Session 2010-11
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General Committee Debates
Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Draft Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Annette Brooke 

Baron, Mr John (Basildon and Billericay) (Con) 

Benyon, Richard (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)  

Bridgen, Andrew (North West Leicestershire) (Con) 

Dowd, Jim (Lewisham West and Penge) (Lab) 

Field, Mr Frank (Birkenhead) (Lab) 

Godsiff, Mr Roger (Birmingham, Hall Green) (Lab) 

Goodwill, Mr Robert (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con) 

Jones, Graham (Hyndburn) (Lab) 

Kawczynski, Daniel (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con) 

Mann, John (Bassetlaw) (Lab) 

Moon, Mrs Madeleine (Bridgend) (Lab) 

Morris, David (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con) 

Nokes, Caroline (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con) 

Paisley, Ian (North Antrim) (DUP) 

Reed, Mr Jamie (Copeland) (Lab) 

Reevell, Simon (Dewsbury) (Con) 

Reid, Mr Alan (Argyll and Bute) (LD) 

Wright, Simon (Norwich South) (LD) 

Annette Toft, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

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Fourth Delegated Legislation Committee 

Tuesday 8 March 2011  

[Annette Brooke in the Chair] 

Draft Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011 

10.30 am 

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon):  I beg to move, 

That the Committee has considered the draft Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011. 

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Brooke. The regulations are being made to transpose, in England and Wales, directive 2008/98/EC on waste, which is known as the waste framework directive. The directive is the foundation stone on which all EU waste legislation has been built. The directive was originally adopted in 1975 in what was then known as the Common Market. At the time, most waste was disposed of through landfill or incineration. However, the waste framework directive has developed over the years as our awareness of the environmental consequences of waste disposal and the unsustainable use of resources has grown. The directive was substantially revised in 1991, and its scope was extended from disposal to include the recovery and recycling of waste. In recognition of the increasing international trade in waste for recovery, the 1991 revision also introduced an EU-wide definition of waste. 

The latest revision of the directive builds on those solid foundations. Its aim is to place much greater emphasis on the sustainable use of resources by taking measures to prevent the production of waste and making better use of the waste that continues to be produced. It also simplifies regulatory controls by incorporating the hazardous waste directive into the revised directive and repealing most of the waste oils directive. However, protecting the environment and human health remains a key objective. 

The fulfilment of the directive’s objectives is of interest to almost everyone—householders, local authorities and businesses, big and small. We have developed our proposals to transpose the directive in close consultation with those customers and stakeholders. The process was begun by the previous Government, who consulted on the transposition of several key provisions. The coalition Government took that work forward and consulted last year on a draft of the transposing regulations. 

In transposing the directive, we have sought to keep costs to business, local authorities, regulators and taxpayers to the minimum. Many of the directive’s requirements can be met without imposing additional measures or burdens and do not involve additional costs. Where new controls are necessary, we have adopted a light- touch approach. I can assure the Committee that the transposing regulations do not gold-plate the directive. 

A key new provision of the revised directive is the five-step waste hierarchy, which is to apply as a priority order in waste management legislation and policy. Our proposals for implementing the waste hierarchy through minimum changes to the planning, permitting and waste

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transfer note arrangements were well supported in consultation. They were widely recognised as representing a light-touch approach. 

The revised directive also sets new targets for 2020. The first is to recycle 50% of waste from households. The second is to recover 70% of non-hazardous construction and demolition waste. The regulations impose no new measures to meet those targets, because current projections are that existing policy measures—notably the landfill tax— should be sufficient to ensure that we meet them. No requirements in the transposing regulations directly affect issues such as the frequency of local authorities’ collection of household waste, charges to householders—so called bin taxes—or the enforcement of waste collection services 

The revised directive requires member states to introduce “separate collection” of wastes, where practicable, by 2015. The previous Government obtained clarification from the European Commission that what is known as co-mingled collection—where recyclable materials are collected together for subsequent separation—is an acceptable form of separate collection under the directive, provided that it results in materials of sufficient quality to be recycled. The Government are satisfied that commingled collection is capable of providing the right quality of recycling material, so the transposing regulations that we have laid before the House confirm that commingled collection is a valid form of separate collection. 

The regulations therefore contribute to the coalition Government’s policy on localism, by ensuring that decisions on the best ways to collect household waste remain a matter for local authorities. The regulations would allow local authorities to make those decisions and to provide the waste and recycling services that their local residents want. 

The regulations also provide scope for residents and local groups to contribute to the big society, such as by setting up local re-use networks and helping to prevent waste. 

10.35 am 

Mr Jamie Reed (Copeland) (Lab):  It is a pleasure to face the Minister again, in the spirit of constructive opposition that I think he is now used to meeting from me. It would be a surprise if he were not. I should make it plain from the outset that we shall need to return in detail and at length to the issues in the statutory instrument. It is too important simply to be given blithe assent by Members on both sides of the House. In truth, all of us in this room today will live with the consequences of our actions in this policy field for the rest of our lives. 

I am not seeking to take today’s business to a Division. However, there are questions that require some serious analysis and rapid thinking from the Government if we are to meet our objectives and improve our environment and country. 

As I have mentioned, Labour Members fully support the implementation of the waste framework directive. The Minister spoke at length about the need for a directive, its history and the reasons why it was introduced. The revised directive simplifies regulatory controls, seeks to establish a five-step waste hierarchy and establishes binding targets for household recycling and recovery and for the recycling and recovery of waste from the construction industry. Not least among its objectives is a desire to protect human health. Applied properly,

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effectively and in an integrated way across Government, the revised directive should result in benefits for business, the economy and the environment. 

The European Parliament and Council adopted the directive in November 2008 and member states were required to transpose it by 12 December 2010. Labour Members have no wish—and nor, I am sure, does the Minister—to encourage infraction proceedings, but I understand that they are already in their early stages following the infraction letter of 26 January from the Commission to the Government. When will the Government respond to the infraction letter? Will the Minister make the letter from the Government available to Members of the House as soon as possible following its receipt by the Commission? Will he tell us how and why the Government failed to transpose the directive into law by the date established by the Commission? 

The implementation of the directive requires the embrace of householders, local authorities and others, and as the Minister said, businesses of all types, from a two- person operation to a large-scale industrial operation, will require clear guidance and direction about what it means, what it covers and how it affects them. When will the Department produce that guidance and when will the Minister make it available? If we are to succeed, surely we need that sooner rather than later. Will the Minister also provide clarity with regard to the role of the Environment Agency as the main competent authority? 

As to guidance, will the EA publish separate guidance from that provided by DEFRA? Will that guidance be provided in lieu of guidance from the European Commission? How will what we all anticipate will be significant reductions in EA and DEFRA staffing affect those processes? Has the Minister done an assessment of how reduced capacity in the EA and the Department will affect the implementation of the directive? 

Although we support the directive and its implementation, we are concerned about the scope of the Government’s ambition and the speed of implementation and policy generally in this area. The CBI recently warned the Government about what I think could be called timidity in their approach to waste policy. It rightly identified a series of quick wins that the country could secure if the Government were bolder and more ambitious—from providing massive business opportunities to helping to meet climate change targets, bolstering our energy security capability and helping to unlock infrastructure investments from the private sector. 

One of the key policy obstacles to that delivery and to the effective implementation of the directive is a comprehensive understanding and ownership of the importance of waste policy and related issues across Government. Will the Minister tell us today what plans are in place in the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Treasury, that show beyond doubt a co-ordinated Government approach to waste policy and a recognition of the changes required, particularly in planning law, if we are to capitalise on the opportunities that face local government in the waste recycling and recovery industries? 

DEFRA should be showing leadership across Government on those issues. Yet I am afraid we hear far too little about the much-vaunted waste review. Could the Minister tell us why that is and what is stopping that? 

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The directive places binding targets on us to reduce the amount of municipal waste that we send to landfill by 35%, and to recycle at least 50% of household waste by 2020. The CBI estimates that these drivers alone, the minimum drivers—the impact assessment makes it clear that in England the Government seek only to achieve the minimum target for compliance with the directive—will require £10 billion of investment in approximately 2,000 new waste management plants, as 300 of the UK’s largest existing landfill sites have to close. We have less than 10 years to do that—less than 10 years, in straitened economic circumstances, to find on average over £1 billion per year to invest in the infrastructure that we need to meet our targets. That will require private and public investment. How credibly and specifically do the Government intend to achieve that? Will the Minister provide us today with detail of how that will be done? What discussions has he had with the Treasury about the contribution that it will inevitably have to make towards that effort? I hope that the Minister will be able to provide us with specifics, not generalities. 

As much as this agenda is centrally directed towards the protection of human health and our environment, let none of us forget that if we want it to be—and I am sure that all Members on both sides of the House do want it to be—it is about the creation of a stronger and more resilient national economy. Snow or not, the last economic growth figures for Germany were exceptionally strong, particularly in contrast with the performance of our economy over the same period. Waste industries play their part in the creation of that national economic strength. Germany recovers, re-uses and incinerates far more of its waste than we do, sending far less to landfill than we do, and I believe that its waste policies do have a role in underpinning its national economic resilience. 

I briefly mentioned the investments required if we are to meet our targets. Earlier I mentioned the impact of spending cuts on DEFRA and the Environment Agency, but Members from all parties know that local government is facing swingeing cuts, which are likely to hamper its ability to undertake its core duties. Article 11 of the directive calls for binding household waste recycling targets of a minimum of 50% by 2020, and, by 2015, for at least a separate collection of paper, metal, plastic and glass. At this point I must commend the superb work of both WRAP and the Campaign for Real Recycling, which I know many Members have been approached by in recent days. 

There are two issues here. Given the cuts to local authorities and parts of local government, does the Minister think that the reduced capability of local authorities will have any effect on our ability as a country to meet our national targets, and if not, will he explain why that is the case, and will he publish the analysis that he must have done on why the targets will not be compromised by the cuts? Will he also publish the detailed proposals for how each English region will contribute towards meeting the targets? There is a genuine fear of drift in this area, given the collapse of the regional spatial strategies. 

Secondly, given that evidence suggests that kerbside sort recycling collections deliver better economic and environmental results from household waste recycling, what steps are the Government taking to end commingled collections? I know that the Minister mentioned that briefly in his remarks, but are the Government taking

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steps to end commingled collections? Does the Minister accept that kerbside sort collection, if established as the norm, could transform the waste industry? 

Is the Minister also certain that the continuation of commingled collections is a legally sound practice and will not be subjected to any legal challenge? Kerbside sort is the recycling method proven to maximise the value of materials sent to recycling. As turmoil in north Africa and the middle east sends oil costs spiralling, so the value of the waste we produce also rises, and right now the commodity price of waste is rising daily. 

The Government need to answer a series of important questions. We will not divide the Committee. We do not seek to encourage infraction proceedings, but DEFRA must now step up to the mark and show strong, clear leadership in this policy area throughout Government. 

10.44 am 

Richard Benyon:  I thank the hon. Member for Copeland for his customary tenacity and for his co-operation with this very important piece of legislation. He has raised a number of questions which I will seek to answer, although some of them will inevitably be answered by the waste review. I will come to that later. 

The hon. Gentleman’s first question referred to the infraction letter, or the letter that seeks to inquire whether the United Kingdom is dragging its heels. Provided the House approves this measure today and another place does so next week, the measure will be transposed by the end of this financial year—by the end of March—and we believe that will satisfy the Commission, albeit two or three months late. We thought it was better—as did, I believe, the previous Government—to rather overplay our consultation to ensure that we are absolutely not gold-plating the revised directive, and that the measures in it are achievable, and that we shall be able to be held to account both for minimising the impact on business and local authorities and for achieving what we all want to achieve in dealing with waste in an environmentally sensitive way. 

The hon. Gentleman asked about guidance. Let me run through the guidance that we are providing at the moment. We propose to make available, after the necessary consultation, to accompany the transposing regulations in England, overarching guidance on the transposing regulations, including a revision of the guidance on the existing waste framework directive provided in the context of the environmental permitting system; an easy-to-follow guide for business on the transposing regulations; a post-consultation version of the guidance on the definition of waste; guidance on hazardous wastes; guidance on the registration of professional waste carriers and collectors and dealers and brokers of waste; a revision of the duty of care code of practice provided under section 34 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990; a post-consultation version of the waste hierarchy guidance referred to earlier; guidance on the separate collection provisions of the revised directive and the transposing regulations; and a revision of the guidance provided in a planning policy statement that has already been made. I think that gives an idea of the level of guidance that we are giving. If there are other areas in which hon. Members have information to the effect that we need to improve

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that guidance, I am happy to hear from them, because we want to make this work. The guidance will be available from the end of March to fit in with the transposition of the directive. 

The hon. Gentleman asked about the Environment Agency’s capacity. I am assured by the leadership of that excellent organisation that it will have the capacity to deal with this, and they are confident and they take their responsibilities in this area very seriously. He is right to hold the Government to account for our vision in terms of dealing with waste. I can reassure him that we have a very clear vision, which will form the fundamentals of the waste review, which will be published in May. It will show that this Government are taking a firm leadership role in this. I am afraid I cannot go into details without pre-judging what will be in that review. It is being worked on closely under the leadership of my colleague Lord Henley. It has involved a great many people and organisations to produce a piece of work that will show that, yes, we must comply with directives and we must avoid infraction and that is what we are about today, but our ambitions for dealing with waste and for moving towards a zero-waste society need to be coherently, intellectually and measurably laid out, and they will be in that document. 

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right also to raise the question of green growth. He is right that if we develop our technologies and the intellectual understanding behind green growth, jobs and economic growth will be available. If we support measures such as anaerobic digestion and other measures of dealing with waste, we can produce jobs; we can benefit society, we can benefit the environment, and we can see a direct advantage to our constituents. 

The hon. Gentleman talks about local government. It is important that local government feels that it can transpose the directive, and that is why the impact assessment goes into great detail about what level of activity will be required of government to deal with the revised directive. I emphasise the word “revised” because the vast majority of what is being carried out here is already being done by local authorities, as the directive has been in place for many years. We are asking them to tweak their policies and activities. 

The hon. Gentleman asked about the commingled collection of recyclates. As I said, this is important because it could be the subject of a legal challenge. That is why, at the European Council, the previous Government sought comfort from the European Commission that continuing collection of commingled recyclates would constitute separate collection. The understanding that was reached very clearly states that it would, provided that a proper separation of those recyclates took place. Ultimately, we believe that it is down to local authorities to find the system that better suits their communities, provided that there is a measurable result at the end of the day, that we can see that they are not in some way cheating the system by collecting commingled recyclates, and that there is a proper separation, for which there are many techniques. 

Graham Jones (Hyndburn) (Lab):  I am interested in what the Minister is saying. Where there are commingled recyclates, local authorities will have high collection rates but problems with contamination. Where there is kerbside separation, collection rates are much lower

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and it is part of the Government’s agenda that local authorities will be fined if they do not meet the EU directive 50% collection threshold. Will local authorities who are really struggling at 40% be asked to continue with kerbside collection and then have an EU fine imposed on top to make it even more difficult to be imaginative with getting kerbside collection up? Does the Minister think that local authorities, rather than the UK Government as a whole, should be directly fined for not meeting the 50% threshold? 

Richard Benyon:  The threshold is an England and Wales figure, so to avoid falling foul of the directive, we have to comply with that across the country. We have to be able to prove that, on average across the country, we are achieving that. The hon. Gentleman asked about the threshold in terms of local authorities and he made a good point. My local authority is a complex area for collecting waste. It has a large rural area and some compact urban areas. It has no landfill, so it has to transport waste to other facilities nearby, but it achieves a recycling rate over 50% and it does not commingle collection. This matter cannot be directed from a Minister’s desk in Whitehall. Different local authority areas will have different factors to take into account, such as distance to facilities and the technologies that exist in their areas. Many will knock this 50% threshold out of the park and they should be applauded for doing so. I hope they will be applauded for doing so by their electorates, because this issue now comes much higher up the political agenda in local elections than it did a few years ago. Local politicians are being held to account, so the decisions should remain with them. 

Graham Jones:  I want to press the Minister on EU fines for England and Wales on waste collection. Does he support the individual fining of authorities that do kerbside collection and that are struggling to reach 50%, as suggested by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government? If so, does he accept that the authorities that are struggling will move towards commingled collection? 

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Richard Benyon:  I cannot predict that. I can tell the Committee that local authorities will not be fined individually for not achieving 50%. I can give that assurance, but we have to achieve the 50% figure overall. If we are failing, it will be lamentable because we have only to look across the channel to see some countries that achieve much better than the directive threshold. That is a vision and aspiration that the waste review will go into in some detail. 

I assure the hon. Gentleman that, while if one believes in localism, one must trust local authorities, I recognise that the incentives must be towards proper recycling. If people are going down one particular route, we must measure whether recyclates are being separated properly. 

In response to the last point that the hon. Member for Copeland made, I am confident that local government is the right level for strategic thinking on this. Of course, there will be co-operation between local authorities. There has to be, because it is impossible to deal with every element of waste within the boundaries of a particular local authority. We recognise that some have relatively small geographical areas of high-density population while others cover vast rural areas. There will be huge co-operation between local authorities. 

I am confident that we can meet the basic minimum that the directive requires us to do. We are doing it because we have to meet the requirements of the directive, but we are also doing it because we want to do it. We want to be good stewards. We recognise that the decisions that we take now on waste will long affect future generations. It is right to change the framework in which we view these matters because when that framework was introduced in 1975, the vast majority of waste was buried. Now it cannot be, and rightly so. I hope that the provisions will ensure that we move in the right direction. I look forward to debating them further with the hon. Gentleman when we publish our waste review in the spring. 

Question put and agreed to.  

10.57 am 

Committee rose.