The Government are committed to building a globally competitive and sustainable packaging industry through research and innovation. As we announced in the UK’s first bioeconomy strategy at the end of last year, we are providing up to £60 million to transform the plastics economy through the industrial strategy challenge fund, so that we can establish the UK as the world’s leading innovator in smart, sustainable packaging.
The Government’s response to plastic use has been woeful, with a 4% increase in plastic use just last year. There is now more plastic in our oceans than fish. In the light of this environmental calamity, will the Government make a new commitment to ensure that only organic-based packaging material is in place, with no more plastics by 2025?
The UK has committed to being a global leader on this topic. We have already taken more than 15 billion plastic carrier bags out of the economy, we are consulting on a deposit return scheme and we have introduced proposals for a world-leading new tax on plastic packaging that does not meet minimum thresholds. There is always more that we can do, but there is an awful lot that we have already done.
Does the Minister recognise the contribution of the UK packaging manufacturing industry, which has annual sales of £12 billion, employs 85,000 people and makes up 3% of the UK manufacturing base, in working closely to increase the percentage of recycled material by using innovative new technologies and materials?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. The UK plastics industry is vital to our economy, employing more than 170,000 people. This new challenge for the sector allows it to create new jobs as it embraces our challenging targets and ambitions in this area.
The UK plastics pact is an important part of our achieving a circular economy and preventing plastics from ending up in our oceans. However, one year into this seven-year commitment, we still do not have the information on whether the warm words have been matched by firm action. Will the Minister introduce transparent benchmarking and reporting mechanisms, so that we can all hold the Government and the plastics industry to account?
Most major supermarkets are signatories to that pact, and we have certainly seen some go further than others. A lot of lessons can be learned. It is a mixed picture at the moment, so I am certainly keen to keep this area under review. I particularly praise Morrisons, which has come out with a range of things on this, but there are many other supermarkets available that are working hard on this topic. We all have to work together on this—consumers, business and the Government.