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I return the hon. Lady to her comments about waste being measured by weight. Is not the fact that local authority targets are fixed by weight one of the fundamental problems? Instead, one needs a much more selective mechanism so that, for example, packaging and other parts of the waste stream could prove valuable
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to local authorities in terms of contributing to national targets. We need a much more sensitive arrangement than the current one.
Sue Doughty: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that useful intervention. I get the feeling that even with plastics, with which we know we are having problems, there is much more that we can do. In my local authorityI am not making a party political point; this is doubtless true of many other authoritiestwo major supermarkets, Tesco and Sainsbury's, have plastic "bring points". One might assume that one end of Guildford shops at Sainsbury's and the other at Tesco, but these "bring points" are used by people who work in the constituency but do not necessarily live there. For example, someone who lives in Reigate but teaches at a school in Guildford deposits plastic bottles at one of those sites. Bottles are brought to the collection area and left there in plastic bags; indeed, bag upon bag is left there.
We need to do much more to educate the public, hence my concern about Waste Watch. We need to ensure that, as in France and Spain, people drop their old batteries into a collection unit when they buy their replacements, assuming that they cannot use rechargeable ones. We also need to ensure that people know that the best thing that they can do with their plastic bottles is to stamp on them and, if possible, remove the paper wrapper. That would help everybody, including the markets, but unfortunately we are failing on the education front.
Such issues are also important in terms of how contracts work. We must create a framework whereby we modify those contracts and tell collection and disposal authorities that they must improve, increase recycling and reduce waste. In that way, we will avoid waste incineration, for example, which people do not want. We should also help people to dispose of their waste in the most appropriate way. On mechanical biological treatment, would it not be better to provide the option of anaerobic digestion, which is not an incineration process, even though it produces a gas by-product that can be burned? There are many other ways in which we can dispose of waste, and tying oneself into a long contract is not a good idea.
We still have a problem with retail packaging recovery and producer products. We buy such products at supermarkets, take them homeand then what? Again, the burden falls on local authorities. Some of the better organisations have had a serious look at packaging and are doing some good things; for example, B&Q is looking at end-to-end use of packaging. Unfortunately, although they are leading from the front, many other organisations are lagging behind and not playing their part. We want to introduce a measure on producer responsibility in order to increase recycling rates, and to provide an incentive for retailers to limit the amount of packaging used. In Germany, deposits form part of such schemes. There has been some negotiation as to how such deposits work, along with some discussion of how well the German scheme is working. There is room for improvement in terms of recovering bottles and other plastics, but such improvement is beginning to happen.
New clause 18, which would create a sustainability requirement for waste disposal functions, is also concerned with the problem of contracts. We need to
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establish what the sustainability requirement is. As we know, it is very easy to introduce private finance initiative-based contracts that include no real definition of sustainability. Although the Government look for best value in such contracts, they do not put the same effort into dealing with sustainability deficiencies. Some authorities will of course still choose to contract out waste disposal functions. For example, a small authority might not find it economical to carry out such functions or to build a partnership with a neighbour. Such contracts must have sustainability at their core.
A report produced by the Green Alliance last year, entitled "PFI: Meeting the sustainability challenge", pointed out that there are sustainability guidelines for agreeing PFI contracts, but that not a lot of attention is being paid to them. They are honoured more in the breach than in the observance, and they are optional. If there were firmer sustainability requirements, local authorities would have to take on board advice about sustainability, and bidders would have to pay greater attention to, and make firmer commitments to, meeting such requirements. We need to strengthen those requirements and I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say on this issue. He has the opportunity to tell us how sustainability will be brought into waste contracts and other contracts.
Amendment No. 37 follows on from a debate that we had in Committee on the failure to provide valid authority for transporting waste, and on the obstruction of officers exercising stop-and-search powers relating to that offence. We identified a discrepancy between subsections (2)(b) and (8)(b) of clause 37. The former states that a vehicle can be stopped by an officer if it
That, however, does not clear up the inconsistency between the two subsections. We are taking account of the Minister's response and suggesting that the phrase "about to be" be removed from subsection (2)(b). I hope that the Minister has had a chance to look at the amendment and that we will achieve a satisfactory meeting of minds. We already have enough problems securing adequate evidence and conviction, particularly in relation to transporting waste, and I would hate a loophole to be used to provide a defence in cases where we should be securing a conviction.
Mrs. Anne Campbell:
I do not want to detain the House for very long, but I want to add a few remarks to those made by the hon. Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty), who made some very valid points about waste minimisation. The whole purpose of our recycling policy should be to reduce the amount of waste material going into landfill sites, but the hon. Lady will doubtless
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join me in congratulating the Government on increasing recycling in an astonishing wayone that I did not think possible in 1997.
In my own local authority, when Labour was in control in 1998, we were recycling 14 per cent. of domestic rubbish. That gave the Liberal Democrats a target of 28 per cent. to achieve by 2004, which they failed to realise. They have also failed the further target of 36 per cent. this year. I am sorry about that, because many things could quite easily be done to enable the council to meet its recycling targets.
I understand that the hon. Member for Guildford is talking about waste minimisation rather than recycling, but I hope that she agrees with me that the higher the rate of recycling, the less waste needs to go to landfill sites. I know that it is not always the case, but manufacturers sometimes seem intent on vying with each to produce more and more packaging, so we all end up with more packaging in our shopping bags at the end of the day. If we can increase the amount of waste for recycling, less material will need to go to landfill.
Sue Doughty: The hon. Lady mentioned two figures relating to recycling in Cambridge. I cannot comment on the second, because I have not looked into it, but I understand in respect of the first figure that it had nothing to do with the change of council administration and a sloppy attitude, but reflected a change in the way waste was counted. It would not have mattered which council took over from the previous council: the figures would have risen in any case.
Mrs. Campbell: That was the excuse offered by the Liberal Democrats on Cambridge city council, but the Government have not accepted it. It is not sensible to start quibbling about the figures; we should look at further ways to enhance recycling and improve waste minimisation.
In response to the intervention of the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), when Cambridge city council first introduced green bins, I was visited by one of the council's officers, who wanted to know why I was putting so little into my green bin. The answer was that most of the stuff that should have gone into my green bin had actually been deposited on my own compost heap. That is an eminently sensible way of dealing with the problem, rather than leaving it for someone else, though many people without large gardens have to resort to that.
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