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Mr. Morley: I shall deal with some of the points made by the hon. Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) from the Government's perspective, but I appreciate that my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) may have her own views.
The hon. Member for Mole Valley asked what is being done to find markets for plastics. If we are to encourage recycling and re-use, we have to promote markets, and the Government take that very seriously. The economics of recycling plastics is much more problematic than that of other parts of the waste stream, but that does not mean that we cannot tackle the issue. The Government and devolved Administrations have set up the Waste and Resources Action ProgrammeWRAPwhich is designed to tackle market barriers to increased recycling. WRAP has identified plastics as a priority area in its business plan to 200304. One of its priorities is marketing existing recycled plastic products
One of WRAP's targets is achieving a 20,000 tonne increase in mixed plastics processing for industrial products by 200304, and it intends to award a grant to address the lack of infrastructure for sorting and processing plastics in the UK. Finance is therefore available to set up infrastructure to deal with the problem.
Mr. McLoughlin: Do the Government believe that recycling should be undertaken even if it costs extra, particularly for materials such as plastics, or do they believe that recycling should not be more costly for local authorities than disposing of, for example, plastics through landfill or incineration?
Mr. Morley: The Government have established a waste disposal hierarchy, at the top of which is waste minimisation. If we can minimise waste, that takes a lot of pressure off the problem of disposal. The next level in the hierarchy is recycling and re-use. Incineration is next to bottom on the hierarchy, and at the very bottom is landfill, which itself involves costs. I accept the hon. Gentleman's pointof course, recycling involves costs that may be higher than those for landfill. However, the increased amount of waste that we are producing is simply not sustainable, so we have to tackle it by introducing a range of measures, including support, regulation and targets, to reduce the waste going to landfill. We are committed to doing so, because there is a great deal more to do about this serious problem. The Government strongly welcome the measures in the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford, which help us to try to address that problem.
Joan Ruddock: My hon. Friend is right that it is not just a question of the costs of recycling: there may be energy and transport costs as well. We must also remember the depletion of raw materials and their replacement. That is an important issuewe must re-use things whenever we can. Plastics are one problem, and aluminium is another particularly acute one, given the costs of aluminium mining.
Mr. Morley: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Energy costs and materials used need to be taken into account. There is real potential here for a re-use and recycling industry. There is enormous potential in terms of new technologies, new industries and new companies. They are being developed now, and to give such industries a boost, complementary measures, such as landfill tax and others relating to targeting, are needed. There is no denying that there is a cost to recycling, but given the range of benefits, environmentally and in the re-use of materials, and in the development of new technologies, industries and materials for the future, it is more than justified.
Mr. Morley: I accept that there is a case for alternatives to the use of plastics and for the development of non-oil-based alternatives. The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that the Government are sponsoring work on alternative crops at the Central Science Laboratory in York. One area of research is into using sugars to develop biodegradable plastics, along with a range of other crops. At the royal show, I was struck by a jacket that appeared to be denim but was made out of nettle stems. Such industry crops and alternatives have tremendous potential in terms of biodegradability. We take seriously the replacement of finite oil-based products with renewable resources and we support research into that.
Mr. Leigh: Unfortunately, we are not there yet. I understand that reprocessing firms can take only one form of plastic and many other forms are thrown away. I imagine that the local councils will have to do the sorting themselves, and I am concerned about the extra costs that will be placed on rural authorities. What extra burdens will be placed on local authorities, such as those in our part of Lincolnshire, which has a sparse population, in collecting all that plastic?
Mr. Morley: I accept that point, which the Bill recognises by giving local authorities flexibility in applying kerbside recycling measures. In the hon. Gentleman's area and parts of my own on the boundary with his constituency there are tiny isolated communities where the cost of such measures would be disproportionate. There are other ways of addressing this. My local authority of North Lincolnshire has set up excellent recycling sites. It is true that people have to travel to them, but at one, adjacent to my village, there are facilities for the separation of a range of waste streams, including textiles, metal, former electrical equipment, rubble and green waste. I use that site myself and it is much appreciated. Such sites do not exist in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, which is why we have had some problems with his constituents using our sites, although the problem of people travelling across borders to use facilities is not unique to our area. I urge him to encourage the Conservative-controlled Lincolnshire county council to provide similar facilities. I suggested to North Lincolnshire that it should speak to Lincolnshire county council about cost sharing, as the facility is important for the whole area.
Mr. McLoughlin: While the Minister is urging Conservative-controlled Lincolnshire county council to provide more facilities in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), will
Mr. Morley: That shows why it is sometimes dangerous for Ministers to go down such paths. We are keen to encourage all local authorities to improve waste collection and recycling facilities. Of course, the Bill is a great help in getting local authorities to focus on those matters. A lot more needs to be done and it is true that different local authorities have different records. We want the records of the worst to be brought up to the same standard as those of the best, and we want to work with the Local Government Association in seeking to promote the issue.
To return to the amendments, I was saying that WRAP's target is to achieve a 20,000 tonne increase in mixed-plastics processing for industrial products by 200304. As I mentioned, it intends to award grants that should result in diversion from the waste stream of an additional 20,000 tonnes per annum of post-consumer plastic bottles. Plastics recycling is popular and the message is increasingly being received and acted on by local authorities as an appropriate response to local pressure.
Joan Ruddock: One significant company to which I spoke when it came to exhibit at my exhibition of companies dealing in recyclates told me an extraordinary story. It said that it was importing plastic bottles in bulk from the continent to keep its processes going. Let me underline to my hon. Friend the fact that there is real scope for greater collection.
Mr. Morley: I am amazed and quite disturbed to hear that that is happening, but it demonstrates the point that my hon. Friend is making. While I would not pretend that there are no costs to recyclingnor would I pretend at the moment that the landfill option is cheaperI acknowledge that we need to change the whole economics and dynamics of the situation. It is outrageous that a company should be importing plastic bottles for processing when we should be separating them from the waste stream and dealing with them ourselves.
Mr. George Osborne: I am not sure that that is outrageous. After all, waste disposal is a global problem. If recycling technology and recycling companies in Britain are ahead of the game and are importing waste from other countries, surely it benefits the planet on which we live.