Clause 21 - ''Biodegradable waste'' and ''municipal waste''

Part of Waste and Emissions Trading Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 10th April 2003.

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Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Minister (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Environment) 4:30 pm, 10th April 2003

I do not believe that the definitions in the landfill directive or the Bill will answer the sort of problems to which the hon. Gentleman referred. The problems are relevant, and are answered by having an organic standard for composting. We spent several months last year producing an organic standard that we finally published. It was subject to widespread consultation with the Composting Association and stakeholders about what was good quality, recognised organic composting. That has now been agreed and is established, and is the answer to the hon. Gentleman's question.

There was also the problem of animal by-products being put into home composting. After foot and mouth, the Government were extremely concerned that no action should be taken that might resurrect foot and mouth in this country. On the other hand, we were criticised because the exclusion was so wide that home composting was completely discouraged. We sought through a European Union regulation to try to find the right balance between the two. We want to encourage home composting, but without any risk of human or animal disease.

The definition of biodegradable waste in the Bill is, as I said, derived from the landfill directive. It is important that the definitions are the same, as the objective of the landfill allowance scheme is to meet the targets set in article 5(2) of the directive. A wider definition would complicate the system and disconnect it from the landfill targets in the directive. In order to demonstrate that we have met our obligations under the directive, our report to the Commission would have to submit figures using the directive definition. At the very least, that would create unnecessary complications for the monitoring authority, as it would need to collect figures covering both definitions. It would also bring further pressure to bear on disposal authorities, which I am not sure is the

intention. A narrower definition would mean that we had failed to implement the directive fully, and would leave us open to infraction proceedings. The amendment carries that risk to the extent that it seeks to introduce a time limit on when waste can decompose.

We should stick closely to the definitions in the directive. I cannot answer biological questions about the nature of biodegradability, although I could get experts to answer them. However, that is not the point. However they are answered, the important point is that we keep close to the directive. I almost said that we are required to do so whether it is right or wrong, because that is what we are required to do by law. I cannot accept the amendment for those reasons.