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House of Commons

Friday 14 March 2003

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Orders of the Day

Municipal Waste Recycling Bill

Order for Second Reading read

9.34 am

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

First, I thank right hon. and hon. Members for being in their places this morning. I appreciate that this is a particularly difficult time. Indeed, to think of anything but Iraq is extremely hard for us all. Let me say how much I appreciate Members being present. Secondly, I thank all my sponsors, many of whom are present, and who come from all parties.

The Bill began as an initiative by Friends of the Earth, which started a campaign two years ago to promote a doorstep recycling Bill. That was supported by Waste Watch and the community recycling network. The campaign generated a huge amount of public and parliamentary support, which spurred me into accepting the proposal as a basis for my private Member's Bill. Its form has changed as a result of the many consultations that we have undertaken, but its ultimate purpose remains the same: every household should have a collection of separated materials for recycling at the point from which its waste is currently collected. I believe that that should be everyone's right.

The law requires that our household rubbish is collected at or near our doorsteps. It seems utterly logical that waste for recycling purposes should be collected from that same point. Environmentalists have always regarded it as wasteful that we should make extra car journeys to get to bring-sites. The advent of bring-sites at supermarkets may have cured that problem for some, but there are still many households that do not shop at supermarkets, and 28 per cent. of our population still do not own cars. I believe that we should legislate for this right for people, but I accept that we must proceed according to the best practical environmental option. That is why drafting the Bill has been less straightforward than drafting some other measures.

For far too long, waste has been the Cinderella of environmental policy—although it is a passion of mine. In 1989 I was lucky enough to introduce another measure under the private Member's procedure, which created powers to tackle fly tipping. That legislation is still in use. At that time, people were much exercised about rubbish being illegally dumped, but far less

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concerned about where their own rubbish ended up. Today, many more people have become conscious of what is happening to their waste.

Of the estimated 30 million tonnes of municipal waste produced annually in the UK, about 80 per cent. goes to landfill and only 12 per cent. goes for recycling and composting. It is often said that the UK produces enough waste to fill the Albert hall every hour of every day. We have only to imagine that amount of waste spilling out of that august building hour after hour to realise what landfilling really means.

As if that were not enough, the waste mountain is growing by 3 per cent. per annum, which means that waste production will have doubled by 2020. Change is urgent. There has to be both a reduction in waste produced and a sharp change in disposal methods. We are literally running out of space for landfill. We are transporting waste further and further afield. Public concern about health risks has risen sharply following reports linking landfill sites to birth defects.

Last week, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs quantified the undesirable nature of landfill by publishing a report on the effect of landfill on house prices. The total price reduction of homes within half a mile of landfill sites amounted to nearly £2.4 billion. Landfill is also responsible for 25 per cent. of the UK's emissions of methane, one of the most powerful greenhouse gases.

The obvious alternative to landfill—one that has been taken up by many other European countries and by my local authority, Lewisham—is incineration. However, incinerators, too, have proved massively unpopular because of health concerns about the release of dioxins, heavy metals and acid gases.

Reduction, reuse and recycling are the only alternatives to increasing incineration. Increasing landfill is not an option. The European landfill directive requires the volume of biodegradable municipal waste sent to landfill to be reduced by 2010 to 75 per cent. of that which was produced in 1995, and requires even sharper reductions thereafter.

When waste is landfilled or incinerated, it is lost for ever. New products have to be produced. That production uses both new raw materials and energy, contributing to climate change and frequently, in cases of extraction, to environmental damage as well.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): The hon. Lady has already mentioned the health effects of incineration, which are one reason for rejecting that option and supporting her Bill, but does she accept that landfill has health effects as well? Only yesterday, 100 local residents in Rhondda Cynon Taff were awarded compensation because traces of carcinogens were found in their properties, which were close to a landfill site. That is another reason for pressing on with the Bill's proposals.

Joan Ruddock: The hon. Gentleman is right. Those threats to people's health have been recognised, and clearly the settlement to which he referred is an acknowledgement of that.

Ross Cranston (Dudley, North): I congratulate my hon. Friend on her excellent Bill. My local authority promotes recycling and has benefited greatly from a

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Government grant from the national waste minimisation fund. It has raised with me the subject of transitional arrangements, and I would be grateful if my hon. Friend would look into that. The authority has entered into long-term contracts on incineration, and although it supports the principle of the Bill, it will need reassurance that those contracts will be taken into account in any change.

Joan Ruddock: My hon. and learned Friend makes an important point. Clearly we do not want to do anything in the Bill that is to the disadvantage of local authorities. There is no question of local authorities, having entered into legal contracts, having to set them aside. The issue is important but, as my hon. and learned Friend knows, relatively few local authorities have incinerators, so there is not a major problem at the moment. However, it might become one if there was a sharp increase in the number of incinerators in Britain.

A Canadian study suggests that recycling saves on average three to five times as much energy as is produced by incineration—one reason why incineration is considered preferable to landfill. The European Commission found that overall, separation of waste at source followed by recycling and composting gives the lowest net flux of greenhouse gases compared with other waste treatment options. Those are vital considerations in the fight against global warming. A good example is glass, which can be recycled indefinitely—it takes less energy to recycle it than to melt down the raw materials. Recycling a single glass bottle saves enough energy to power a 100 W bulb for almost an hour. Most other European countries have diverted waste from landfill using a mixture of regulation and fiscal incentives.

Jean Corston (Bristol, East): I join right hon. and hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend on her excellent Bill. She has just referred to the recycling of glass. My local authority, Bristol city council, has a good recycling service for glass, paper and cans but, like many councils, it does not provide a facility for recycling plastic, which constitutes a large volume of household waste. Has my hon. Friend given any consideration to fact that local authorities may need financial assistance to recycle plastic products?

Joan Ruddock: The Bill is not prescriptive about which materials and waste streams local authorities would be required to recycle. I hope that that will be clear when I come to explain its details.

There are differences of opinion about the recycling of plastics. I have met representatives of a company that has to import plastic bottles to keep its recycling process going. There are differences in the market, and some local authorities may not have been able to find the right company to do their recycling work. There is a great need for information to be exchanged in that field, and the Government are trying to assist local authorities to match their recycling requirements with companies that can do the work. I accept that recycling plastic could be a problem, but it does not need special financing—it needs better communication so that the market can meet the need to deal with such products.

Mrs. Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire): I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend on her Bill. Does she agree

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that if local authorities were supported in recycling plastic, that could provide the farming industry, which has tremendous difficulties with the disposal of plastic, with an avenue to solve that problem?

Joan Ruddock: I agree with my hon. Friend. I hope that the Bill and all the interest in it will give a boost to companies that are prepared to do the work, and which could expand if they had certainty of collection—I shall come to that in due course.

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