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Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD):
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the problems is that the Government indicators, which highlight how councils perform on recycling, do not reflect waste minimisation? Councils
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such as mine in Lewes, which have succeeded in reducing waste per head of population, therefore receive no credit for that, because the recycling figure bears no relation to minimisation.
Sue Doughty: That is an important point, and I thank my hon. Friend for raising the issue. While we work with councils, consider recycling and alternative ways of disposing of waste and meet targets to reduce landfill, if we do not reduce the amount of waste that we produce, no matter how much we divert waste from one place to another, we will ultimately fail to meet those targets. We therefore have some major concerns.
Liberal Democrats have been debating zero waste strategies for some years, and it is now party policy. It is also the policy in other places, such as New Zealand, whose waste strategy includes major requirements to reduce the amount of waste produced in the first place. In relation to zero waste, Mark Barthel of WRAP talks about the interesting concept of Z2, which considers sustainability in terms of zero waste and zero emissions and examines the problem in its totality. One of the worrying aspects of waste is that it not only fills up landfill but particular types of waste produce harmful emissions. New Zealand, Canada and Australia have taken that on board, yet when we asked recently what the Government were doing to examine further the question of zero waste, the answer was "nothing". It does not seem to be on the Government's agenda, and it is of great concern to us that such techniques should be evaluated by the Government. There is a large body of information from across the world on how waste can be reduced and minimised. Our Government would be foolish to ignore that, as some quick wins are possible.
People question whether zero waste can be achieved, but quality control always aims for zero faults. We should aim to continue to reduce the amount of material sent to waste, instead of digging up resources from the ground or plucking them from the trees and then throwing them away three or six months later. We are missing good opportunities to examine how to reuse materials and minimise waste.
It was sad, and it is a reflection of why we are not doing enough on waste minimisation, that a conference on zero waste that I attended last week was woefully under-attended. Some brilliant techniques were put forward, including work being done by WRAP, but without a Government strategy for waste minimisation, as opposed to initiatives through WRAP, we will not make progress. The new clause would put that right by requiring the Government to consult on ways in which they could strengthen the waste strategy by introducing stronger measures to support the top two options in a zero-waste hierarchy, reduction and redesign. We need much more focus on those options, which is why my party will press for a Division.
We hope that following their review of the waste strategy 2000, the Government will take the excellent opportunity that we are presenting to amend the hierarchy so that it explicitly includes redesign. Some work is being done through the waste and resources action programme, but much more is needed. We want the current way of measuring recycling levels to be reformed so that councils, such as Lewes, that reduce
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waste per capita by means of, for instance, home composting do not score less than councils that perform less well. That is why we are particularly concerned about waste minimisation.
New clause 16 is intended to ensure that consultation involves local waste development frameworks, and contracts relate to what is happening in the big world outside. The contracting out of waste disposal functions to the private sector or to arm's-length companies could result in inflexibility. The previous arrangements under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 can prevent waste disposal authorities from securing continuous improvements in the way in which they dispose of waste to meet recycling targets. We have major worries about contracts that are written and then cost an arm and a leg to change. Society and the Government may say that we need to change the rules to ensure a more sustainable approach to disposal, but councils are tied to contracts that do not reflect that. We want to help authorities to manage contracts while also making improvements.
In 1999, Surrey county council signed a 25-year contract that included incineration. Even since then, things have changed. We opposed incineration, and there was a change of MP in part of the Surrey area. Throughout Surrey people are beginning to recognise the need for a fresh look at waste.
Sue Doughty: I am very disappointed by that intervention. Combined heat and power does not need to be fed by incineration. A range of fuels can be used, and it is not necessary to burn waste to produce energy. Under a Conservative council, Guildford has not taken opportunities to make the maximum energy savingbut the debate is about waste, not energy. We must ensure that contracts requiring incineration do not promote the assumption that waste will continue to feed the incinerator.
Sue Doughty: We are talking about the incineration of waste, not about combined heat and power. We are not discussing the use of wood chippings, sugar beet or anything else to produce heat. Combined heat and power presents a good many opportunities, but I do not understand what part they play in a debate on a Bill dealing with waste.
What concerns me is that after only two years the Surrey county council contract failed to meet its statutory performance targets for recycling. I am not trying to "beat up on" Surrey. I know that there has been a change of personnel and that the council is trying to take a fresh look at the possibilities for a sustainable environmental approach. It would be wrong not to give it credit for its use of "sustainability" in job titles. Some of the staff are deeply committed to sustainability, and I support what they are trying to do with the contract that
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they have inherited. The fact is, however, that although we have a local waste development framework on which consultation is taking place, what was done in 1999 set the course of waste disposal.
That is the reason for the new clause. If contracts could be reviewed and updated to facilitate compliance with statutory performance standards, Surrey council and the contractor would be obliged to confront the fact that at present the contract requires only 25 per cent. recycling. Moreover, that includes incinerator ash, which it is no longer legal to include in the calculation. The statutory target is 36 per cent., and excludes incinerator ash. The contract needs to be changed. Would that not best be done in conjunction with the local waste development framework?
The Government will expect such contracts to be reviewed in terms of best value. The problem is that we are consulting on frameworks at a time when a wet earth disposal strategy has been established in a contract. We want contracts to be tied to frameworks. Another problem is that although boroughs in Surrey have been trying hard to improve their recycling records, credit is going to the disposal authority, which has done far less than those boroughs. As the Minister knows, I have long had worries about the whole business of collection and disposal authorities. I have never quite understood why it seems to work against what is best. Some unitary authorities have a much more coherent approach.
Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge) (Lab): What puzzles me is that waste minimisation, along with recycling, often depends on the volume of waste. Does the hon. Lady agree that that gives authorities little incentive to deal with, for example, the recycling of batteries? I have seen it in France, but my local authority provides no facilities for it.
Sue Doughty: I understand that waste is measured by weight rather than volume. We have debated the issue for a long time, and I am sure the hon. Lady will know of the problems with disposal of plastics, which are bulky but light. Fewer than 0.1 per cent. of batteries are sent for appropriate disposalrecyclingand we still have a problem with batteries in domestic waste. Most authorities cannot make their sums add up, because this country does not have adequate facilities. I speak from memory and stand to be corrected, but I understand that although facilities are being set up, that is happening in Scotlanda long way from the point of generation in the south of England or the east, where the hon. Lady's constituency is. Adequate battery disposal is a matter of great concern to us all, and under a zero waste contractor, indeed, under any waste contractwe want some of the harder-to-deal-with products to be dealt with appropriately.
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