I thank Mrs Hodgson, and congratulate her on setting the scene so well, as she did in her speech last week.
The thrust of the debate so far is how we get rid of waste in a way that meets the environmental standards we all want. It is clear that something must be done to address the disposal of waste. The first thing is for more people to realise that they should reuse and recycle or pass things on to others to use. The world cannot contain a continued throw-away mentality. I have seen such a change in my local area from the encouragement of recycling—not only kerbside recycling, but also at household recycling centres, where people are asked to categorise their waste. That encourages much more recycling and less landfill waste.
I agree that we cannot continue to use landfill as we have done, but it must be acknowledged that there is still a need for an end destination for products that cannot be recycled—and the sea is not the place for them. We all know about the number of plastic articles in the sea; it is very obvious. By way of illustration, The Times today has a story about a whale with waste material wrapped around its body. Divers went down to cut that away from it. I am all for the end of single-use plastic and was heartened to read of a plant that might possibly be used as a plastic substitute that biodegrades. I am happy to see that some supermarkets are considering refill stations for cereal and even shampoos. However, while we can do much in that way, there still must be waste. Shipping it to other countries for disposal is not the answer. We cannot continue to use landfill as we do.
As the Minister knows, the matter is a devolved one for Northern Ireland. I want to refer to a project that has just been given approval by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency on behalf of councils. The key point for Northern Ireland, looking forward, is that landfill across Great Britain and Europe will be an option for only between 5% and 10% of waste by 2035, or 2025 in Scotland and Wales. That is the direction of travel, and for Northern Ireland to keep up we must build energy recovery infrastructure to process what is not recyclable.
I had a meeting to address the matter last Friday—it just happened to be then, with this debate happening today—to discuss proposals by arc21, where six local authorities come together. That body is attempting to design a programme to support and enhance recycling targets and waste issues. One of the projects deserves a closer look, and I met representatives to discuss it last week. The Becon consortium has developed plans to co-locate a mechanical biological treatment plant and an energy-from-waste plant using an incinerator with an energy recovery process at the Hightown quarry site on the Boghill Road, Mallusk. A visitor centre will be part of the project. A briefing I received on the proposed project states:
“This project represents a private sector major investment for Northern Ireland—approximately £240 million in development and construction alone. In the construction of the new waste facilities, local contractors will be used wherever possible, thereby maximising opportunities for employment and benefiting the wider local economy.”
Some 340 permanent direct and indirect jobs will be created, as well, when the plants are operational. The briefing says the project will provide a sustainable, long-term solution for the management of residual municipal waste in the arc21 area, assisting the six councils, including the one I represent, and where I live, to meet future climate change targets such as landfill diversion and increasing recycling. The briefing says it will increase arc21 constituent councils’ overall recycling rates by up to 10%, through the extraction of plastics, metals, aggregates and other valuable materials through the MBT. That could divert up to 250,000 tonnes of municipal waste from landfill per year and contribute to Northern Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions targets through a reduction of approximately 57,500 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year, relative to sending waste to landfill.
Obviously, air quality is a massive issue for us as well. Last week I asked a question in the House about the fact that two hours of exposure to diesel emissions leads to 24 hours of negative effects. The briefing I have been referring to states that the project it describes would enhance Northern Ireland’s security of supply and increase diversity of energy production by exporting 18 MW of electricity to the national grid—enough to power in excess of 30,000 homes annually and help Northern Ireland to become less reliant. The correct energy efficiency balance is needed to ensure that the air quality is right and ensure that waste materials are disposed of.
Thanks to the return of devolution, our local authority and Ministers in the Northern Ireland Assembly will, I am sure, consider every facet of that proposal, although I do not know what their deliberations will result in. I do know that it is important that we think outside the box on this issue and that we secure a better way of doing things. If that means that block grants are needed, let us sow into the lives of our children’s children and use our finance now to make a real difference to the country that we leave them.
I honestly believe that we must have a UK-wide strategy; while that is not the Minister’s responsibility, it is important that we have one. I look forward to her response. I believe that the end of the world will not come a second before the Lord ordains it, but I also believe that we have a duty to be good stewards of this wonderful world that has been granted to us. It is past time that we do what we can to be invested in our world and not simply to survive our time in it.