My Department has regularly met representatives of district councils, mainly through the strategic inter-group forum, which comprises representatives from the Department and the three waste management partnerships. The forum was established to assist with the implementation of the waste management strategy, which was published in March 2000. Recently, it has focused on finalising the partnership’s waste management plans and funding.
Recycling is a significant element in the three final draft plans that were submitted to the Department at the end of June 2002. The allocations to councils under last year’s waste management grant scheme were largely spent on the infrastructure needed to support those recycling targets. A similar pattern of expenditure is expected this year. Officials and I have met with individual councils and groups of councils about a range of waste management issues. Waste management is a standing item on the agenda of my quarterly meetings with the Northern Ireland Local Government Association. My Department and I value such close contact with councils, because it is vital to the successful implementation of the waste management strategy.
I was aware that some work was being done, but I was unaware of its extent, and I thank the Minister for that.
Does the Minister agree that educating the public is another essential part of the strategy in the development of waste disposal and recycling? Will he give me some idea about what is being discussed in his meetings on that subject?
I agree that it is important to educate the public, and I thank Mrs Bell for her complimentary comments about how far the process has moved. We are all part of the waste problem; therefore, we must all be part of the solution. We must be aware of the contribution that we can make. Resources have been spent on public awareness, and £1·5 million is available for that over three years. Surveys on our Wake up to Waste campaign showed that there was 30% more use of waste disposal and recycling units in certain district council areas, for example. Other statistics show that people are more aware of the need to deal with waste. Therefore we are confident, to a certain extent, of a heightened awareness of the problem of waste. It is now for this Administration, working with the three partnership councils that are legally responsible for waste disposal, to develop plans that will bring us to the point of reducing, reusing and recycling waste.
As I said, district councils contribute to that. The funding that is available is primarily for councils to begin implementing waste management plans — for example, we have a waste management grant scheme that goes to councils, for which £3·85 million is available this financial year. However, that is still awaiting the approval of the Department of Finance and Personnel. Public awareness is dealt with through schemes funded by the £1·5 million that I mentioned to Mrs Bell. A total of £7·4 million is available for various measures to ensure that there is education about waste management and various available methods of dealing with waste.
The Minister will be aware of district councils’ growing problems with refrigerators and freezers — one is tempted to say that the figures make chilling reading. Will the Minister tell the House what steps his Department is taking to comply with the proposed EU Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive on the disposal and recycling of refrigerators and freezers?
Do you want me to come clean about that, Mr Deputy Speaker? When the Member mentioned chilling, it reminded me of something that my daughter said to me the other day. I was getting a little animated, and she said "Take a chill pill, Dad"; in other words, she said that I should chill out. Perhaps that is also appropriate.
The disposal of fridges and freezers has been a problem. Grants totalling £250,000 have been made available to district councils for that, and we are awaiting the return of tenders for a contract to deal with that problem. We anticipate that we could be in a position to have the outstanding fridges dealt with by an all-island contract towards the end of the year.
I have listened with interest to the Minister’s replies. Does the Minister not think that a regional approach to waste disposal and recycling would be much better than having three different councils involved in the programme?
Secondly, it is not possible to meet the EU Directive unless the disposal of recyclable items is honestly dealt with. Recycled glass and waste paper have always had an indifferent market. Has the Minister researched whether proper recycling markets can be established, on a wider basis than this region, which would make it possible to meet the requirements of the Directive?
I appreciate Mr Gibson’s question, as he deals with the nub of the issue — the regional basis of waste disposal and recycling. He mentioned also the possibility of carrying out research in other regions. I have considered other areas and found that two traits arise throughout Europe and the rest of the world. The first is that it takes up to 10 years to get to the required standard, and the second important point is that there is a three-way split in waste disposal, the first two of which account for 30% each — recycling and landfill. The remainder is a gap that is filled, even in the most environmentally friendly countries, by what is called waste to energy; thermal; or that encapsulating word "incineration". Dr McDonnell found his visit to an incineration plant in Copenhagen very informative.
There are problems to be solved, and we must bite the bullet. The volume of our waste is much too high and must be dealt with. Compared with an average of 30% of waste going into a hole in the ground in Europe, 95% of our waste follows that route. We have a long way to go, and we must be realistic about the matter.
On the issue of sustainable markets, £1·4 million out of that £7·4 million is allocated to providing such markets for recycled goods. I have considered the issue throughout Europe and further afield, to Japan, to find out how the most developed and environmentally friendly countries deal with waste. We have a long way to go to reach that standard.