Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1101
TUESDAY 12 DECEMBER 2000
1101. May I welcome you to the Committee. Could
I ask you to identify yourself and your team for the record, please.
(Mr Meacher) Michael Meacher, Minister
for the Environment, as far as I know! On my left is Cath Shaw,
who is Team Leader for the Waste Strategy. On my right, Martin
Hurst, Divisional Manager for Air and Environmental Quality.
1102. Do you want to say anything by way of
introduction or are you happy to start?
(Mr Meacher) I always think these priceless opportunities
to read out prepared statements are a waste of time, so I will
1103. You know on these occasions that we have
powers to send for people and papers. I am not quite sure whether
that counts for your rubbish bin at home but we did wonder about
asking you to bring that with you. However, we thought it might
have been a bit messy. Then we thought about producing our own
rubbish bin totally and asking you to rummage through it, asking
you for a bit of advice. We have actually been very kind this
morning because we have taken out the chewing gum, the cat litter,
the privet hedge cuttings, the left-over trifle, we just have
a few samples of things. What I thought you might like to do is
just to have a look at some of the things that go into people's
waste stream and tell us how you would deal with them. (Same
handed) I do not know whether you would like to fish them
out of the bag yourself or whether you want us to fish them out
for you. It is a sort of lucky dip for you but I can assure you
that there is nothing really nasty in there at all. You have brought
out the pizza box. What should be really happening? Should those
be filling up our dustbins?
(Mr Meacher) I certainly think we need a much higher
level of recycling of such cardboard containers. We need separation
at source of such items.
1104. So what does that mean? You have to persuade
the pizza delivery man to take the box back?
(Mr Meacher) That is a scheme which I think we certainly
should consider. These producer responsibilities for fast foods
of this kind is certainly an eminent example of returnable containers.
We already do have, of course, a high level of recycling of paper
and cardboard products. I think it is something in the order of
65 per cent.
1105. That is not in the domestic bin, is it?
Most people who receive one of those pizzas will put it into their
bin and it will not be recycled, will it?
(Mr Meacher) At the moment it will not be recycled.
Some of it, of course, will be separated out at a later point
and can be recycled but in many cases that is not so, I agree.
I think a returnable scheme, producer responsibility on the part
of fast food manufacturers, is certainly something which we would
like to promote.
1106. Before you dig inI do not suppose
you want to open the lidbut I think there is a piece of
rotting pizza there. What should be happening to that?
(Mr Meacher) Rotting organic material can, of course,
1107. But does it not encourage the rats?
(Mr Meacher) Rats?
1108. If you put in food waste, then that tends
to encourage vermin, does it not?
(Mr Meacher) It could do. It depends, of course, what
is the composter. Rats would find it difficult to get into some
of them but I appreciate that is a problem. Apart from putting
it as a contaminant into a general waste bag under the sink, I
certainly think that we would want to see organic waste, together
with garden material, increasingly composted. We estimate that
something like to 2 to 300,000 tonnes of household compost is
achieved each year, with something like half of the total which
is centrally collected, so it is quite considerable. I can tell
you, Chairman, I do it myself.
1109. Keep digging.
(Mr Meacher) This is very exciting.
1110. Perhaps you or I ought to describe it.
It is a carton.
(Mr Meacher) A Safeways pure unsweetened orange juice.
1111. It has cardboard on the outside, silver
foil on the inside, plastic on the top to stop you spilling it.
Three or four different materials. It is a bit of a problem for
recycling, is it not?
(Mr Meacher) That is perfectly true. It has to be
separated out, which increases costs and increases complexity.
Again, I think if one had a requirement or initially some voluntary
scheme with the manufacturer, it would encourage perhaps the preparation
of containers which did permit recycling more easily. I certainly
think that again, this is something we would want to encourage.
1112. Right. Dig in again.
(Mr Meacher) It happens to be the Financial Times.
"Gore set for formal challenge" but that is not the
1113. It is pink, of course, which perhaps is
quite important to draw your attention to.
(Mr Meacher) It certainly can, nevertheless, be recycled
despite the pink hue. We do have an agreement with the Newspaper
Publishers Association to increase the current production of newsprint
from waste paper. It is roughly about 55 per cent. We have a target
for 60 per cent, rising to around to 70 per cent by 2006.
1114. We have to import recycled newsprint because
we are not producing enough in this country.
(Mr Meacher) That is perfectly correct. We are, at
the present time, considering an application for assistance in
regard to a second mill at Aylesford precisely to try and reduce
that problem. Now this could be described as a nappy. Fortunately
it is an unused one or a very well cleaned one.
1115. Three and a half per cent, I understand,
of the waste stream in this country is disposable nappies.
(Mr Meacher) I did not know it was as high as that.
That is considerable. There is innovation in the provision of
nappy washing services in order to reduce landfill. I do not think
it is our role to decide one form of nappy recovery as against
another, or disposal.
1116. What should happen to it then when it
goes into the dustbin?
(Mr Meacher) If a local authority is providing a nappy
washing service, of course, again it has to be separated at source.
That is absolutely essential. I believe that does already happen
in a number of cases. What I am saying is that I do not think
one can require that. There are still some environmental costs,
even with nappy washing services, in terms of the environmental
costs of the actual washing service and transport. I certainly
think we would want to encourage such services.
1117. Dig againa fluorescent tube.
(Mr Meacher) I cannot see any dark markings at either
end which suggest it is still usable. I did myself open a fluorescent
tube recycling unit in the north-west.
1118. And promised them a million recycled tubes
from government offices, which they still have not received.
(Mr Meacher) This is quite right, and it is the cause
of some embarrassment. I did say at the time, on the basis of
advice as to what the potential was, that something like (as you
say, Mr Chairman) a million fluorescent tubes could be made available
to a unit like this. All I can say is that DETR has pursued other
departments very vigorously. I think there has recently been some
increase, but I accept that it is nowhere near the level of what
it ought to be. This is one of the issues that in the Green Ministers
Committee I have been pursuing. In the end we are dependent, of
course, on other government departments.
1119. Your own Department is sending how many
(Mr Meacher) I cannot answer that. I hope we are.
(Ms Shaw) Can we put that in writing?
1 Note by Witness: Fast food manufacturers
do, of course, already fall within the scope of the packaging
Regulations, which encourage reduction and re-use of packaging
and require the recycling of packaging waste. Back