Soft Plastic Recycling: South Gloucestershire

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:26 pm on 27th June 2022.

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Photo of Jo Churchill Jo Churchill The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 10:26 pm, 27th June 2022

I thank my hon. Friend Luke Hall for securing this debate on the important issue of soft plastic recycling—he was ably aided by my right hon. Friend Chris Skidmore in pointing out how important this is—and I begin by saying what a champion he is on this issue. He knows that the Government are committed to tackling plastic pollution. As he outlined, we have a range of ambitious policies to do so. Plastic film makes up a third of all plastic packaging placed on the market, so driving better recycling is particularly important.

Plastics often get a bad name, but they are incredibly important and useful because their strength and versatility make them a very valuable material in many areas of life. For example, the plastic packaging that challenges us when we try to get rid of it also preserves our food and plays a key part in extending the shelf life of some items and in reducing food waste. However, plastics cause problems when they leak out of the system into the environment. As my hon. Friend said, they can pollute our waterways and oceans and harm our wildlife.

The ban on microbeads—which my hon. Friend referred to—in rinse-off personal care products will help to stop billions of tiny pieces of plastic potentially entering the aquatic environment every year. We are reforming the waste system to ensure that we reduce, reuse and recycle plastic. By ensuring that more plastic is recycled, we will cut the amount of that valuable resource that is sent to landfill. We can also achieve carbon savings from reducing the amount of plastic waste that is sent to incineration. Arguably, the driver there is to reduce that consumption.

On consistency in recycling—my hon. Friend mentioned the different streams—through our landmark Environment Act 2021, which the House passed last November, we will ensure that all homes and businesses get the proper recycling service to which he referred. That will ensure that the same set of materials are collected across England, making it easier for our councils to deliver and making it clearer to the public what they can and cannot recycle. He spoke about our working together and, arguably, that will make it much easier from the get-go. Plastic film makes up a third of all plastic packaging on the market, yet, as my hon. Friend mentioned, only about a fifth of local authorities in England—17%—currently collect plastic film. Just 5% of plastic film put on the market is recycled. That is a woeful figure that we need to drive up.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood said that we need to be ambitious. I assure him that we intend to be ambitious. We recognise that there are challenges with the collection and sorting of material, but doing more is absolutely at our heart. We have received a clear message from industry that it requires early signalling of the intent to require the collection of plastic film and flexible packaging for recycling to stimulate the necessary investment needed to improve infrastructure. My hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate is right that it is better in some parts of the country than in others.

To provide that early signal, in our recently published consultation on extended producer responsibility for packaging, we announced that plastic film would be collected from every home and business in the UK by 2027, so the starting gun has been fired. Including plastic film and flexible packaging in kerbside collections will make things much easier and much more convenient for our householders and businesses. Until then, supermarkets and others in the private sector are performing a key role by providing further opportunities for in-store collection of plastic film for recycling. My hon. Friend mentioned one or two companies that are really beginning to push for suitable and sufficient facilities, very often because customers are demanding it.

I appreciate my hon. Friend’s point about access to wider retailer collection schemes for soft plastics. I agree that a wider-ranging initiative such as kerbside collections is needed to ensure that people in rural as well as urban areas are able to access facilities and recycle their soft plastics.

I thank my hon. Friend for his interest in the collection and packaging reforms. We will publish a response to the consultations on consistency and the deposit return scheme shortly. We received a wide range of views from stakeholders. Building a large, complex system obviously takes time, but we want to make sure that we get it right.

Extended producer responsibility for packaging ensures that packaging producers, not the taxpayer, cover the cost of disposing of packaging that they put on the market, powerfully encouraging them, along with the plastic packaging tax, to make their products easier to recycle. Under extended producer responsibility, we are introducing modulated fees to drive producers to make more sustainable packaging designs. This will help to reduce unnecessary plastic packaging and incentivise the use of recyclable materials.

The Government have also invested £20 million into four new facilities to support the development of new plastic waste recycling technologies. We expect that private investment will continue and increase as we move towards legislating on the requirement to collect plastic film from households and businesses.

To support our ambitious goals to recycle plastic film, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, alongside the Flexible Plastic Fund, UK Research and Innovation and Zero Waste Scotland, is funding a multimillion-pound pilot project on flexible plastic kerbside collections. The FlexCollect project, launched in May, will provide financial support for selected local authorities to roll out kerbside collections in trials over a three-year period. Insights from the project will be invaluable in informing how councils can best collect plastic film.

I encourage all councils to express their interest in the project. To ensure that the project is as beneficial as possible in informing the roll-out of plastic film collections on a national level, it will need a good cross-section of local authorities to make it a success. We need to understand the challenges and successes in rolling it out to all households and businesses so that people are able to recycle their plastic film, whether they are in a rural location or in the centre of a city. The selection process will help to identify whether local authorities are a good fit for the project and due diligence will be applied. Appropriate governance structures are in place to ensure that the selection process is fair and transparent; I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees and approves.

The project is being managed by a consortium of organisations including: Ecosurety, SUEZ Recycling and Recovery UK Ltd, RECOUP and WRAP, the Waste and Resources Action Programme. A cross-section of industry stakeholders including the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee, the National Association of Waste Disposal Officers, the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management and the Environmental Services Association are also involved to ensure all parts of the value chain involved in the collection and recycling of this material are considered. I understand that announcements will be made about participation in the Flexible Plastic Fund’s FlexCollect project over the next few months. I am truly delighted that South Gloucestershire Council has submitted a bid for FlexCollect. I am sure that it will be carefully considered, and, like my hon. Friend, I pay tribute to all those who work in the refuse and recycling sector. It is great to see councils such as his driving progress in recycling, and challenging themselves to do better and do more for their residents.

I thank my hon. Friend again for initiating the debate. I know that he is a tireless champion for the environment as well as the people of Thornbury and Yate, and that he builds on the excellent work of South Gloucestershire Council across a range of areas. The Government are committed to leaving our environment in a better state than the one in which we found it, and fighting plastic pollution and providing easy systems for our residents and businesses are a key part of that legacy.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.