Anne McIntosh: How is fracking in North Yorkshire compatible with the Environment Plan?

Eradicating plastic use is at the forefront of a new environment plan.
Eradicating plastic use is at the forefront of a new environment plan.
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THE question that we must address is how to dispose of plastic and other hard-to-dispose-of waste such as wood, packaging and so on.

Of the 13 billion plastic bottles used in this country every year, only 7.5 billion are recycled, leaving 5.5 billion to be put in landfill, littered or incinerated. In 2017, 30,000 tonnes of waste paper, cardboard and plastic were exported to various destinations outside the UK from North and East Yorkshire alone.

We can, and must, learn from and work with other countries to identify best practice.

The EU circular economy breaks with tradition and moves away from the linear approach of make, use and dispose of products, to that of recover, reduce, recycle and re-use.

I have family in Denmark whose domestic and municipal waste is sent to energy-from-waste and distance-warming plants. This brings direct benefit to the local community.

For many years, my aunt and uncle have benefited from low-cost heating and hot water. Closer to home, my husband has led the way by gifting me for my birthday a lifetime-use plastic bottle, adding to the heavier glass bottle he gifted me previously.

I now realise that I was a little churlish in not thanking him more fulsomely at the time for doing his bit for the environment.

Here, there’s a scheme called SELCHP — the South East London Combined Heat and Power plant. Although it was built, as the name would suggest, for combined heat and power, it was only years following its construction that combined heat and power was triggered to benefit local residents and local councils disposing of waste.

In Denmark, the Danish oil and natural gas industry — DONG, as it used to be called — has successfully fitted distance-warming schemes to the benefit of local communities, and it believes that it could easily retrofit distance-warming schemes in London and other major UK cities. Will the Government examine the cost and potential disruption that that would cause in this country?​

What are the issues? In my view, the primary issue is one of public perception. We must move away from the inaccurate and outdated term “incineration” to the more modern and efficient concepts of energy from waste, combined heat and power, anaerobic digestion and other well-known technologies.

For plastic bottles, will the Government look at adopting a self-financing deposit and return scheme as a matter of urgency?

The infrastructure needed is minimal and could use the existing facilities of a supermarket, for example.

It requires charging a deposit to the consumer at the time of purchase and providing a returns facility, usually a hole in the wall. It will require relevant facilities at which these plastic bottles and containers can be disposed of in an efficient and environmentally friendly manner.

Crucially, the initial deposit is then returned to the consumer.

Frankly, the cost of producing and disposing of plastics is just too high. Will the Government also address the vexed issue of disposal of waste from businesses in rural areas where the collection distance for outlying businesses is high, as is the cost of disposal in existing facilities?

I have a couple more questions. How do we convince the public, who are averse to chimneys and any form of emission, that energy from waste or combined heat and power is a safe, regulated and controlled way of disposing of plastic and other types of waste?

Will the Government encourage industry to invest in new technologies for new types of biodegradable plastics that would, for example, degrade when exposed to water in rivers or the seas?

Will the Government revisit the producer responsibility obligation with a view to reducing packaging in the first place, and give real teeth to the Prime Minister’s view that plastic waste is a scourge of our time by reducing plastic at the product’s manufacturing source?

Urgent action is required to prevent littering and the pollution of our rivers and seas. I am delighted that North Yorkshire is leading the way by disposing of waste that previously might have gone to landfill but now goes to a local energy from waste recovery plant.

I welcome the 25-year environment plan setting out our determination to leave the environment in a better state than we found it and outlining steps for a cleaner, greener Britain. But can I take it as read that we will meet all our existing obligations at the time we leave the EU, including the circular economy package and the existing regulations that are currently being revised?

Can Ministers also square the circle of how, in the context of the 25-year environment plan to secure a cleaner, greener Britain, fracking would be allowed anywhere, in particular in the beautiful countryside of North Yorkshire, or above, below or in the North York Moors National Park?

Anne McIntosh is the former Thirsk and Malton MP. A former environment commttee chairman, she spoke in a House of Lords debate on waste disposal. This is an edited version.