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Session 2006 - 07
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Public Bill Committee Debates

Draft Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 2007



The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. David Wilshire
Barker, Gregory (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)
Benyon, Mr. Richard (Newbury) (Con)
Bradshaw, Mr. Ben (Minister for Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare)
Burden, Richard (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab)
Chapman, Ben (Wirral, South) (Lab)
Cooper, Rosie (West Lancashire) (Lab)
Corbyn, Jeremy (Islington, North) (Lab)
Fraser, Mr. Christopher (South-West Norfolk) (Con)
Goodwill, Mr. Robert (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con)
Hepburn, Mr. Stephen (Jarrow) (Lab)
Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall) (Lab)
Horwood, Martin (Cheltenham) (LD)
Huhne, Chris (Eastleigh) (LD)
Shapps, Grant (Welwyn Hatfield) (Con)
Truswell, Mr. Paul (Pudsey) (Lab)
Ussher, Kitty (Burnley) (Lab)
Watts, Mr. Dave (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
Eliot Wilson, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

First Delegated Legislation Committee

Monday 5 March 2007

[Mr. David Wilshire in the Chair]

Draft Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 2007

4.30 pm
The Minister for Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 2007.
Tackling waste is the responsibility not just of the Government but of all of us—business and private individuals. It is important that, whenever we in government introduce rules and regulations governing the way in which we deal with waste, our intentions and requirements are clear and easy to understand and do not place unnecessary burdens on law-abiding companies. The proposed changes to regulations are intended to fulfil that aim.
In 2005, the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 1997 were consolidated with all subsequent amending statutory instruments. The regulations before us are a further consolidation of the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 2005 and are intended to make them more easily understood and more accessible to businesses affected.
The proposals contain a number of technical changes. Chief among them is the amendment to allow business to submit data electronically and issue packaging waste recovery notes, or PRNs, and packaging waste export recovery notes, or PERNs, electronically. Historically, regulations allowed only for packaging data and information about recovery and recycling to be submitted on paper. That is too restrictive, so an online system—the national packaging waste database—has been set up to provide a more efficient way of doing business. It was developed by the industry under the leadership of the Advisory Committee on Packaging, with input from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the UK’s environment agencies. The online system started on 1 February, following a trial period. The first electronic PRN—an e-PRN—was issued on 9 February, and the system should allow swifter and more accurate data entry.
The annual registration fee has, with the agreement of stakeholders, been increased modestly to fund further development of the online system. The increased revenue will be used entirely for the development of the database, and I shall be asking the Environment Agency to keep me regularly informed of progress on the work. The database is expected to save business and the agencies an estimated £55,000 net each year across all bodies.
The proposed regulations will make further changes affecting exporters. They will give the environment agencies the power to refuse accreditation as exporters to businesses that have committed, for example, transfrontier shipment of waste regulations offences. The new conditions of accreditation will include a specific reference to compliance with such requirements. In addition, when material is exported for reprocessing overseas, the end destination reprocessor, not just the interim recipient, will have to be identified by the exporter. Otherwise, an exporter cannot comply with the packaging waste directive requirement that states that a recovery and/or recycling operation, if undertaken outside the EU, must be undertaken in conditions broadly equivalent to those inside the EU. Subject to the Committee’s approval and that of the other place, the regulations will come into effect following the usual formalities.
Since the 1997 regulations came into force, the UK’s packaging waste recovery rate has risen by 29 per cent., from just 30 per cent. to about 59 per cent. by the end of 2005. The recycling rate has also risen significantly, to approximately 54 per cent. from about 27 per cent. in 1997. To put those percentages in real terms, the total amount of packaging waste recovered and recycled in 1998 was 3.3 million tonnes; in 2005 it was about 6 million tonnes, meaning that more than 2.8 million tonnes of packaging waste were diverted from landfill when compared with 1998. That is an excellent achievement by the businesses concerned. However, recycling of packaging waste must increase still further if the UK is to meet its directive targets in 2008, including specific recycling targets for each material. Increased packaging waste recycling will also help us to achieve the challenging recycling objectives set out in the Government’s waste strategies and will contribute to reducing our carbon impact, helping to deal with the problem of climate change.
Before finalising these proposals, the Government undertook a major consultation exercise. Hard copies of that document were sent to the main trade associations and it was also available on the DEFRA website. Some 53 responses were received from individual bodies, representative organisations and compliance schemes on behalf of their members. In terms of keeping in touch with the industry view and understanding their concerns, I am grateful for the continued work of all members of the Advisory Committee on Packaging and its chairman John Turner for their valued advice to the Government and for their input to the consultation exercise.
Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): Will the Minister explain, because I genuinely do not know, why the regulations do not apply to Northern Ireland?
Mr. Bradshaw: I think that they relate to a devolved competence in Northern Ireland, but I can check that and hope to clarify it before the end of the debate. I commend the regulations to the Committee.
4.36 pm
Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): Packaging waste presents an environmental, social and economic challenge that we all need to take very seriously. The regulations could help us to meet that challenge. Producer responsibilities are a major environmental issue, but they should be viewed more broadly than in relation to solid waste alone. A complete assessment of measures to assess total resource usage or, perhaps more properly, the total carbon impact of products and producers, is vital to gauge the full environmental impact of a packaging product. However, that is outside the scope of these regulations.
It is essential that, as a nation, we not only produce less packaging, but continue to increase the amount that is reused and recycled. We are all aware that much of what we see in the shops is over-packaged and that much of the packaging is not required for either health or safety reasons. Producers therefore must take responsibility for the amount of packaging that they use and be persuaded to minimise the quantities used for products. For example, by adopting cradle-to-cradle thinking and developing packaging and product supply chains, and by optimising material and energy flows and maximising the recovery of value from waste, packaging companies can make a contribution to a far more sustainable low-fossil-carbon future.
Many of the producers of high-volume packaging and packaged products have extensive programmes to minimise the weight of material used and some dramatic reductions have been achieved in recent times. For example, the amount of packaging used in the soft drinks industry has been reduced from around 88 g per litre of product in 1997 to around 70 g by 2002. However, that positive effect has been more than offset by the increased public consumption of soft drinks, which rose by more than 60 per cent. between 1989 and 2002.
Working constructively with the producers of packaging waste has meant that some progress has been made in tackling the excessive packaging that is seen in many shops throughout the UK. I congratulate the Government on the part that they have played in that. Packaging has been considered to be wasteful for a long time. In fact, packaging was the first waste stream to be subject to mandatory producer responsibility in the EU—that happened way back in 1994—and regulations have been in place in the UK since 1997.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) said in the Committee that considered the 2005 regulations, the Conservative approach rests on the principle that the polluter pays. We continue to support producer responsibility regulations and, overall, we think that they are working. In 2005, nearly 60 per cent. of used packaging was recovered and, according to DEFRA statistics, the figure for used household packaging now stands at 18 per cent.—1 million tonnes were recycled in 2005. However, it is important to point out that packaging actually represents only about 8 per cent. of the total solid controlled waste stream, which consists, in the UK, of some 120 million tonnes a year. Indeed, despite much debate, the regulatory obligations on packaging producers continue to focus on targets and do not address wider issues.
Although it is right to continue to have measures to control the use of excessive packaging and to encourage the recycling or recovery of the remainder, we believe that attention needs to be diverted more towards the components of the waste stream that are subject to far less stringent requirements, such as waste from the construction industry. I acknowledge that the Government have worked closely with the Advisory Committee on Packaging, which, as a representative of the packaging industry, has been monitoring the effectiveness of such regulations since their introduction in 1997. The majority of the changes proposed to the 2005 regulations are the result of that work.
Although the measures are important, they are largely technical amendments that are designed to minimise the burden on smaller producers and to clarify areas of ambiguity and confusion, which I welcome. As I have said, they seem proportionate and sensible and do not undermine the important objectives and targets of such regulations. As the Minister mentioned, producers that are registered overseas will fall within the scope of the regulations in respect of their UK operations. That is much needed to help to ensure that there is a fair playing field for our packaging producers. We also welcome the packaging waste recovery notes, which, it is hoped, will cut paperwork, speed up data handling and reduce fraud.
Regrettably, however, the regulations do not include a revision of the targets in the 2005 regulations. This would have been an ideal opportunity to set more ambitious targets for the reuse and recycling of packaging. As the debate in 2005 highlighted, there are inconsistencies in the regulations, yet they have not been addressed by the amendments. Under those regulations, there was a small increase in the percentages for the class of producer on the 1997 figures, except for the percentage for converters, which fell from 11 per cent. to 9 per cent. Having reread the transcript of the Committee proceedings on the 2005 regulations, I do not believe that the Minister provided a persuasive explanation of the changes, or of why the percentages had not, or should not, be raised.
Concern also remains about changes made to the targets through paragraphs 5 and 6 of schedule 2 to the 2005 regulations. Those targets were lower than those in the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2003. The recovery targets for 2006, 2007 and 2008, which are known for calculation purposes as X, were downgraded from 67, 69 and 70 per cent. respectively, to 66, 67 and 68 per cent. The 2008 recovery target remains 2 per cent. lower than that in 2003.
Again, I draw the Minister’s attention to the targets for aluminium, steel, paperboard, plastic and wool, which were downgraded in 2005. Where has all the ambition gone? Is this third term-itis and the lethargy of incumbency? Where is the vision to take us forward? For example, under the 2003 amendments to the original 1997 regulations, the recycling target for steel was 61.5 per cent by 2008, yet that has been downgraded to only 58.5 per cent. Is that progress? We welcome the fact that the planned recycling targets outlined in schedule 2 to the draft regulations exceed the minimum specified in the EU directive, but our targets for aluminium will be below the minimum level for metals of 55 per cent. There is a projected increase in the rate for aluminium from 29 per cent. in 2006 to 33.5 per cent. in 2010. That will not put us on track to achieve our directive targets, so can the Minister explain why that is so? Will he also tell us why the opportunity has not been taken through the regulations to increase the targets so that they equal or even exceed those set in 2003 and ensure that we will meet all the targets set by the EU directive? Many people will want to know why the Government are being so timid.
I should also like to draw the Committee’s attention to issues regarding enforcement, penalties and sanctions. It was pointed out in 2005 that when a scheme operator has been found guilty of an offence, it has an obligation to make a further application for approval. Regulation 13(3) in the draft regulations states that an operator has 28 days in which to do that. However, it is unclear whether an operator needs to meet that requirement if it appeals against a summary conviction. In addition, despite there being provisions to cancel and suspend schemes and producers, there are none to ban producers or those running schemes if they act in contravention of the regulations. Should there not be a measure to deter persistent offenders?
In 2005, the Minister stated:
“the penalties are not always as high as we would like, although they are a matter for the courts.”—[Official Report, Second Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation, 12 December 2005; c. 10.]
Should these regulations thus include tougher penalties? Recently, there have been a number of prosecutions for breaches of UK waste regulations, especially the practice of transporting waste to developing countries despite claiming that it will be recycling. On 12 February, Preston-based Wai Sang (Europe) Recycle Ltd pleaded guilty before magistrates to two charges under regulations on the trans-frontier shipment of waste. On 19 February, Southall-based Alltrade Recycling Ltd pleaded guilty to three charges under the same regulations relating to the export of hazardous waste from televisions collected in Swansea. On 20 February, the south Yorkshire firm Grove Environmental pleaded guilty to charges relating to the shipment of waste to China. Is the Minister satisfied that the penalties are high enough? If not, why have they not been increased?
Lastly, the guide to the 2005 regulations that was issued by DEFRA in January 2006 noted:
“between now and 2008 it is expected that producers will have to extract more packaging waste from the household waste system in order to meet the increasing recovery and recycling targets”.
What was the percentage increase in the recovery of packaging waste from the household waste stream during the last year, and what is the extent of co-operation between producers and local authorities in delivering on targets for the recycling and reuse of packaging from the household waste stream?
We are broadly happy with the regulations as far as they go, but they do not go far enough. An opportunity has been missed to address several weaknesses in the system, especially by setting more ambitious targets. If we are ever going to achieve the same rates of reuse and recycling as our European neighbours, it will be important for us to continue to set ambitious targets so that we drive up the percentage of reused and recycled packaging. However, we believe that the regulations will contribute towards progress in the disposal and reuse of waste in the UK, particularly in the Conservative-controlled local councils that dominate the top of the Government’s recycling league tables.
4.49 pm
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): I am grateful for the opportunity to comment on the regulations. It is always good to tidy up regulations and to close loopholes. Revisions to regulations, such as these, which achieve cost savings and reduce bureaucracy, are especially welcome. However, I will raise questions about whether some of the problems could not have been spotted in the original regulations because some of them were pretty well known at the time.
I very much associate myself with some of the comments made by the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle. I shall not go over the same territory, but the Government should have taken the opportunity to increase the recycling targets and the penalties for contravening the regulations. After all, we face a wide range of environmental possibilities with recycling and waste avoidance, not simply the avoidance of landfill, but reducing the amount of energy that is used to produce the packaging in the first place and to recycle it if it is excessive.
A great deal of packaging waste in this country and in Europe in general is produced using far more material than is necessary for the retailing of the product. Electronic goods are a particular example of that. The size of goods such as flash drives and Bluetooth earpieces is becoming minute, and the packaging is sometimes 10 or 20 times the size of the piece of equipment that is being sold. We need to examine opportunities to expand the Government’s restriction of such packaging.
Although this is a welcome set of tidying-up amendments, there are a few questions to be asked, as I said. A great deal of the consultation on the amendments centred on the role of the national database, which underlies a lot of the regulation. The regulations provide for the fees relating to the avoidance of waste in packaging to be amended. The fees are designed to meet the cost of the database, which according to the regulatory impact assessment is estimated at only £172,500 more a year.
In general, we have to wonder about the reliability of the Government’s estimates of the cost of IT projects and databases. If we look back on DEFRA’s performance as a whole, we see that its IT expenditure overran by £260 million in the past five years. The NHS national IT programme, which was originally estimated at £2.3 billion and revised to £6.2 billion at launch, is currently clocking an estimate of £12.4 billion. DEFRA’s Rural Payment Agency IT system, with which the Minister may be familiar, had an original budget estimate of £18.1 million, which doubled to a final expenditure figure of something like £37.4 million. Other examples include the IT systems of the Assets Recovery Agency at the Home Office and the Child Support Agency at the Department for Work and Pensions, both of which were scrapped when the costs appeared to outweigh the benefits that would be obtained. How much confidence does the Minister have in that IT budget of £172,500 a year? Will companies face an increase in fees when that cost overruns? If not, how will the cost overrun be dealt with?
It was rather disappointing that the full details of the consultation were not readily available. DEFRA’s website provides only the consultation letter, the accompanying document and a list of consultees. It does not provide the detail of the submissions to the consultation, which would have been helpful. Like the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle, I think that the issue raises the question of whether the Government are doing enough on waste minimisation and whether we could extend further the principle of producer responsibility.
By asking a parliamentary question recently, I established that a trivial number of prosecutions for wasteful packaging have taken place under the current regime. Trading standards offices are supposed to be used, but in practice that has proved an extremely difficult and inaccessible system, so wasteful packaging has continued more or less without risk of prosecution. In any case, when prosecutions have taken place, the amounts that companies have been fined have been minimal compared with their turnover or the value of the relevant part of their business. Should not there be clearer, more enforceable rights for consumers to return packaging to retailers as opposed to producers? We should consider whether we can expand Government activity on that front.
The regulations raise the question of whether some of the issues that we face could have been seen in advance. Some of the things that this statutory instrument achieves seem obvious. For example, the loophole on foreign companies that are registered in countries other than Britain means that there are some fairly spectacular exceptions to the regulations. According to my research, PepsiCo is not registered with the Environment Agency or the Scottish Environment Protection Agency as it is based in Switzerland. Its brands include not only Pepsi-Cola, but Walkers crisps and Quaker, and it puts at least 5.2 billion bags of crisps on the market every year. However, because foreign companies are not included, demand for PRNs has been lower than expected, so prices have fallen to £4 a tonne for paper and wood. The last time that PRN prices hit that kind of level, in 2003, investment in UK packaging reprocessing via PRNs fell from £115 million annually to just £51 million annually. The loophole had wide implications, and it is very welcome that it is now being addressed.
The fact that the scheme for PRNs and PERNs has been broadly welcomed by many of the companies that have had to use it raises issues about some of the other European Community environmental directives aimed at producers. In particular, it is optional to join a licensed compliance scheme, so producers have the option to carry out recycling and waste minimisation themselves. The same is not true of something like the waste electrical and electronic equipment directive, which does not offer the producers the option of meeting regulations themselves; they have to pay to join a compliance scheme. Consequently, there is no incentive in the WEEE directive for an organisation to design out waste, because whatever environmental action they take they will still have to pay the same as other organisations for compliance. Therefore, they are effectively paying for the dirty products of others. In that respect, these regulations have set a good example, which perhaps should be followed more widely.
I end on that relatively positive note, because I said at the outset that the process of tidying-up regulations, reducing bureaucracy, closing loopholes and, hopefully, reducing cost to business all in the same breath is a welcome one.
4.57 pm
Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): I want to ask the Minister three specific questions. First, will he give an indication of what steps he is taking to ensure that the waste packaging industry is developing the necessary mechanisms and infrastructure to create new products in packaging waste?
My second question comes, as it were, from the other end of the debate. A number of materials can be used to produce packaging. Does the Minister think that we are doing enough to encourage the use of more environmentally benign materials such as recycled paper or hemp, as opposed to materials such as plastics, which are not only more difficult to recycle but potentially less environmentally benign?
Thirdly, I was pleased to hear the Minister describe how, when waste is being exported under the PERN system, not only will the merchant handling the waste have to be declared but the end processor. Bearing in mind that, in many cases, that end processor may be in countries as far flung as India or China, what capacity do the UK Government or, I guess, the European Commission have to police that end processing and are budget lines available for the European Commission to visit such sites and for adequate policing to be put in place? It is all very well for us to know where that waste is being recycled, but quite another matter for there to be regular policing checks so that we can be assured that it is being dealt with properly when it reaches those far flung shores.
4.59 pm
My second point is the disappointingly low target for wood recycling, which, according to the table in schedule 2, is only 21 per cent. It is not that building and other operations do not want to recycle wood; they simply cannot find a way of doing so. Although very big construction sites can recycle some wood, because of the high cost of building labour and all that goes with it, they think it is not worth while and large amounts of timber, which could be reused if there were a more localised system for reusing it, are thrown into landfill or incinerated.
I should be grateful if the Minister would look into the matter. I understand that he may not be able to give me an answer today, and I look forward to receiving a letter from him on the subject. In spite of these regulations, we are proposing to waste 80 per cent. of the timber that is taken out of use, which is a terrible shame.
5.1 pm
Mr. Bradshaw: We have had an interesting debate. It ranged more broadly over the issue of waste in general, which I welcome, as it is an important matter that is of concern to hon. Members.
I shall deal with the points that were raised in order. My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall was right to mention Northern Ireland. It is subject to the directive as part of the United Kingdom, and parallel regulations are being laid in Northern Ireland, which is about a month behind us. I hope that that reassures her.
I very much welcome the comments of the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle, especially his commitment to ambitious targets and the “polluter pays” principle. I hope that he will keep to those commitments when he sees our revised waste strategy, which will be published in the coming weeks. I think he will be pleased by the ambition in the strategy, as it enshrines the “polluter pays” principle, which is not always supported by other Conservative spokesmen when they comment on waste and packaging issues.
This is not by any means the only regulation that helps us to manage waste and packaging in a more sustainable way. As the hon. Member for Cheltenham said, there can be prosecutions, allowed under the Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations 2003. There have not been very many, but there have been more here than in any other European Union country. One reason why packaging growth in this country has been far lower than in most other European countries in the past few years is because we have the regulations and have used them.
There are also voluntary agreements with retailers under the Courtauld commitment, in which they have agreed to end packaging growth by next year and to reduce all retail packaging by 2010 in absolute terms. The proposal forms only part of the Government’s waste strategy. Our renewed waste strategy will take us on to a new level, not least in respect of packaging.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the domestic waste stream. We do not have the figures for 2006 yet, but I will write to him as soon as we do. We have exceeded our household recycling target of 25 per cent.—we hit 27 per cent. in the last year for which figures are available, a quadrupling since 1997. Packaging waste is a significant part of the domestic waste stream—the bit that is growing most quickly—and he should feel confident that we are hitting the targets in that respect. However, he is right to point out that we are doing better on business waste. One reason why we have been pushing so hard to get local authorities and householders to increase their recycling and recovery levels is that we have been doing significantly better in recent years on the business side, partly thanks to the packaging regulations.
The targets will be reviewed. We have not reviewed them as part of these minor amendments, as they are more technical. Also, the target directive runs out next year and after that there is nothing, so any targets that we have beyond next year will be our own domestic targets. I hope that we will continue to drive up recovery and recycling levels on packaging waste. We will consider them as part of our revised waste strategy.
There is a slight misunderstanding about the figures. They are not targets but converter percentages aimed at helping us to hit the targets. The reason why we rejigged them a couple of years ago when the matter was last debated was because, given additional evidence on the data, we realised that some of the converter percentages needed to be higher in order for us to hit the target and some did not need to be as high. Our ambition remains the same and we remain confident that we will hit, if not slightly exceed, the EU targets that have been set for next year.
The hon. Member for Cheltenham mentioned IT costs. The cost that has been quoted is just for maintenance and some development. The database cost £400,000, of which £350,000 was put forward by the industry. He may welcome the fact that it is an unusual piece of Government IT in that has been successfully delivered on time and to cost.
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman could not access all the details of the consultation responses on the DEFRA website. I will go away and check that. I am informed, however, that they are available. If he wants to pore through them, he is very welcome to have them. A summary of responses is available on the website, but if he wants more detail we will ensure that he has access to it.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the issue of extending producer responsibility and prosecutions. That is a reference to the essential requirements regulations. A little known fact among members of the public and even Members of Parliament is that if one comes across examples of excessive packaging in supermarkets or electronic stores, one can report them to the local trading standards office. If it thinks that the packaging is excessive, prosecutions can and have been taken. He is right to say that there have not been very many. We are working with the Department of Trade and Industry, which is responsible for the implementation of the regulations at the moment, to see whether we can do anything else to give them a little bit more teeth, again in the context of our revised waste strategy.
Martin Horwood: From memory, I think that the number of prosecutions is four, which is very few. That is grounds not for complacency but for much more radical action.
Mr. Bradshaw: That is four more than in every other European Union member state apart from France. Only France and the UK have transposed these regulations into domestic law. We are looking at what more we can do. I would caution against the idea that prosecution is necessarily the most effective way of getting people to think more responsibly about how they manage and produce their waste.
A number of hon. Members raised the very important issue of whether manufacturers could not do more to reduce the weight and the environmental impact of some of the materials that they use. A lot of important work is going in that regard through the waste resources action programme, which is one of a number of initiatives funded from the landfill tax. It is spending a lot of time and resources working with the industry. If I had been allowed to, I would have brought a couple of props with me to show examples of packaging today that is using only a third or two thirds of the weight of plastic, or whatever material, that was used before. That offers the opportunity to reduce and minimise waste, as hon. Members advocated. We are also looking at the possibility in our revised strategy of having a waste minimisation target for the first time, as well as a recycling and recovery target. That would be a driver, not least to manufacturers, to introduce cleverer design, as advocated by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North.
Gregory Barker: A waste minimisation target would be very welcome. We have not touched on the issue of energy from waste. Although we can do much more to reduce and recycle, we must accept there will always be an irreducible core that will have to be dealt with. Is any work or dialogue going on with producers to ensure that waste that has to be incinerated is done so in a thermally efficient way so that energy can be extracted from it, rather than simply burnt as rubbish?
Mr. Bradshaw: Yes. A great deal of discussion is going on with producers in the context of the revised waste strategy on that very issue. I was going to mention energy from waste in the context of the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North when he asked about the relatively low targets for wood. One of the reasons for that is that a life-cycle analysis of wood shows that it is better in overall environmental terms to burn it for energy than to recycle it. Some of the life-cycle analyses of different materials that we have carried out have thrown up some quite interesting things.
Another policy initiative that we shall take later this year after the revised waste strategy is in place is to set up a materials and products unit within DEFRA specifically to consider different materials and products and their overall climate change impact in total life-cycle analysis terms.
Jeremy Corbyn: I would be interested to hear some more detail, perhaps by letter, on what is proposed. It seems that there are two ways in which there is an enormous waste of timber. One is small-scale building projects, which by their nature are one-offs with the builders then moving on to somewhere else. They produce an awful lot of waste timber through roof trusses and so on, which could be reused if there were some simple system for doing so. Secondly, when there are major building contracts, is there any reason why we cannot be far more specific about the use of rare woods, tropical hardwoods and such things, some of which could be reused and some of which are simply unnecessary in the first place? It seems to me that our attitude towards wood is a bit too cavalier.
Mr. Bradshaw: I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. Of course, there is quite a strong economic driver on construction companies and all businesses that have to pay the landfill tax to avoid sending waste to landfill. A lot of wood is still sent to landfill, and the life-cycle analysis work that we did on wood showed that it was far more sensible to use it as a renewable resource if it could not be reused or recycled. It is right to remind members of the Committee that the waste hierarchy remains minimisation at the top, then reuse and recycling, waste to energy, and landfill at the very bottom because of its climate change impact, in particular the production of methane.
Gregory Barker: It might already be in the public domain, but will the Minister make the research public or place it in the Library? The Wood Panel Industries Federation is concerned that far too much wood is being burned, and in particular being co-fired in power stations, as a result of the incentives to do so under the renewables obligation, rather than being recycled into wood chip panels, which are a sustainable form of building.
Mr. Bradshaw: I have talked publicly about the work that is taking place on wood, and if it is ongoing I am sure that we will put it in the public domain in due course along with all the other work that we are doing on materials. I will check on that and write to the hon. Gentleman on where we are in the research.
My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North raised the issue of reuse, which I have already said is better than recycling and next best after minimisation. On his attraction to deposit schemes, they work well in some countries on the continent, particularly with glass, but they are extremely expensive to set up. The overall environmental impact of setting up a deposit scheme, compared with the benefit from it, is not always convincing. We would certainly encourage organisations to set up schemes; one in my constituency is setting up a bottle deposit scheme. There is no doubt that in overall environmental terms, if one can get over the initial capital outlay, there are benefits over and above those of recycling.
The hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby asked about new products, and I have mentioned the work being done by WRAP. He also asked whether we could have more recycled contents in products. Again, that is something that WRAP is examining. Targets that the retailers themselves have signed up to which go further than the targets in the regulations include the use of lighter materials and more recycled materials in the products that they use to try to reduce their environmental impact.
The hon. Gentleman asked what checks are made in exporter countries that stuff is actually recycled and reused, not put into landfill. Checks are made. I believe that members of the Local Government Association recently made such a visit, and the Environment Agency also makes checks. The important thing to remember is that recipient countries such as China and India do not have an interest in the materials that they import simply ending up in landfill. The paper and plastics that are recycled and turned into materials there are a valuable resource to them as they obviate the need to use virgin material. Those countries are strict in ensuring that the materials that they import are used properly and not simply dumped into landfill.
I am sorry if I have not covered all the points raised by hon. Members, and I will write to them if any are outstanding.
Question put and agreed to.
Resolved,
That the Committee has considered the draft Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 2007.
Committee rose at fifteen minutes past Five o’clock.
 
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