Waste and Emissions Trading Bill [Lords]

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Gregory Barker: If one is to create useful compost, it is imperative that one is discerning about the materials that are composted and separating them out. If one simply uses any material that is capable of being composted or biodegraded, one ends up with something dangerous. I am thinking particularly of cooked foods, which are often mistakenly put into kitchen composters. That is probably the most common example. I wonder how the definitions will help to inform a strategy that, in turn, will help to inform a wider public about how we ensure that what we compost serves a useful purpose, rather than simply becoming problematic.

Mr. Meacher: I do not believe that the definitions in the landfill directive or the Bill will answer the sort of problems to which the hon. Gentleman referred. The problems are relevant, and are answered by having an organic standard for composting. We spent several months last year producing an organic standard that we finally published. It was subject to widespread consultation with the Composting Association and stakeholders about what was good quality, recognised organic composting. That has now been agreed and is established, and is the answer to the hon. Gentleman's question.

There was also the problem of animal by-products being put into home composting. After foot and mouth, the Government were extremely concerned that no action should be taken that might resurrect foot and mouth in this country. On the other hand, we were criticised because the exclusion was so wide that home composting was completely discouraged. We sought through a European Union regulation to try to find the right balance between the two. We want to encourage home composting, but without any risk of human or animal disease.

The definition of biodegradable waste in the Bill is, as I said, derived from the landfill directive. It is important that the definitions are the same, as the objective of the landfill allowance scheme is to meet the targets set in article 5(2) of the directive. A wider definition would complicate the system and disconnect it from the landfill targets in the directive. In order to demonstrate that we have met our obligations under the directive, our report to the Commission would have to submit figures using the directive definition. At the very least, that would create unnecessary complications for the monitoring authority, as it would need to collect figures covering both definitions. It would also bring further pressure to bear on disposal authorities, which I am not sure is the

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intention. A narrower definition would mean that we had failed to implement the directive fully, and would leave us open to infraction proceedings. The amendment carries that risk to the extent that it seeks to introduce a time limit on when waste can decompose.

We should stick closely to the definitions in the directive. I cannot answer biological questions about the nature of biodegradability, although I could get experts to answer them. However, that is not the point. However they are answered, the important point is that we keep close to the directive. I almost said that we are required to do so whether it is right or wrong, because that is what we are required to do by law. I cannot accept the amendment for those reasons.

Mr. Wiggin: The Minister is asking what we do when waste has been biodegraded by some other method. In the case of the feathers, which I described earlier, it is soil, which is then put on a field. It could be put in a hole in the ground, which might be construed as landfill. That is why the definition is important, because the sort of landfill that soil and feathers represent is not the sort of landfill that we are talking about in the Bill. However, the example is still valid, which is why the definitions are critical.

Mr. Meacher: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. The waste acceptance criteria define inert waste. If biodegradable waste is treated so that it meets that definition, it ceases to be biodegradable waste, which answers the hon. Gentleman's point. Any plastic capable of anaerobic or aerobic composition is biodegradable waste, to which amendment No. 80 relates, and will be biodegradable waste according to the definition in the clause. I hope that the hon. Member for Guildford will be satisfied by that explanation and does not need to pursue the amendment.

On the main thrust of this group of amendments, however, I repeat that the matter is not about substantive policy issues but definitions, which I insist must be close, if not identical, to those in the landfill directive.

4.45 pm

Sue Doughty: I thank the Minister for that clarification, which was what we were seeking. We were concerned about what falls inside and outside the category of biodegradable, yet the Minister took an interesting and helpful angle on that question, and tied it back to the original objectives of the Bill, which we all support. Having received that answer, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Sue Doughty: I beg to move amendment No. 81, in

    clause 21, page 15, line 4, after 'waste', insert 'collected by collection authorities'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 82, in

    clause 21, page 15, line 5, after 'waste', insert 'collected by collection authorities'.

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No. 83, in

    clause 21, page 15, line 6, at end insert—

    '(c) and is in the case of (a) and/or (b) recorded for official purposes as such'.

Sue Doughty: One might think that inserting the words ''collected by collection authorities'' would be an obvious thing to do. However, we are concerned, because councils have had a lot of problems in measuring their recycling levels. There has recently been an outbreak of sparring between political parties, as each has tried to prove that it is the greenest. The definition of how waste is measured has changed as the years have gone by. As each council tries to prove that it is green and that its recycling figures are on the gentle upward path, other parties come along, take advantage of the fact that the definition has changed and say, ''No they're not.'' Everything depends on how one counts things, as opposed to whether the general thrust is towards increased recycling, and we have been concerned about that.

We wish to define waste from households as municipal waste that is ''collected by collection authorities''. However, that waste could also be that which is collected at municipal waste facilities or dumped waste that is collected. Such distinctions are important when we try to define the figures. With the amendment we are trying to clarify the exact point at which household waste becomes biodegradable municipal waste and counted for those purposes. The worst example might be the problem of home composting. An estimate used to be made of the amount of waste that went to composting and was included in figures as a generally agreed rate. Now, however, councils are not sure what effect that has on the overall figures and what is sent to recycling.

There is still the problem of how to reward councils that encourage households by giving them cones and composters. We do not see that waste, because although people are being virtuous and filling up their composters nicely with it, it does not go anywhere to be recycled because it is not even collected in the first place. The amendment seeks clarification on how such waste is counted so that when councils look at their performance figures, they know the exact point at which it becomes material sent for recycling.

Mr. Meacher: The amendment would amend the definition of municipal waste in subsection (3) by limiting it to waste that is ''collected by collection authorities'' and recorded as such. As I have said many times, and again a only few moments ago, the landfill allowances scheme that the Bill would establish is designed to implement the requirements of article 5(2) of the landfill directive. We must not do anything that could result in the United Kingdom's under-implementing the directive. In order to do that, we must, as I said in the previous debate, ensure that our definitions are consistent.

Not all waste is collected by collection authorities. Waste disposal authorities have a duty to arrange for places where residents can deposit household waste and for the disposal of that waste. The amendments would result in such waste being excluded from the

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landfill allowances scheme, even when it falls within the definition of biodegradable municipal waste. That could leave us open to infringement proceedings brought by the Commission.

I am not sure what the amendments want to achieve by requiring waste to be recorded before it falls into the definition of municipal waste. That would seem to narrow the definition and could lead to infringement proceedings. Solid municipal waste arisings are already recorded and will continue to be so. Municipal waste sent to landfill will also be recorded, as will the amount of such waste diverted to other forms of waste management. All the figures will be supplied to the monitoring authority to enable proper checks to be made, so I submit that there is no need to add the requirement to the definition.

The hon. Lady may have been tabled the amendments to probe what lay behind the provisions. I hope that I have given her an adequate explanation and that she will not press the amendments.

Sue Doughty: I thank the Minister for his response. He is right to say that the amendments are probing, because the issues have caused many problems to councils in trying to establish what they are and are not collecting. We have had various discussions about collection and disposal authorities, the interface between the two and how we can co-ordinate their efforts to exploit best what the directive is trying to do. We all want that, but we do not want to fall over on the definition.

The Minister's answer was helpful because if he had said something else, we might have found that we were excluding material. However, his answer implies that we want to include as much in the counting as possible. That is what we wanted to determine, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

 
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