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David Hamilton (Midlothian): In that case, would it not be appropriate for the same proposal to cover the whole of Scotland, so spreading that responsibility throughout Scotland and England?

Mr. Murphy: I am sure that that would be appropriate, and I shall deal with that point in a moment.

The proposals for the plant would include state of the art technology, tried and tested by SULO in Germany, where the parent company now operates a refrigerator

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disposal plant. That would remove a huge burden from local authorities, which are currently storing fridges, or even transporting them to Germany for recycling.

The two local authorities have applied to DEFRA for a one-off grant of £330,000. That would represent their contribution to the capital costs of the plant and its first-year running costs. It is proposed that any profits from the recycling would be ring-fenced by the local authorities to assist in greater recycling and to develop further their respective waste strategies. The DEFRA grant will be an important component in setting up the new company. Again, I would appreciate my right hon. Friend's ministerial support in securing the funding.

It is possible, with the co-operation of local people, the planning authorities and the other agencies involved with such a proposal, to have a brand new state of the art refrigerator recycling plant up and running in under eight months from now. Again, I would urge the Minister to give the proposals his full support, once he is satisfied with them.

It has been estimated that we need at least four plants of that size to deal with the fridges that need to be disposed of in the United Kingdom. It is important therefore that we get this right. I am very confident that we have the right partnership and the right site.

The site itself is ideally placed to take refrigerators from the whole of the north of England and southern Scotland. The deep-water port of Blyth is situated just over a mile away. The railway line comes to within 50 m, requiring only the construction of a siding. The dual carriageway linking the A1 and the A19 runs past the site, giving it a perfect transport infrastructure. The site is designated for that type of use in the district council's local plan. It has the added advantage of being a brownfield site, situated on an old colliery.

We have a huge national problem with the disposal of refrigerators. The plant could be a demonstration project for best practice in the United Kingdom. It would provide employment, recover valuable materials and safely dispose of CFCs. I am confident that it will be a success, and it would be nice if my right hon. Friend could leave a space in his busy schedule to perform the opening ceremony.

There is also scope on the site to take recycling a stage further. Why should we wait until 2004 to comply with the white goods directive to recycle other electrical equipment? We have an opportunity immediately after the construction of the refrigerator recycling plant to build phase 3 and recycle all electrical equipment. We have demonstrated in Wansbeck that, if the political will exists and the correct partnerships are formed, local authorities can advance very quickly towards the modest targets set by our Government.

In conclusion, I ask that my right hon. Friend lend the full support of the Government to the scheme that I have outlined. I ask him to consider introducing a target of zero waste and to set a goal of 20 years to achieve it. I also ask him to allow the House at a later date the opportunity to debate the much wider issue involved.

10.48 pm

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Michael Meacher): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Murphy) on securing this debate.

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I certainly believe that the environment is one of the most important issues and that such issues are not discussed enough in the House. Waste management, in particular, is an issue of very great importance to the Government and the public.

My hon. Friend was absolutely right to refer to the worrying increase in the amount of waste. As he said, it is increasing at about 3 per cent. a year—roughly in line with economic growth. However, we as a nation need to decouple economic growth, which we want, from waste generation, driving it down from plus 3 per cent. a year towards nought and preferably a minus figure, but we are some way from doing that. But if we do carry on at 3 per cent. a year, in about 25 years the level of waste generated will double, as my hon. Friend said, and that, I think all parties will accept, is intolerable.

I was interested to hear my hon. Friend's views on recycling, and on developments in Wansbeck in particular. The EU landfill directive is driving the policy. It requires the level of municipal waste which goes to landfill in Britain, currently between 80 and 85 per cent.—one of the highest figures in the EU—to be reduced to scarcely more than a third of that by 2016, although there is a four-year leeway, but within 18 years at most. That is a huge shift away from landfill.

To help achieve those legal obligations, we have set some fairly tough, but, I am sure, achievable, national targets for recycling, which I hope are well understood by all hon. Members and local authorities, to double recycled waste within a three-year period by 2003–04 and to treble it within a five-year period by 2005–06. That is underpinned by statutory targets for each local authority.

As my hon. Friend said, increased recycling is absolutely essential. If one goes up the waste hierarchy, landfill is at the bottom; incineration may well have a role but is not popular; and recycling, re-use and recovery are unquestionably the best options. They are almost always the best environmental options, although the very best options are waste minimisation and not generating the waste in the first place. We have to incentivise that more than we have so far managed to do.

The system of tradeable landfill permits will also help local authorities to reduce landfilling by limiting the amount of biodegradable waste that can be disposed of in this way. That system will be enforced by financial sanctions.

I am aware that Wansbeck, and other parts of the north-east, have in the past had low recycling rates, and I would be the first to admit that Oldham in my constituency comes into that category too. Too often the recycling rate is as low as 1, 3 or 5 per cent., and such rates must be significantly increased. The national recycling rate when the Government took office in 1997 was about 6 per cent. and it is now about 11 per cent., but it has to reach 25 per cent. by 2005–06.

I understand that Wansbeck has made much progress. My hon. Friend said that the 11 per cent. recycling rate has been achieved and the 25 per cent. rate would be reached well in advance of the Government's target, and that is excellent news. He also talked about a waste management facility substantially increasing its throughput during the next few years.

My hon. Friend was certainly looking for a substantial grant—I wondered at what point there would be an appeal for money, and I did not have to wait long—for a fridge

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recycling plant. He will not be surprised to hear that we need investment in plant which can remove CFCs, not just from the coolant but from the foam in fridges. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs does not have a sum of £330,000 for that purpose, but my colleagues and I will be glad to consider whether it is possible to find some alternative funding. I make no promise, but I am ready to consider it, whether in the form of regional development grants or whatever. My hon. Friend also mentioned the importance of recycling other electrical equipment in advance of the waste, electronic and electrical equipment directive.

As I have indicated, the Government are very much committed to increasing recycling. We are assisting local authorities through a variety of measures to develop new and existing initiatives. We understand that, as my hon. Friend said, recycling and sustainable waste management in general can involve short-term costs, especially while the necessary infrastructure and markets are being developed. That is why financial support to help local authorities with waste management has increased substantially in recent years.

The 2000 spending review included an annual increase in the relevant local authority spending block. By 2003–04, that spending block will have risen by £1.1 billion on the 2000–01 provision—a very substantial rise. It is for local authorities to decide what proportion of that spending block is directed at waste management and recycling projects. It is the Government's aim under the agenda on modernising local government to give that option and discretion to local authorities, but they must meet the statutory recycling targets.

We have also provided an additional ring-fenced pot of £140 million for local authority waste minimisation and recycling. Wansbeck district council and all local authorities in England can apply for grants from the fund for recycling projects. Applications for funding from that pot of money are being submitted at the moment, and grants will be distributed in August for first-year funding. Obviously, I cannot speak about specific bids.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): While we continue to promote recycling, does the Minister agree that we need to fund the products that have been made through recycling and help them to become acceptable in the marketplace?

Mr. Meacher: The hon. Gentleman is exactly right; he has anticipated what I was going to say later, so in answer to his question, I shall say it now. There is very little point in increasing recycling unless there is a commercial purpose to which it can be put, which means either that there is an input into another industrial process or that what is produced can be sold on in the form of recycled products. There is little point in collecting recyclates and then having to landfill them because of the lack of a market. If recycling projects are to be successful, we must have a strong market for recycled products.

That is why last year we established the waste and resources action programme with £40 million of Government and devolved Administration funding. Its focus is on creating stable and efficient markets for recycled materials and its remit extends across the

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industrial, commercial and municipal waste streams. WRAP, as it is called—it is one of those wonderful Whitehall acronyms—has already put together a consortium and awarded a grant that will increase the UK's newspaper reprocessing capacity by 300,000 tonnes a year. That is very important in the paper sector. It also intends to fund a project for the sorting and reprocessing of plastic, which is perhaps the most difficult material in this context. That should result in an additional 20,000 tonnes of plastic bottles a year being diverted from the waste stream.

I mentioned the £140 million ring-fenced fund. We consulted widely on proposals for the distribution of the fund. The consultation paper stressed that it is intended not as a replacement for funds that authorities should be spending anyway, but as an extra boost for recycling capacity. A proportion of the fund has been earmarked—I am very keen on this approach—to assist poorly performing authorities that require such a boost in order to get meaningful recycling off the ground. If we are going to get the bottom quarter of local authorities into the middle of the range, they will need support. I am determined that part of the fund will enable them to make that change and that there will be no possible complaint that they have not had full assistance in doing so. That is not a reward for failure, but recognition of the need for additional assistance. A proportion of funding is also earmarked for high-performing authorities, which will tackle the more difficult and resource-intensive waste streams, such as plastic. I mentioned that earlier. I hope and believe that recycling projects in those areas will pave the way for others and help determine the best way to tackle new waste streams.

Future funding for local authority waste management and recycling projects is a matter for this year's spending review. I cannot pre-empt its outcome; I hope that there will be an announcement before the summer. However, I know that central Government need to work closely with local authorities.

Let me use a buzzword that is nevertheless meaningful—partnership. Working in partnership is important, and a proportion of the £140 million fund has been set aside for such working between authorities. We encourage all local authorities to work together—that is often more effective than working separately—and with the community sector.

The community sector has an important role to play and a further proportion of the £140 million fund has been set aside to help to develop community sector initiatives. In addition, the new opportunities fund is distributing £39 million of lottery money for community sector waste re-use, recycling and composting projects across England. I urge all local authorities to engage with local groups in order to achieve their targets.

We recognise that local authorities may have to make large capital investments in recycling facilities. My hon. Friend made that clear. To help deal with that, £220 million of private finance initiative credits have been set aside for waste projects. Perhaps the project that my hon. Friend mentioned can be assisted in that way.

Some local authorities will have the opportunity to be closely involved in working up and bringing forward local projects that are supported by the aggregates levy sustainability fund and linking them with other initiatives. The fund provides nearly £30 million per year for England

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for two years. The money will support projects that minimise the demand for primary aggregates, promote environmentally friendly aggregates extraction and transport, and reduce the local effects of aggregate extraction.

My hon. Friend referred at length to fridges. I recognise that the fridge issue is especially worrying to local authorities. The new rules that require the removal of chlorofluorocarbons from fridges are entirely consistent with the general drive to increase recycling rates. Up to the end of last year, many fridges were simply sent to landfill sites. That is not a sustainable form of disposal for an electrical white goods product such as a fridge. Under the new controls, all fridges will be sent to specialist facilities where harmful CFCs and other ozone depleters will be removed and the metal content recycled.

Central Government have worked closely with local authorities on the fridge issue. We have facilitated meetings—I have chaired many—between local authorities and processors to kick-start the development of treatment facilities. There is already one fridge recycling plant operating in the United Kingdom and several more should be up and running during the summer. By the end of June, we expect to be processing more than 50,000 fridges a month.

I am also working with retailers, the voluntary sector and the waste industry to encourage the re-use of fridges that can be restored to full working order. A proportion of them—perhaps 15 per cent. to 20 per cent. of those that would be returned to retailers under the take-back scheme—can be refurbished and sold on. We want to maximise that if possible. On the question of money, we have already provided local authorities with additional

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funding of £6 million, and I will be making an announcement on future funding—which I recognise is needed—soon.

Generally, I recognise that we still have a long way to go on recycling, and a long way to go to deliver the Government's vision of more sustainable waste management set out in our waste strategy 2000. I liked my hon. Friend's reference to zero waste. That is a meaningful concept, but we are a long way from it. It is ultimately the objective that we should have. That is why we have asked the Government's performance and innovation unit to review the strategy. Its findings will help to identify what extra instruments, changes to targets or regulations and, perhaps, additional funding may be required to ensure that we meet the EU landfill directive.

The direction of travel is clear, however. We must recycle a great deal more to meet the kinds of averages that have already been achieved in many EU countries, and we must landfill a great deal less. Our statutory targets must be met, and I am determined that they will be. I appreciate the inroads that local authorities have made, and the need to continue to make substantial progress in this area. They need to look to the full range of partnerships to deliver this vision—partnerships with the waste industry, other local authorities, the community, packaging compliance schemes—these are very important—and, of course, central Government.

I thank my hon. Friend for the opportunity to have this debate, which has been very useful. With imagination and drive, I am sure that we can achieve what needs to be done.

Question put and agreed to.

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