon. Gentleman has an important point about not merely what scientists say today but the continuing fear about what will be learnt. I shall

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return to the subject of dioxin emissions, although that is not the key part of my remarks. We have received assurances, but the fears, the debate and the controversy will certainly continue.

I was about to say that we should not criticise waste disposal authorities for having moved rapidly to consider the incineration option on a large scale. That has, indeed, been the prevailing mood. As we move away from landfill as the answer to waste disposal, it is not surprising that such authorities have grasped that option, nor should they be criticised for doing so. We should now pause, however, and re-examine other technologies that are on offer. One wants to be balanced and sensible about the matter. We must have a balanced approach and different situations require different solutions.

I am sure that incineration and recycling technologies can and should work together, although different areas and industries will advance different arguments and favour different methods of handling waste. A debate such as this will inevitably involve generalisations about incineration versus recycling, but I see nothing wrong with examining the principles on which we are operating.

We are, I think, right to fear that the incinerator philosophy has gone too far, and to believe that it should be checked and that, at the very least, all incineration proposals should be tested rigorously against the available recycling options. Kent tells us:

That reflects the statement on page 11 of the summary of the White Paper "Making Waste Work":

I emphasise that last point, because I do not agree: waste-to-energy generation should not be seen as the main alternative to landfill.

Even the 17th report by the Royal Commission on environmental pollution--which is widely cited as favouring incineration--says the opposite. Although it deals with incineration and shows how it could be made acceptable, its conclusion in chapter 10 states that energy recovery should be pursued only when waste cannot be recycled. In the so-called waste hierarchy--as perceived by both the European Community and this country-- recycling ranks above energy recovery. We should remind ourselves of the existence of that hierarchy, and favour recycling whenever it is a practical option.

The speed of change seems to have caused people to overlook the new technologies that have become available. In trying to solve the problem of emissions, we have tended to ignore other developments in the world. I understand that many integrated recycling plants-- mechanical plants that do not use incineration--are currently operating, some in this country. Such plants take a mixed waste stream--the contents of the familiar black sack or wheelie bin--and separate the waste mechanically. They process paper, card, metal, plastic, glass and kitchen and garden waste--charmingly

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described as "putrescables"--leaving 10 or 20 per cent. that can be used for compost or building blocks, or for landfill. A modest amount is always likely to be used for landfill, but the proportion is vastly different from what we are discussing today in regard to either incineration or recycling.

I understand that Berkshire is currently deciding on the use of just such a plant. The specification is impressive: the plant has a design capacity of 175,000 tonnes, and will recycle all the municipal waste that I have described, leaving a very small residue. The result will be splendid, if it can be achieved--and there is no reason to doubt that Berkshire takes practical considerations into account before signing such contracts.

What is remarkable about the plant is that it is such good value, as well as being environmentally better and more popular than the alternatives. The capital costs of such plants are much lower--which means that the gate costs will inevitably be lower. There need be no debate about toxic emissions, because no incineration is involved.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield): Rather than examining a plant that is still at the planning stage, the hon. Gentleman should visit West Yorkshire, and Leeds in particular. It is one of the leading-edge authorities, which has developed a first-class recycling technology. We need not discuss theories and plans; the hon. Gentleman should come to see what is already being done, and could be done even better if money were invested in recycling rather than the alternatives.

Sir Roger Moate: That bears out what I have said about the availability of alternative technology. It is puzzling that a number of authorities still seem to base their strategies on incineration. Although I shall resist the temptation to examine more waste disposal facilities, I agree that we should concentrate on what is happening in practice.

I was describing the cost advantages of recycling. I have found it difficult to obtain the precise figures during the short time in which I have studied the subject in the context of our county plan because, understandably, they are said to be commercially confidential; some local authorities, however, need to know the figures in order to make strategic decisions. There is a conflict between the need for commercial confidentiality and the need for transparency.

Mr. Llew Smith: I have had considerable experience of the problem of commercial confidentiality in attempting to obtain information from incineration companies, as have local authorities that would like to provide the information. Surely the answer to such difficulties is a freedom of information Act, which would enable the hon. Gentleman to obtain the type of information that can be obtained in the United States through pressing a button in the local library.

Sir Roger Moate: There will always be a need for commercial confidentiality, but once a local authority has entered into a contract the figures ought to be publicly available, because the charge payer is footing the bill.

I have heard that the gate fee for the Berkshire plant is about £20 a tonne. That is not much more than the landfill costs, including the new landfill tax. I am told that the gate fees for large incinerators can be as much as £30 or £40 a tonne, or even £50. I am also told that recycling

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plants can be viable at about 50,000 tonnes per annum, with a gate fee of about £25 a tonne. Whatever figure we take, however, there appears to be a large differential in favour of recycling rather than waste-to-energy plants, which must be very large to be economically viable. A differential of perhaps £10 can mean charge payers in any one county or waste disposal area having to pay millions of pounds a year. That is serious money, so we must get it right and not make mistakes.

Small local plants--the 50,000 tonne variety that I have described--have many other advantages. For instance, they avoid one of the main environmental problems: the large-scale movement of heavy lorries that is involved in nearly all major operations. The smaller and more localised the plant, the fewer problems--which generate understandable opposition among local residents--will be caused. Given the Berkshire example, I do not see why Kent should not have a network of smaller recycling plants, involving no burning of waste, minimising lorry movements, maximising the recovery of raw materials and reducing landfill by 80 or 90 per cent.

The arguments might be very different if we were convinced that waste-for-energy plants could produce low-cost electricity on a large scale, at a competitive price and in worthwhile quantities, which would make them viable in the long term. I confess that I should be happy to receive much more information on whether we are producing low-cost electricity compared with other forms of energy generation, and whether we are producing it on a large enough scale. I suspect that we are producing extremely expensive electricity that is sustained by the high gate fees that local authorities must pay to send in their waste and by temporary financial support by levy associated with the non-fossil fuel obligation.

To replace all the recyclable materials that are destroyed by incineration requires five times as much energy as can be generated from their destruction, so it is hardly the right way to save energy. It takes much more energy to recreate paper, metals and other materials, which should be recycled. It would be helpful to know the figures and to have a range of statistics to allow local authorities and hon. Members to judge the financial advantages or long-term commitments of those options.

I have not dealt with dioxin emissions and do not intend to do so. I readily believe that scientific and technological controls can be imposed to eliminate most dioxins, but whether that cost can be met and permanently sustained I do not know. I also readily believe that the extremely stringent new emission controls will greatly reduce emissions. HMIP recently published a review on dioxin emissions, but I am not sure whether that is the end of the story. It would be helpful if my hon. Friend the Minister could say whether he expects further reassurances, reviews or statements from HMIP on that point, because those would influence decisions now being made on incinerator proposals.

Whatever reports are issued, people will continue to fear pollution, perhaps justifiably, with all the attendant controversy and local objections. Nothing will remove people's worry about the possibility that new pollutants will be put into the atmosphere. It would be much better to avoid the whole argument by seeking a better recycling option, with all the advantages that I set out earlier.

I make no apology for returning to where I began-- Kemsley in my constituency. There are overwhelming arguments against the development there. Industry and the

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community, reinforced by Government officers in the south-east Thames gateway planning framework, have been striving successfully to raise environmental standards. The House will understand why any new developments that resurrect the spectre of unhealthy emissions will be particularly resented. I hope and believe that any such threat will soon be removed with regard to the Kemsley proposal and that our county, encouraged by the Government, will now pause and ensure that smaller-scale recycling plants, not large incineration plants, are at the heart of local plans for disposal of municipal waste.

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