4. Mr Blair asked the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, in considering the outcome of the consultation on future recycling and separate collection of waste of a household nature in Northern Ireland, whether his Department will review the projected waste disposal processes of non-recyclable goods. (AQO 866/17-22)
First, I must state that the best way to deal with our waste is to prevent it being created in the first place. Following the principles of the waste hierarchy, where waste cannot be prevented, resources should be reused; and, where resources cannot be reused, we seek to produce a high quality recyclate, which, where possible, is put back into Northern Ireland’s economy. After all that, it is, however, inevitable that, for the foreseeable future, some waste will be sent for residual waste treatment, to produce energy from waste or, indeed, to landfill.
The recent consultation is the first stage of the policy development process. It will allow us to consider the views of and evidence from all stakeholders and make informed decisions on the future of recycling and the separate collection of waste. Alongside that, I am also considering the future waste infrastructure needs for Northern Ireland. We need to consider the totality of waste recycling and disposal, as no element can be considered in isolation.
I thank the Minister for his answer. Waste incinerators have been measured as an expensive method of generating energy and handling waste. Will the Minister give the House his Department's assessment of the economic burden that the proposed Hightown incinerator would have on local councils and their environmental services' capacity?
Arc21 has negotiated for energy from waste in the form of incineration. The cost of construction would be well in excess of £200 million, and there would be running costs thereafter. Arc21 is making the argument that, financially, that stacks up.
First, when it comes to waste, our number-one aim is to reduce the amount that is produced in the first instance, particularly the amount of plastic waste. We will work to ensure that that is the case. Secondly, we want further recycling. Back in 2010, when I was Environment Minister, the Department brought out a policy indicating that we wanted to achieve 50% recycling rates by 2020. That was against the background of Belfast and, at that time, Derry City Council having recycling rate percentages in the low twenties. Some of the other councils had percentages in the higher twenties. We achieved that 50%.
Now, going forward to 2035 — sorry to have my back to you, Mr Speaker — we are looking to achieve 65%. That will be in UK legislation. I would like, if possible, to push it to 70%. Then, you have the waste that is left thereafter. I do not want to impinge on any decisions that might be made. However, it is important that whatever decision is made takes into account our first priority, which is to recycle as much waste as possible, and that we leave as little as possible of that residual waste for refuse-derived fuel (RDF). It is important that we ensure that we absolutely minimise the waste that goes into that sector.
I thanks the Minister for his answers so far. I was going to ask him about new recycling targets. I am glad that he said that he plans to have a target of 65%. The Minister said that reducing waste was the most important aspect of that. He also said that the Department was doing work on plastics. Given that he has answered the question that I was going to ask, will he give the House some detail on that work?
We hope to bring forward something on that as time goes on. There is an evident need to reduce the amount of plastic that goes into the system. We have engaged with the sector to look at how we can further reduce that. One measure that we are looking at is a deposit regime whereby plastics that are sold in the system — for example, plastics for soft drinks — will come back and be recycled. We are also looking at the whole area of packaging and how to reduce the amount of plastic that goes into it. We are working with businesses and companies and hearing from them how they can develop alternatives. People are looking at a series of alternative packaging products out there — one that is made from eucalyptus, for example — that do considerably less damage to the environment and are serious alternatives to what exists currently.
A lot of policy is being set at the minute. We hope to do consultations on a series of programmes over the next number of months. Work has been done with us on part of the waste recycling legislation that is going through Westminster, and a legally binding target of 65% for recycling is going into that legislation. I was not happy, as I wanted the target to go to 70%. We can still have a target of 70%, but it will be 65% in the Westminster legislation.
We will continue to work towards achieving the highest rates possible, and we believe they are achievable. It is important. Some people questioned whether the 50% rate was achievable 10 years ago. We did that. Some people thought that it would be a struggle for us to reach a 20% renewable energy target 10 years ago, but we doubled it to over 40%. Given the hunger in the industry to do the right thing, I believe that the 70% target is achievable and that the public will respond to it.