Protecting our natural environment is one of the greatest challenges we face. Doing so requires a global effort, from business, Government, communities and, ultimately, individuals. For many in our community, one of the most common ways people can play their part is to recycle so I am delighted to have secured this debate, which allows me to raise the important matter of soft plastic recycling in South Gloucestershire.
The Government’s 25-year environment plan has set an ambitious target of eliminating all avoidable plastic waste by 2043. However, it is vital that we move faster in those areas in which we can. Good progress has been made in meeting the ambition for all plastic packaging placed on the market to be recyclable or reusable by 2025, but we can see the benefits of packaging being recyclable only if systems are in place to allow people to dispose of such items in a sustainable way.
One of the most common forms of recyclable plastics used in Britain today is soft plastics, which are lightweight and include shopping bags, yoghurt lids, crisp packets, bubble wrap, bread bags and chocolate wrappers. They are generally the kind of plastics that can be scrunched up and will ping back out when we let go of them. However, soft plastic recycling facilities can be difficult to access, especially for those who live in rural areas or who have limited mobility. It is therefore vital that we take further steps to roll out soft plastic recycling options and facilities so that those plastics can be disposed of sustainably rather than sent to landfill.
The Government have made incredible progress on environmental protection. There has been broad support for the introduction of one of the world’s toughest bans on microbeads—I campaigned on that issue as a member of the Environmental Audit Committee when I was first elected to this place—and measures to reduce the supply of plastic straws, plastic drink stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds. Usage of single-use carrier bags in supermarkets has been reduced by 95% since the 5p charge was levied—and, of course, that doubted to 10p and has been rolled out to all retailers. I am delighted that the Environment Act 2021 has given Ministers a framework for extended producer responsibility, plastic bottle deposit return schemes and greater consistency in recycling to help drive down plastic waste.
There have been enormous efforts to reduce our dependence on single-use plastic. Commitment has been shown by businesses, councils, schools and, of course, individuals in their own homes. The Environment Act also requires that all waste collection authorities make their own arrangements for a core set of materials to be collected for recycling from households. That includes plastic, card, food waste, metal, garden waste and paper. Many have welcomed the steps taken to boost the market for plastic recycling, including the plastic packaging tax that came into force in April, which will see a charge of £200 per tonne on plastic packaging with less than 30% recycled content. However, we need to go further and start to introduce soft plastics into regular kerbside collections in South Gloucestershire and across the country.
There are many examples of where schemes to boost soft plastic recycling are already happening, with a number of retailers in the private sector having rolled out soft plastic collection points at their own expense. That includes Tesco, which has sites collecting soft plastic in Thornbury and Yate in my constituency, as well as Co-op. Walkers has also introduced a recycling scheme allowing it to recycle millions of crisp packets every year, and Hovis is doing a similar thing with bread bags. So good practice is happening, but in local authority areas such as South Gloucestershire, residents living in rural villages and those with limited mobility can find it difficult to access soft plastic recycling points, which are often located in towns and in hard-to-reach places. A wider-ranging initiative is therefore needed to ensure greater accessibility for everybody in the community. We need Government and councils to work together to take the next steps and to help tackle the problem.