Landfill (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2003 (Draft)

Subordinate Legislation – in the Scottish Parliament at 9:30 am on 26th June 2003.

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Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 9:30 am, 26th June 2003

The first item of business is a debate on motion S2M-143, in the name of Ross Finnie, on the draft Landfill (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2003.

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

The Landfill (Scotland) Regulations 2003 (SSI 2003/235) came into force on 11 April this year. Those regulations were recommended to Parliament following a debate in the Transport and the Environment Committee on 4 March 2003, and were approved on 13 March 2003.

The Executive was grateful then, and is grateful now, for the support both in committee and in Parliament for those regulations. Sustainable waste management demands that we reduce the volume and manage the disposal of waste safely. Our landfill regulations act on those priorities and are an important step in ensuring that the disposal of waste does not threaten either human health or the wider environment. Parliament supported those aims in March and I expect that it will continue to support them now.

It is perhaps appropriate at this juncture to expand on our wider European obligations. I understand that I have circa 10 minutes of debating time to fill so, at this point, I should welcome one of the unsung heroes of the parliamentary press core, the Press Association reporter. Unlike his colleagues in both the tabloid and quality press, who have failed to make it this morning, he is in the press gallery, and I welcome him.

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

That is a good question.

We aim to achieve a reduction by 2010 of 75 per cent in the 1995 levels of biodegradable municipal waste going to landfill sites. We then hope to reduce those levels by 50 per cent by 2015 and by a further 35 per cent by 2020. We intend to ensure that continuing landfills accept only permitted types of waste and are managed so as to provide documented protection for the environment and human health.

I could go on about the detail of those regulations if members were interested, but as there appears to be no expression of interest from the Opposition benches, I shall move swiftly on to mention the fact that they are in force. The regulations now provide us with the opportunity to have a consistent regime for all landfills in Scotland. The requirement for operators to produce site conditioning plans, and the consequential increased regulatory powers, will enable the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, which works on our behalf, to take a more active and effective role in controlling the construction, operation and aftercare of landfills. As a result of the regulations, landfills will be constructed and operated to much higher standards, and we are ensuring that they will not therefore pose a hazard for future generations in years to come.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing Scottish National Party

What will happen where landfill sites are already overfull and have to be closed? The waste from Inverness is now being transported to the constituency of my friend Stewart Stevenson, which leads to much more traffic congestion and to other health hazards involved in the transportation of waste. I find that a worrying prospect.

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

I am familiar with the situation in Inverness, and I share Mrs Ewing's concerns. Not just in Inverness, but anywhere where waste is transported, we abide by the proximity principle in the development of both area and national waste management plans. That should provide for the disposal of waste as close to its source as is feasible. It is for local authorities and others involved in the management of waste to ensure that the proximity principle applies as far as is possible.

I turn now to the benefits of the regulations that we are considering today. As I said, the regulations are in force and SEPA is acting on them as we speak, and I believe that the three amendments in the amendment regulations that I am recommending to Parliament today will make them even more effective.

Both the Subordinate Legislation Committee and the Transport and the Environment Committee drew attention to the fact that partnerships, although legal persons in Scots law, were not among those entities against which action could be taken under the regulations. Although action could be taken against the individual members of partnerships, we were happy to acknowledge the value of the committees' suggestions earlier in the year. I undertook to take the first possible opportunity to amend the regulations to deal with that omission. The new session of Parliament is barely a month old, so I hope that the members of the new committees feel that we have fulfilled that commitment to Parliament promptly.

At the same time, the Executive would like to use this opportunity to make two further amendments to the original regulations. The first is a clarification of the definition of waste for the purpose of those regulations. As was made clear during the debate in the Transport and the Environment Committee, we wish to include among the kinds of waste whose landfill will now be regulated certain waste streams—notably agricultural waste—that are not currently covered by the controlled waste regime.

The original regulations were accompanied by a provision to commence part of the Environment Act 1995 to do precisely that. We have since decided, in consultation with SEPA, that it would provide greater clarity to amend the definition of waste in the regulations. The amendment regulations before Parliament therefore refer specifically to the European waste catalogue, which is a very broad listing of wastes. By referring to that catalogue, we can be sure that landfill of the whole range of wastes is covered by our legislation and that we are therefore adopting best European Union-wide practice. That does not depart from the original intention of the regulations that Parliament approved, nor does it introduce any new burdens that were not envisaged at that time. The amendment merely clarifies the broad ambit of the regulations and puts them in their broader European context.

Finally, our third amendment will correct a minor typographical error in the original regulations. In the box at paragraph 3(14)(a) of schedule 6 to the original regulations, there is an incorrect reference to

"paragraph 1(9) of Schedule 5".

That should be amended to read, "paragraph 1(6) of Schedule 5". That is a fairly significant amendment. Schedule 6(3)(14) concerns serving notices, and the provision about serving notices is found in paragraph 1(6) of schedule 5, not in paragraph 1(9).

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

What time did he get to bed last night?

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

Not long enough ago, that is for sure.

I assure members that, although that error was present in the original regulations, no proceedings were compromised thereby. By correcting it now, we will enable SEPA to serve notices where required.

The amendment regulations that are being put before Parliament today are simply to clarify the original regulations and to make them more effective in establishing an improved landfill regime. That is the purpose for which the Transport and the Environment Committee and the Subordinate Legislation Committee recommended the original regulations to Parliament in the previous session, and for which Parliament voted in their favour at that juncture.

I therefore look forward to—and I am sure that I can expect—the continued support of Parliament for those minor technical amendments. I commend them to the chamber.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the draft Landfill (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2003 be approved.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party 9:40 am, 26th June 2003

I thank Linda Fabiani for that comment. I suspect that whatever the minister was taking last night at the parliamentary event held by journalists may still be in his bloodstream.

I have a sense of déjà vu because last Thursday some of us—very few of us—gathered in the chamber to debate amendment regulations that also related to environmental matters. Those regulations concerned the water industry, and were an example of the impact of European legislation on the work of the Scottish Parliament. In this case the Scottish National Party supports the introduction of these amendment regulations. I am sure that we all wish to give our warm thanks to the Subordinate Legislation Committee for bringing the issue to our attention.

The amendment regulations ensure that the existing regulations will cover all forms of waste disposal, including agricultural waste and non-mineral waste from quarries and mines. I am sure that we all recognise the role that farmers will have to play in improving Scotland's environment in the years ahead. We welcome the wholehearted support of farmers for making that contribution.

We have 45 minutes to debate the issue of landfill, which is unfortunate because there are other more important issues for which we could have used the time. One such issue is that of food supplements, on which many MSPs were calling for debating time yesterday.

It is to Scotland's shame that 90 per cent of waste is currently landfilled. For too many years, people in Scotland—particularly in industry—thought that, due to the geology of Scotland, the use of landfill sites was easy and cheap. That allowed people who operated quarries and so on to restore them simply by using landfill. We have learned, however, that there are many disadvantages to using landfill. The older sites have produced a great deal of pollution, and there are uncontrolled leakages. There is now a shortage of sites, and Margaret Ewing referred to the transportation of waste from one site to other sites across the country. That in turn leads to further pollution because of increased road traffic and so on. Landfill sites are unsightly—no one wants one on their doorstep. They are noisy and smelly, which makes them unpopular with the public.

The SNP supports the Executive's belief that we should not squander Scotland's valuable resources and energy on landfill. We all recognise that landfill contributes to global warming by producing carbon dioxide and methane. I have already referred to the environmental degradation that results from leakages, and other pollution arises as a result of transportation.

The SNP supports the strict regulation of landfill and a reduction in the number of landfill sites in Scotland. Tackling those issues is perhaps one of the biggest challenges facing the Parliament. The Government launched its waste strategy a few years ago, while earlier this year the waste plan was launched. As well as recycling targets and so on, how we deal with Scotland's waste is one of the biggest issues facing the Parliament. It is therefore disappointing that no parliamentary committee has so far considered the issue. I hope that we can encourage the Environment and Rural Development Committee—

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

It may please the member to hear that yesterday, at its second meeting, the Environment and Rural Development Committee decided that it would consider the issue of the national waste strategy, with a view to scrutinising the Executive's work and making an input to the work of the European Commission and the European Parliament on the issue, which must be concluded by the end of December 2003.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I am delighted to hear that, as we have been waiting for four years. Anyone else who wants to intervene has two or three minutes in which to do so.

It is sad that the figure for recycling in Scotland is only 7 per cent. The SNP welcomes the fairly ambitious national waste plan that was launched earlier this year. The plan talked about achieving, by 2020, a seven-fold increase in recycling and composting, the target of bringing the segregation of kerbside recycling to nine out of 10 homes in Scotland, and a reduction in the number of landfill sites in Scotland by roughly two-thirds. Those are very ambitious targets, so when the minister winds up perhaps he could refer to the feedback he has so far received from Scotland's local authorities on meeting them. The targets should perhaps be even more ambitious, but we must ensure that local authorities have the resources and the ability to deliver. We need alternatives to landfill sites, and we cannot move away from using such sites until those alternatives are in place.

Some local authority officials are hoping for action to speed up planning applications for recycling plants and the introduction of new regulations on the end rules for the use of compost. Apparently, the law says that if industrial compost includes animal by-products it must be put in landfill. However, although it may not be possible to remove the danger, I understand that composting techniques have advanced and that new legislation will be introduced. People are awaiting that legislation and want it fast-tracked if possible.

It is important that the Parliament is vigilant about the environment. Some local shops in Aberdeen—and no doubt elsewhere in Scotland—that deal with the recycling of ink cartridges are running petitions to gain people's support and to highlight that the big manufacturers want to stop those smaller businesses recycling ink cartridges because that takes away business from the big multinationals. It would be bad for the environment if those manufacturers get their way. We must address that situation urgently. I urge ministers, members and the parliamentary committees to investigate the issue. It would be ludicrous if, simply to boost their profits, the big multinationals were to stop the smaller shops recycling ink cartridges—which are used in particular by students and small businesses—to save some cash. We do not want Europe to support that; we want the Parliament to ensure that Europe does not go down that road.

The minister could also refer to an issue that was in the news a few days ago. Ninety-four ships are being towed from the United States of America through Scottish waters to Teeside to be scrapped and have their toxic cargos removed. That may pose a huge environmental risk to Scottish waters and Scotland's coastal environment. Some ministers have already voiced concern about the situation, but perhaps the minister could assure us that the Executive will consider the matter.

The Parliament can pass as many regulations as it wants, but our job of protecting the environment would be much easier if we could educate the public about how to save energy, recycle and so on. Any comment that the minister can make on what has been done to educate the public and inform people about the dangers of failing to protect the environment would be welcome. The SNP supports the regulations.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative 9:48 am, 26th June 2003

The Conservatives supported the regulations when they originally passed through committee and will support the amendment regulations today. It is important that we address the issues dealt with by the regulations, and the amendment regulations that have been introduced are justified. It is a concern that we have had to devote three-quarters of an hour to the issue, when it might have been more appropriate for it to have been dealt with by committee. The parliamentary process will be up and running after the summer recess, and I hope that we will be able to avoid such situations arising in future.

However, we should not pass up the opportunity to bring the issue of landfill on to the parliamentary agenda. This is a rare opportunity to discuss one or two slightly broader issues that are covered by the regulations under discussion. I am concerned that the Executive and the papers that it produces, including the regulations, talk regularly about the imposition of targets. Targets for recycling and other means of waste disposal that move us away from landfill are worth while in the sense that they set an objective that we all feel is necessary. However, my concern is about where targets cause distortion in the system. There are one or two areas where I have concerns about the effects that targets may have.

We talk about recycling—particularly composting—as an alternative to landfill, but I am concerned primarily about the suggestion that, in some cases, incineration be used as an alternative to landfill. Even when power is recovered from the incinerators and some sort of efficiency can be argued, there is a growing concern that public health might be put at risk as a result of a decision to use incineration instead of the landfill option. I would be interested to hear from the minister exactly where the Executive stands on the issue of the incineration of waste and whether any work is being done to allay the public's concerns that are being reported to me, particularly with regard to the disposal of organic waste.

The issue of landfill is very much to the fore in the area immediately north of Aberdeen. I thought that it would be appropriate to raise one or two concerns that have been raised with me in recent months and years. Other members might want to contribute on this point in greater detail, as it is a constituency interest for them.

I am particularly concerned about the transportation of waste out of Aberdeen and into the area immediately to the north. The geology of the Aberdeen area means that there is little opportunity to establish landfill sites to the south or west of the city. The area immediately to the north, however, lends itself to the practice of landfill.

Consequently, a number of landfill sites have been situated there over the years. In places such as Blackdog, we have seen the way in which landfill should not be done. There are on-going environmental problems associated with that site, which is now closed as it was worked in ways that will damage the environment in the future. There is another controversial site in Wester Hatton, which is still the subject of a number of objections by local people who continue to contact me with their concerns.

The problem with the regulation of such sites is that the regulations can be so tight—as with the Wester Hatton site—that, in many cases, rubbish is not dumped at them. Much of Aberdeen's rubbish goes up the road past the Wester Hatton site and on up to Peterhead, in Stewart Stevenson's constituency, where it is dumped at less cost. As a result of the necessity to move rubbish over longer distances, fuel is burned and the environment is consequently damaged. Is the minister prepared to consider the way in which regulations are implemented to ensure that, in future, we do not have the unfortunate situation in which rubbish is hauled over many miles to avoid problems such as those that have been mentioned?

Richard Lochhead mentioned the issue of the ships that are coming across the Atlantic and passing through Scottish waters on their way to Teeside. We have to be extremely responsible in our approach to that situation. I have concerns, which many members share. However, if we are to dispose of dangerous substances and recycle waste in a responsible manner, that has to be done somewhere. The techniques and capability to do so might exist in other countries, but they might also exist in the United Kingdom. To the extent that they exist here, it is essential that we accept our responsibility and ensure that such practices are carried out where that can be done most responsibly.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

I am nearly finished.

We have to address our responsibilities and ensure that our arguing against having that sort of work done in the UK does not simply result in its being done in the former Soviet Union, India or the far east, where the environment might be damaged to a far greater extent.

Photo of Maureen Macmillan Maureen Macmillan Labour 9:54 am, 26th June 2003

I support the regulations and the amendment regulations. The regulations were endorsed by the Transport and the Environment Committee, and the Tories supported them too—but, I have to say, only after a lot of argument.

The proposal is, I hope, a further step towards a more environmentally friendly waste strategy. This country does not have a good record on waste management—in fact, it is abysmal.

About 10 years ago, I went on a school exchange to Hamburg and stayed with a German family. I was utterly ashamed by how the German commitment to recycling compared to ours. There were separate collections on the doorstep for paper, glass, tin cans and compostable materials. At that time, when it had been suggested that Scotland might go down the same road, the idea was ridiculed—for example, the tabloids printed cartoons of woolly-hatted environmentalists sniffing dustbins and so on. The culture in this country has never encouraged us to address our responsibilities with regard to recycling.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

Does the member agree that the example of Germany highlights one of the problems that face us in relation to recycling? At a time when paper was being recycled in many European countries through an internally funded, market-led process, the Germans decided—for all the right reasons—that, because paper recycling was a good idea, they would offer a substantial subsidy for the recycling of paper. However, that decision led to the collapse of the practice in every other European country.

Photo of Maureen Macmillan Maureen Macmillan Labour

I want to address that point in a Highland context. I do not think that recycling should be market led because, if it were, it simply would not happen in some areas of the country.

My first foray into recycling was when I was 10 years old. During the summer holiday that I spent in Oban, my cousin and I realised that the shoreline was a good source of empty beer and lemonade bottles that had been thrown over the side of fishing boats or Caledonian MacBrayne ferries. We spent our summer holidays collecting beer bottles and taking them to McKerchar's the grocers and getting tuppence for them. We spent that money on iced buns—

Photo of Maureen Macmillan Maureen Macmillan Labour

And doughnuts, which we saved up for a midnight feast, meaning that they were fairly stale by the time we ate them. What is the balance of good in that example? We certainly cleaned up the shoreline, but I probably did my teeth inordinate damage and ensured that I ended up with the figure of a traditionally built woman that I have today.

Although that is a humorous example, the idea of the balance of good is important. Margaret Ewing is not in the chamber anymore, but I want to pick up on what she said about the landfill in Inverness being closed down. SEPA wanted it to be closed down for environmental reasons, yet further environmental damage is being done as a result of the need to haul the rubbish to Peterhead for disposal. I do not want to take a side in that argument, as I do not know what the answer is, but I wonder whether any thought was given to the balance of good before that decision was made.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

Leaving aside the landfill site in Peterhead, which is a matter of concern to me, does the member agree that there might be some environmental advantages in transporting Inverness's rubbish by ship instead of road? That would provide an opportunity to develop more freight opportunities at Inverness and Peterhead.

Photo of Maureen Macmillan Maureen Macmillan Labour

I agree, and I believe that that possibility, as well as the possibility of transporting it by rail as close to Peterhead as possible, was considered by Highland Council. Unfortunately, however, both options were rejected.

We are making progress in the Highlands. Across the region, there are community groups that are dedicated to recycling and composting, such as the Campbeltown waste busters. That group was recently told that it would receive more money from the Executive to help its project. The Lochaber environmental group has raised awareness of waste management in a rural context and has questioned, as others have done, our culture of overpackaging almost every item that is sold.

I wonder what has happened to the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations that the Government introduced in 1997, following the European Union directive in 1994. I have not seen any reduction in packaging. If one wants to buy three cup hooks, they are still unnecessarily attached to a piece of cardboard and sealed in plastic in the ironmongers. We should consider the amount of unnecessary packaging that exists.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

The member should wind up.

Photo of Maureen Macmillan Maureen Macmillan Labour

I could have continued for much longer, but unfortunately I will have to end there.

Photo of Nora Radcliffe Nora Radcliffe Liberal Democrat 10:01 am, 26th June 2003

The downside of Europe is that our ministers have to sit up all night to reach decisions, but that seems to be worth while. I do not know whether members listened to the news this morning, but we seem to have arrived at a good deal for Scottish agriculture that will open up possibilities for encouraging good farming practice and benefits to the environment. That is to be welcomed, particularly in the context of how waste and landfill are dealt with.

One of the things that Europe does best is driving the environmental agenda. The first Community strategy for waste management dates back to 1989. We know that the effects of pollution and global warming are not confined by national boundaries and we know what we need to do. Working on a pan-European basis encourages all member states to take action and removes the excuses that the impact of one state's actions can be cancelled by the fact that other states are not following suit or that there will be a competitive disadvantage through properly dealing with waste.

The amendment regulations are the latest step in the much-needed process of tightening up how we deal with our waste. As Richard Lochhead reminded us, some 90 per cent of our waste goes to landfill, which illustrates Scotland's position at the lower end of the waste hierarchy. There is a heavy dependence on disposal. We know how much we need to do to hoist ourselves up the waste hierarchy, but it is vital that we tackle all aspects of waste, including minimisation, reuse, recycling and safe, properly regulated disposal, down to the last closing bracket—I say that to Allan Wilson.

There has been a waste strategy—area waste plans are feeding into the national waste plan, which is beginning to have an impact. This weekend, I will put out my third lot of papers for kerbside collection in Inverurie. Each collection in the town has been larger than the previous one, as people become more aware of the service.

To get to where we want to be from where we are with our attitudes to waste will take sustained action on many fronts, better regulation of landfill sites, better provision of properly engineered sites and better planning to avoid long-haul solutions. The amendment regulations will help. We welcome and support them.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

You have a strict six minutes.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

Thank you.

Yesterday, I lodged an amendment to the motion, although it was not selected for debate. The amendment proposed inserting the following words at the end of the motion:

"but, in so doing, recognises the regrettable situation that, at present, and for the foreseeable future, landfilling remains the waste management option of choice for virtually all local authorities; laments the fact that several community recycling projects are facing financial ruin owing to the failure of promised public funding; acknowledges that current recycling targets are wholly inadequate given the potential for recycling, and requests that the Scottish Executive formally adopts the concept of 'zero waste'."

In his foreword to "The National Waste Plan 2003", Ross Finnie states:

"This National Waste Plan ... sets out the basis for a fundamental shift in the way we manage Scotland's resources."

He continues:

"Our vision is for a resource-efficient culture where waste reduction, reuse and recycling are a part of everyday life for everyone."

We support that. We strongly agree with Mr Finnie and assert that nothing less than a fundamental shift is required if we are to achieve a sustainable Scotland. Unfortunately, the draft Landfill (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2003 do nothing to bring about such a sea change in how we tackle the waste problem.

The waste framework directive calls on member states to encourage

"the prevention or reduction of waste production" and

"the recovery of waste by means of recycling, re-use or reclamation or any other process with a view to extracting secondary raw materials".

However, in practice, that does not happen. Landfill operators do not sort the wastes that they receive; the wastes are simply dumped on the tipping face, compacted, covered over and essentially forgotten. We believe that there must ultimately—within 10 years—be a presumption that all waste, as it has been defined, be screened for the presence of reusable, recyclable and otherwise recoverable components and constituents. Waste should be landfilled only when there is no further practicable potential for any of the waste-recovery processes that I have mentioned.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

Robin Harper may be aware of the plans to create major plants at Westfield in Fife and Killoch in Ayrshire, which would involve transportation of large masses of waste over many miles and create fairly large problems at those sites. Does he envisage the need for such sites?

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

Those are definitely not the kind of sites that we envisage. In all too many cases, such sites are associated with landfill and the possibility of incineration. The building of incinerators with a commitment to producing waste for 25 years in order to solve our energy problems is a bizarre compact that the Green Party utterly rejects.

General wastes can be passed through a mechanical sorter that extracts glass and metal, for example, that may have been missed by individual householders, although we believe that it is important that individual householders should bear the responsibility for preliminary sorting. It has been shown that, in Denmark, roughly half the people recycle carefully, but that the rest are fairly ambivalent about the process. Certainly, some 20 to 25 per cent of people—even in some of the best countries—are not good at sorting their rubbish. A change in attitude towards waste would have a marked impact on Scottish recycling rates—from being among the lowest in Europe, rates would become among the highest in Europe.

I want to deal with a serious problem that I mentioned in my amendment—indeed, the amendment might not have been selected because the problem was thought not to be precisely relevant to the subject for debate today. There is a serious problem for small-scale recyclers in Scotland. I received a letter from a recycling project on the west coast of Scotland. Although the project has been extremely successful, it will be legally obliged to file for bankruptcy in five days' time, as it has not received the piece of paper that it needs from the Executive in order to borrow from the banks until the promised Executive money arrives.

The situation is absolutely shambolic. Perhaps other small-scale recyclers throughout Scotland are scared to complain for the simple reason that they are always having to beg for money from here, there, the Executive, the landfill tax and local councils—they are not putting their heads above the parapet in case they annoy somebody. The letter that I received states:

"Firstly, the speed of the change seems to have been too fast, giving organisations little time to plan. Secondly, the interim arrangements in Scotland have not been sufficient to tide environmental organisations over."

It continues:

"I am aware that in Edinburgh a number of LEEP employees are facing redundancy or a reduction in their hours".

That fact was publicised in the Edinburgh Evening News on 14 April.

The business environmental partnership in Midlothian has done fantastic work. It has helped more than 200 Edinburgh-based businesses to participate in waste minimisation projects, but the changes in landfill tax credits mean that it is no longer able to bid for landfill tax credits from the Edinburgh environment partnership grants scheme to run waste-related projects in Edinburgh. The situation is a shambles and it is up to the Executive to sort it out as quickly as possible.

Photo of John Swinburne John Swinburne SSCUP 10:09 am, 26th June 2003

I had thought that I would be off the hook today. I thought, "Landfill sites—senior citizens—easy." But, no, a delegation of senior citizens from Stewartfield in East Kilbride dropped in last week—they had picked up from the internet that the landfill regulations would be discussed. They came to my door and said, "Can you come with us?" So I went—I was outnumbered. We went to Stewartfield, where there was a plague of flies coming over from the Cathkin landfill site. The site is not far from Stewartfield, which is a beautiful housing estate. The plague of flies was indescribable and totally unacceptable.

Those who operate landfill sites are bound to have some way of spraying disinfectant to kill the things, but it is alleged that South Lanarkshire Council has come up with an answer to the problem—its answer is to breed 40,000 coloured flies and release them from the landfill site in order to prove that the problem does not come from the site. The idiots have taken over the place. I give in. I think that that is all that I have to say.

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

It is unfortunate that the member describes the actions of the council and of the operator of the landfill site as idiotic, because there is established evidence to suggest that flies do not travel very far. However, they may be doing so in this case, so the council is responsibly trying to find out whether the cause is the landfill site or something else in East Kilbride. Perhaps the Philipshill water treatment works is the reason for the flies. It is an important principle that the cause must be established before action can be taken. The community of Stewartfield would want to ensure that there is evidence to show once and for all whether the problem comes from the landfill site. If the landfill is not the cause, we have another problem to deal with.

Photo of John Swinburne John Swinburne SSCUP

Perhaps the minister will tell us who is to count the number of coloured flies that people sweep up in their houses.

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

I will answer that. A number of residents in Stewartfield have agreed to take part in the project. They have been given sufficient material to catch the flies, which will be taken away by environmental health officers, who will make an assessment. That is good practice. It is an innovative approach that will ensure that we get to the root of the problem rather than tackle a problem that may not exist in the first place. That is a good use of public money.

Photo of John Swinburne John Swinburne SSCUP

I rest my case. The idiots have taken over the asylum. I am sorry.

Photo of Karen Whitefield Karen Whitefield Labour 10:12 am, 26th June 2003

Unlike many members, I welcome the opportunity provided by today's debate. As members may know, I have a particular interest in the effect that large-scale landfill sites can have on communities.

The village of Greengairs in my constituency has the misfortune of sitting adjacent to one of Europe's largest landfill sites. The village is almost entirely surrounded by other landfill operations and opencast workings. The people of Greengairs know only too well what it is like to have to live with the effects of landfill: disgusting odours, plagues of flies, local roads destroyed by heavy-goods vehicles and the constant buzz of helicopters at work flying overhead. They experience all those things day in, day out, month after month and year after year. The experience of the people of Greengairs stands as a reminder, if one is needed, of why we must find viable and sustainable alternatives to burying our waste products in the ground.

The amendment regulations seek to improve the working of the EU landfill directive by amending the Landfill (Scotland) Regulations 2003. They are intended to prevent or reduce the adverse effects of landfill waste on the environment and, consequentially, on the people who live in the communities that are nearest to landfill sites. I welcome the intention behind the regulations. In particular, I welcome the steps that they set out to ensure that different types of waste are sent to the appropriate type of landfill site.

The community of Greengairs has strong concerns about the fact that the nearby site accepts waste products that are unsuitable for a landfill that is so close to a residential community. I can assure members that the story that a whale was dumped in Greengairs is far from being an urban myth. That was the reality that my constituents faced last summer. They had to endure the appalling and disgraceful smells and the swarms of flies that came with the whale as it was transported to the site.

Although I welcome the strengthening of regulations designed to prevent inappropriate use of landfill, I call on the minister to ensure that the Scottish Environment Protection Agency does everything in its power to implement the regulations. Where necessary, SEPA must prosecute those companies that flout the regulations. The recent publication of the online register of polluters showed that the Greengairs site, which is operated by Shanks Waste Services Ltd, is the seventh in Scotland's top 10 worst toxic polluters. That is a shameful statistic. If the situation is to change, it is vital that the regulations are properly enforced.

The amendment regulations are to be welcomed. I welcome anything that improves the environment for people whose lives are blighted by the operation of landfills close to where they live. However, we must also begin to take seriously the need to find alternatives to landfill. That is necessary not just because the regulations tell us so, but because we owe it to the people who live by opencast workings to ensure that our short-term decisions do not leave long-lasting consequences for them in the years to come. I certainly owe it to the people of Greengairs to ensure that they do not endure opencast and landfill for one more day than is necessary. [Applause.]

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative 10:16 am, 26th June 2003

Is that me? I am sorry, but I could not hear for the clapping.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

Are you sure that it was not the effects of last night?

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

No, I am perfectly okay.

The debate has been surprisingly interesting, largely because we have been able to spread our wings slightly further than the scope of the regulations. The debate has given the Parliament an opportunity to unite behind the principles behind the instrument, which are that landfill is unacceptable in modern circumstances. For a whole host of environmental reasons, it is a sound idea to move towards alternative means of dealing with rubbish. However, as I mentioned earlier, there are continuing concerns about some of the alternatives to landfill.

Some interesting points have been raised during the debate, but I am particularly concerned about John Swinburne's flies. I would be interested to know what colour they were. Some alternative methods of dealing with flies involve breeding more flies and releasing them. If the flies can be bred so that they are unable to reproduce, releasing them in the area can have the effect of cutting out the flies altogether in the long term. That technique has been used worldwide and is being used effectively in other areas of Scotland.

At the conclusion of today's debate, the minister can take it that the Parliament backs the principles behind the regulations but believes that we have a lot more to do. As our convener, Sarah Boyack, mentioned, the Environment and Rural Development Committee has committed itself to looking at landfill issues as one of its priorities. I look forward to taking that opportunity when the committee begins to deal with the matter.

If we are to get round the problem of landfill sites, we must move quickly to examine the alternatives and deal with the objections that there might be to some of them. Flies are not the only problem. I assure members that severe concerns have been brought to my attention about the impact that incineration might have on local environments. In Scotland, one or two incidents involving waste incineration led to some horrifying consequences and some extremely tedious litigation. Consequently, if we are to use incinerators as a method of disposing of, and even of recovering energy from, waste, it is essential that, before we progress down that road, we consider the impact that such practices have on the environment. Nonetheless, the use of landfill must be reduced.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

I am sorry, but I have forgotten Linda Fabiani. I apologise.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party 10:19 am, 26th June 2003

It is terribly upsetting that I am so easily forgotten, especially when I have even more enthusiasm than Karen Whitefield to speak in today's debate.

The SNP welcomes the fact that regulations are being changed to bring Scottish law into line with European law. However, Robin Harper is right—even though we discussed landfill and waste strategies many times during the Parliament's first session, it seems that that was to no avail, because nothing much has changed. Robin Harper is still mentioning people who come up with great waste strategy initiatives but are totally hamstrung in trying to make a difference and are unable to help us to meet the targets that we have talked about.

I am glad to hear that the new convener of the Environment and Rural Development Committee is being strongly urged to hold an inquiry on waste strategy. I hope that the next time we discuss waste management we will be able to come up with real solutions to the real problems that exist, particularly in relation to landfill, because the present situation cannot be sustained for much longer. It is all very well to bring in new regulations, but I am not convinced that we are giving teeth to the relevant agencies and the local authorities that must monitor such matters, so that they can truly make a difference.

I would like the minister to clarify an issue that came up yesterday. I was told that any landfill sites that were in existence prior to the creation of SEPA remain the responsibility of the local authority within whose area they lie. That bothered me, because I do not feel that local authorities have the resources to regulate and monitor such sites properly. I would appreciate clarification on that.

Although the debate has been short, a number of interesting speeches have been made, which all dealt with the theme of recycling. Richard Lochhead stressed that 90 per cent of waste goes to landfill. We have not made a difference on recycling, as Nora Radcliffe and Maureen Macmillan pointed out. There must be sufficient resources to deliver on the targets that everyone agrees should be met.

Alex Johnstone and Margaret Ewing spoke about the big issue of transporting waste and John Swinburne mentioned the Cathkin landfill site. What has been said about the flies is true and I am amazed that Alex Johnstone is such an expert on them. I was going to ask what happens when it is decided that the problem comes from a landfill site, but Alex Johnstone kindly answered that question. It is not only the people in Stewartfield who experience such difficulties; other people who live beside the Cathkin landfill site have a terrible time. As well as suffering from the planning blight that comes with having a landfill site on the doorstep, they have been plagued with flies, too. I hope that the joint initiative involving Glasgow City Council and South Lanarkshire Council identifies the source of the problem and fixes it.

Transportation is a significant issue, as three Glasgow City Council waste lorries have already been overturned on the way to the Cathkin landfill site. That brings me on to the ships that transport toxic waste. It is all very well to say that such waste has to be dealt with somewhere, as Alex Johnstone said, but our Government and, to an extent, our Parliament is charged with protecting our environment. It is worrying that we first learned about the ships bringing toxic waste through the Pentland firth from reading about them in a newspaper. I am sure that the minister will be as concerned as I am about that. I ask him to give us some feedback on how we can monitor such matters. The ships in question come from America. It is not as though they come from somewhere that cannot deal with toxic waste. Why are those ships bringing waste all the way across from America to be dealt with in this country?

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

Surely the intention is that we in the United Kingdom should use the expertise of our skilled people to treat much of that waste. Some of the waste that comes from less-developed countries could cause major pollution in those countries. A condition of the waste's coming here is that every toxic product that is produced from the transposition of the waste is sent back to the country of origin.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

That is all very well, but the fact that those ships come across into Scottish waters raises the possibility of an environmental disaster. It seems ludicrous that a convoy of waste ships should be sent all that way across the ocean. Surely there are experts on the other side of the world that can deal with the waste.

We agree that we must come into line with Europe, but I would like us to go a bit further. Why cannot we be more ambitious? Instead of just coming up with the solutions for our country, as we have done many times, why do we not finance and resource those solutions? That would enable us to make a difference and to tap into the environmental justice that practically all members say we should be tapping into.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

Allan Wilson has a strict six minutes in which to wind up.

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour 10:25 am, 26th June 2003

I will try to deal with all the issues that have been raised in the limited amount of time that I have. If I cannot deal with everything, I will be happy to write to members individually about their concerns, including constituency issues.

It is perhaps inevitable that the debate has moved from consideration of the specific content of the proposed technical amendments to the Landfill (Scotland) Regulations 2003 towards consideration of landfill in general. That is probably as it should be. I welcome the support that members of all parties have expressed for the amendments. The whole purpose of the regulations that we introduced in the first session was to tighten up and better regulate existing landfill sites.

On Linda Fabiani's point about old landfill sites, sites that were closed before the creation of SEPA remain the responsibility of the relevant local authority, but SEPA retains and exercises its monitoring powers in relation to any environmental threat that is posed by those sites. Those powers apply to the broad spectrum of environmental threats, including those that old landfill sites could pose.

I was interested in Alex Johnstone's point about incineration. I want to reassure him that incineration, or energy from waste, is towards the bottom of the waste hierarchy as outlined in the national waste management plan. Recovery, recycling and reuse are all preferred to, and are better environmental options than, incineration.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

Is there a massive energy deficit there? All the processes that the minister referred to consume energy. Is that not wasteful in itself?

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

The national waste plan acknowledges that producing energy from waste is part of an integrated approach to the management of waste. It also acknowledges that conventional techniques involving the incineration of unsorted waste are not particularly popular, as Alex Johnstone said. Although the benefits that such methods provide are limited, in that they do not encourage recycling or reuse, we expect that up to 14 per cent of all municipal waste would be better utilised for energy recovery. We aim to meet that target by 2020. Incineration and energy from waste have a part to play in the way in which we manage waste and reduce our reliance on landfill. That is an important consideration.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson Labour

Will the minister acknowledge the enormous progress that has been made at the cement works at Dunbar, which now burns all Scotland's waste car tyres? Their shipment and use as fuel in the cement manufacture process offers tremendous environmental advantages in reducing landfill waste, using energy potential and reducing emissions into the atmosphere.

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

I am pleased to acknowledge the contribution that such schemes—in Dunbar and throughout the country—make to reducing our reliance on landfill. Reuse, recycling and energy from waste schemes can all make an important contribution.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

What happens if the Executive's waste minimisation and reuse strategies are successful? Do we then start diverting waste that could be reused to incinerators just because we have built the incinerators?

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

No. The point about energy from waste and incineration is that it is the least environmentally friendly option. We prefer reuse and recycling to incineration, so we will direct all our energies into sorting waste at source and—because I believe that there is a market solution to the problem—into creating markets for the recycled products, as John Home Robertson mentioned.

It is too easy to ridicule the idea of separation of waste at source—I accept Maureen Macmillan's point about how separation has been ridiculed in the past. However, I believe that those days are at an end. The public are becoming increasingly aware that many councils are using the strategic waste fund's considerable resources to improve the separate collection of waste streams. That is real progress and considerable resources are being allocated to local funds to improve recycling. Funds are being earmarked for precisely the type of sorting facilities that Mr Harper recommends.

Richard Lochhead made an interesting point about composting. We are aware of the issue and we will be proposing further amendments to the waste-licensing regime early in the new parliamentary session. That will address Richard Lochhead's point about the European regime.

I apologise for the fact that I have not covered every point that has been raised, but I undertake to get back to members on outstanding issues after the debate. I whole-heartedly commend the new regulations to the chamber.