Moved by Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville
13: Clause 1, page 2, line 1, at end insert—“(e) a reduction in the use of conventional plastic packaging.(3A) In this section “conventional plastic packaging” means plastic products that are defined as packaging under EU Directive 94/62/EC, or its successor legislation, and which are not— (a) reusable;(b) recyclable; or(c) compostable as specified within the standard BS EN 13432 or BS EN 14995.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment specifies a reduction in the use of conventional plastic packaging as a priority area in which the Secretary of State must set a long-term target, which must be achieved over 15 or more years.
My Lords, in moving Amendment 13 I will speak to Amendment 30, standing in my name, and wish to support Amendment 28, whose objectives we share.
The pioneering Breaking the Plastic Wave report by the Pew Charitable Trusts and SYSTEMIQ, published last year, made for stark reading. Without concerted action to hold back the ever-increasing tide of plastic production and consequent plastic waste, we will see the annual flow of plastic into the world’s oceans triple by 2040. My amendments provide two opportunities to place in the Bill the necessity of clear UK targets for reducing the import and production of conventional plastic packaging in this country.
The Government, I know, want to use the Bill, once passed into law, to embed their world-leading environmental credentials at COP 26 in November. Agreeing to clear, enforced targets on the production of plastic packaging would genuinely be world-leading. I know that the Minister is likely to say that he shares our ambition to reduce plastic waste. If that is the case, it follows that we must reduce plastic production, which is the source of the waste. The Government must address both ends of the spectrum.
To be clear, in Amendment 30 we are seeking an immediate target on plastic production and imports, coupled with Amendment 13, which seeks to set a long-term target of the kind envisaged under Clause 1. The immediate target is the more important, since we must see a reduction in the production of conventional plastic as a short-term and long-term issue. This must not be a can to kick down the road.
I want to turn to the issue that marks out my amendments from the other in this group—recognition of the role of independently certified compostable materials in addressing part of the plastics crisis. The Breaking the Plastic Wave report was clear that there is no single solution to ending ocean plastic pollution. As I have said previously, a mix of approaches is needed, starting with producing less plastic, which is at the core of the amendments, and involving more re-use of the plastic that is produced and more recycling where possible. But recycling, like composting, is not a silver bullet.
The current discourse around plastics recycling implies that a plastic bottle or food tray might become another bottle or food tray, but that is seldom the case. Plastics recycling is rarely, if ever, genuinely circular, but we should strive to recycle. When I was a leader in local government, I was proud to increase recycling in my area significantly. But we should not fool ourselves that recycling is a universal escape hatch from the planet’s plastic problem.
What the industry calls flexible films—the sort used in bags containing fruit and vegetables, or in pouches to keep dried fruit preserved—are very hard to recycle, not least because they are frequently contaminated with food. According to 2020 figures from WRAP, flexible plastic represents a quarter of all UK consumer plastic packaging but only 4% is currently recycled. We must attempt to improve on this. We have all found ourselves with a bag of salad in the fridge that has turned to mulch, or a microwave meal film covered in food. This kind of food contact packaging can seldom be recycled because of that contamination. Conversely, recycled plastics cannot be used in food packaging because of food hygiene laws.
It is right to conclude that a measure of substitution of conventional plastics with compostable materials is an essential part of the mix. Such materials must be certified as complying with stringent international standards, referenced in the amendment. The certification is undertaken by an organisation independent from the manufacturer, which assesses technical information about the product and produces an independent laboratory report on how samples of the product performed when tested, as specified in the standard. So long as it makes the grade, the product can then be recycled within the food waste stream.
There are around 45 composting sites in the UK that can handle compostable films, and there is good evidence from Europe to show that using them has three effects. First, the compostable films break down in industrial composting conditions without leaving microplastics behind. Secondly, deploying such films reduces the amount of conventional, polluting plastic that gets into the soil through food waste and achieves a reduction of conventional plastic in circulation. Thirdly, by deploying compostable films as packaging for food waste, we end up with less food contamination in the dry recycling streams, such as plastic bottles and trays.
Compostables can therefore play a key role in capturing biowaste and ensuring that food contact packaging biodegrades with its contents. Instead of being incinerated or sent to landfill, it is converted into high-quality compost and, in turn, used to regenerate our rapidly depleting agricultural soils. This is a win-win, and one that the Government should grasp. The recent Extended Producer Responsibility for Packaging consultation paper took a dismissive tone, rather than look at how an EPR scheme could and should be applied to compostables, so that the industry pays, as it is willing to, for the expansion in composting infrastructure.
All the while, global flexible plastic packaging is set to reach 33.5 million metric tonnes in 2022, with no viable end-of-life solution to dispose of it safely. That is only next year. Perhaps the Minister can say whether it is this waste that he is proposing to be the subject of trans-frontier shipments of waste. This is deeply frustrating to those represented by the Bio-based and Biodegradable Industries Association, including companies such as TIPA, which is investing in the UK market. It has come together with the association for renewable energy and clean technology, REA, and with anti-plastic campaigners A Plastic Planet to draw attention to the missed opportunities in the UK.
The intentions behind Amendments 13 and 30 are therefore twofold: to emphasise the commitment on these Benches to reducing the production of plastic packaging, and to make clear the need for a variety of solutions to reduce plastic pollution, here at home and globally. Compostable materials are part of the mix, and one the Government should recognise. Everyone has a responsibility to both reduce the use of plastic packaging and for its sustainable disposal. I hope that the Minister can provide a positive response and perhaps agree to meet me and the campaigners on this issue to find common ground and to strengthen the Bill on plastics. I beg to move.
My Lords, I take the opportunity given by my noble friend’s amendments to probe the Minister on government thinking about the relationship between the principles of polluter pays and extended producer responsibility. I do so by using an example that we touched on in the closing remarks in Committee on Monday.
About two years ago, not far from where I live, a well-known fast-food company opened a drive-through restaurant. Since then, the brightly coloured packaging from this company has festooned our lanes. The National Association of Local Councils says that this sort of littering and pollution, much of which is plastic, is a growing problem in rural areas.
Clearly the litterers are the polluters here; they are winding down their car windows and throwing the stuff out. Do the Government therefore think that this is an enforcement or educational matter, or that there is some extended producer responsibility here, given that the originator of the packaging being littered is the one profiting? I wanted to use this example to try to get some clarity from the Government about where they see the relative balance of responsibilities.
My Lords, I start by repeating something I said in the first day of Committee. This is a hangover from Monday, but the batting order is not satisfactory, because I want to speak to Amendment 28 and none of its proposers has spoken yet, so I cannot follow them. However, I am delighted to see the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, in her place and hope she can come in after the Minister, because few in this House know as much about the problem as she does.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, covered the problem comprehensively. I was going to raise the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, which is that we must take this opportunity not only to reduce the amount of plastic, but to curb the problem of plastic litter, which is spoiling the countryside in a way it never has before. This is particularly apparent with Covid and the pressures now on farmers, landowners and councils, because of the total disregard that a lot of people have for the countryside. They are happy just to dump their rubbish anywhere. This Bill must be used for that.
I would like to say a lot more about Amendment 28. I like that it does not attack all plastics, as they can be the right solution for the right good in the right place, but they are not great overall. We must find a way to reduce and recycle them better.
I am delighted to follow my noble friend. Like him, I think it unfortunate that we have not heard from those who have tabled Amendment 28. These three amendments have much to commend them. I also pay tribute to the work of the Government and, in particular, my noble friend Lord Goldsmith, who first took an interest in this in the Quality of Life group’s report, Blueprint for a Green Economy, which he co-authored with my noble friend Lord Deben. I am pleased to see that his messianic zeal continues to this day.
I just press both the Minister and the authors of the amendments on what exactly the proposals to reduce single-use plastic involve. I have personally taken great interest in how we can reduce the use of wipes. I fear that women are the worst offenders; we use cosmetic wipes, baby wipes and now these antibacterial cleaning wipes, which we have all been purchasing and using during Covid. Perhaps the packets should say how to dispose of them. I know that water and sewerage companies are driven to distraction by wipes and ear buds being placed down toilets. This leads to blockages and untold difficulties. I am minded to table an amendment myself later if this is not covered, but could we have confirmation of whether single-use plastics will cover the use of wipes and plastic ear buds? I recall that the Government were going to ban the use of plastic ear buds. We managed perfectly well without them before and I am sure we can manage without them again in the future.
I echo some of the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, in calling for substitutes to plastic. We imported the use of brown paper bags from America, but they drive me to distraction because, no sooner have you filled them than you go out in the rain and they disintegrate, if you are not going by car. The contents go on the pavement and you struggle to pick them up and use them again. I do not think brown paper bags will ever work, but what is wrong with the good old-fashioned shopping bag of my mother’s generation? I echo the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, who, in moving her amendment, said that we need to look seriously at long-term viable substitutes. I would like confirmation of the Government’s precise proposals, as well as the full extent of the amendments before us, regarding what is covered by single-use plastic.
My Lords, I speak to Amendments 28 and 30, and express my support for all amendments in this group. This is my first contribution on this ground-breaking Bill and I too welcome it. It is wonderful, in many ways, but there is also an opportunity for some tweaks here and there, which could make it a great deal more significant. I speak briefly in the hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, will indeed be able to speak; she has more knowledge in this area than I ever will, so my comments are limited.
I am sure that all Members of your Lordships’ House agree that plastic pollution in general is one of the greatest threats to our precious planet. I know that, between them, the four signatories will make this case very powerfully in general terms; my purpose is only to support their arguments strongly.
Amendment 28 is modest in the context of the enormity of the plastics problem. To take the example of just one plastic product, it is hard to get my head around the notion that, globally, personal care companies alone produce some 120 billion plastic sachets each year. Others have talked about putting them end to end, back and forth, to the moon 27 times. It is beyond one’s comprehension, but terrifying. These items are totally non-recyclable and, as the organisation A Plastic Planet tells us, there are many reusable and more environmentally friendly alternatives available. Surely the Bill needs to inject a degree of urgency into preventing the continuation of this situation. If there are alternatives, it is difficult for a simple-minded person like me to understand why we are being so careful or modest about this. Why cannot Ministers set a date by which no plastic sachets should be produced, for example? The same sort of eye-watering statistics apply to many other plastic products, including all forms of plastic packaging. They simply need to be replaced.
Yes, the amendment requires Ministers to set a target for the reduction of plastic use by 2030—and this is indeed most welcome—but it says nothing about the level of plastics use at which the target should be set. There could be a target of reducing use by 1%. I really hope that, before Report, we can work with Ministers to achieve an amendment that really would require the end of the use of single-use plastics by a specific date—or, at least, the end of the use of specified single-use plastic products by specific dates. Obviously, this has to be realistic—producers have to make plans—but, unless we make a very clear target for producing complete alternatives, they will not really know where they are. I have a feeling we can do a lot better. In the meantime, I do wholeheartedly support Amendment 28 for putting this crucial issue on Ministers’ agenda. I hope Ministers will, as I have said, be able to come up with something more robust—stronger—in time for Report.
Amendment 30 focuses on single-use plastic packaging. Again, the amendment is hugely important, although, in my view, modest. It requires Ministers, by regulations, to
“set a target for reduction in the production and import of conventional single use plastic packaging”.
But, again, it does not require a specific target to achieve a specified rate of reduction in the use of these products. Again, I wholeheartedly support the amendment for raising the vital issue and cannot see any reason at all why the Government would not accept this amendment—although, as I have said, I hope we can go further.
The Government have made a good start in this field and I want to applaud them—for the ban on plastics straws, stirrers and plastic-stem cotton buds, as well as the ban on microbeads. These are important steps forward, saving literally billions of these items finishing up in the oceans. But, of course, there are many other single-use plastic products. We now have face masks to add to the problem, which we find all over the pavements. What plans are afoot to deal with those?
Amendment 30 takes a more ambitious line indeed on plastic packaging than the Government’s planned tax on items that do not meet a minimum threshold of at least 30% recycled content from April 2022. Surely we should not accept 70% non-recyclable content in the future. Surely, again, we have to be more ambitious. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to these modest proposals. I was impressed by the Minister in our recent briefing meeting; it seems that he has a clear commitment to move forward on these agendas. I would like to think that he will want to work with noble Lords in developing stronger amendments before Report.
I was glad to hear the Minister state on the first day of Committee:
“The Government will periodically review targets and can set more, especially if that is what is required to deliver significant improvement to the natural environment in England.”—[Official Report, 21/6/21; cols. 93-94.]
I would ask the Minister to examine Amendment 28, to which I put my name, because it seeks a target for plastics pollution which would do just what he says: namely,
“deliver significant improvement to the natural environment”.
I echo the concerns of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, about litter. I am especially concerned about microplastic pollution. It is a blight found in the highest mountains and the deepest oceans; it is choking our wildlife, creating gut obstructions in seabirds that cause them poor health and even death, and it is present in the food we eat and the air we breathe, posing a potential danger to human health from ingesting microplastics. There are fears that microplastics might inhibit the ability of our lungs to repair damage caused by Covid-19. I also support Amendment 30 from the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell.
The Bill, as it stands, focuses very well on the end-of-life solutions to plastics pollution. These are, of course, very welcome, but this amendment adds to the Bill’s provision by targeting the problem of plastics pollution holistically. The Clause 1 target for resource efficiency and waste reduction is also welcome, but it will make only a partial contribution to reducing plastic pollution.
The problem is that products can be efficiently designed but and still create plastic pollution. Lightweight polystyrene packaging, polythene packaging and lightweight plastic bottles do achieve a reduction in resource but, when they are discarded, they create microplastic pollution. Litter from plastic bottles is estimated to contribute 33% of plastic pollution entering our oceans. Likewise, fishing nets are seen as resource efficient when made of plastic, as they last longer and use fewer materials. However, when they break and are discarded, they become floating traps for marine wildlife. Microbeads in plastics make the product work better but constitute 8.8% of Europe’s microplastic pollution. The Government have described this country’s microbead ban as world beating, but it covers only rinse-off products such as shampoo and toothpaste, and it still allows microbeads in the majority of cosmetics.
A plastic pollution reduction target on the face of the Bill will ensure the enforcement of measures such as a ban on maritime waste. Subsection (1) introduces a target to reduce plastic pollution that will ensure that major types of plastic pollution are not overlooked. The inclusion of the wording about reducing
“the volume of all non-essential single-use products” avoids incentivising substitutions of plastics for other single-use materials, which the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, talked about. It works in tandem with my Amendment 139 to Schedule 9.
I hope that the Minister will see this amendment as a response to the Defra Minister’s reply to a similar amendment in the other place, in which she said that
“we actually want to see a more ambitious resources and waste target … which applies holistically to all materials, not just plastic.”—[
This amendment will realise this ambition by mitigating against the resource efficiency target when it does not deal adequately with the scale of the present plastics crisis. Proposed new subsection (2) sets outs a specific date for the new target—by
I understand that Ministers are concerned that it would be difficult to measure and monitor plastic pollution. Surely the OEP will be able to work with experts to devise the best way to measure, monitor and enforce a target. After all, such targets have been generated for such complex issues as carbon emissions. The Government are also concerned about the international nature of plastics pollution. Rebecca Pow has said that plastic pollution is a “highly transboundary issue” which needs to be tackled at an international level as part of a UN global plastics treaty. This is, of course, right. However, if this Bill is to be world beating, I hope the Minister will agree that this country must show the way by setting up its own domestic targets for plastic pollution. I hope the Minister will look favourably on this amendment.
My Lords, as this is my first intervention at this stage in the Bill, I draw attention to my vice-presidency of the LGA and my professional interests, particularly in the construction sector, as well as my membership of the Country Land & Business Association. I warmly welcome all the amendments in this group, for the reasons that have already been given. I could not help a bit of a smile when I heard the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, refer to a well-known roadside fast food operator because, following the lockdown, I knew within about 24 hours that it had reopened by the nature of what was in the roadside verges near my home.
We can all recognise the utility of plastics, as referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. For many automotive, construction and household products, they perform a valuable, life-extending and efficiency function in many things that we use on a daily basis. But I wish to add my voice to those who have a fundamental concern about single-use plastics in general, their clear pathways into discards as litter and microplastics, and the fact that many are not recyclable at all or not generally recyclable in this country.
As other noble Lords have referred to, this is made worse by the contamination caused by the contents of packaging and the juxtaposition of different plastic types, with recyclable and non-recyclable elements being used together. Worse, some of the recyclable items that conscientious households might wish to put in their recycling bin have either illegible plastic coding stamps on them or unremovable labels stuck over them. This makes it much more difficult to comply even with the dictates of one’s conscience when it comes to putting things in the right container. We really need to cease the use of non-recyclable and not commonly recyclable plastics, and the sooner the better.
A few years ago, when I farmed, we used some stuff that was known as bale wrap: a thin, flexible, very often black plastic film that, I am afraid to say, frequently ended up in hedgerows, impaled on fences or sometimes in the stomachs of livestock. A collection was organised—I believe it was applicable nationally—where farmers collected this material together, and it was picked up and safely disposed of. I believe that made a huge difference to the unsightly material appearing all over the place, particularly in windy places such as Exmoor, where I used to farm. We now need the same focus from, for example, disposable nappy manufacturers, food packaging and distribution companies, and construction companies. The former two fill household waste bins with huge quantities of unrecyclable material, and the latter fills enormous numbers of rubbish skips with unsorted plastic mixed with timber, cardboard and other waste. I would welcome a comprehensive approach to dealing with plastics and making sure that there is a thoroughgoing policy that deals with all these things at every stage.
If these amendments do anything, they should remind us that many non-recyclable plastics have recyclable substitutes, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, referred to in introducing this group. In so far as there is not the possibility of composting these—maybe many of them are not compostable—they should at least be gathered up and, if necessary, incinerated so that the huge amounts of embedded energy in these plastics can be recovered. I am not a great fan of incineration and I understand the voices that constantly campaign against it but, if there is no other way, it is better than plastic going to landfill and microplastics ending up in the environment. Measures to ban and limit the use of the worst types of plastic cannot come a moment too soon.
I conclude by paying tribute to the valiant work of those people who pick up litter on our coastal areas and foreshores; I think the Marine Conservation Society is among those that do this. I pay tribute to what it does, and to all the voluntary organisations such as the Scouts, who do regular litter picks on our roadsides. This helps to stop litter being added to by people who come along and think, “Well, there’s lots of litter there, maybe a little bit more won’t matter.” If there is no litter there, it tends not to attract litter bugs.
We need to be vigilant on the whole matter of plastic and discards becoming a social norm—a bit like putting on a seatbelt or not smoking in a public place—and it needs to be backed by law, so I am very strongly in support of the amendments in this group.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and I identify very much with his last comments on the litter all over our countryside, particularly after lockdown, and the way in which communities came together to use their spare time to at least ameliorate a certain amount of this problem.
I worry that some of our plastic litter is being exported. We think it may be reused but, in fact, it is just going into dumps overseas. We must avoid that in every way we can.
I speak in support of Amendment 13, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, on this vexed issue. I support her in everything she said, and I also support Amendments 28 and 30. I take the point that we should be more ambitious, but we need to start somewhere. We need to get this issue on the face of the Bill; if it is in at this stage, it triggers certain actions that could follow at later stages.
Of all the issues coming before us today in this massively important Bill, I suspect that there is greater public support for drastically cutting back the use of plastic in all its guises than for most of the other, very worthy aims in the Bill. Of course, one aim should not compete with another in terms of priority.
We accept the use of plastic in many unnecessary ways. We do so without considering how that material is to be disposed of in a manner that is harmless to wildlife on land and in the oceans. We have been totally profligate in our mindless use of plastic, and we now see animals, fish and birds suffering from plastic entering their digestive systems. Surely we must systematically reduce the use of plastic and move in a coherent manner to lessen its impact. To the extent that plastics of certain types are compostable, well, all the better—but that is ameliorating the problem rather than necessarily solving it. We must have a radical root-and-branch approach.
This amendment makes a modest proposal for dealing with this issue by making the reduction in the use of unnecessary plastic a priority area in the establishment of environmental targets in the Bill. This provision could trigger another proposed clause which requires a measurable standard to be achieved and a target date for reaching such an objective. Is that not exactly what we need for a coherent plastic reduction programme? Even if it is not on the face of the Bill, should that not be our aim? If that is the case, what possible argument can there be against putting it on the face of the Bill? I urge the Minister not just to pay lip service to the need for a reduction in the use of plastic but to do something about it. I await his response with interest.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, on her amendments, which I am afraid I did not sign. That was a complete oversight on my part. I think her introduction was excellent.
I suspect that not very far in the future, we will think of plastic as the new asbestos. When we first had asbestos, it was hailed as a wonder material. It is highly heat resistant and an excellent electrical insulator, and it has been used in construction, for fireproofing, and even for making clothing and furniture. In fact, archaeological evidence suggests that asbestos was used by humans quite a long time ago to strengthen ceramic pots, so it has been understood as a very valuable resource. Since the end of the 19th century, asbestos has been used in all sorts of buildings; any building constructed before the 1980s is likely to contain asbestos. Now, of course, the word “asbestos” is enough to stop people buying a property because it is so dangerous to human health when disturbed. I think we are going to see plastic as a dangerous material in the same way—probably more dangerous and more pervasive than asbestos.
Obviously, as other noble Lords have said, plastic has a lot of almost miracle properties, and the things that we can produce from plastic are integral to our way of life. However, its versatility and availability have led to exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, said: we have used it mindlessly. We have made so much plastic that we are now in danger of being polluted by it ourselves. We have known for a long time that plastic takes hundreds of thousands of years to break down, but only recently we have understood how bad that is. Plastic only breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces; it does not actually ever go away. It just gets tiny and it gets everywhere, with quite damaging consequences.
We now see that microplastics are present almost everywhere, including in our own bodies. Plastics accumulate in the food that we eat, moving up the food chain until it reaches its highest concentration in our bodies and, most concerningly, in mothers’ breast milk. When microplastics get very small, they are referred to as nanoplastics. They are so small that they can cross cellular membranes and actually work their way into our individual cells. We are currently clueless about what that means for our health and the environment, but if it is anything like asbestos then a tiny amount can be incredibly damaging for our health.
The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, talked about disposal. The noble Baroness said that it should be disposed of well and the noble Earl talked about safe disposal. There is no safe disposal. There is no way to make sure that it is well disposed of; that just does not happen. It is still there. We know that we have produced far too much plastic, and it is within our control to reduce the amount that is made.
The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, mentioned masks. I am going to make my regular comment about the fact that—and I am going to try not to look at any noble Lords wearing them—the blue masks that some noble Lords are wearing today in your Lordships’ House are actually highly polluting. They are not paper but plasticised paper; they cannot be recycled; they end up in our seas and rivers; they kill animals; and obviously they are extremely ugly to see. I know it is not easy to replace them, and I would say that at least those noble Lords are wearing masks in the first place, but I have offered to replace such masks with material masks made in my little haberdasher’s down in Dorset rather than still seeing them as I look around the House.
The Bill absolutely has to set targets for reducing plastics because we have to start now to reduce the future burden. The problem is just going to get worse, and if we do not get it into the Bill then we probably will not deal with it.
As always, it is a great pleasure to follow my friend the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I do not always agree with her, but she speaks a great deal of common sense—as well as a few other things. I am delighted to see her putting on a mask. She will be glad to know that I took my blue mask off—I am waiting for the one from the haberdasher’s.
The noble Baroness made a very good point about asbestos, but of course that is a specific substance. “Plastic” is a bit of a generic term that covers a great deal. We have to recognise that in its beginning it often brought hygiene where there was squalor and safe packaging where there was danger, but it has now got completely out of hand. No one could have watched programmes like “The Blue Planet” without being completely nauseated by some of the scenes we saw on our screens of animals choked or strangled to death. It causes an enormous problem even in our own countryside and in our towns and cities.
My noble friend Lord Caithness referred to litter. In many ways, litter is the curse of the age. I have been horrified when I have watched “Look North” on our local television station and seen that after the end of various phases of the lockdown people have gone out in their hundreds and thousands and desecrated, and defecated in, our countryside. I say to the Minister that it is crucial, as others have referred to, that we have targets and deadlines. The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, made a particular point of that and she is right. We keep coming back to the phrase “a landmark Bill” but if this is indeed going to be a landmark Bill then there have to be deadlines for elimination. Of course one has to give manufacturers a degree of notice but we cannot carry on as we are or we will smother ourselves in our own detritus—it is as simple and alarming as that.
This debate has also brought out one of the deficiencies in our current parliamentary practice as a Hybrid House. The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, is sitting here. She has been referred to several times in complimentary terms, and deservedly so, but in a normal Committee in your Lordships’ House any one of your Lordships is able to get up and make a contribution during the debate. I make no specific criticism of anyone in particular because these methods of working were evolved with great skill, but to have to work to a prescribed list rules out both spontaneity and the opportunity for people to contribute who may well be sitting here with a real contribution to make, but cannot do so. I hope that when we come back on
I have one other point. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, who introduced this debate extremely well, refers in her amendment to EU directive 94/62/EC. I ask my noble friend for confirmation that none of the standards applying in this country after the enactment of the Bill will be in any way inferior to the EU directives under which we have been operating hitherto. If we are going to be global Britain with high standards, those standards must be in no way inferior to what we have been applying hitherto. We have to improve, and we cannot do so by going backwards.
My Lords, I will be brief, particularly as I understand that the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, will be able to come in after the Minister, so let us leave it to the experts.
I add my thanks to my noble friend Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville for her eloquent and comprehensive introduction of her amendment and the issue of plastics and single-use items. Like the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, I think that while there are many issues that we in this House will be touching on in the next few weeks that the public may not be quite so familiar with, plastics and single-use items is one that they understand and on which they will expect fast action. They will therefore, rightly or wrongly, judge the Government on how they address the issue, so we on these Benches welcome the amendments from my noble friend Lady Bakewell and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, on the Labour Front Bench.
Other noble Peers have touched on the implications and impacts of plastics, so I will be brief and say only that I echo the comments of my noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, on the impacts of plastics on litter, and the comments by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, on the appalling impacts on wildlife. I am not sure that I caught anyone saying—if I did not catch it and have not mentioned them, I apologise—that we need to reflect on the greenhouse gas emissions from the disposal of plastics, which are such a major contribution and which we have to tackle if we are going to meet our greenhouse gas obligations.
The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, rightly identified a number of the steps that the Government have taken on the plastics issue—she referred to straws and microbeads—and no one would deny that they are welcome, but they are very low-hanging fruit. Given the scale of the challenge and the need for fast action, I thank that all of us in this Committee, from all sides, would agree that we need faster action from the Government.
These three amendments all share the same sentiments; they tackle the issue in slightly different ways. I hope that, from the debate, the Government have realised that the Committee wants them to set targets for plastics pollution and for addressing the scourge of single-use plastic items. If the Minister is not prepared to accept the amendment today, I hope that he will listen carefully to the suggestion from my noble friend Lady Bakewell that he meets her and others, before we get to Report, to look at how we can come to a realistic amendment to address this issue, which is rightly of huge significance to the public and absolutely critical if we are to get the environment that we need in future.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 13 and 30 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, and to Amendment 28 in my name and those of other noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott—I am very pleased to hear that she will make a contribution shortly.
A number of your Lordships have spoken with passion about the scourge of plastic in our environment and the damage it causes to our wildlife and marine environment. That all results in huge waste mountains created in landfill. The environmental scarring that occurs happens at all sorts of levels: the plastic clogs our oceans and rivers; it blights our landscape; and it is in the food that we eat and the air that we breathe. We are yet to discover the full impact that living with plastic is having on our long-term health. I completely understand the analogy with asbestos that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, made; because it is a relatively new product, we do not yet know exactly what it is doing to our health.
The public are increasingly aware of the environmental damage that plastic is causing, with 81% of British people now wanting the Government to introduce refillable products to end the plastic crisis, and more than two-thirds saying that the plastic crisis is getting worse. From this debate, I think we would all concur with that. And yet, we know that just 10 plastic products—including plastic bags, bottles, food containers and fishing gear—account for three-quarters of global ocean litter. So the problem is intense, but it is also very specific in terms of what we have to tackle.
Plastic bottles and beverage litter alone contribute 33% of plastic pollution in our oceans, yet we know that alternative drinks containers already exist. I agree with the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady Scott, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and others, that plastic litter is the scourge of our urban and rural landscapes. The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, made an important point that extended producer responsibility really should ensure that manufacturers take responsibility for the litter that results from their products. I echo what the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, said in praise of litter pickers: we have all done our bit, and we all have great admiration for the people who do it on a more regular basis, including those in my own locality who regularly on a Sunday go picking litter up from the beach.
Several years ago, Coca-Cola sent to my office here a large sack and some plastic gloves, and I was encouraged to go and do some beach-picking. I thought that it had rather missed the point really, because it should be the company’s responsibility to clean up the litter in the first place rather than expect me to do it. I still have the gloves, and they are very useful on the allotment, although they are not being used for quite what they were intended. My point is that extended producer responsibility is important. Companies such as Coca-Cola—I know that it has got better, and I hope that it would not still do something like that—and other drinks manufacturers are trying to cut down on the amount of plastic, but we still have a long way to go.
Incidentally, I also agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that the blue plastic masks are just adding a new layer and source of pollution. We all understand why it was expedient to introduce them at very short notice, but the Government have now had time to come up with a better solution than the regular use of plastic masks, which we are all still encouraged to wear.
We believe that the solution is within our grasp, if only we had the determination to restrict the production of new plastics, to capture all that waste plastic for reuse and to charge manufacturers the full disposal cost of any discarded plastic. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, that we already have the experts who can measure and monitor our plastic output; it is not that difficult. We are in a position to capture the statistics and properly report on progress.
We need a concerted effort from the top to drive down the use of plastic and replace it with reusable alternatives. As a number of noble Lords have said, the Government have known this for some time, and they have engaged in the debate and taken some action. I am sure that the Minister will remind us of the steps already taken, for example on banning microbeads and increasing plastic bag charges. All of this is of course welcome, but it is dealing with a fraction of the problem. As the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, said, it is in effect picking the low-hanging fruit. Meanwhile, the Minister himself in the debate on single-use plastics on
“action is needed to curtail the use of single-use plastics and their release into the environment.”
He went on to say that it is
“the Government’s intention to clamp down on single-use plastic pollution and protect our environment for future generations.”—[
I do not doubt his commitment, but the real challenge is action, which seems to be lacking.
We were provoked to table our amendment by the endless delays in tackling the more fundamental challenges that remain. I have lost track of the number of consultations that have taken place or are in progress without a credible ultimate deadline for action. Our Amendment 28 addresses this need for a deadline. It follows the same format as the Government’s own wording in their “abundance of species” amendment, so we know that it meets the criteria of being acceptable to Government, flexible, legal and politically deliverable. It also mirrors the wording in Clause 2 on the setting of air quality targets, emphasising that it should be a short-term, rather than long-term, target.
Our plastic reduction targets cover plastics and other “non-essential single-use products”. The amendment is worded in that way to ensure that a ban on plastic does not incentivise the use of other single-use materials. This is at the heart of the problem, because these can also be damaging to the environment. One noble Lord mentioned paper bags, and there are other things which are a substitute, but not a sufficient one, when we can just use the same product again and again if we turn our minds to it. I can confirm to the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, that our proposal is also intended to cover wet wipes and ear buds.
Our amendment works in tandem with Amendment 139—which seeks to amend Schedule 9—in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, to which I have also added my name, and which we will debate later.
Subsection (2) of the new clause proposed in Amendment 28 sets the plastic reduction target of
The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, said that plastic bottles are rarely recycled into new plastic bottles, and she is absolutely right on that. But the annoying thing is that we have had the technology to do that for years—it already exists; it does not have to be created. Manufacturers just have to find that the cost of using virgin plastic is prohibitive compared to recycled plastics, and then they would switch. But at the moment, it is easier for them to use new oil and chemicals, rather than use the materials that are already in circulation. We can change that only if the Government use market interventions to make this happen, at least in the short term.
In my days with WRAP, I went to visit a factory at one stage that was taking plastic bottles and converting them into new plastic bottles. It was a commercial factory, but it could not make ends meet. It can be done, and it is being done, but we have got to make sure that the sums add up.
I also agree on a separate issue with the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and others, that we have to deal with the scourge of exporting our plastic waste to other developing nations which are unable to process it effectively. We have all seen the photographs of our plastic waste clogging up the streets and waterways of other countries. I hope we can have another debate about that later on during this Bill.
We will come to other aspects of waste and recycling policy later in this Bill, but we hope that noble Lords will support this amendment, which we intend to pursue. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, we would welcome further discussions with the Minister about how those short-term plastic reduction targets could be achieved and how the Government intend to deliver on them. I look forward to his response.
I thank noble Lords for their contributions, and I hope they were reassured by my comments on Monday regarding the Government’s ability to set targets on a wide range of areas through this Bill. I will elaborate further on their specific amendments, although I echo what the noble Baroness has just said: we will be discussing issues around plastic and waste on numerous occasions through the course of this Bill.
I would like to reiterate that the Bill gives us the power to set legally binding, long-term targets on any aspect of the natural environment. That includes waste reduction and resource efficiency. The Government share the concerns raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, in their amendments on the proliferation of single-use plastic items and the need for urgent action. The effect on the environment, particularly the marine environment as we heard in the very powerful opening speech, is both heart-breaking and, frankly, sickening.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, also talked about the issue of what we refer to as consumer waste. If we want to get to a point where we have designed waste out of the system, on many levels we should stop referring to it as consumer waste and regard it as producer waste. Most people, when they go to a shop and buy something with excess packaging, do not want it. It is a producer decision, not a consumer decision. As a number of noble Lords have said, that is precisely why extended producer responsibility is so important. Extended logically to its natural conclusion, it will place the onus on the producer, and we will see less waste.
As we know, the Government committed in the resources and waste strategy to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by 2042. Measures in this Bill, such as extended producer responsibility—including for packaging—deposit return schemes and charges for single-use plastics et cetera, will help us to achieve this. Work on implementing these measures has already begun.
I acknowledge the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and agree with her comments about asbestos. I think our plastic wastefulness will, I hope one day soon, come to define our throwaway, short-termist, dysfunctional and disrespectful approach to the natural world. She is also right about masks—a conversation we have had many times. I share her bugbear; these things are completely avoidable. We have had a year of needing them, and surely by now people have had an opportunity to sort out a longer-term solution of a reusable mask.
The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, also listed a number of single-use items. Again, I emphasise that we can extend the ban on single-use items to other products, and I am committed to doing so. There is also an argument for personal responsibility, a point made by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. We have taken steps to increase the disincentives when it comes to littering. Fines are now up to £2,500 if conducted through a magistrates’ court. We have raised the maximum fixed penalty from £80 to £150 and have raised the minimum as well. We have given new powers to local authorities regarding litter thrown out of vehicle windows.
In the meantime, there is a role for consumers. Notwithstanding the comments that I made about producer responsibility, it is worth bearing in mind that we have an ability to send a message to producers. Companies selling tea bags that are plastic ought to feel the fury of the consumer. We should not be buying that stuff; I certainly do not buy tea bags made of plastic, and I will never do that, although I have to say that until a few months ago I was not aware it happened. I cannot believe that companies thought it was okay to create plastic tea bags; it is just astonishing.
There is an international dimension that noble Lords mentioned as well. Although this is not directly relevant to these amendments, we are showing international leadership. We have committed £80 million to a whole range of international programmes to tackle pollution. We co-founded the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance, which is all about helping Commonwealth counties to develop policies to reduce things like single-use plastics and improve their treatment and management of plastic. More than half of Commonwealth countries have signed up and therefore made the commitment.
There is one last thing on the international point—although it is not the last thing we are doing. It is worth bearing in mind that the vast majority of waste in the ocean is ghost gear: discarded fishing gear. There is a staggering amount. That, too, is where the principle of extended producer responsibility will really come into its own, creating a situation where it is simply a bad financial decision for vessels to just discard their fishing gear overboard.
We have already made important progress in tackling plastics. We have introduced one of the world’s toughest bans on microbeads in rinse-off personal care products and we have brought in measures to restrict the supply of plastic straws, plastic drink stirrers, and plastic stemmed cotton buds. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, asked when the latter was going to happen. It has already happened; the ban was introduced in October 2020. She heaped praise on the noble Lord, Lord Deben, particularly for his work on the quality of life review. I agree with her, partly because I co-chaired that review with him and I am very pleased with most of what was in it, although it is a gigantic document.
For the long-term legally binding target on waste reduction and resource efficiency, we want to take a more holistic approach to reduce consumption, not just of plastic, but of all materials. This would increase resource productivity and reduce the volume of waste we generate overall, including plastic waste. Setting a legally binding target on plastic waste in isolation, as proposed by the amendment, may lead to unexpected or undesirable substitutions. For example, we could see more materials whose environmental performance is, in the round, no better than plastic which could, for example, lead to higher carbon emissions.
I look forward to discussing specific measures in the Bill throughout the process that we embarked on on Monday—this Committee. We will be talking about plastic and other waste issues a great deal, but for now I hope that what I have said has reassured noble Lords somewhat and I beg them not to press their amendments.
I thank noble Lords who made kind comments about my knowledge of plastic. I do not in any sense pretend to be an expert on this subject, but I do know quite a bit about food and where it connects with plastics.
I am very pleased to support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and I am sorry I did not get onto the speakers’ list. I assumed that I would be on it as my name was on the Marshalled List, but even when I rang up yesterday to ask to come on it, they said I was not allowed because those lists were fixed. I realise I am still a newcomer. I thank the Minister for his response, which is extremely encouraging, and I thank all noble Lords who have made so many incredibly good points. I am only going to try to make some points which I think can still be made.
I feel our targets are still too low and we could outlaw single-use plastic. Some 69 countries currently have either partially or totally banned its use, particularly in Africa. Single-use plastic is very bound up with the way that food is sold by supermarkets, and in a lot of cases with fruit and vegetables you end up buying more than you want. There is a very direct line—say, when you have a large amount of grapes in a box with a single-use lid, when you actually wanted half the amount of grapes because you happen to be a single person, so some of those grapes are wasted. This suits the supermarket, but it does not suit the consumer and, obviously, it does not suit the planet.
It seems to me that supermarkets are getting away with murder at the moment. They are selling us single-use bags for 10p and also bags for life. Frankly, I am embarrassed by how many bags for life I have because I hate buying the 10p ones, which seem worse—I probably have about 15 bags for life now, which is way too many. This means that the supermarkets made at least £100 out of me on bags because of my laziness—but at least I reuse them.
The Minister and several other noble Lords raised a point about how we export plastic for recycling. Turkey is big on this list: 40% of our plastic now goes there—Greenpeace has been running a campaign on this—and it ends up incinerated or in landfill. I was very interested to hear the Minister say that it is the Government who are taking action, because it is my understanding that, from
I will mention the one group of people that of course wants using plastic to go on. There are different types of plastic—I have good plastic, such as plastic cups and picnic plates that I have had for 20 years—and there needs to be really good public education to make us understand that one type of plastic is okay and another is not. We could look at a complete ban such plastic. I am sorry—I have completely lost my train of thought.
Masks have shown that, a year and a half in, the Government are not taking the plastic issue completely seriously. They are allowing these things to be made, and we could have stopped this.
My final point is that plastic is obviously made from oil. The oil companies have one last throw of the dice, and that is in making more plastic. ClientEarth is fighting a huge case at the moment over the big new petrochemical company that is being set up on the Belgian border, which is primarily there to make plastic and flood the world with more of it, as we move towards banning fossil fuels. Please do not let us let this happen. I think we should move to a total ban on single-use plastic. As the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, wisely said, this is an issue where the public are really on side with the Government and will be urging them on for measures that are as tough as they can manage.
I thank the noble Baroness for her comments, and I echo those of many others. She is a person of great knowledge and expertise on this issue. I have a note on my phone to contact her tomorrow to talk about something that I assume is connected to what she was just saying—I very much look forward to that. I completely agree with her that we can go further on single-use plastics. We have the power to do so, and I am absolutely committed that we will. This is not a niche concern on my part, or even one that is limited to me; it is shared by all of my colleagues in Defra, without exception.
The noble Baroness said that supermarkets are “getting away with murder”, and that is certainly true of some of them. But it is worth acknowledging when they get it right; it is important that people recognise best practice. Since I am not constrained by BBC rules on impartiality, I can say that Iceland has done extraordinary things on plastic. So far, I have seen that it is delivering on its commitments—for example, getting rid of every single one of those plastic trays beneath its frozen food, and so much more besides. It is worth celebrating that—it shows us what can be done. If its best practice today becomes the norm for everyone tomorrow, we will see real progress.
On the issue of the OECD, Turkey is bringing in restrictions, but I am not sure that it is a full ban—that may be wrong, but it is my understanding. Nevertheless, we are committed to banning the export of waste to non-OECD countries, and obviously Turkey is an OECD country. We have the power within the legislation to extend that ban, should the case be made. Of course, we are looking very closely at the information that Greenpeace has collected in relation to very bad waste treatment in Turkey, but this is not something that I am able to comment on in detail at the moment because I do not know enough about it—I do not think that any of us do.
My Lords, in his initial answer to the various amendments, the Minister said that it was the Government’s intention to set targets on a wide range of areas through this Bill. Therefore, by way of elucidation, could the Minister indicate whether it would be the intention of the Government, by way of the Bill or by accepting an amendment, to request the banning of sachets for cosmetic items and non-food products, such as household cleaning products? Many of these types of sachets end up clogging up our landfill sites.
My Lords, one of our priority areas for targets is waste, so we are committed to introducing at least one target, but, as I said, we can introduce targets on other issues as well. We are looking very closely at where targets are likely to have the best and biggest impact, and Defra is currently looking very closely at the issue that the noble Baroness has raised. I am not sure whether it was in the noble Baroness’s speech, but we heard from a few people, including in the opening speech, about the negative impacts of throw-away face wipes that contain plastic. We in the department are looking very closely at this as well; we are gathering information to see where we can have the biggest impact. I do not want to prejudge that process, but we are clearly committed to moving to a zero-waste economy, which will be reflected in the targets and is reflected in the Bill.
My Lords, in his answer to the debate on this group of amendments, the Minister said that the Government are relying on extended producer responsibility to see a reduction in waste, particularly plastic waste; indeed, he said, “We will see less waste”. I was thinking about a company that produces some of our most expensive electronic goods and which does not have a particularly good environmental record—everyone will know which company I am talking about. If it produces a telephone or device that is worth £1,000 or more, the packaging cost would have to be very large to discourage it from making it look as fancy and as flash as you could possibly want.
Then there is the other end of the market—supermarkets, as the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, just mentioned. They are saving a lot of money by selling plastic-wrapped vegetables, which forces people to buy more. I did a little price comparison in Lidl in Sheffield, and the loose vegetables were roughly twice the price of the plastic-wrapped ones. That is certainly a reflection in part of the fact that they are cheaper for supermarkets to handle: they need fewer staff and plastic-packed goods can be more roughly handled. You would have to put a very major cost on that plastic to ensure that there is a truly significant deterrent effect. I ask the Minister to respond on his claim that “We will see less waste”—how can he be certain about that?
To pick up the other point, the Minister said that the plastic ban has a risk of encouraging the use of other equally, or similarly, damaging materials. I come back to our debate on day 1, when we talked about the need for a limit on, or reduction to, our resource use in total, and a target to see a total resource-use loss.
Finally, my noble friend has asked me to tell noble Lords—she has been having conversations on Twitter—that if you are now wearing a blue plastic face mask, you can wash these several times and they will survive several washes. Having given that important information, I will sit down.
I thank the noble Baroness for that final comment. As I have said many times, extended producer responsibility provides us with the apparatus that would, if used correctly, lead to a dramatic reduction in waste. But of course there is an “if”: we have to set the incentives, or disincentives, at a level that will have the desired impact. This is not an exact science, so there will no doubt be trial and error.
The fundamental point is that, whatever the cost, it has to reflect at least the cost to society of the generation of that waste in the first place. The problem at the moment is that there are companies generating waste but leaving the cost of dealing with it to society. In effect, this is an indirect subsidy. In answer to the noble Baroness’s question, this very much hinges upon getting those incentives right—of course, it is my intention, and the Government’s, that we will get those incentives right.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I am grateful to the Minister for his encouraging response but I remain convinced, as are other noble Lords, that some form of plastics reduction target must be in the Bill if the Government are to show that they are serious about this subject.
The Minister said that 2042 was the target deadline, which is far too far away. The noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh of Pickering and Lady Meacher, referred to the scourge of wet wipes and other personal products containing plastics. We have moved some way on this, but there is still a great deal to be done.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, especially about extending producer responsibility. I would welcome the opportunity to work with the movers of Amendment 28 to see if we can reach an accommodation on the way forward on this vital aspect of plastic pollution.
The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, raised the issue of the disintegration of brown paper bags. The supermarket that I frequent sells substantial paper carriers. They are compostable and can withstand rainstorms—I have been caught in one with them. They can be used several times before being put to good use in the composter.
The noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, referred to plastic litter, especially from fast-food outlets. This is a prime example of where producer responsibility could make a real difference.
It is important that the role of compostable materials be recognised in any target. The Government have a way to go in their thinking on this. I share the Minister’s disquiet at the use of plastic tea bags. We switched several years ago to using loose tea—along with our coffee grounds, we spread it on the garden. I recommend doing this. It is a very good dissuader of slugs.
The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, spoke eloquently about food waste generated by consumers having to buy more than they really need because of the packaging. I support her comments and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. We must make certain that we have a total ban on plastics, especially those used for food wrapping.
I reiterate my request to meet the Minister, along with the movers of this amendment; I do not think I heard him agree to do so. I hope his office will contact me with a date. Perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, could come along as well. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 13 withdrawn.
Amendment 14 not moved.