Oral Answers to Questions — Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 17th October 2002.

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Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 11:30 am, 17th October 2002

If she will make a statement on the role of doorstep collection and taxation measures in increasing recycling rates.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Minister (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Environment)

The answer remains the same. The Prime Minister's strategy unit is currently completing a study on waste. As part of this, it is considering what mechanisms and instruments will best help to achieve our aim of increasing household waste recycling.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

Does the Minister recognise that many councils are currently stretched to find the resources to set up doorstep recycling schemes? Despite a very co-operative public in my constituency, the local council is forced to run plastic recycling schemes only in areas that can draw upon specific and additional grants, such as those for neighbourhood renewal. Such areas are not always the best ones for high-volume recycling. Will the Minister undertake to look into this specific problem?

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Minister (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Environment)

Of course, I am very concerned about levels of recycling, including kerbside collection. To reach the challenging targets for recycling that we have set, our view is that all authorities—or certainly most of them—will have to adopt kerbside collection.

I am surprised by what the hon. Gentleman said about funding. In the spending review 2000, we increased spending on the environmental protection and cultural services part of the revenue support grant by #1.1 billion in the third year over baseline. In the spending review 2002, we increased that provision by a further #670 million for the three years to 2005–06. Final decisions on additional funding will be made when the strategy unit's report is published.

In addition to that, we have just made allocations of #140 million under the local authority recycling waste minimisation fund. Of 196 bids, 112 were successful and #50 million has been distributed. The hon. Gentleman's local authority should have the resources necessary to meet the targets.

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour/Co-operative, Edinburgh North and Leith

One of the most interesting pieces of taxation designed to encourage recycling recently has been the decision in the Irish Republic to introduce a tax on plastic disposable shopping bags. I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware of early-day motion 1730 in my name, which now receives the support from dozens of Members on both sides of the House, calling for such a tax in this country. Will he give us an idea of whether he is considering the introduction of such a measure in the United Kingdom?

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Minister (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Environment)

We have been watching closely what has happened in Ireland. I understand that there has been a 90 per cent. reduction in the use of plastic bags. In this country, the figures are quite daunting. Eight billion plastic bags are used every year, which, on average, is about 135 for each person. Therefore, reducing that figure would be very worthwhile. A plastic bag tax is not the only way of dealing with the problem, but I assure my hon. Friend that the strategy unit has been to Ireland, talked to those involved, and will certainly be considering this point in its report.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Food, Farming and Environment)

Although we all support the idea of increasing the collection of goods for recycling, the Minister will surely accept that that does not finish the process. Recycling is accomplished when one has an economic use for the product to be recycled. The Government have just signed up to new European regulations, which will come into force in a couple of years, on the disposal of electronic and electrical goods. However, we know that there are some products—the plastic casings from video and cassette recorders, for example—for which there is no available use at the moment. What does the Minister intend to do in the intervening few years to try to encourage the private sector to develop alternative uses for some of those materials, so that we can avoid what happened with fridges and ensure that the entire system is in place when the new regulations come into force?

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Minister (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Environment)

The hon. Gentleman has just answered his own question. There are two or three years before 2005–06, when the directive on waste from electrical and electronic equipment comes into force, and one means of ensuring that the technology is put in place is the pressure exerted by the directive. It is right that electrical and electronic goods should not be landfilled. That is not an appropriate form of environmental disposal. It is clearly right that such goods should be recycled and reused.

The difference in the case of fridges is that the regulation became operative throughout the European Community on day one, which was 1 January 2002, whereas a directive that has to be transposed gives industry much more time properly to accommodate it. That is exactly what we intend. We have already had extensive discussions with industry, and I shall ensure that there are appropriate reprocessing uses for all those electrical products.