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14 Mar 2003 : Column 563—continued

Mr. Griffiths: The hon. Gentleman mentioned Bridgend. I do not want labour the point, but it is about to move over to a 100 per cent. recycling scheme. Some people, however, are a bit worried because it involves incineration.

Mr. Thomas: In that case, I will not go down that path. I am glad that recycling is at least part of the plans in Bridgend, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman is also pleased about that.

I pay tribute to the vast number of community organisations that have been involved in the recycling and reuse of materials over the past 15 to 20 years. When recycling was something done by bearded, sandaled hippies, it was community organisations that led the way.

Mrs. Patsy Calton (Cheadle): That was us!

Mr. Thomas: I do not include Liberal Democrats, and certainly not hon. Ladies who sit for the Liberal Democrats, in that. My first recycling effort was collecting Corona pop bottles in order to take them back to the shop to get a few extra pence. When I began recycling as a student, I did it for a community organisation, the Aberystwyth recycling centre, which is still going strong and still running recycling, now in partnership with the county council, but at the time it was a voluntary community effort.

We tend to overlook the specialist aspects of recycling, which were mentioned by the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew). Those include the recycling of batteries, some kinds of plastic, computers and precious metals, and the refurbishment of furniture for resale or reuse. That is still done by community organisations. Local authorities have not ventured much into those fields. There are organisations such as CRAFT in my constituency, which employs six people with learning

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difficulties, who work on renewing furniture that is then made available to people on benefit. That is part of a virtuous circle involving not just recycling, but social and economic benefits. That is sustainable development at work, but it comes about through the impetus, initiative and entrepreneurship of community organisations. Even at this stage, local authorities lag behind.

One of the major advantages of the Bill, although it is not explicitly stated, is that if we can set ambitious targets to be reached in the next 10 to 15 years, that will motivate local authorities to innovate in other areas as well. They will not reach a 50 per cent. target just by recycling and composting. They will also have to address the issues of minimisation, reuse, refurbishment and sustainable development. That is why the Bill is worthy of support by the House, in Committee and ultimately by the Government, through enactment and proper funding, to ensure that we reach the targets and that the hon. Lady's vision is realised.

12.2 pm

Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster): May I associate myself with the closing comments of the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas)? I have not heard a voice of dissent all morning, so I congratulate the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock). I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) on his thoughtful, sensible and praiseworthy approach to the Bill. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend suggests that I should be more effusive in my praise, but that is unnecessary, as anyone who reads his speech will recognise the wisdom of his words.

I begin with the difficulty that we all face when dealing with the subject of recycling. For example, the Bill contains three blank pages. It is important that when we deal with recycling matters, we do not miss such open goals. That brings me to the dilemma that I face in my constituency, where the councils of Herefordshire and Worcestershire have combined to consult the public on the issue of municipal waste management, in particular on what should be done with the solid waste. The councils have sent out a helpful leaflet—in fact, they sent it to me twice. In the spirit of recycling, it seems, it is important that we get plenty of paper and often. They have asked my constituents to choose from seven options.

I shall share the options with the House, as I know that there are experts listening who may be able to guide me. It is symptomatic of the problems that we face in this country that the options given to us are often difficult to understand.

Option one is:

municipal solid waste—

Option two is:

Option three is:

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Option four is:

Option five states:

Option six is:

Option seven states:

Those seem complicated choices for people who are not necessarily expert on the subject, yet they are the sorts of questions that we are asking households in my constituency to decide upon. They are also being asked to decide upon various different processes for other types of waste. That is unnecessarily complicated and shifts the burden of responsibility from the expert to the inexpert in way that is a shame, but not shameful. I hope that my constituents will rise to the challenge and that we will deal with MSW in the most appropriate way. However, if anyone listening to the debate wishes to draw my attention to one of the preferred options, I should be grateful and I urge them to do so. The Minister may wish to guide me on that at a later date.

There are several reservations about the Bill, in particular, that its introduction may challenge the autonomy of local government and the need to resist further prescriptions from central Government without additional resources, and I hope that the Government will respond to that.

There is also a lack of a market for recyclables and a lack of a green procurement from industry, manufacturing and the Government, which places burdens on local authorities to find end users for the waste materials that they have collected.

The division of authority and responsibility for the waste collection and disposal authorities could mean the fining of one for the failures of the other. Again, I hope that the Government will address that problem.

One of the more minor suggestions that causes me concern is that kerbside collection is not always the most appropriate way to recycle waste in every area and bring-sites or bring-banks may prove more successful in inner cities where space is constrained.

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Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the 20 per cent. from the landfill tax credit scheme is not sufficient to fund a nationwide doorstep collection and recycling scheme. Even if more of the landfill tax revenue were to be directly transferred to the local authorities, it would simply be redirecting money that had been paid by them for landfill. I hope that the Minister will address those problems when he replies.

I am a supporter of the Bill and a signatory of early-day motion 333A. I hope that the Bill will sail through. A 50 per cent. recycling target is utterly laudable and receives huge support form my constituents. I hope to see the Bill on the statute book at great speed.

12.9 pm

Mrs. Patsy Calton (Cheadle): In adding my support to that of my Liberal Democrat colleagues, I am delighted that universal support has been expressed for the Bill. I congratulate the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) on introducing an important Bill on which she has done a great deal of work. She has encouraged the campaigners who wanted such a Bill by proposing a sharp target that can be readily identified and aimed at. Like other hon. Members, I have received a large postbag on the issue, and I congratulate Friends of the Earth on mobilising its membership, which I am sure has accounted for a large amount of that correspondence.

Like other hon. Members, I have extreme concerns about landfill and incineration. I have one active landfill site in my constituency, one that has been completed in recent years and another that is more than 40 years old. All three have caused tremendous problems at different stages of their development and they will continue to cause problems for the local area, probably for a minimum of 20 or 30 years to come. The gassing from older landfill sites will continue for some time. My constituents are only too aware of the problems associated with such sites. One of the answers is to try to reduce the amount of waste, and my party has repeatedly expressed support for waste minimisation methods.

Stockport metropolitan borough council is one of the foremost authorities on waste disposal and work with waste. In our area, we have seen that collection of waste from the doorstep is undoubtedly the best way of encouraging recycling. Waste recycling started in our area via voluntary bodies, schools and other organisations such as the scouts. Such organisations have collected waste paper for a long period and have had a dramatic impact on the community's impression of recycling. It would be a great shame if we were to think that adding doorstep recycling into the equation meant that we should remove all those other activities. Substantial community benefits are achieved through the involvement of voluntary organisations in collecting paper and so on. In my area, 642 tonnes of paper were collected last year by schools and voluntary organisations. Across Stockport metropolitan borough, they collected more than 1,000 tonnes of paper. We should remember that there are other community benefits to be had from the organisation required for such collection. Simply replacing one means of collection with another is not an option, and I am happy to say that Stockport council has not done so. Instead, it has encouraged both sorts of collection to continue side by side.

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Plastic recycling is undoubtedly a problem. I was the chair of environmental health in Stockport between 1995 and 1997. In all the time I was involved with collection of recyclable materials, plastic recycling was the hardest nut to crack in Stockport, as I am sure it has been throughout the country. It is very difficult for a local authority to solve the difficulties on its own. Government help or better regional strategies are needed to try to solve some of the issues not only in ensuring that collection occurs but in deciding what is done after the materials are collected if there is no proper market for them. It is difficult to establish continuity in the market for plastics.

Stockport council is the highest achieving metropolitan authority in the north-west. According to the new counting methods, it recycles 11.23 per cent. of waste. It has the difficult targets of 22 per cent. for 2003–04 and 33 per cent. for 2005–06. However, several initiatives have been proposed. Stockport council has beacon status and has educated and informed other local authorities—and, indeed, other countries—about some of its recycling methods. It expects to meet the targets for 2003–04 and 2005–06.

I am proud to have taken part in decisions on implementing the boroughwide doorstep paper collection. Last year, it collected more than 5,500 tonnes of paper. The amount of paper collected increased fivefold after the introduction of doorstep collection. Clearly, it makes a tremendous difference. We also have 159 recycling sites in the borough. Some people prefer to use them and it would be a pity to remove them because of doorstep recycling. They have been sited in locations that are easily accessible, and to which people drive anyway—a workplace, a local health centre or a shopping centre—so they do not necessarily make additional journeys to recycle. I advise multiple methods to increase recycling and reduce the amount that goes to landfill.

In the past year, we have recycled more than 2,000 tonnes of glass and more than 40 tonnes of plastic. The total for recycling paper through voluntary organisations, paper banks and doorstep recycling was more than 8,000 tonnes. That is a dramatic amount. The council recently celebrated the collection of 100,000 tonnes of paper in the past few years.

A new scheme, which provides green wheelie bins for garden waste, has been introduced. Before it started, it was estimated that 12,000 tonnes a year of garden waste would be collected. The scheme has proved so successful that the figure was revised upwards to 15,000 tonnes. About 18,000 containers have been distributed to households so far, and the refusal rate has been less than 1 per cent. The take-up has been huge.

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