Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1120
TUESDAY 12 DECEMBER 2000
1120. How many do you think?
(Mr Meacher) I do not know. We have certainly made
an issue of it in the Department. I would be very surprised if
we were not doing so. We will provide you with the figures.
1121. We have asked before, Minister, so you
cannot be entirely surprised to be asked that question.
(Mr Meacher) It is a surprise to me, I have to say.
I am sorry I have not come with the figures; but we will see that
you get the figures.
1122. Is it not the case that probably for most
departments the replacement of fluorescent tubes has been out-sourced
to some maintenance company? Could it not be worked into the contract
that departments have with various companies to ensure when they
take the old one out they set it aside to send it to this factory
you have opened?
(Mr Meacher) I can see no reason why we should not
do that, and I certainly think that is a good idea.
1123. Why has it not been done before?
(Mr Meacher) That is also what was occurring to me.
I am not specifically briefed on this. It is possible we do it,
but I doubt it. It is certainly something we will find out.
1124. Why should we be worried about a fluorescent
tube? An awful lot of people, particularly in a domestic situation,
would take one out and just throw it in the bin, where it would
crack into bits and go off to the landfill site, and it will not
even fill up much of the landfill site. Why should we worry about
(Mr Meacher) There is a mercury component which can
leach from landfill, and because mercury is a highly toxic substance
and potentially hazardous, particularly if it does leach and get
into aquifers, it is worrying. We certainly should not be land-filling
fluorescent tubes; and we certainly should be recycling. As a
result of this Committee we will redouble our efforts.
1125. If you would like to dig again there may
be one or two other things left.
(Mr Meacher) There is an envelope with a picture inside.
1126. We could not really get the dumped car
which was on a footpath. I did a walk last week of only about
five miles and came across five dumped cars on public footpaths.
I thought that was pretty appalling.
(Mr Meacher) Yes, I entirely agree with you. The number
of dumped cars is increasing and it is a serious environment disfigurement.
We have been in discussion with the DVLA about this and with the
Local Government Association, and we do need to come forward with
new proposals as to how to deal with it. We are looking at it
in the Department. Indeed, one of my officials who is here today,
Sue Ellis, has particular responsibility on this question of dumped
1127. If that note tells us about the End Use
Directive, in a sense the End Use Directive is going to make life
worse, is it not, because that will not come in for another couple
of years, which discourages anyone doing anything about it until
the End Use Directive is in place?
(Mr Meacher) You are right to refer to the End of
Life Vehicles Directive; I think it became law in October of this
year and in order to get transposition into national legislation
and the whole European parliamentary process, it does unfortunately
take about two years. I agree it is a very unfortunate hiatus
within the EU system and I am not sure how we can short-circuit
it. I repeat, we are looking in the meantime at ways of dealing
with this problem. It is now becoming a serious problem.
1128. Dig in the bag again.
(Mr Meacher) A metal can and a plastic bottle.
1129. What about having a returnable bottle
system in this country with deposits?
(Mr Meacher) Yes, I have always been in favour of
a deposit/refund scheme. There is the bottle bank scheme which
is operated in respect of pubs and clubs on that basis. I would
certainly look favourably on a Private Members Bill which proposed
that. If it is to be Government legislation of course we do need
a next slotwe need a new Environment Bill, and I can tell
you that I am certainly looking at that as well. I agree with
you, that a deposit/refund scheme is, I think, obviously the right
way for dealing with this. With steel cans, something like 25
per cent of the content is recycled at the moment, and I think
it is much higher with regard to aluminium cans.
1130. As far as cans are concerned, as I understand
on drinks cans, you get quite a reasonable return; but the ones
for cat and dog food, which I am told are the largest number of
cans in this country, the level of return is pretty low?
(Mr Meacher) They are, as you say, contaminated. They
are usually tins rather than cans.
1131. But they will pull out with a magnet?
(Mr Meacher) You can certainly extract them from a
waste stream par excellence because they are highly magnetic.
1132. Dig in for the last one. It should be
(Mr Meacher) Yes. We are expecting an EU Directive
on this to be published early in the new year, which will certainly
propose recycling targets. The real problem with recycling of
batteries is that it only becomes commercially viable if the mercury
content can be reduced. I certainly think what we would want to
encourage is more rechargeable and reusable batteries which are
essentially nickel cadmium batteries.
1133. I did not want you to dig in because I
left the shirt in the boxbut have you got any comments
on the level of wrapping in this. There is a plastic container,
about seven or eight pins and other bits of plastic. Is it really
necessary for items like that?
(Mr Meacher) For a moment I thought this was a Christmas
Chairman: No such luck!
Mr Donohoe: Do you really want to wear a shirt
1134. Do you really want to have a present from
(Mr Meacher) There are the Packaging Essential Requirements
Regulations which are designed to reduce the amount of packagingand
of course Packaging Waste Regulations in general as well.
1135. But they are not working, are they?
(Mr Meacher) I do not think we can say that. The 50
per cent target has to be achieved by all Member States in April
of next year. We were I think at something of the order of 38
per cent last yearquite a big leap to get to 50; but I
have actually raised the mandatory targets to a level of 56 per
cent in order to ensure that we do hit that 50 per cent targetso
I hope that we do. The only other point I would make about packaging
is that it is not wholly bad: for example, in respect of food
it does actually lead to less waste of the food which it contains
if you put it in a container of an appropriate quality which is
likely to lead to the householder using all the food rather than
wasting it. I accept that there are many examples in the shops,
particularly at this time of the year, of excessive wrapping.
I hope that the increase in the targets under the Packaging Waste
Regulation will begin to tighten on that problem in the next few
Chairman: We will leave the rest of the rubbish
that we might have been able to produce and go on to some general
1136. A number of witnesses have severely criticised
the Waste Strategy for being too timid and for failing to aspire
to the levels of achievement in waste management accomplished
in other countries. Minister, how do you respond to that criticism
that the Waste Strategy is lacking in ambition, especially compared
with the aims and achievements in other countries?
(Mr Meacher) I am astonished. We do start at a very
low point. The recycling of household waste in 1992 was 2 per
cent; in 1997 it was 6 per cent; and it is now about 9 per cent,
but that is before we start with the new recycling targets. We
are proposing, as I am sure you know, to double the level of recycling
to about an average of 17 per cent in the next three years (which,
given our past record, is a very big increase), and to triple
it to around 25 per cent by 2005. That is still below the level
of achievement of other countriesfor example, Denmark,
the Netherlands, Switzerland outside the EU, and Germany. We can
do better than that, and I would expect that once we have achieved
that 25 per cent target we will set new and further ambitious
targets. Given the low level at which we started, I think if we
were more ambitious still it would begin to look vaguely incredible.
I think we have to prove our capacity to hit these middle level
targets first before we aim for the high targets. The fact is,
some local authorities are already recycling in the upper 20 per
cent level, and there is absolutely no reason why we cannot do
that across the country. That is our firm aim but it is in a short
timescale. I believe, rather than saying it is unambitious, it
is pretty challenging.
1137. Is there anything you can do with the
tools available? The Waste Watch memorandum states, "If the
targets in Waste Strategy 2000 were the equivalent of trying to
beat Manchester United at Old Trafford, then the tools available
to date are the equivalent of fielding a team like Oldham Athletic
. . ."!
(Mr Meacher) I do take exception to the comparisons
at the end of that! There are three requirements for a satisfactory
recycling programme. First, are challenging statutory targets
which I have just addressed; but I repeat, a tripling in five
years is not the end of the storyit is a mid point in a
more ambitious story. Secondly, there is the need for financing.
We have provided, in the Spending Review, £140 million which
is ring-fenced for recycling. We have also provided £1.1
billion under the slightly curious title in the SSAs of "Environmental
and Cultural Services for Local Authorities"a very
odd combination, but I hope we will get a significant proportion
of that, but that depends on local authorities. There is also
a further £50 million under the New Opportunities Fund specifically
for community recycling. Of course, one could provide more but
that again is a very big increase on current levels of recycling.
The third requirement is markets. We are all agreed that there
is very little point in increasing recycling if you cannot find
a market and you cannot find a productive use for it and it then
in the end goes to landfillthat is a waste of everyone's
time. The purpose of WRAP, the Waste and Resources Action Programme,
which we have set up (and you have just been speaking to Vic Cocker
and other executives within that newly established body) is to
develop new markets in conjunction with bodies like ReMaDe; to
identify gaps in the supply and demand for recycling; and, of
course, provide solutions; to provide research and information
on technologies and engineering that are relevant; and encourage
investment in reprocessingfor example, I have already referred
to the second Aylesford plant.
1138. Could you just clear up what is actually
happening. Is the Treasury vetoing the money for it?
(Mr Meacher) No, that is not the case.
1139. Heaven forefend that they should even
think of such a thing!
(Mr Meacher) I thoroughly agree, Mrs Dunwoody, that
is absolutely my view. Your reproof to your Chairman is strongly
supported. No, what has been proposed is a substantial level of
support for government because of its impact in the improvement
of newsprint recycling. We have been in discussion with the company
over a considerable time. We have also been speaking to the two
main shareholders who have been the bodies that believe they cannot
justify this increase in investment without some government support.
We are currently making further proposals on this. Hopefully,
in the short future, we shall be able to publish, I hope, some
solution to this problem.
2 Note by Witness: Any such proposals would,
of course, have to be consistent with single market legislation,
including the single market provisions of the packaging Directive. Back
Note by Witness: Nickel hydride would be a better example
of a rechargeable battery. All rechargeable batteries have advantages
in terms of waste reduction, but nickel cadmium batteries present
potential problems due to the toxic nature of cadmium. Back
Note by Witness: We have also been in contact with the
other recycled newsprint mills about the need to expand capacity.
Any proposal for government support to achieve this aim will be
considered on its merits. Back