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11.40 am

Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton): This debate is an extension of our debates on the Environment Act 1995. As a result of those debates being guillotined, we were denied the opportunity to discuss many issues that we would have liked to discuss. This debate on waste and recycling is significant and it is a matter in which I have a great deal of interest. In West Yorkshire, we have the largest landfill and reclamation site in the area, following the quarrying and mining there. West Yorkshire generates substantial waste because of the industrial opportunities there and domestic waste is generated as well. This debate is, therefore, important.

To say that we must do something about reducing the amount of waste in landfill is an understatement. We must do everything that we can to reduce the amount of waste that is being deposited in landfill sites. Valuable materials can be recycled and more emphasis should be placed on recycling waste.

Recently, there have been traumatic discussions about the packaging industry and about how the levy that is being set by the Government should be imposed. Sadly, we could not find a suitable system for imposing the levy. I understand that a compromise has now been reached with the V-WRAG people as the result of a division within the group. The decision is not unanimous, but the compromise is being accepted and we hope that it will work. It has to be reviewed in two years' time. That is the kind of debate that we should be pursuing. I hope that the Minister will refer to the V-WRAG proposals on

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packaging waste and I hope that he will tell us how he considers the new compromise will help to reduce the amount of packaging and to encourage the recycling of packaging waste.

The landfill tax is designed to reduce the amount of waste that is deposited in landfill sites. Some aspects give rise to concern. It seems that the landfill tax, which is due to be implemented in October, will be applied across the board without further consideration of the consequences for areas where waste is generated beyond the control of man. I refer to our waterways.

The Aire and Calder navigation, which is still in use, flows through Normanton. It has to be dredged to ensure that boats can travel along it. We are advised that the waste from the dredging, which will be deposited on the land, will be subject to tax. We have a ridiculous situation. Beyond the control of anyone in the Chamber or anyone in the Government, waste will be generated and it cannot be recycled. Some of it will be valuable as cover at the landfill sites and for base material. However, paying £7 or £7-plus for each tonne of waste generated by dredging our waterways will be a tremendous burden on the inland waterways business.

I therefore make the point strongly to the Minister that some consideration must be given to that anomaly. In his Budget statement, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the levy would apply to all waste. I make the plea this morning that consideration should be given to waste generated by our waterways in the form of dredged material. I hope that the Minister will be sympathetic on this point because the tax will have a tremendous impact on our waterways.

The Institute of Wastes Management is working hard with Members of Parliament, the Government and local government to improve communication with the public about waste management. In an October 1995 publication entitled "Communicating with the Public", the institute says:


The institute admits that it has not communicated properly with the public on the control of waste, the deposit of waste and the collection of waste. It now wants to correct that. It continues:


All those involved in waste depositing and recycling are now making a specific effort to work with the House, the Government and local government to ensure that people are made aware of the advantages that can develop from recycling waste. Many members of local authorities are as keen on recycling waste as we are in the House and many people work voluntarily to help recycle waste. As has been pointed out by other hon. Members, people in local government have a substantial interest in recycling waste. Parliament should give all possible support to those in local government who are interested in the matter and who are determined to ensure that waste is both recyclable and recycled. We should give all possible support to the packaging industry because it works hard to reduce the amount of waste to landfill.

In the House, two all-party groups are considering that problem. My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) referred to the sustainable waste

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management group. We also have the waste glass recycling group, which meets frequently to discuss ways to improve the recycling of waste materials.

Incineration was mentioned earlier, but certain products of waste will have to be recycled. I refer in the main to waste tyres. We have tried to use tyres for building walls and making barriers, but there are so many of them that disposing of tyres is a problem.

In Yorkshire, Sheffield city council has introduced a scheme for disposing of waste tyres, and I consider that the experience that Sheffield has in generating heat from waste will benefit the communities of Yorkshire and Humberside especially, and those in a wider area, in disposing of waste tyres.

We have a wide area to cover. The problem is not confined to plastic bottles and paper packaging. We, as Members of the House, should analyse a host of other materials. The Government should support at all levels the efforts of people who are bringing pressure to bear to reduce the amount of waste to landfill. Recycling brings benefits.

I hope that, following the debate, the Minister will respond to some of the anxieties expressed by hon. Members. I hope that the Government will adopt a positive approach by sustaining the argument in all sectors that waste and recycling issues matter as much to the Government as to people in local government and in the industry.

I am pleased to take part in the debate. I hope that we may have further debates on that subject, because of its importance.

11.51 am

Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate): I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Sir R. Moate) on initiating the debate. It happened that we both sought permission to initiate Adjournment debates on the same subject, and I am pleased to join him in today's debate and release my Adjournment debate for tomorrow night to another colleague.

It is important to balance recycling, incineration and landfill. Instead of considering specific elements in isolation, we must consider as a whole all those different ways of tackling the escalating volume of waste.

The debate gives me an opportunity to welcome the Government's recently published White Paper, "Making Waste Work", which will stand for many years as a guide to best practice in the waste management industry. I warmly congratulate my hon. Friends in the Department of the Environment on the work that went into the preparation of that report.

I shall concentrate on the contribution to effective, integrated waste management of energy from waste plants. By "energy from waste", I mean the process whereby household waste is burnt in modern plants to create energy and reduce the volume of waste going to final disposal, which was spoken about earlier so eloquently.

The White Paper rightly recognises the role of energy from waste and its increasing importance in the United Kingdom. It says:

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    "using waste of one type or another to supply useful energy is a well established method of obtaining added value before final disposal and will increasingly represent the best practicable environmental option for many wastes".

At the moment, as hon. Members know, landfill remains the dominant route for disposal in the UK, and accounts for about 85 per cent. of the 35 million tonnes of municipal solid waste. However, in many parts of the country, such as London and the south-east, the status quo is an option that is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain, owing to the scarcity of landfill spaces.

Several years ago, the village of Rufforth in my constituency was chosen for a new landfill site by North Yorkshire county council. When the site was identified, there was a great deal of opposition from local people, as might be imagined. The plan involved creating a hole in the ground and using the soil from the hole to cover the waste as it gradually filled up. It has a 13-year life. That emphasises the shortage of landfill sites that confronts local authorities. We must ensure that other options, including waste to heat and recycling, are considered thoroughly.

The White Paper sets important new targets, which will aid the transition to more beneficial uses for unavoidable waste. When considering the role of energy from waste plants, I emphasise that I do not mean old-style waste incineration. Such plants, largely designed and built in the 1960s, are being rebuilt or phased out and replaced by modern energy from waste power stations, which have greatly enhanced environmental performance to set alongside their energy recovery capabilities. However, as the White Paper says:


My hon. Friend the Member for Medway (Dame P. Fenner) mentioned dioxins; I shall discuss them shortly.

Energy from waste plant capacity in the UK should now enjoy a time of expansion. It is thoroughly sensible to use waste to create energy, and especially to provide electricity and heat to people who live near such plants. The overwhelming environmental advantages of treating municipal solid waste in modern energy from waste plants instead of landfilling raw waste are become more widely accepted, although there is a great deal of ignorance on the subject.


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