§ 3.56 p.m.
§ Wing Commander Sir Eric Bullus (Wembley, North)
I am grateful to have the opportunity today to raise the question of salvage and its recycling in industry. I am grateful also to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for his presence to reply to my questions and comments. The whole House will wish him success in his new job. I think that this is only the second occasion on which he will have appeared at the Dispatch Box. I would presume to say that if he makes as good a Minister as he made a Whip—which he did for me—he will rapidly rise on the ministerial ladder.
I had a similar Adjournment debate in the early 1950s, when, in those immediate post-war years, there was still a shortage of raw materials in this country and, indeed, in the world. I pressed then for every use of salvage. The then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply, as it then was, Mr. Toby 1162 Low, now Lord Aldington, replied to that debate. He told me some years later that as a result of my requests he had had many streets in London dug up in order to retrieve old tram lines, which were then used for salvage.
The present position with regard to raw materials in this country is serious. We are almost at a war-time level of shortage. Indeed, this is a war on want. There is every prospect that the position will worsen. All the more reason, therefore, that we should make every use of every material which has been used but can be used again.
I do not confine my request only to industry. I want to see all the waste cut out or considerably reduced in agriculture and horticulture. Many years ago I called attention to the grave waste of apples at packing stations and in untended orchards. Our entry to the Common Market and the cut-back in our food growing make it essential that we should make every use of everything that we can grow. This applies also to vegetables, especially where deep-freezing and canning is practised in the fields of growth, and where there is, perhaps, some waste.
Food is not the concern of the Department of Trade and Industry but I hope that some regard will be taken of this vital question. Where the Department of Trade and Industry can help in this debate is by telling us something of what it is doing to encourage and foster reclamation of all waste metals and other materials and what steps can be taken to further the progress of collection and interest in the work.
I am conscious that the good will and the efforts of local authorities will have to be recruited if full advantage of salvage is to be taken. The Government, having just ordered a cut of 20 per cent. in capital expenditure and 10 per cent. in current expenditure on goods and services of local authorities owing to the economic situation, must give every encouragement and inducement to local authorities to retrieve as much salvage as possible. Their help is essential.
In pre-war years when I was a member of the Leeds City Council, that authority made thousands of pounds each year for the relief of rates from salvage retrieved from refuse collection. I do not know the 1163 precise position today with local authorities. Perhaps much money is still garnered, but I am certain——
§ It being Four o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Hall-Davis.]
§ Sir E. Bullus
I am certain that we have not reached the maximum effort in this sphere of refuse collection. During the war and the years immediately after the war, vast amounts of waste paper were collected by local authorities and other agencies. Can the Minister tell the House what is the position today? How much is collected, and are the figures showing an increase? How many of our local authorities help? I am certain that there are many authorities which do not salvage cardboard and paper. We need all we can obtain from all sources, and in this respect I am sure that all householders would be prepared to help by separating their waste paper from their ordinary refuse.
In view of the shortage of steel, could not more be done to achieve the improved recovery of iron and steel scrap? Abandoned cars are surely a challenge in these days, Similarly with non-ferrous metals, cannot more be done in view of the massive increase in commodity prices? Perhaps the Minster can give us the answers to these important questions.
I want to say a few words about glass because I have been chairman for many years of the House of Commons all-Party glass group and I have learned much that has been done and is being done by the industry. Indeed, to my mind the Glass Manufacturers Federation has set an excellent example by its recycling of glass. The glass container industry has now embarked on the first stage of what will be a permanent and growing recycling programme. The programme is to save 100,000 metric tonnes of raw materials each year, and that is by the use of recycled glass, which means that almost 30 per cent. of every glass bottle will be made from recycled glass.
The Minister will know that the recent report which publishes that news is the work of a joint Government and glass industry liaison working party, and there 1164 are proposals to sponsor research of new uses for cullet, which is the crushed glass. A two-year programme is to be financed at the University of Cardiff Wolfson Laboratories aimed at developing markets for cullet outside the glass container industry. In America for example, a number of very interesting projects are being developed for using glass in road surfaces, floor materials and wall construction. Recycled glass is at present being used in this country in the manufacture of glass fibre insulation, in decorative tiles and in ballotini, which is the reflective material used in paint for road signs.
The initial industry target here can be met from existing sources, which include used and broken or damaged bottles from bottlers, packers, dairies and cullet merchants. Larger supplies, however, will mean new sources, and the answer, of course, must be in the development of a new central Government and local government policy with regard to solid waste disposal. Such a policy should cover methods of recovering and reclaiming any useful materials. As and when research develops new markets, methods of obtaining the desired quantities of cullet will be available.
In passing, I should mention that the Glass Manufacturers Federation is also to set up research into the industry's use of energy, examining in particular furnace performance and the effects of the proposed use of cullet on energy requirements.
§ Sir Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)
Does my hon. and gallant Friend agree that there is plenty of scope for collecting medicine bottles, if some organisation could be set up to do that?
§ Sir E. Bullus
I consider that that should be done. That is why I have mentioned other agencies apart from local authorities.
The glass industry has cut its own use of energy with recent improvements in furnace efficiencies and the development of light-weight containers. The Minister will, no doubt, confirm the value of the joint report. Will he also say whether he has further plans to assist in this valuable effort? I know of his keen interest in salvage work, and I express the hope that he will be the one appointed to give oversight to any action arising out of my proposals.
1165 A reporter in the Sunday Telegraph of last Sunday, writing about bottle shortages, commented on the fact that thousands of these "precious receptacles" were smashed in Glasgow and thatstaff at the city's enormous refuse incinerators were astonished to find a larger than ever number of Hogmanay bottles arriving for destruction.A superintendent expressed dismay at being required in the circumstances to dispose of some 70,000 bottles. Years ago, he said—I have confirmed this—all such bottles were salved as a matter of course and returned to the manufacturers. Now, he said, no one seemed interested. This is the sort of thing which I want altered, and I seek the Minister's help.
Can the Minister say anything about the salvaging of old woollens and cloth? The rag-and-bone man of today would surely make a fortune.
I was interested in a report in today's Daily Express to the effect that the Automobile Association wants all old engine oil saved and used to supplement heating supplies or electricity generation, or to make new engine oil or industrial lubricants. Apparently, motorists drain more than 14 million gallons of oil annually from their cars, and only 17 per cent. is disposed of properly. Millions of gallons go down drains or are dumped on land, with disastrous results for the environment. Let us kill two birds with one stone—stop the dump and use the oil from the sump.
I spoke yesterday to a researcher at the Rubber and Plastics Association research centre who expressed interest in my proposals and asked whether more could be done to salvage rubber and plastics. I understand that there is no general salvage of plastics other than factory waste, and that much could be done in this industry. I gather also that 1 million rubber tyres a year are discarded as waste, without provision for reuse. The Minister must agree that there is room for real effort here.
I hope that I have said sufficient to enable the Minister to tell us what the Department is doing and what further efforts are required. Perhaps we ought to launch a national salvage drive to make people salvage-conscious. I am convinced that in these difficult times 1166 of price increases and shortages we have a duty to salve, reclaim and recycle all we can as a real contribution to putting the country back on its feet and progressing to the prosperity which could be ours in the future.
§ 4.9 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Hugh Rossi)
I thank my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wembley, North (Sir E. Bullus) for his kind remarks about myself, and I hope that I can live up to his expectations. I congratulate him on his choice of subject for this debate and on his clear exposition of the issues involved. His interest in the matter is well known. As chairman of the House of Commons glass group, he has long been ahead of general public awareness of the importance of the reuse of waste or discarded matter.
Salvage and recycling is an important subject, and there are several departmental interests concerned. The Department of Trade and Industry is concerned primarily with the economical reuse of industrial waste and by-products. It is in close consultation with industry through the Reclamation Industries Council which was set up early in 1971 and is currently discussing with it and with the trade associations the areas in which there may be scope for increasing the recovery of materials.
Of course, market factors are an important element in this endeavour since normally competitive industry wishes to sell its manufactured products at the lowest possible price to the consumer. Hence it will seek the cheapest source for its raw materials and will not necessarily look to recycled waste if this is dearer than obtaining it new. However, current shortages of materials and higher prices have brought about a greater awareness of the value of waste, and industry is never slow to respond to changed situations, although it takes time to produce the technology which would lead to economic recovery where conditions have changed.
My Department is concerned with the pollutive effect of waste, whether it is discharged into the atmosphere or into our rivers and seas or left lying about the landscape. In this it works closely with water and local authorities and is 1167 responsible for much research. Obviously we are as much concerned with the economic collection and reuse of matter as in its tidy disposal without hazard to public health or amenity.
My right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is closely concerned in the effect that dumping of toxic waste at sea might have upon our stock of food for these islands.
In addition to those interests there is the overriding consideration that our generation of mankind must observe with growing concern, for the sake of future generations, the accelerating consumption of the natural resources of this planet. These resources are finite and mankind cannot exploit and squander them for time without end. If we simply tear out from the earth the materials we want and scatter them about its surface, future generations will live to curse us for our recklessness and profligacy. We must be mindful of this and seek to conserve and husband what the earth provides for us even though at the moment there may seem to be enough for our present needs.
Therefore, greater thought and research must take place to salvage and reuse whatever the earth may yield up to us. In saying this, however, I do not wish to suggest that this is all new. Work has been going on unremittingly in this field for many years. A great number of manufacturing processes already utilise scrap and waste materials to a large extent. The extent of reclamation and recycling is already considerable and British performance in this area compares most favourably with that in other countries.
As my hon. and gallant Friend has mentioned, the activities of the reclamation industry are of considerable national importance in the context of security of raw material supplies and the balance of payments where it contributes sizeably towards import savings. The industry provides one of the most valuable indigenous sources of raw materials in the United Kingdom. My hon. Friend has referred to a number of specific matters and specific commodities and I shall try to deal with these one by one, although I am conscious that perhaps I do not have sufficient time to deal with everything in the kind of detail that he seeks.
1168 An outstanding example of the work in this field is in ferrous scrap. Scrap constitutes about half the ferrous material used to produce steel in Britain and it has been the aim of successive administrations that there should be the maximum economic recovery of ferrous scrap. Almost all such material which is capable of being reclaimed is being put to good use by the steel industry. At present, owing to the continuing high demand for steel, exports of scrap are restricted to relatively small tonnages of the poorest standards, which United Kingdom steelmakers are normally reluctant to use. I know that the export restrictions are a contentious matter with scrap merchants, but it is essential in the national interest to maintain the supply to home steelmakers.
My hon. and gallant Friend asked me to give an indication of the activities of local authorities. I agree that there is still room for considerable improvement. About 10 million tons of ferrous scrap is recycled by the reclamation industry each year. Rather more than half of the ferrous scrap consumed in steel furnaces is derived from that source, of which scrap merchants provide about half.
The only significant volume of United Kingdom ferrous scrap not recovered is about a million tons a year that goes into municipal refuse. Used tin cans have so far presented intractable technical and economic problems in recycling. Tin, lead and residues in such cans are serious contaminants in steel production and must be largely eliminated before the material can generally be used.
The British Steel Corporation and the Warren Spring Laboratory, in conjunction with industry, are investigating aspects of the problem following the report of the working party on the design, use and disposal of metal containers. The Department of Trade and Industry has put in hand a further review to determine the prospects for increasing the use of tin cans from that source. What I have said gives an indication that, although one may urge local authorities to greater efforts, there are big technical problems still to be overcome.
A great deal has also been done in regard to non-ferrous metals. Such metals recycled by industry are estimated to 1169 have contributed £230 million–£300 million a year towards the balance of payments. The rate of recovery is in general already high, amounting to over 40 per cent. of our overall requirements of most non-ferrous metals. For example, about 42 per cent. of our total copper consumption is of secondary refined copper and copper directly reused in secondary materials. Although there has been some reduction in the direct use of lead scrap and remelted lead, the use of English refined lead, mainly from secondary metal, has remained reasonably constant. The main source of secondary lead is storage batteries. In view of their limited life and the growing numbers of motor vehicles, the proportion of recycled material from that source can be expected to increase. I can also speak of similar progress with other non-ferrous materials such as aluminium.
Perhaps my hon. and gallant Friend will permit me to mention a constituency point. A company within my constituency has developed a machine for the recovery of silver from photographic processes. The Department of Health and Social Security has shown a considerable interest in it, because the X-raying processes and the photographic liquids used in hospitals can produce 98 per cent. pure silver. Even there, in a small way, there are developments in the recovery of non-ferrous metals.
My hon. and gallant Friend has a particular interest in glass. Provided that glass is not contaminated, it can be recycled without difficulty. There are technical limitations regarding the proportion of cullet, as the waste glass is termed, which can be used in the manufacture of new glass. At present, glass containers include about 20 per cent. of recycled glass, most of which comes from scrap and arises from within the glass works. The demand for cullet from outside sources is, therefore, small.
The glass industry believes that the proportion of waste glass which could be tolerated in new production without loss of efficiency could be increased to about 25 per cent. It has embarked on a programme which is aimed at achieving that figure. The industry is also exploring alternative uses for cullet in other industry—for example, road surfacing. At present the market is limited.
1170 My hon. and gallant Friend has referred to recent concern about the shortage of bottles. There was a shortage of milk bottles in particular even before the present crisis due to increased demand for drinks during an unusually hot and dry summer and increased reluctance on the part of the public to return empties. That reluctance is illustrated by the fact that whereas a few years ago a milk bottle was used on average 40 times, the current usage figure is about 25 times. Publicity has been given, with some success, by the dairy trade and other organisations which use returnable bottles to the need to return them. However, the energy crisis has exacerbated the situation. We have tried to safeguard the position as far as possible by arranging for the manufacture of food and drink containers to be exempt from the electricity restrictions.
My hon. and gallant Friend has referred to the shortage of paper and he has asked for the figures. About 7½ million tons of paper is consumed annually in the United Kingdom. Of that amount about 4½ million tons is theoretically recoverable. The rest is destroyed or rendered irrecoverable in use. In practice, approximately 2 million tons, which is 40 per cent. of the theoretical maximum, is recovered and recycled. That represents approximately 44 per cent. of the total fibre used in United Kingdom paper and board production. That is a proportion which is believed to be the highest in Europe.
The most recent trade estimates indicate that savings to the balance of payments due to the use of recycled paper is in the region of £230 million. Any substantial increase in the recovery rate would have to come from local authority collections, which currently amount to about 15 per cent. of the total waste paper which is recovered. In the nature of things, such collections can supply only low-quality waste, which is suitable only for paper and board when colour and texture are relatively unimportant—for example, cardboard for boxes.
The cost of sorting, cleaning and preparing the lower grades of waste paper is comparatively high. Used newspaper must be subjected to an expensive de-inking process before it can be reused for newsprint. The Government are concerned to promote increased collections. Local authorities are encouraged to collect waste 1171 paper for recycling whenever they consider it economically justifiable to do so. The Department of Trade and Industry would consider sympathetically applications under the Industry Act by firms considering setting up de-inking processes.
Co-operation is necessary between the Government and local authorities also bringing in the public, because the public have a great part to play in the salvage of waste. I refer to glass and paper, the salvage of which will do a great deal to help our economy and to preserve our resources. It would be impossible to use all the waste paper which could in theory be recovered because there are technical limitations on the amount of recycled fibre which can be used in the manufacture of many types of paper. The Government accordingly consider that it must be left to the individual authority to decide whether there is a continuing market for its arisings before setting up the collection system at ratepayers' expense.
Costs naturally vary throughout the country and such a decision may well depend upon the presence of potential long-term users in the vicinity of the authority concerned. It has been the experience of authorities in the past that when they embark on waste paper collection schemes there is at first a positive result and there are savings to the ratepayer, but then suddenly there is a drop in demand because other cheaper sources become available. The local authority is then embarrassed by vast quantities of waste paper which it cannot store. Therefore, the problems of the provisions of storage must be examined and also possibly some help should be given in this direction if this is feasible. There is the question of local authorities entering into long-term contracts with manufacturers and paper mills unless they are to find themselves in the sort of difficulties I have mentioned.
My hon. and gallant Friend has called for salvage drives on a wartime pattern. This may be superficially attractive but our feelings, which are shared by the waste paper industry, are that a national salvage drive could run a severe risk of flooding the market and in the longer term this could well disillusion many collecting 1172 bodies and dissuade them from continuing their efforts. Nevertheless, the Government hope that the new and larger authorities which come into being in April may find it economic to collect waste paper separately in a number of areas where at present this is not the case and thus contribute to a controllable increase in the amount of waste paper available for recycling.
During the past two years major studies have been undertaken by industry-led working parties, on which Government officials sat as observers, into questions of design, use and recovery for disposal of metal containers, glass and plastics. The metal container report was published last September and the glass report in November, the plastics report is expected by the end of next month. I understand that a firm has recently opened containing a plant for the formation of plastic waste into pallets and the Warren Spring Laboratory also is interested in this area.
These thorough and comprehensive examinations of the problems will be of great value to industry and the Government in tackling them. The reports are being given serious consideration by my Department and the Department of Trade and Industry.
I should like to say a word about research. Many countries are involved in tackling recycling problems and much effort is being put into this research. The Warren Spring Laboratory is working closely with industry on research directed towards solving problems associated with reclamation and recycling of complex materials and residues, including the possibility of recovering valuable materials from slags produced by metal processing, from the residues of electroplating and from effluent treatment plants. The laboratory is also collaborating with my Department in work on the possibility of recovering valuable materials from domestic refuse collected by local authorities.
It has not been possible for me to cover the many points which my hon. and gallant Friend has raised, but I hope that I have said enough to show that our performance in terms of reclamation of waste is good one. However, I would be misleading the House if I were to 1173 give the impression that we can hope for more than marginal—but valuable and important—increases in the levels of recovery which are already being achieved. Industry generally and reclamation industries in particular are making strenuous efforts—
§ The Question having been proposed at Four o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
§ Adjourned at half-past Four o'clock.