My right hon. Friend is being incredibly modest. He talks about the Government signing net zero into law three years ago; I seem to recall that he was the Minister of State who did that. I am grateful to him for backing this campaign, and for his work in driving this agenda forward, both in South Gloucestershire and nationally. He is absolutely right that speed and scale of ambition is so important—not just from Government, but from businesses, individuals and local authorities.
In April last year, the Government brought forward a consultation, which suggested that local authorities should collect soft plastics at the kerbside by the end of the 2026-27 financial year. The Government say that a response to the consultation will be published “shortly”. My right hon. Friend and I have both served in Government, and we know that the term can mean different things, so we would be grateful for an update on when we will hear more information. We are desperate to see this measure rolled out, and are so passionate about it.
I am pleased to say that South Gloucestershire Council leads the way on general recycling in the south-west; it has one of the highest recycling and composting rates in the UK. Since the Conservatives took control of the council in 2015, the recycling rate has increased year on year to record levels, reaching a high of over 59% in 2019-20. Last year, South Gloucestershire Council was ranked fifth of 92 unitary authorities across the UK for recycling, so I pay tribute to it. I also put on record my thanks to the amazing local refuse teams and council officers for the incredible work that they did during the pandemic to keep things moving, and to keep delivering that core, essential service.
I am pleased that that the council is investing heavily in the local services that really matter in our communities. A new recycling deposit site is being built in Mangotsfield in my right hon. Friend’s constituency, and substantial renovation work is being carried out at the recycling deposit site in Filton. Of course, improving recycling rates requires leadership in the community—from Parliament, Ministers and MPs, but also from councillors and council leaders. That is why I was so pleased to see the leader of South Gloucestershire Council, Toby Savage, leading from the front, and volunteering with refuse teams during the pandemic to make sure that we could keep them going.
Although we are delivering locally—we have a good track record in South Gloucestershire—there is an issue with the number of local authorities collecting soft plastics. Only 17% of councils provide a soft plastic waste collection service. There is a need to do more. I absolutely support the ambition and aims of last year’s consultation, because there is a need for further standardisation, and there should be further incentives for councils to take action to stop plastic going into landfill needlessly.
In South Gloucestershire, we are supporting efforts to protect and improve the natural environment; it is a priority for us. I surveyed every elector in swathes of my constituency earlier this year—those in all the rural villages, including Frampton Cotterell, Chipping Sodbury, Old Sodbury, Horton, Rangeworthy, Tytherington, Iron Acton and Hawkesbury Upton—about the environmental issues that are important to them. The issue that came out top in every single village was the need to do more on plastic recycling, and particularly soft plastic recycling.
Alongside councillors, fellow local Members of Parliament and campaigners, I worked with the council to submit a bid to take part in the Flexible Plastic Fund’s FlexCollect project, a pilot scheme that is being run alongside the Minister’s Department, in collaboration with SUEZ Recycling and Recovery UK, to roll out soft plastic recycling facilities and services in the community.
South Gloucestershire is leading the way in recycling across the west of England. We have record rates being delivered and a range of urban and rural communities, which makes us perfect to conduct the trial. This is the most pressing environmental concern for my constituents. The demand is here, because whether we are talking about fruit and veg packaging, crisp packets, films on yoghurts, pasta packets, cling film, salad packaging, bubble wrap or pet food pouches—you name it; South Gloucestershire wants to recycle it. I ask the Minister for her support for South Gloucestershire Council’s bid to be in this vital pilot scheme.
Environmental protection is one of the most important issues facing our planet. We have made incredible progress in leading the fight. We were the first major economy to set a net zero target in law, which was signed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood. We hosted the COP26 summit last year. We led the way in arguing for the Glasgow climate pact to speed up the pace of climate action. Of course, there is always more to be done. That is why we are here this evening to call for an achievable, tangible change that can improve the amount of recycling that we do in South Gloucestershire and reduce the amount going to landfill. It is vital that we are included in the pilot scheme as part of the FlexCollect project. I would be grateful for the Minister’s support for the bid, and I look forward to her response.