Plastic Bottles and Coffee Cups

– in the House of Commons at 1:23 pm on 17th May 2018.

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Photo of Mary Creagh Mary Creagh Chair, Environmental Audit Committee 1:23 pm, 17th May 2018

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the First and Second Reports of the Environmental Audit Committee, Plastic Bottles: Turning Back the Plastic Tide, HC 339, and Disposable Packaging: Coffee Cups, HC 657;
and urges the Government to accept their recommendations as part of its Resources and Waste Strategy.

I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, the Liaison Committee and the Backbench Business Committee for granting time in the House to debate the Environmental Audit Committee reports. I thank my Committee colleagues, too, some of whom are present, for their work on our inquiry last year.

Today, I want to talk about the scale of the plastic pandemic, the solutions we proposed, the importance of the EU circular economy package and how we make producers responsible for their packaging. May I begin, however, by welcoming the announcement on Tuesday that Parliament will phase out most single-use plastics on our estate and introduce a 25p “latte levy”? I thank you, Mr Speaker, and the Chair of the Administration Committee for your support in making this happen. [Interruption.] Creagh’s law; very good.

We are in the middle of a global pandemic. Plastic is everywhere, from the top of Mount Everest to the depths of the ocean to the north pole. Plastic has been found in every species of animal in the arctic, from plankton to polar bears. Research by Dr Erik van Sebille at Imperial College London shows that most of the UK’s marine plastic pollution ends up in the arctic, so the UK has a particular responsibility to clean up our act and protect the arctic.

In 2015, the UK signed up to the United Nations global goals for sustainable development, including goal 12, “sustainable consumption and production” and goal 14 on protecting our oceans. The UK led in the development of those goals, but unfortunately the Government sometimes seem to think they are something for other countries, not the UK.

Our planet has only one ocean, wrapped around it like a cloak, and plastic bottles make up one third of all plastic pollution in the sea. They break down into micro-plastics, which harm marine wildlife that eat them. After my Committee’s ground-breaking work on rinse-off microbeads, which led the Government to ban their manufacture and sale, we examined single-use plastics, focusing on plastic bottles and coffee cups.

Single-use plastics take five seconds to make, five minutes to use and 500 years to biodegrade, so when we throw them away there is no such place as “away.”

Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire Conservative, East Devon

I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this important debate. Has she or her Committee come to a conclusion as why the Government are seemingly so resistant to oxo-biodegradable plastic technology, which was invented by Professor Scott at Aston University in the 1970s? Does she agree that the Government have no strategy to deal with plastic which escapes into the environment already?

Photo of Mary Creagh Mary Creagh Chair, Environmental Audit Committee

I have seen evidence on oxo-biodegradable and I know there are a couple of possible additives to plastics. The research on how and how fast it breaks down is not conclusive. I know it can break down in proper professional composting machines, but the evidence on what happens out in the ocean is not that clear and we do not want an end-of-pipe solution to this problem; we want something at the beginning that is sustainable.

There is a live argument on this and it is going on at EU level between the plant-based plastics manufacturers of the south and those such as us in the north who have a more petrochemical-based approach. I am not a scientist, but I know the jury is out and that scientists have looked at this. It is important that we develop the correct policy and do not just look at what happens at the end of the pipe.

In the UK, we recycle just 57% of our plastic bottles overall; the figure for water bottles is higher. We estimate that 700,000 plastic bottles are littered every day. That litter spoils our streets, threatens our wildlife and ruins our beaches. We are paying for this clean-up through our council tax. Keep Britain Tidy estimates that English councils spend £1 billion a year cleaning up after fly-tippers and litterbugs. We recommended introducing a deposit return scheme to boost recycling rates and create a clear stream of recycled plastic for manufacturers. When the Environment Secretary gave evidence to my Committee in April, he told us that we would not see that product return scheme until 2020, but better late than never and we welcome his commitment. We must also create a market for that recovered plastic, which is why we recommended that Ministers set a target for 50% of recycled plastic to be present in new bottles. I am pleased that Coca-Cola has committed to do that.

We use 2.5 billion coffee cups a year, enough to stretch around the planet five and a half times. Before our inquiry, I—along with most other people—thought that coffee cups were recycled, but they are not. Their plastic coating, which is thinner than a human hair, means that most of them end up landfilled or incinerated. The coffee shop industry has told us that disposable coffee cups are recyclable, but “recyclable” does not mean “recycled”. Paper mills do not want them, and plastics reprocessers do not want them. Just one in every 400 is recycled, which is just 0.25%. There are just three recycling plants in England that can recycle them. Moreover, if someone puts their coffee cup in a recycling bin, in a coffee shop or on the go, it will not be recycled and it could contaminate the other papers and plastics in the bin.

Photo of Adam Afriyie Adam Afriyie Conservative, Windsor

The hon. Lady is making a powerful speech, with which I wholly agree. It seems to me that the principle that the polluter should pay is an important one, and that there should be incentives for individuals to do some of the tidying up as well. I remember as a child scuttling around on Saturdays collecting bottles and returning them to the local shop or off-licence to get the returned deposit. Those sorts of deposit scheme help to incentivise human behaviour. Does she agree with the “polluter pays” principle and that incentives are important?

Photo of Mary Creagh Mary Creagh Chair, Environmental Audit Committee

I emphatically agree. I remember the happy days of collecting those bottles. In doing that, we can create an army of litter pickers out in the streets. I was out in Norway with NATO last week, visiting the Arctic, and there is a full deposit return scheme there. One of the people we talked to told us that his son had made £580 in the holidays last summer by going on a little mission out on the streets every day. I also noticed, when I was at the airport disposing of my single-use plastic bottle in the throwaway scheme, that the deposit would be collected by the Red Cross in Norway. There is an opportunity here for charities to partner alongside the deposit return scheme and to find a valuable new income stream.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis Conservative, Banbury

I am going slightly off the point here, but the hon. Lady mentioned airports. Does she agree that one thing that is little understood is that people are allowed to take their refillable containers to the airport? There are often places to refill them there, but people do not seem to be aware of that fact.

Photo of Mary Creagh Mary Creagh Chair, Environmental Audit Committee

I agree with the hon. Lady. I know that Heathrow has introduced refill stations just the other side of the security gates, but the problem is that people are usually already in the queue for security before they remember that they have a full bottle of water. Most people cannot drink half a litre of water straight off. Airports could look at how to dispose of those liquids while encouraging people to keep the bottles. That would result in more reuse. That is a challenge for the airports and the transport industry to think about today.

Reducing and reusing are always better than recycling, and the 5p plastic bag charge reduced plastic bag sales by 83% in the first year, so we know that charges change consumer behaviour. My Committee recommended a 25p latte levy on disposable coffee cups to encourage people to bring their own cups. We want that levy to fund new “binfrastructure”. That is terrible; I am trying not to murder the English language, but I think I have just stuck a nail in there. The Chancellor is consulting on a single-use plastics tax, and I look forward to reading the responses. The consultation closes tomorrow.

Industry is stepping up to this; it knows that it cannot go on with business as usual. Costa has introduced a recycling scheme that aims to recycle half a billion cups by 2020. Unfortunately, only 14 million cups were recycled last year, but that was a good start. Starbucks is trialling a 5p latte levy in 35 central London cafés, and reusable cup usage has more than doubled in the first six weeks, which is very encouraging. The truth is, however, that we need both. We need the latte levy and we need recycling schemes if we are to tackle this problem.

Photo of Colin Clark Colin Clark Conservative, Gordon

The hon. Lady is making a powerful speech. I am also a member of the Environmental Audit Committee, and she is a wonderful campaigning Chair. It is a great honour to serve with her.

The hon. Lady is talking about recycling, and I was recently at a circular economy discussion at which WasteAid said that 2 billion people lived without waste collection and that 3 billion lived without proper waste recycling or reuse. One of the big things we discussed was the use of plastic bottles in the developing world where glass bottles used to be used. Does she think it would be better if glass bottles were used in the developing world?

Photo of Mary Creagh Mary Creagh Chair, Environmental Audit Committee

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution to the Committee, of which he is a fantastic, excellent and constructive member. He provides challenge as well as co-operation, which is how we get to a good place and find cross-party agreement.

I remember visiting Juba in South Sudan in 2012 and noticing that there was very little water there for people, and that all the aid workers and visitors were using plastic bottles. There was no waste infrastructure whatever. This is a really important problem, because we know that huge amounts of waste are thrown into rivers in Africa, India and the far east. We need to get that waste out of the rivers. How do we do that? We pay people to do it. It is not just kids in the UK who will collect 5p or 10p plastic bottles; people will do the right thing, but they need a cash incentive to do it. The United Nations has an opportunity to achieve that through the international climate fund. We all tend to think about that in relation to green energy and clean energy, but we need to look at how some of these climate funds are allocated and spent at supranational level, and at how our own UK aid budget could be used to help to set up systems to keep plastic out of the oceans. As I said earlier, there is only one ocean and we need to do more to protect it.

Photo of Pauline Latham Pauline Latham Conservative, Mid Derbyshire

I recently went to Bangladesh, and along the whole beach the plastic litter was waist-high. The amount was huge. I have spoken to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development about this. Does the hon. Lady agree that it would be a good idea to spend some of our aid money on paying people to clear up the mess? It is, after all, going into the same ocean that we use and that everyone else uses. That would help people to clean up their environment, which would also help their tourism, because people will go to a clean beach but not a filthy beach.

Photo of Mary Creagh Mary Creagh Chair, Environmental Audit Committee

I agree with the hon. Lady. She makes an excellent point. Bangladesh is absolutely at the forefront of climate change, and much of our aid budget is going there to make homes more resilient, but resilience in communities is also about giving people a good, clean, safe environment to live in and ensuring that the poor have decent incomes.

Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for all the work she does on environmental issues, both here at home and internationally. This is not just about beaches in Bangladesh. We have seen footage of beaches in Brighton, for example, being polluted by bottles. Does she agree that local authorities need more support? There is some excellent practice, but it is patchy. Perhaps the Government could consider introducing citizens grant schemes to encourage people to take part actively around the country and to work with local authorities and corporates to clean up our beaches as well as our streets.

Photo of Mary Creagh Mary Creagh Chair, Environmental Audit Committee

I thank my hon. Friend for her suggestion. We actually made that point in our report on marine protected areas and said that there should be a coastal communities fund to help to develop tourism and to enable communities to take ownership of the amazing nature that surrounds them. We do not have tropical rainforests in the UK, but we do have some of the world’s best breeding sites for birds and all sorts of Ramsar wetland sites. Bringing communities closer to nature where they live can only be a good thing. I also want to pay tribute to Sky Ocean Rescue for its work in bringing to a wider audience the good activities that are going on not only globally but locally, including those literally outside our own door to clean up the Thames.

We want the Government to send a clear message to industry that all single-use coffee cups should be recycled by 2023, and that if that does not happen, they should simply be banned and we should move to a system of reusable cups only. Consumers want to do the right thing, and they deserve to know that companies are doing it too.

We have also looked at the UK’s packaging system, which we think needs a fundamental redesign. Producers of packaging should ensure that their waste is dealt with according to the waste hierarchy: reduce, reuse, recycle. How do we make that happen? At the moment, businesses that produce or use packaging have to show that they have recycled it by purchasing a packaging recovery note—a PRN—from an accredited recycler or exporter. We have heard evidence, however, that that system is a blunt instrument that does not reward design for recyclability and that does not penalise the production of packaging that is difficult and costly to recycle. We therefore recommend that the Government should reform the PRN system. They should introduce a fee structure that reduces the cost of sustainable coffee cups and raises the cost of cups that are hard to recycle.

The landfill tax and the PRN system have been the twin pillars of UK recycling for the past 20 years. Most of our waste went to landfill 20 years ago, but we now recycle almost half of it. However, recycling rates are stalling, and recycling needs a shot in the arm to bring it back to life.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My hon. Friend is a wonderful advocate for recycling. Does she accept—if she does not, she should have a look at the parliamentary questions that I have asked—that the biggest problem is that recycling is flatlining because waste is being incinerated? That must be dangerous at a time of air pollution.

Photo of Mary Creagh Mary Creagh Chair, Environmental Audit Committee

Well, most of the waste that we recycle is actually exported, and the recent China waste ban brought that home to people who thought that everything was somehow recycled in the UK. The situation was certainly brought home to the Members who visited Bywaters, the House’s recycling company, and heard about the difficulties it was experiencing—although some of those difficulties have been alleviated. However, my hon. Friend’s question was about incineration. I have visited an incinerator, and it is obviously better to get the calorific heat value from waste instead of landfilling it, because we will have to dig it up in 10 or 20 years’ time and incinerate it anyway, such is the pressure on land use in this country. However, we must ensure that the waste hierarchy is respected, because that is where problems arise. People tell me that they are reopening landfill sites and sending more waste for incineration.

Going back to the PRN system, the Committee could not see where the £100 million a year that the system raises actually goes, so we have asked the National Audit Office to examine the system to follow the money and tell us where it goes.

Turning to the EU circular economy package, it provides for a much more stringent extended producer responsibility scheme. At the moment, the UK has just three schemes, covering electrical goods and cars, whereas France has 14 schemes, covering furniture, tyres, mattresses and infectious healthcare waste. A mattress recycling scheme would create jobs in the heavy woollen industry in Wakefield, Ossett and Dewsbury. We need producers to be accountable for their products beyond the factory gates. Cigarette butts and chewing gum are the most frequently littered items in the country, so why are tobacco companies and sweet manufacturers not paying for the cost of their clean-up? Because it has always been that way. We need to work out how the “polluter pays” principle applies to cigarette merchants and to the chewing gum brigade. Such a move could save cash-strapped councils millions, and the money would go directly to them because they clear up the litter and do the gum-busting. Perhaps they could present the gum manufacturers with the goo that they steam-clean off the streets.

The Environment Secretary told us that he will commit to the EU’s proposed target to recycle 65% of household waste by 2035, but what will happen to that target after Brexit? Who will enforce it? The new environmental oversight body will be able to issue advisory notices, but not fines. It will not be able to take legal action, and it will not be ready for March 2019. Brexit will weaken our waste system. There was an interesting debate in the other place yesterday about whether people would still be able to bring cases to the European Court of Justice during the transitional period, and the Lords Minister was not entirely clear about whether that could happen. We will be watching developments very carefully.

We have achieved a great deal. We have got the Government working with Water UK to roll out a network of water refill points, and supermarkets such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Aldi, Lidl and Waitrose are launching a voluntary pledge to cut plastic packaging. The Treasury’s consultation on a single-use tax closes tomorrow, Departments have agreed to end the sale of single-use plastics, and Parliament is going to lead the way as well. A lot has been done, but there is a lot still to do.

We must prevent waste from entering our environment, and that will bring social, economic and environmental benefits. People are happier if the streets and parks are litter-free, our economy works better if we make smart use of limited resources, and our wildlife is protected if we keep plastic out of the sea. When people win, the economy wins and the environment wins. I look forward to a good debate and to hearing about the exciting work that colleagues have been doing in their local areas.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. Several colleagues want to speak this afternoon, but the time is limited. I hope that we can manage without a formal time limit, because then the debate flows much better, but that means that I have to trust colleagues to take other people’s points of view and right to speak into consideration. I am sure that everybody here this afternoon is an honourable Member and will do so. If speeches last around seven or eight minutes, everyone who wishes to speak will have a chance to do so. If people speak for much longer than that, I will have to impose a time limit. I am sure that I can trust Justine Greening to begin properly.

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening Conservative, Putney 1:45 pm, 17th May 2018

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is an honour to contribute to this afternoon’s debate, because its subject matters hugely to my constituents, who have the River Thames running through their community. I echo the points made by Mary Creagh and pay tribute to the work of her Environmental Audit Committee, which has led the way in this discussion over recent years. As she says, we have come a long way.

I remember writing to all the major coffee houses in Southfields just two years ago to ask them to trial a latte levy locally, which I felt the community would have welcomed, but none of them was interested. I remember writing to every single major supermarket in Southfields to ask whether they would trial reducing plastic packaging and allowing people to bring their own containers into the stores instead of having to purchase food and groceries in unnecessary packaging. Again, I was met with stony silence. However, the tide is turning in favour of all such companies stepping up to the plate and starting to innovate.

As a local MP, I launched the Putney plastic pledge initiative, which is about the community coming together to see what we can do to reduce our plastic usage. We have had a fantastic response from shops and businesses, and the Putney business improvement district has been involved. Waitrose has also taken part in the pledge, and I thank it for its efforts. Other parts of the community have been involved, including the local pubs. Young’s brewery is a fantastic local business that runs many of our pubs, and on boat race day it took the step of switching away from disposable plastic glasses for the first time. The reusable plastic glasses can be used not just in Putney on boat race day, but down in Wimbledon for the tennis tournament. The individual actions that businesses are taking will make a big difference over time.

The Putney plastic pledge has gone well beyond that, however, and the University of Roehampton is now considering what it can do to cut down its plastic usage. It has a fantastic record on sustainability, and the students are showing some leadership—I regularly try to get a wonderful latte at the Growhampton café. I also pay tribute to our local schools. At the end of last year, children from the Hotham Primary School council asked me what we are doing about plastics after having seen “Blue Planet II”, and that inspired me to think about what I could do to pull the community together to do more. Schools are now setting about cutting back on their plastic usage. Southmead Primary School has designed a logo for the pledge, and I will be visiting Riversdale Primary School in Southfields tomorrow to see some of the work that it has been doing.

So many of our actions look to the future and aim to protect the environment in which we want the next generation to become adults. Such issues have really captured their imagination and, as much as anything else, showing that this Parliament and Government are responding to their priorities is one of the most important aspects of this whole effort.

As I said at the beginning, this issue particularly matters to my local community. There is sometimes a sense that people who live in the city are somehow less interested in the environment, but nothing could be further from the truth. We really value our environment in my local community, because we know we need to take care of it. We have the River Thames right on our doorstep, and we have the wonderful Wandsworth Park just next door and then Richmond Park. I go running every week on Wimbledon Common. Protecting our environment is hugely important to us, which is why we had a clean-up on the day after the boat race—the hon. Member for Wakefield talked about how much of a problem we have with plastics in our oceans and rivers. Many of the items we cleaned up were cotton buds and plastic bags—the sorts of things that were never going to degrade, so it needed a human to pick them up and take them away, which is what we did.

We have a long way to go on this, and I thoroughly support the hon. Lady’s challenge to business. Business can really be the innovator in helping all of us be able to cut down, and I would like businesses, particularly supermarkets, to allow consumers more choice so they can more actively choose whether they want packaging by allowing them to take in their own containers. There has to be a way around some of the health and safety laws that seem to get in the way of that being possible.

We must continue to learn from behavioural change. I have to admit that I was delighted when we introduced the 5p levy on plastic bags, but I have quite a lot of bags for life in my kitchen—probably more than I will need over the course of my life. We need to recognise that we are all on a journey in changing our behaviour, and research could inform the next step after the plastic bag levy to cut down on people like me having far too many bags for life.

My community really cares about the environment. The issue of plastics has been a galvaniser for Government and is one of the things we care about in our environment in Putney. Issues such as air pollution and noise pollution, and the impact they have on public health, matter to us just as much. If the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs could apply his almost religious zeal on plastics to noise pollution and air pollution, we would be even more delighted with the progress that is being made.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East 1:52 pm, 17th May 2018

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mary Creagh not only on securing this debate but on her excellent leadership of the Environmental Audit Committee, of which I am proud to be a member.

It is clear that the public want us to act. Justine Greening made a very good speech. She spoke about her local schools and how enthused schoolchildren are about this issue. Just this week I received some brilliant letters from year 4 pupils at Wicklea Academy in my constituency. They demonstrated not only a real understanding of the issue but clear-eyed astonishment that, say, black plastic containers could be used for ready meals when we know they are not recycled. They asked me how that could possibly be justified.

Huge credit must go to “Blue Planet II” for raising awareness and creating momentum behind the campaign. Whenever I mention things like “Blue Planet II” I have to mention the BBC natural history unit, which is of course based in Bristol—the people of Bristol deserve some credit. “Blue Planet II” brought into our homes, in amazing, vivid detail, how wonderful and extraordinary the habitats and wildlife of our seas and oceans are, and just how precious a natural environment it is, which made it all the more distressing when we saw the episode with sea life being cut open and plastic being pulled from the sea life’s stomachs. We saw the terrible damage that plastic pollution can do.

The Government have made the right noises so far, but action has been limited and slightly disappointing. They have promised a deposit return scheme, which is one of the report’s key recommendations. The scheme will be excellent but, in other respects, the action has been limited to low-hanging fruit such as the ban on the wash-off version of microbeads in cosmetic products.

The Government have talked about ending the sale of plastic straws, stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds. Again I credit a Bristol organisation, City to Sea, which has been campaigning, particularly on cotton buds, for a few years and has approached all the major retailers and manufacturers, many of which have managed to change their products. In many cases, instead of using plastic, they now use compacted cardboard or something else that is far more environmentally friendly.

The Treasury announced in November, and re-announced this spring, a call for evidence on changes to the tax system to reduce single-use plastics, which, as we have heard, worked incredibly well with plastic bags. I would be interested to hear what products will be banned and what products will be subject to a surcharge. There is a fine line between discouraging use—reducing use to a much lower level but still allowing some use—and banning the products altogether.

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who I am generally happy to support and congratulate on the progress he has made on environmental issues, speaks of making the UK a world leader in resource efficiency, but his Department has a marked lack of enthusiasm for the EU circular economy package, which could be transformative not just in how we deal with waste and resources but in the number of new jobs we create in this innovative sector. Most of the really big decisions seem to have been deferred to the already much-delayed waste and resources strategy.

There are three players when it comes to trying to achieve such systemic change: consumers and the choices they make, which is important; the market and its response to consumer demand or to business opportunities, and we are seeing that happen to an extent; and the state, with its ability to regulate, ban, use fiscal incentives or disincentives, set targets and drive forward change. The Government have something of an ideologically driven weakness for the hands-off, voluntary approach—maybe a bit of education, a bit of a nudge, but basically preferring to leave it to consumers and the market, except for the low-hanging fruit I mentioned.

This issue is simply too important and too urgent for such an approach. We are destroying our precious planet, and the Government need to show significantly more leadership than they have shown so far. For example, their response to our report on coffee cups is quite discouraging. They rejected our recommendation of a 25p latte levy, which we have already heard about, and most of the rest was kicked into the long grass where the waste strategy currently resides. I am glad that the parliamentary authorities have this week shown more ambition with their plastic-free Parliament package, which includes a latte levy. I particularly thank Surfers Against Sewage for its work on plastics; it has been brilliant.

In their response to the EAC report, the Government praised the paper cup alliance, which is really a rather weak collaboration of big coffee chains and manufacturers. Like the right hon. Member for Putney, I have written to the coffee chains. I will not name and shame here, but it was interesting to see which companies responded in a reasonably positive way and which were very dismissive. The paper cup alliance has not even set a target for increasing the proportion of coffee cups that are recycled, and its primary intention seems to be to rebrand “coffee cups” as “paper cups” and to get better recognition of them as recyclable, but we have already heard that, although notionally they are recyclable, only five facilities in the whole UK can separate the thin plastic membrane from the paper outer. There is no point going around telling people that coffee cups can be recycled when, in practice, they cannot. As we have heard, all but 0.25% of coffee cups go to landfill or are incinerated.

There clearly need to be measures to develop alternatives to the current cups, such as Frugalpac—there are a number of alternatives on the market. This shows the limits of voluntary action. The RSPB’s excellent 2015 report, “Using regulation as a last resort?” analysed more than 150 voluntary schemes across a range of sectors and found that common to the majority of them were unambitious targets, a lack of transparency, no enforcement mechanism, and an inability to attract widespread industry participation and compliance. That is what happens when we leave it to the market.

Only recently, the Waste and Resources Action Programme, which the Government have charged with delivering on this agenda, has had to make a tenth of its staff redundant because of funding cuts. We need a level playing field, and we need the Government to regulate and pass laws so there is one. Without that, the best practice businesses, such as Boston Tea Party, a small chain of cafés that sells takeaway coffees in Bristol and has announced that it is banning all single-use coffee cups later this year, will lose out commercially to the environmental laggards.

I wish to highlight several key recommendations from the Environmental Audit Committee that we would like to see in the waste strategy later this year. The first is a post-2020 target recycling rate of 65%. Even the UK’s own estimates have found that that would save almost £10 billion over a decade in waste sector, greenhouse gas and social costs. Last year, I asked the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Dr Coffey, why the UK’s recycling rate had stagnated and whether the Government were opposing an EU target to recycle 65% of municipal waste by 2035. She would not confirm or deny that, and she blamed everyone but the Government for the UK’s poor performance, particularly local authorities, which we know simply do not have the resources to do this, and consumers.

Secondly, we need manufacturers to pay significantly more towards the recycling of the packaging used for their products. We urgently need a new framework for producer responsibility, which we have heard about. The prevalence of items such as black plastic, Lucozade bottles with plastic sleeves, coffee cups that cannot easily be recycled and Pringles tubes—they are the worst offenders as they are made of five different materials, each of which is notionally recyclable, but as one cannot be detached from the other, this is pointless—all point to the weakness of the current system. The Government used to boast that the UK’s system of producer responsibility was run at the lowest cost to business in the EU, but that comes at a cost to society, as cash-starved local authorities and taxpayers are paying 90% of the cost of collection. That is a complete reversal of the polluter pays principle.

Thirdly, I wish to highlight the Committee’s recommendation that the Government phase in a mandated minimum 50% rPET—recycled polyethylene terephthalate —content for the production of new plastic bottles by 2023. That would create a UK market for recycled plastic, which at the moment is struggling against low oil prices, as that makes new plastic cheaper.

In conclusion, I hope that we see from the Government a radical waste strategy that addresses the stagnating rates of recycling; the inefficiencies arising from having so many different recycling collection systems in operation; and the poor state of our recycling infrastructure, which has been deprived of investment because of the illogical PRN system. We could be world leaders in waste management and resource efficiency. Now is the time for the Government to seize the moment and act.

Photo of Pauline Latham Pauline Latham Conservative, Mid Derbyshire 2:02 pm, 17th May 2018

I must apologise to the House and to the Minister for not being able to say for the end of the debate; I have a pressing engagement in my constituency. I congratulate Mary Creagh on securing this debate. It is such a shame it is on a Thursday afternoon, when, like me, many people need to be in their constituency, because it is an important debate and the whole House should be getting behind it.

I was one of the MPs who tried to give up single-use plastics for lent—like many, I completely failed. I did my level best. My husband even did his level nest. He does the shopping now. He took containers to the supermarket to get things without a plastic bag. He took brown paper bags. However, this was not easy. The one lasting difference it has made is that we have bought a yoghurt making machine and we do not buy yoghurt any more—we make it ourselves. However, it is extremely difficult to manage without single-use plastics. The hon. Lady talked about cups in the street, but I wonder whether she noticed the plastic bottles after the London marathon, which were dozens deep along the streets. That is wrong. We need to keep runners hydrated, but using single-use plastics to do so is such a waste of resources.

Photo of David Linden David Linden SNP Whip

I was one of the MPs who took part in the London marathon. In a slight defence of the marathon organisers, I should say that they did trial paper cups along the route for the first time to try to reduce the plastics. The hon. Lady is right to put what she said on the record, but the organisers are probably mindful of that and that is why we had quite an innovative time this year.

Photo of Pauline Latham Pauline Latham Conservative, Mid Derbyshire

I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that point, but there were millions of these bottles on the streets and that is a total waste of resources; after one quick glug, they were thrown away. When I came to London from Derby on the train this week, I saw notices at the station saying, “Keep hydrated. Carry a bottle of water with you.” However, the station had nowhere where people could fill a bottle up with water, although we are given bottles of water on the train. That is unacceptable because those bottles are not recycled.

Photo of Chris Green Chris Green Conservative, Bolton West

I, too, took part in the London marathon and I can tell my hon. Friend that having a bottle was far better than having a cup because when you are jogging along you are going to bounce a lot of liquid out of the cup. Would it not be a really important innovation if both the top and the body of the bottle were made of the same plastic, as that would make recycling easier?

Photo of Pauline Latham Pauline Latham Conservative, Mid Derbyshire

That would make recycling much easier. In the future, if we have the machines that will take these bottles, lots of entrepreneurial young people will be going to get these bottles and getting the money back. That scheme is a good idea, but we need to change the way people behave; we need to stop them using these things. The London marathon is a difficult case, because people need to keep hydrated when they are running.

As we heard from Kerry McCarthy and my right hon. Friend Justine Greening, children are really interested in this problem and they really care. They need to educate their parents, who tend to throw the rubbish out of the car window. We also need to continue this education when students get to university, because once they get there, they forget many of the lessons they learnt when they were younger. We need to continue that education and make sure universities are places where both recycling and encouraging people not to use these plastics in the first place are very high priorities. I am not going to steal the thunder of my hon. Friend Sir Paul Beresford, who is the Chairman of the Administration Committee, on which I serve, but I wish to mention the steps the Committee has taken and the recommendations of the House authorities, who have done an amazing job. We asked them to look at the problem within the House and they have gone a step further, and we are going to have radical change in this place. The House of Lords has agreed to this, too, so it will take place through both Houses. I am delighted about that, but I am sure we will hear the facts and figures later when my hon. Friend will be discussing this.

I also wish to commend the Foreign Office because it has made a big impact. It has introduced the latte levy and improved it, increasing it from 10p to 50p. The Foreign Office has got rid of plastic cups, crockery, cutlery, straws and single-use condiment sachets from all its London staff canteens. It is also providing reusable or biodegradable alternatives.

I am sorry I will not be here to hear the Minister’s answer on this because I am concerned about biodegradable products. I believe they just go into smaller pieces, animals still eat them and this is still going to cause a problem. If we can come up with innovative solutions, we can reduce the overall amount of plastic waste.

I read about a scheme where a community in the south-west took all its non-recyclable waste back to the supermarket at the end of one month. That was a huge amount of waste. The aim was to show the supermarket what a huge problem it is. We heard earlier about products such as Pringles, where the packaging is made of five different materials. I do not know whether some of these plastics are recyclable or not, because the logos are very confusing—given that I am interested in this subject, this is probably a problem for most people.

Instead of just us in this House changing our behaviour, every Department should be instructed to stop using single-use plastics. We cannot criticise other people unless the whole of government, in every Department, be it in London or in places such as the Department for International Development’s office in Glasgow, stops using this plastic. We will then be able to say to people, “We have put our house in order. Will you put yours in order?”

Time is short, so I shall finish by saying that instead of just not using the plastics, we ought to be investing money in trialling ways of reusing the plastics that are used. I understand that in Mexico houses are being built from plastic bottles. These houses are cheap and sustainable, and they will last for 500 years. We should invest in such alternative uses for plastics, if we have to have some of them, instead of just saying that we will burn them or put them into landfill if they cannot be recycled.

It is really important that the Government lead the world, and they need to lead from the front. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is incredibly keen on recycling and all things green, and I commend him for his energy and enthusiasm, but I am unhappy about the environment plan running for 25 years. I would like to see things happen much faster, and I would like the Government to look into investing in alternative technologies.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Panel of Chairs, Chair, Standing Orders Committee

Order. May I just say that the advice is seven minutes per speech, so can we please stick to that? I do not want to impose a time limit, but I do want to make sure that everyone gets to speak. Please think of the others, especially if people will not be here at the end of the debate.

Photo of Susan Elan Jones Susan Elan Jones Labour, Clwyd South 2:10 pm, 17th May 2018

It is a great pleasure to take part in this debate and to follow Mrs Latham and other colleagues.

It was an email from a constituent that I received in either the latter part of 2010 or the early part of 2011 that first made me think about this issue. It came just in advance of the Welsh Government’s introduction of a 5p levy on plastic bags. For many of us, that was a pioneering step, and quite a novel one. To be honest, we did not know quite how it would go. However, my constituent had no doubts: in his view, it was going to be an absolute disaster. He thought it would deprive him of all his liberty. Moreover, he made the point that if the Welsh Government went ahead with the charge, he would start his own boycott and do all his shopping across the border in England. I did not want too long a discussion with him, but we did end up with an interesting exchange of emails. I told him about the four cloth bags that I keep in the back of my car and always take shopping with me. He responded by saying that as a true Briton—as he described himself—and a passionate believer in the liberty of the individual, he thought that the plastic bag charge was an absolute outrage.

That exchange made me think at the time, and I have thought subsequently, that if people want to introduce changes to protect the environment, there will inevitably be people with whom those changes will not be popular. Many of these sorts of changes involve changes in our everyday lifestyles. At the time of the introduction of the 5p levy, I met someone—I do not know whether he was related to the person who wrote to me—who had another view on the subject. He thought that it was obvious—was it not?—that the people of Wales were going to resort to carrying all their shopping in black bin bags. I confess that I never did see 2.8 million to 3 million people walking around with their shopping in black bin bags thereafter, but it is interesting to think about what happens when changes such as these are introduced.

As was mentioned earlier, those of a younger generation pick up on these issues more quickly than those of us of a slightly older generation, because with their school eco-councils, they are probably much more instinctively aware of this issue than we are. Of course, plastic bottles are a particular case in point. Historically, campaigning radicals have often taken up the issue of the land—I think “God gave the land to the people” was Michael Foot’s favourite campaigning song—but there have been very few references in the English language to water. As we wax lyrical about water companies and whether they should be privately owned, publicly owned and all the rest of it, we forget the fundamental point: water is totally natural. It comes from the ground and we can get it from a tap. I do wonder why we do not make more effort to make water fountains more available. They should be much more common in our country. I really welcome the fact that the Welsh Government are looking into ways to increase the supply of water fountains and similar outlets so that we can access water that way. There is no earthly need for us to have to buy our water in plastic bottles and carry them around with us.

We should also look at examples from other countries. When I worked in Japan in the early 1990s, there was a great debate there about disposable chopsticks—or waribashi, as they are called in Japanese. The schoolchildren of Japan basically took matters into their own hands, and pretty much every school then decided that the young of Japan would bring to school permanent chopsticks, which they carried in little cases, to use every day. The idea caught on in companies and more widely. I wonder whether it is time that we acted similarly and bought bottles that we can refill with water.

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

My hon. Friend has taken us a slight distance away from the subject at hand, but I must say that I am always willing to listen to any discussion about disposable Japanese chopsticks. On water fountains, when she looks around the Chamber, is she not as horrified as I am to see these carafes and glasses of water? Would it not be an excellent idea to have a water fountain adjacent to the Speaker’s Chair, and perhaps one opposite each of the Front Benches, with disposable, biodegradable cups? Let us start as we mean to go on and let this place be an example to the nation.

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Panel of Chairs, Chair, Standing Orders Committee

I think we will carry on using glasses, which are absolutely environmentally friendly.

Photo of Susan Elan Jones Susan Elan Jones Labour, Clwyd South

Glasses and glass carafes are very environmentally friendly, but my hon. Friend’s comments are of course very interesting, as ever.

I wish to make a serious plea. Adam Afriyie referred to the glass bottle scheme of the 1970s and 1980s, and how we all enjoyed collecting extra pennies by returning glass bottles. Around that time, probably in the 1970s, it was the Wombles generation and there was a great deal of interest in all these issues. It sometimes seems to me that we really have not gone a lot further down that road. I hope that we can redouble our efforts and look into more options, whether for plastic bottles or other things, because if we do not, as a society and as a world we will have far, far greater problems.

Photo of Paul Beresford Paul Beresford Chair, Administration Committee 2:17 pm, 17th May 2018

I congratulate Mary Creagh on securing this debate. Incidentally, all the chopsticks that are used in my home are reusable and washed, and most have been going for around 30 years. This debate is overdue; I say that having read some years ago about the difficulties they have had with rubbish on Mount Everest. There was a report last week about a plastic bag found at the bottom of one our deepest ocean ravines. And there is just everything in between.

I shall use the few minutes available to draw Members’ attention to the previously mentioned report on the Palace of Westminster’s efforts—like it or lump it, it has now been through the system—to get rid of single-issue and single-use plastics, to the best of our ability. An extensive action paper on the issue was accepted by the Administration Committee, and it was accepted by the House of Commons Commission on Monday. Last week, it was accepted by the equivalent Committees in the other place.

I congratulate and thank the officials who took up the challenge on our behalf and who were exceptionally imaginative in their ideas. As many Members will be aware, we now have a progressive programme to remove single-use plastics. It is going to take us around 12 months. I wrote a letter to every Member to explain it, which means that around a 10th of them have read it. I expect complaints and so on; if Members who are oriented the right way receive complaints, can they put them down and thereby save me from having to respond?

All the usual single-use plastics culprits will go. I can assure Stephen Pound that water will be provided from taps, instead of in plastic bottles, the use of which will stop. There will be a tariff on single-use coffee cups. This, of course, is to bully coffee and tea drinkers into using reusable mugs. Disposable catering items, which will remain for a while at least, will be replaced with those made of compostable materials. Some of these items will strike us as being really quite unusual and new. For example, salads and similar are currently presented in clear plastic containers. The new ones will look the same, but our officials have discovered a source of compostable plastic, which was produced—I think—in only 2015. We will certainly test it and see how it goes.

The team looked beyond catering. Plastic bags will be replaced by paper bags. We are implementing a green stationery catalogue. A pilot scheme for reusing packaging for deliveries has commenced. The volume of waste of single-use plastic of delivered goods here is unbelievable. The list of things to do is not endless, but it is long, so I will not be tempted, in the time that I have available, to go through it with all the figures.

Interestingly, the parliamentary Environment Team is now looking at the environmental cost of other materials that we use and comparing and contrasting them. In other words, it is a case of watch this space: we have started and we are on our way. I am an ethnic minority immigrant, as my accent says. I come from a small country, which can be environmentally friendly to the degree of being paranoid. Our approach in the Houses of Parliament now fits that approach, and so it should.

Photo of Martin Whitfield Martin Whitfield Labour, East Lothian 2:21 pm, 17th May 2018

It is a pleasure to follow Sir Paul Beresford and to hear of the changes that are coming to the House over the next year.

Plastics help to make a wide range of very useful, durable, versatile products, and, in their own way, they do contribute to sustainability. Thanks to plastic, our shampoo bottles do not shatter in the shower when they are dropped, our cars and trucks weigh less and therefore use less fuel, and our homes are better insulated and save energy. We ship more goods with less packaging than ever before. However, as we have heard today, and I think that we all agree, plastics come with an environmental cost. None of us wants to see the plastics, or trash of any kind, end up in our countryside, our water courses and eventually our oceans. To challenge this end-of-pipe problem, plastics organisations from around the world have joined together in “The Declaration of Global Plastics Association for the Solutions on Marine Litter”, which is informally known as the global declaration. That was completed in 2011 and, unfortunately, up to now, only 75 plastics organisations and allied industries, which represent more than 40 countries, have voluntarily signed up to it. There was a commitment contained in that to take action and, more importantly, to make measurable progress.

I draw the attention of the House to Net-Works, an organisation in the central Philippines, which deals with recycling ghost fishing nets taken from the oceans; the plastic straw product stewardship scheme in the US and north America; and, indeed, Upcycling the Oceans, the Thailand project to rehabilitate the coastlands by removing the waste from the oceans. I also wish to draw Members’ attention to the UK’s contribution to this declaration, which is called Operation Clean Sweep. In East Lothian, the charity Fidra is championing plastic waste awareness. It often ran campaigns in the past about plastic straws and it is now concentrating on nurdles.

Nurdles are the small plastic pellets that are used to make the plastic bottles, the coffee cups, and the objects that we see. Nurdles are, in essence, raw plastic, and the problem is how they are transported around the world. Sadly, an astronomically large number of these nurdles escape during this process, and end up in our oceans. Like microbeads, once they are in our oceans, they are almost impossible to take out. Indeed, Fidra has used beach clean-ups to raise awareness among children. When schoolchildren went on a nurdle hunt at Yellowcraig, a particularly beautiful beach in East Lothian, they discovered 400 nurdles in just five minutes. It is a phenomenal amount to be washed up on to our beaches, and industrial spillage and mishandling is the cause of this nurdle escape. The nurdles then float and travel around the world.

Operation Clean Sweep seeks to educate industry to provide ways and strategies to reduce the loss and escape of these nurdles, but, again, this is an end-of-pipe product. It is before the plastic gets into our chains that we need to look. This in turn brings me to the types of plastic that we use. We should move to a mandated minimum use of rPET content in plastic objects. PET is an acronym for Polyethylene Terephthalate, which makes up plastic, and when it is recycled it becomes rPET. Is it too much to hope that products such as coffee cups and water bottles could contain at least 50% rPet by, say, 2020?

Plastic cups are the end product of a process that many good people, charities businesses and organisations are trying to make sustainable and reusable. I am thinking of the lobster hatchery in north Berwick, founded by Jane McMinn, Davis Grubb and Jack Dale who see our oceans not as a dumping ground, but as an opportunity for sustainable inshore fishing. Indeed, the award-winning Seabird Centre in East Lothian sees the results of oceanic plastic pollution miles and miles from these shores. These are the people who are advocating responsibility.

However, our young people and our volunteer groups and charities will not be enough without political and, if necessary, legislative support. The EU is promoting the target of 2030 as the year by which member states should have phased out single-use plastics. The UK Government’s proposal of a 25-year environment plan appears to be, with all due respect, more of a repackaging of existing policies and previous announcements. I sincerely hope that the repackaging is not in plastic.

It is our children who go to the beach clean-ups, and our surfers who use our water. Through the conduit of the plastic whale, which was mentioned earlier, and the nurdle hunts, these people attack the issue with passion, enthusiasm and commitment, but those young people now who are cleaning beaches will be in their 30s by the time these Government policies come in. We owe them more than that.

Photo of Chris Green Chris Green Conservative, Bolton West 2:26 pm, 17th May 2018

It is a pleasure to follow Martin Whitfield. His speech was fantastic all the way through, but particularly at the beginning when he highlighted the importance of plastic and how it can be used to improve our environment. I thought that that was a really important point to make.

As so often, Bolton West leads the way and sets the agenda, and never more so than when it comes to the environment and recycling. Maiden speeches often set a strong agenda for hon. and right hon. Members, so I hope colleagues will not mind me quoting from Hansard. It says that

“our society has yet to recognise that we cannot afford the luxury of wasting so many of our limited resources. We cannot continue for ever adopting the shortsighted attitude of a society in which everything must be disposable, in the short term at least. Today we live in a society where the paper cup and paper tablecloth, and even paper sheets and plastic spoons, are taken for granted. We never count the real cost of these items. Planned obsolescence is now accepted by our society and we are now conditioned not to expect anything to last any length of time.

There are many different ways in which our society wastes its resources. For example every housewife knows, when she empties her shopping bag and puts away the shopping, how much paper, rubbish, cardboard, polystyrene and all sorts of other packaging ends up in the dustbin. We have layer upon layer of excessive and expensive packaging, most of which is not needed to maintain the quality of the goods we buy. If one buys a pound of apples in a supermarket today, one buys also a plastic tray and a load of cellophane. The housewife cannot afford the extra cost of all this, and the country cannot afford the waste and misuse of resources in this way.”—[Official Report, 12 November 1974;
Vol. 881, c. 292.]

That was not my maiden speech. It was the maiden speech of one of my predecessors—Ann Taylor, Member for Bolton, West. She was speaking in 1974 about the importance of recycling and not having this consumer throwaway society. I look to my colleagues and friends in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—the most exciting and dynamic Department that we have in Parliament—to continue the work they are doing and to pursue this agenda. Let us not wait until 2062 to have yet another debate on this subject. Let us get there; let us do it now.

Photo of Anna McMorrin Anna McMorrin Labour, Cardiff North 2:29 pm, 17th May 2018

As a member of the Environmental Audit Committee, it is a pleasure to speak in this debate, and I thank the Chair, my hon. Friend Mary Creagh, for securing it.

Plastic is one of the most successful man-made materials in history and has brought immeasurable benefits to our everyday lives, but it is causing immeasurable damage to our environment. Back in the 1950s, when the mass production of plastics started, the world produced 2 million tonnes of plastic per year; now, we are producing over 330 million tonnes. We are only now starting to learn about micro-plastics—tiny particles that have made their way into the food chain. A study in the US found that 95% of all adults tested had in their urine a known carcinogenic chemical from plastic, and scientists based at the State University of New York found that 90% of bottled water also contained those micro-plastics. We do not yet know for sure the impact of these micro-plastics on human health, but we do know that it is already too late to find a suitable sustainable alternative.

Voluntary return schemes and reusable cups are all great initiatives, and initiatives that I support, but they do not go far enough. We need a statutory scheme; sustainability must be enshrined in law. The Government must have legally binding environmental limits on plastic waste, air pollution, soil degradation, resource depletion and biodiversity loss. The 25-year plan includes these, but does not have any specific short-term targets that the Government must act on now. The burden is, therefore, rolled further down the line to whoever is appointed the next Secretary of State, or the one after that, or the one after that.

I am pleased that the Committee has now made concrete proposals that the Government can act on right now. These include the Government implementing a producer responsibility structure under which companies producing packaging are held accountable for the type of packaging they produce and burdened with fees when their products fall below our environmental standards.

We also recommend that the Government introduce a regulation whereby all public premises that serve food must provide drinking water on request. This reform is as much a cultural issue as it should be a legal issue, because it requires more people to feel comfortable asking for water to fill reusable bottles or using glass cups instead of buying water bottles that will later be disposed of. However, because reducing the use of disposable bottles is a cultural shift that will not happen overnight, the Government should introduce a deposit return scheme for plastic drinks bottles to facilitate their recycling.

The most important point, which was repeated throughout our Committee hearings, is that the changes the Government aspire to in their 25-year plan need to be enshrined in law, together with proper short-term targets, so that companies can have the confidence to invest in these policies, secure in the knowledge that the Government have created a legal framework and an equal playing field for all. Currently, businesses that take such action can face a financial burden. This should not be a cost issue for those at the forefront of action.

The Government also need to establish shorter-term milestones in their plastic reduction targets. A 25-year plan is not enough when imminent action is needed. That is why we are asking that the Government set the target that all single-use coffee cups disposed of in recycling bins should be recyclable by 2023. We are also asking that they set a specific recycling target for disposable coffee cups in their upcoming waste and resources strategy, which is due this year, and a post-2020 recycling rate of 65%.

The Environment Secretary’s rhetoric on curbing plastic waste has been skilful and effective in convincing many that he truly cares about this issue and the environment. He lost no time when he got his new Cabinet role in publishing a 25-year plan full of promises that we could all get behind, but it lacks legal certainty that action will be taken, and that is what we are asking the Government for today.

Wales has a world-class reputation in this area. As a special adviser to the Welsh Government for seven years, I am proud to have played my part in helping Wales to become a leading UK nation when it comes to recycling and waste reduction, as well as the third-best country in the world for recycling. I am also proud that we were the first country in the UK to bring in the carrier bag charge. I agree with my hon. Friend Susan Elan Jones about the period of its introduction—it was truly a difficult time. I was at the forefront of hearing from the great retail lobby as it started to understand what this little Welsh Government were about to do. I am glad to have helped champion that cause and to see England follow—a mere seven years later. I am also pleased that only last week Welsh Ministers announced the key findings of research on extended producer responsibility focusing on reducing waste from six types of food and drink packaging. The “polluter pays” principle is core to resolving many of these issues.

I will finish on a positive note by sharing with the House a campaign we are running in my constituency to make Rhiwbina the first single-use-plastic-free community in Cardiff. I thank local resident Naomi England for helping to run that campaign. Our campaign is about encouraging local businesses to become as plastic free as possible and suggesting alternatives. We are working to roll it out a cross the constituency and the whole of Cardiff. It is about people in the community taking advantage of offers, playing their part by reusing bags and taking reusable coffee cups with them when they are out and about. That is not, however, a substitute for legislation.

I am particularly proud of one smaller constituent, seven-year-old Nathanael, who goes to Rhiwbina Primary School, and who went home one day to look at the waste that he and his family produced. He wrote to me:

“We noticed that we used a lot of meat trays and fruit/veg trays. We also noticed that these trays cannot be recycled. We also thought that the triangle symbol was hard to see on some plastics. We think labels should be clearer.”

So do I, Nathanael. I thank him for his input, and I hope the Government listen.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Labour/Co-operative, Leeds North West 2:38 pm, 17th May 2018

The plastic bottles and coffee cups inquiry was my first large-scale inquiry as a member of the Environmental Audit Committee, and I thank the Chair, my hon. Friend Mary Creagh, for supporting me and the other new members of the Committee. It was a pleasure to listen to the evidence to what has proved such an influential inquiry. We have influenced the House and soon, I hope, we will influence Government policy.

Sometimes, sitting in a Committee listening to evidence, something quietly dawns on you, and this happened to me when we heard from the #OneLess campaign. I asked its project manager, Fiona Llewellyn:

“Do you think that there is scope to look at the licences of take-aways and fast food places so they have to provide access to tap water because that’s the area where you see a lot of littering and food on the go”?

She replied:

“One of the reasons we have plastic packaged water is that it is convenient to have on the go, so if we can overcome some of the barriers to convenience for refilling that would be a wonderful step in the right direction to this wider problem of plastic pollution and what you suggest would be very welcome”.

That is a type of planning law that we could implement immediately to reduce the use of single-use plastic bottles.

The inquiry heard a whole load of evidence. The major measure identified was the deposit return scheme, to which many Members have alluded. Hon. Members might think that all manufacturers are opposed to the deposit return scheme because it is a cost to their business, but many major companies are supportive. That includes Coca-Cola, which I believe is the world’s largest drinks company. The company set out its support for the scheme in its evidence to the Committee. It actually had a number of recommendations for us, including that we should just have a single scheme, that the scheme should be managed by a not-for-profit organisation and, most amazingly, that the costs should be covered by producers and retailers. That has not come from the Committee, a lobby group or even the Government; that is from one of the world’s largest companies and largest producers of plastic bottles. We should listen to Coca-Cola, which we might have expected to be on the other side of the debate.

During the inquiry, China announced that it would no longer accept plastic waste imports, so we had a separate session on Chinese plastic waste. The Chinese waste ban raises questions such as, where will all these plastic bottles go? We do not have the reprocessing capacity. We also looked at packaging recovery notes, concentrating on packaging export recovery notes. These are the licences needed to export plastic waste abroad. Clearly we are not having any for China because of the waste ban, but with PERNs to export waste, for example, to Vietnam, it is difficult to get a clear audit trail showing what happens to the plastic. We had evidence from Zero Waste Vietnam, which asked, “Why can’t European countries recycle their own plastic materials? Why are we having to have to have shiploads of plastic materials that we are not able to recycle?”

Photo of Mary Creagh Mary Creagh Chair, Environmental Audit Committee

There is some anxiety over the word “shiploads”.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Labour/Co-operative, Leeds North West

For the record, I did say shiploads—boatloads of materials. Zero Waste Vietnam is a very proper organisation; it would not resort to any foul language. In that case, a local organisation presented us with evidence that the plastic that we are exporting may not actually be recycled. That is the point of these export recovery notes.

Photo of Martin Whitfield Martin Whitfield Labour, East Lothian

One of the great challenges of recycling is that the bottles and containers are often dirty when they go into system, and thus pollute whole loads. One of the great behavioural changes that we need to adopt is the ability to clean these containers ourselves before we submit them to be recycled.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Labour/Co-operative, Leeds North West

We certainly do not want to see boatloads of dirty waste, so I completely agree with my hon. Friend. We also need a complete audit of our PERN system and should look at reform. If we are to export plastic, which I do not actually agree with, we need to know that it will be recycled when it arrives at its destination.

Although Sir Paul Beresford is not in his place, I want to thank him. I have a copy of his letter, which I read carefully this morning. The recommendations of the Administration Committee are not only recommendations for this House; they are recommendations that the Government should consider and which present a holistic approach to tackling the use of plastic. The letter mentions ending sales of plastic water bottles. It also includes the latte levy, which we will not have outside this place, but we will have here. The Committee proposes that we incentivise the use of reusable cups through loyalty rewards and that we get rid of condiment sachets. I was amazed to read how much sauce we eat in this place. We consume 334,800 sachets of sauce a year; we are a saucy lot in this House. I thank the Administration Committee and hope that the Government take on some of its saucy suggestions.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Labour/Co-operative, Leeds North West

Absolutely.

I feel a lot of personal responsibility in this area. I recently visited I Am Döner, my local kebab shop in Headingley, where I ordered my normal falafel wrap. Its staff told me that they have gone completely plastic-free. They provide water in cans and all their packaging is non-plastic. That shop is an exemplar to us all. I thank Paul at I Am Döner for introducing those measures. He has inspired me to have a week in which I do not buy any single-use plastic, so I will be bombarding hon. Members from my social media accounts regarding my difficulties in avoiding any single-use plastics. I hope that the Administration Committee can hurry up with implementing its proposals so that I can eat here without having to use any single-use plastic. We all need to make a personal commitment, as well as pressing for change from the Government.

Photo of David Linden David Linden SNP Whip 2:45 pm, 17th May 2018

It is a pleasure to follow Alex Sobel. I am pretty sure that when this debate is replayed on BBC Parliament it will probably be on after the watershed. I pay tribute to Mary Creagh for opening the debate, and I thank the Liaison Committee for securing time for us to debate the issue.

Unusually, I want to pay tribute to the Parliamentary Private Secretary, Kevin Hollinrake, who is currently in his spot as PPS. This week he met a number of children who had come down from Glasgow and who have been doing some fantastic work. The children were from Sunnyside Primary School, which is actually my mother’s old primary school, although it is much more innovative now. Those children are known as the Sunnyside Ocean Defenders, and they have really been making waves in Scotland with their campaign, #NaeStrawAtAw—I can clarify that for Hansard later.

The campaign expresses a desire to see a reduction in the use of single-use plastic straws, while also being mindful of people with disabilities still needing to access such products. I pay tribute to those kids, who came down here and challenged a huge number of MPs on this issue. Such issues are sometimes a bit popular, but these children are absolutely determined. That was reaffirmed to me later in the afternoon, when the group had a meeting with McDonald’s. The children are currently running a campaign called “Pretty Deadly”, which is about tackling the marketing gimmicks used by big companies, such as the balloons that they give away. I cannot think of many companies in the world that have a more iconic brand than McDonald’s, but the kids, quite rightly, really challenged the organisation, asking questions such as, “Why are you using these plastic balloons that blow away and sometimes end up in Norway or wherever?”

I was challenged not that long ago, during the Easter recess, when I went on holiday to Hammamet in Tunisia. This follows on from the point made by Mrs Latham, who is no longer in her place.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

May I pay tribute to the Sunnyside Ocean Defenders? Those young students were so passionate, engaged and knowledgeable. They were interested in not just plastic but many different things in the world that they wanted to improve, including the protection of polar bears. I remember clearly that they also wanted to ban wild animals in circuses, which the Department is very keen to do. I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing those children down and pay tribute to them and their school.

Photo of David Linden David Linden SNP Whip

The hon. Gentleman is, as ever, incredibly kind, and I am sure that that will be a great encouragement to them. I thank him for passing on a personalised plastic bottle—a reusable one, I must add—to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The kids really appreciated that, so I am very grateful.

I want to touch on one or two concerns that I have—as you might expect, Mr Deputy Speaker—as we approach Britain’s exit from the European Union. Scottish National party Members believe that the SNP Government are leading the way on tackling waste, but that must not be threatened by the Government’s attack on the devolution settlement. We very much support the European Commission’s vision that all single-use packaging should be easily recycled or reusable by 2030. Devolution has been vital to ensuring that environmental policies and objectives are tailored to our ambition to meet those needs in Scotland, and I am concerned that any power grab from the UK Government could inhibit that.

I am conscious of time, and I promised not to ramble on, but there is one final point I want to make. I will finish where I started, by talking about the children of Sunnyside Primary. It is a school of conservation, and I am incredibly proud of that. Schools often have Latin mottos, but unusually, the motto of Sunnyside Primary is, “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” When making decisions as legislators in this House, that should always be at the forefront of our minds.

Photo of John McNally John McNally Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment) 2:49 pm, 17th May 2018

As a member of the Environmental Audit Committee, I too would like to thank the Backbench Business Committee and the Liaison Committee for allowing our concerns to be debated today. In particular, I want to praise the superb and diligent work of our staff and Committee members, led by our Chair, Mary Creagh. It is an absolute pleasure to serve under her chairmanship.

I would like to comment on some points made earlier. The Chair of the EAC made fine points on Norway’s scheme, which I will mention in a minute, and in particular her points on the “polluter pays” principle were not lost on me. I urge all local authorities and organisations to write to the tobacco industry and ask it to plunder its war chest, because I believe they have a sizeable amount of money available for environmental issues. I was also impressed by Justine Greening, who demonstrated how business and communities are fully behind the whole recycling scheme.

There were many other excellent contributions and ideas from Members on both sides of the House. Kerry McCarthy mentioned “Blue Planet”. I am very grateful to the Bristol programme makers for producing such a high-quality awareness-raising narrative, which brought the seriousness of this issue into our living rooms. My hon. Friend David Linden highlighted just how important it is for Members to work with the schoolchildren in our constituencies.

The EAC recommendations on plastic bottles and disposable coffee cups are both achievable and sensible. If we need proof—which we should not and do not—there are already packaging deposit return schemes for plastic bottles and coffee cups in 38 countries worldwide. Some, such as Germany, which we know has a huge economy and a large population, have managed to increase their packaging recycling rates to more than 90%. That begs the question: what is stopping this Government taking further steps?

Arguably the best example is Norway’s deposit return scheme, which has achieved an enviable and staggering plastic recycling rate of 97% within three years of its launch. The Norwegian Government decided that the best method would be to tax every bottle that is not recycled, and then leave the operating details of the scheme up to businesses, which is a clear sign of respect and trust from all sides that they will do the right thing and accept responsibility. Norwegian shopkeepers and the public say that they generally favour the scheme, because people are paid a small fee for each returned bottle, and shops benefit from increased footfall when consumers return bottles and spend the money in their stores. That is good business.

Operators of the scheme say that it is more appropriate and sensible for people to pay for drink bottles to be recycled, rather than taxpayers having to pay for litter to be cleaned on streets and beaches. Clearly Norway has taken cognisance of human behaviour. The impartial spectator within us sees the morality of our actions. It is that conscience—the person within—that is the great judge and arbiter of our conduct and that tells us all we are doing something wrong, as we have been. The Norwegian Government have clearly been mindful of that and acted accordingly, so why are we not going further?

In 1984 Sweden introduced a deposit return scheme. Interestingly, in Sweden the process is known as “panta”, which I believe means to return something and get money in return. In the early 2000s, Sweden created catchy commercials featuring musicians to raise awareness and incentivise people to “panta” more. That is good creative thinking, nudging people by creating a word for the scheme, and the public love it. Sweden now recycles something like 85% of its aluminium cans and polyethylene terephthalate—PET—bottles through its deposit return scheme. In contrast, as was mentioned earlier, the UK recycles only an estimated 57%.

All the environment groups say that the key to reducing waste in the UK is to economically incentivise consumers by placing a deposit on bottles. That in turn will make people less inclined to throw away that money and more inclined to recycle instead. All of us, in all parts of the UK, recognise the litter problem in this country caused by single-use coffee cups and plastic bottles. It is an absolute national embarrassment.

Scotland has come to similar conclusions to those of the EAC. The Scottish Government and business community are already taking steps. For example, the Scottish Government have set up a panel of experts to advise on policy development to tackle plastic pollution, disposable cups and plastic straws. It includes experts on human behaviour, economics, sustainable business, biotech and chemicals, environmental law and waste management, as well as advisers representing the interests of young people and the disabled. It is a truly all-encompassing group. That clearly demonstrates the manner in which the Scottish Government are tackling this problem.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East said, the Scottish Government absolutely support the EU Commission’s vision that all plastic packaging should be easily recyclable by 2030. Devolution has been vital in ensuring that environmental policies and objectives are tailored to our ambitions in Scotland and to Scottish needs. Any change to our policies—to Scotland’s distinctive and ambitious approach to environmental standards, regulations and climate change—is completely unacceptable. We were the first country in the UK to commit to introducing a deposit return scheme for drinks containers. We are good neighbours, so let the Westminster Government leave responsibilities where they lie, with the devolved Governments, and let the parties work together.

As we have heard, innovative companies large and small are competing to bring to market biodegradable or recyclable alternatives to commonplace products. For example, it is now possible to get a toothbrush made of recycled bamboo from a local shop. That is an absolutely wonderful invention. There is now a clutch of young companies selling beeswax-soaked cloth wraps as an alternative to cling film and aluminium foil for food storage. Publishing giant Penguin Random House has joined a new campaign on reducing plastics in the book industry. The campaign Authors4Oceans asks publishers and readers to reduce the amount of plastic they use, and presents greener alternatives to plastic-lined Jiffy bags. Waitrose has donated some £1 million to conservation society beach and river clean-ups, marine and plastics research and an innovative challenge fund. In my own constituency, the makers of Scotland’s other national drink, A.G. Barr’s Irn-Bru, were so far-sighted that they had a deposit return scheme before I was even born. I am looking forward to visiting Coca-Cola in East Kilbride tomorrow. I recently visited Tesco and Asda in Falkirk to see what actions they were taking in their local communities.

We stand a privileged moment in time, at the forefront of a socioeconomic transition as it gains global momentum. The door is already ajar; we need only push it. Countries, businesses large and small, and individuals around the world have stopped fooling themselves about the need to put the world economy on a sustainable footing. Corporate responsibility is now not a last-minute thought; it is at the heart and the core of ethical business thinking and policy. The dots have lined up, and we cannot ignore the picture they create. Companies and organisations need certainty of policy to invest their time and money securely. This Government are in a good position to give that certainty, with broad agreement across the whole political spectrum. The Environment Secretary tells us that there is

“no doubt that plastic is wreaking havoc on our marine environment”.

Surely a cross-party agreement, and agreements with the devolved Administrations, would not be too hard to achieve.

Here in this Parliament, the Administration Committee is in the process of implementing the EAC’s recommendations and more. Over the next few months, as we have heard, we shall see the end of sales of water in plastic bottles and a latte levy, and throughout the whole estate plastic packaging is to be replaced with compostable or reusable alternatives. If you want to change the world, you get busy in your own little corner, and the EAC has done just that. Personally, I would like to see the introduction of a colour-coded traffic light system on cups and bottles alongside a harmonised “binfrastructure” with appropriate matching colours. That would remove the existing confusion among the public about where to place single-use items in bins.

I will finish with a quote from the Chair of my Committee:

The UK’s throwaway culture is having a devastating impact on our streets, beaches and seas. Our report recommended practical solutions to the disposable packaging crisis. The Government’s response shows that despite warm words they plan no real action.”

I agree entirely with that statement and could not have put it better.

Photo of Sue Hayman Sue Hayman Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 2:59 pm, 17th May 2018

I thank my hon. Friend Mary Creagh not just for securing what I think we would all agree has been an excellent debate, but for her valuable and extensive work on this area of policy. I also thank the other members of the Environmental Audit Committee who have taken part in the debate—my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin) and for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel), and John Mc Nally—for the work they have done in bringing this important report to the House. We also had a contribution from my hon. Friend Martin Whitfield, and my hon. Friend Susan Elan Jones brought an interesting Welsh perspective to the debate.

When it comes to tackling plastic waste, I believe that the House is united in recognising the need for action. The UK uses 13 billion plastic bottles every year, yet only 7.5 billion are recycled, which means that the remaining 5.5 billion are landfilled, littered or incinerated. As the Environmental Audit Committee report has highlighted, if marine plastic continues to rise at its current rate, the amount of plastic in the sea will outweigh fish by 2050; I do not know who weighs the fish.

Although it is imperative that we do all we can domestically to tackle the plastics ending up in our seas, we must also bear in mind that ocean pollution is a global issue that requires international co-operation and leadership. As long as there are countries and communities with inadequate or non-existent waste disposal infrastructure, litter and waste will continue to pollute our oceans. Will the Minister confirm the amount of spending that the Department for International Development has put towards improving waste infra- structure in developing countries in the past 12 months?

We have heard that the mix of plastic and paper in the lining of disposable coffee cups makes them very difficult to recycle. Currently, only a small number of specialist plants in Britain are able to process disposable coffee cups. That means that over 99% of the disposable coffee cups used in Britain do not get recycled. That is why the Committee’s call for more research into recyclable coffee cups is so important, as is its call for greater clarity and awareness raising about how coffee cups can be recycled. The problem is that there still remains a significant public belief that coffee cups are easily recyclable, along with other paper or plastic items, when in fact they cannot be disposed of with household recycling.

On plastics, Labour supports the Committee’s call for a plastic bottle deposit return scheme, as was outlined in our last manifesto. While behavioural change and reducing the consumption of single-use plastics is undoubtedly important, we must not lose sight of the bigger picture on waste and recycling, of which consumer behaviour is just one part. Currently, packaging producers pay for only 10% of the cost of packaging disposal and recycling, which leaves taxpayers to foot the bill for the remaining 90%. We have heard from hon. Members about the weakness of the current producer responsibility obligations, with our fees being among the lowest in Europe. We know that the PRN system is far from optimal, and that local authority practice in recycling varies quite wildly.

A comprehensive and effective strategy from the Government cannot just rely on righteous indignation and soundbites. We need comprehensive and ambitious reform of waste and recycling, and to look at many of the systemic, design and infrastructure barriers to waste reduction and recycling right across the UK. Never has this been so urgent as it is now, with the UK leaving the EU in only a few months and, as we have heard, in the light of the Chinese ban on dry recycling imports from the UK. Although we have had numerous promises and press releases, not one piece of primary legislation has been brought forward by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to date, despite the fact that, as I have said, we are now only months away from leaving the European Union. I am afraid that does not encourage confidence in the Secretary of State’s assertions that environmental standards are not at risk with Brexit and that the UK is well prepared.

Last week, yet another consultation was launched, this time on the environmental principles and governance Bill. However, Shaun Spiers, the chair of Greener UK, says that the proposals will give the environment and countryside less protection after Brexit than exists now. Given the emphasis by the Environmental Audit Committee on the importance of the polluter pays principle, will the Minister confirm whether the precautionary and polluter pays principles will be enshrined in law before the UK leaves the EU?

How can the Secretary of State credibly claim to be upholding and improving environmental standards after Brexit when the environmental watchdog he proposes has been described by environmental experts as toothless and lacking adequate scope and powers? Only yesterday, the other place voted to ensure that existing environmental standards are maintained, recognising that inadequacy. The Government’s plan announced in January to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by 2042 is all well and good, but will the Minister confirm whether it is on track to be delivered? Does he believe that that ambition could, and should, be achieved sooner, and in line with EU targets?

In summary, I again welcome the important work done by the Environmental Audit Committee on single-use plastics and coffee cups, and its leadership in this area. We must use the current wave of public opinion to make lasting and meaningful change to recycling and waste, and to ensure that environmental standards in the UK are protected and strengthened in legislation, not just in Government press releases.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 3:06 pm, 17th May 2018

I congratulate Mary Creagh on securing this debate, following her Committee’s reports on plastic bottles and disposable coffee cups. We have heard a number of thoughtful and detailed contributions, and there is clearly cross-party consensus about the challenge we are seeking to address. Members from all parts of the United Kingdom have contributed, since this issue affects the entire UK.

The Government are determined to address the problem of plastic pollution. The Marine Conservation Society’s Great British Beach Clean showed in its 2017 report that, on average in the UK, 718 pieces of litter were collected for every 100 metre stretch of beach surveyed. Litter from eating and drinking “on the go” made up 20% of all the rubbish found on our beaches, which shows the scale of the problem. As a number of hon. Members have pointed out, there has been a huge rise in public consciousness about this issue, and I especially acknowledge the producers of “Blue Planet II” for their revealing documentary series that has done huge amounts to raise public awareness of this challenge.

My right hon. Friend Justine Greening and others spoke about the work done by schools in their constituencies, so I will take this opportunity to acknowledge the work done by a couple of schools in my area. A few weeks ago, pupils from Portreath Community Primary School travelled all the way from Cornwall to London to brief MPs about some of the work they are doing to encourage suppliers to their school to reduce the use of single-use plastics in their packaging. Recently, I faced a concerted campaign from pupils from Mount Hawke Academy, who are campaigning for Parliament to do more. Cornwall is also the home of Surfers Against Sewage, which campaigns nationally against marine pollution. It is at the forefront of the campaign to get parliamentary authorities to do more here to reduce our use of plastics. That campaign has been a success, and I am sure all hon. Members will welcome the steps announced this week by the parliamentary authorities to reduce the use of single-use plastics, including plastic water bottles and disposable cups. The intention to increase the availability of water dispensers is also good.

It is this Government’s ambition to be the first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than we found it. The 25-year environment plan that we published in January outlines the steps we propose to take to achieve our ambition.

A central part of the plan is the aim to use resources more wisely and to radically reduce the waste we generate. I would say our approach is contrary to the picture painted by Kerry McCarthy. We believe and recognise that sustainable growth can go hand-in-hand with less waste and a better use of resources. We need to shift our economy away from one of making, using and disposing, to one where we can keep our resources in circulation for longer and maximise the value we get from them. We also want to reduce the environmental impacts of products by promoting reuse, remanufacturing and recycling.

The plan also includes the Secretary of State’s four-point plan for specifically tackling plastic waste: cutting the total amount of plastic in circulation; reducing the number of different plastics in use; improving the rate of recycling; and supporting comprehensive and frequent rubbish and recycling collections, making it easier for individuals to know what goes in the recycling bin and what goes into general rubbish. More detail will be announced in our resources and waste strategy, which we will publish later this year, but we are already working to deliver on this ambition.

We agree with the Environmental Audit Committee that more needs to be done to increase the recycling of plastic drinks bottles. That is why we intend to introduce a deposit return scheme, which is aimed at boosting recycling rates and reducing littering of not just plastic bottles but other drinks containers, subject to consultation later this year. As John Mc Nally pointed out, a lot of work is being done right across the UK. Anna McMorrin invited us to look at some of the work being done in Wales. In Scotland, we are aware that the Scottish Government have been working and looking at deposit return schemes for some time. We are certainly keen to work with them and to learn from the work they have done to date.

We agree that making drinking water more readily available in public places will help to reduce the use of single-use plastic bottles. We are already taking action on this, too. Water companies, through Water UK, have been working to create a network of water refill points across England. We are working with them on this. Water companies in England have committed to publishing their plans for reducing single-use plastic bottles in September 2018.

The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend Dr Coffey, has written to a wide range of coffee chains, supermarkets, larger airports and transport hubs to encourage installation of free water bottle refill points. There has been a positive response, with most airports confirming they have refill points, and coffee chains and supermarkets committing to their installation. My hon. Friend Mrs Latham highlighted the challenge in train stations. We are encouraging water refill points in train stations, but they are not necessarily providing the facilities to help people to top up. Network Rail is installing a trial refill point in Charing Cross station, with more to follow, if the pilot is successful, at 16 other stations it manages in England.

The Government have committed to removing all consumer single-use plastics from the central Government estate offices. Within the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, we have removed single-use plastic cups and are setting a requirement that new catering services exclude all single-use plastics. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as was noted in the debate, has also taken early steps to eliminate single-use consumer plastics from its procurement. We will be looking to other Departments to follow that lead.

I turn now to the issue of plastic straws and cotton buds. We are already taking steps towards reducing the scourge of avoidable plastic waste, with our pioneering microbeads ban and the 5p charge on carrier bags. We recently announced that we would go further and consult later this year on a potential ban on the sale of plastic straws, plastic drinks stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds in England. We recognise that in some circumstances plastic straws are the only viable option for some consumers, for example people with certain disabilities and other medical conditions. We would therefore be looking closely at providing exclusions for straws used for medical and other essential reasons when the legislation is introduced.

The issue of coffee cups dominated much of our debate. We want to see a significant reduction in the use of disposable coffee cups. I have seen reports in the media that the Government have apparently rejected the latte levy, which the hon. Member for Wakefield talked about, but that is not true. We genuinely have an open mind. Clearly, the 5p single-use plastic bag charge has had a big impact and far fewer are being sold today. These types of incentives can change consumer behaviour. That is why, in his spring statement, the Chancellor launched a call for evidence, which closes tomorrow, seeking views on how the tax system or charges could reduce the waste from a broader range of single-use plastics. The call for evidence is clear that we will consider a levy on disposable cups, and we are seeking views on that idea as part of that call for evidence.

However, we should also give credit to the coffee and other retail chains where they are taking the initiative on increasing the recycling of disposable cups. We are encouraged by the action being taken by packaging companies and retailers—for example, as part of the Paper Cup Recovery and Recycling Group. More than 100 local authorities have signed up and we would encourage more to join. I also understand that some coffee retail chains are already taking action to reduce single-use coffee cups by offering discounts to customers with reusable cups and are putting in place the infrastructure to ensure that cups can be collected for recycling. I welcome the announcement by Costa Coffee that, by 2020, it will recycle 500 million disposable cups, the equivalent of its yearly sales.

We disagree with some recommendations in the EAC report. For instance, we do not agree with the recommendation that the Government should ban disposable cups if 100% of those disposed of in recycling bins are not recycled in the next five years. The reason for that was touched on by Martin Whitfield, who made the point about some of the challenges created by contamination. Targets need to be not only challenging, but realistic and obtainable, and we believe that 100% recycling from collection is unobtainable as there will always be contamination in the waste stream, either from the beverage or from other items disposed of alongside the cup. However, we recognise that targets and incentives can be critical to successfully driving the right behaviour. We recognise the need to stimulate markets for secondary materials and, as part of our resources and waste strategy, we will look at the whole system from end to end to make sure that it is working effectively through a range of push and pull factors.

The hon. Member for Wakefield touched on producer responsibility schemes, as did a number of other hon. Members, and she pointed out some of the weaknesses. I think she will be happier with the Government’s position on this issue. We have already committed to reviewing our current producer responsibility schemes so that they can better incentivise producers to be more resource-efficient. We aim to reform the packaging waste regulations to encourage businesses to design their packaging products in a more sustainable way, to encourage the greater use of recycled materials in those products and to stimulate the increase of collection, reprocessing and recycling of packaging waste. As part of our upcoming resources and waste strategy, we will set out options for the kind of packaging waste producer responsibility system that we think will best deliver our ambitions.

We want to support people to be able to recycle more and to encourage people to recycle on the go. We outline some actions to support that in our litter strategy. In addition, WRAP—the Waste and Resources Action Programme—has produced a guide for local authorities on improving recycling on the go facilities. We have established a working group to explore and identify best practice in improving bin infrastructure—my speaking note uses the new word “binfrastructure”, which the hon. Lady used; for the benefit of Hansard, I did not abbreviate it—but there is certainly a great deal that we can do in that area.

To conclude, we believe that this is a very important issue. Our resources and waste strategy will address many of these issues. We also have consultations coming up on banning plastic straws, plastic stirrers and cotton buds, and on introducing a deposit return scheme. I believe that the Government are taking these reports and this issue seriously and that we can work together to achieve these aims.

Photo of Mary Creagh Mary Creagh Chair, Environmental Audit Committee 3:19 pm, 17th May 2018

I warmly thank the Minister for his remarks. In respect of the disposable coffee cup ban, let me say to him that the target must not only be realistic and achievable, but must be set on just the right side of impossible if industry is to make the changes that all of us in the House want to see. I welcomed his warm words, but I exhort him to act quickly. As other Members have said, the waste and resources strategy is now overdue, and is slipping back.

We have heard some excellent contributions from Members who said that they were thinking globally but acting locally. Justine Greening spoke of the Putney plastics pledge. My hon. Friend Kerry McCarthy talked about the great work of City to Sea and Surfers Against Sewage. Mrs Latham told us about her difficulties in giving up plastic for Lent; we also heard her reflections on the London marathon.

From my hon. Friend Susan Elan Jones, we heard about the difficulties experienced by the Japanese in banning single-use chopsticks. Sir Paul Beresford told us that we could look forward to a green stationery catalogue, which is a genuine innovation in this place. Chris Green observed that 40 years ago our colleague Ann Taylor, who now sits in the other place, was reflecting on plastics use. My hon. Friend Anna McMorrin explained how Wales came to have the third highest recycling rate in the world. I look forward to my invitation from my hon. Friend Alex Sobel to I Am Döner, where I hope we will be able to pump out some sauce—which he certainly did in his speech. David Linden talked about the fantastic work of Sunnyside Primary School.

We know what we must do. Our report tells us how we are to get there. It points the way. It explains how we can create jobs, stimulate a circular rather than a linear economy, and do the right thing with a higher recycling rate. We want to see the polluter pay, and I want to see the gum and cigarette butt producers play their part in that. Waste has been a Cinderella industry for too long. We are taking it into the limelight where it belongs, to create green jobs in every nation and every region of this country.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered the First and Second Reports of the Environmental Audit Committee, Plastic Bottles: Turning Back the Plastic Tide, HC 339, and Disposable Packaging: Coffee Cups, HC 657;
and urges the Government to accept their recommendations as part of its Resources and Waste Strategy.