My Lords, this is an important group of amendments, ably introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. I completely share her frustration, and agree with pretty much every word that she said. All the amendments in the group are concerned with the application of extended producer responsibility for single-use plastics, particularly those that are highly polluting in our sewers, such as wet wipes and—as we will hear later from the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett—nappy liners. I support all the amendments in the group.
There cannot be a better example of “out of sight, out of mind” than sewers. People simply flush all sorts of things away and give no thought as to the consequences. The water industry tells us that wet wipes make up 90% of the material in fatbergs, and because they do not break down, they cause 300,000 blockages every year, at a cost of around £100 million. That is money that the water industry could spend in far more productive ways—dealing with leaks, for example, or investing in water-saving schemes. Fatbergs also cause flooding in people’s homes, and pollute our rivers. As well as wet wipes, other products are routinely flushed, despite not being suitable, including nappy liners, sanitary products and condoms, which also lead to clean-up costs and add to both micro and macro-pollution.
There is an urgent need to develop a strategy and a legislative framework for dealing with this, and we must start immediately, with more public education and awareness campaigns. This can start the business of behavioural change and, crucially, it will start to help people understand why the more drastic measures that are needed will have to be taken. It is amazing that volunteers give up their time to clean beaches and rivers—and when they do that, it helps to raise awareness, as well as removing the pollution. But volunteers are no substitute for the serious measures that are needed.
There are many consumers who want to do the right thing, but the problem is that they do not always know what the right thing is. I agree with my noble friend Lord Bradshaw that we need clear labelling on product packaging to help improve the level of appropriate disposal of those products. At the point of sale, including online, packaging and advertising should identify products that contain plastic and do not comply with the water industry’s standard for flushability, Fine to Flush. Clear instructions are needed—“Do not flush”—with appropriate advice on waste disposal options.
Finally, clean-ups of blockages should be funded through graded financial penalties commensurate with the damage caused by the product. Products containing plastic should incur the highest penalty, followed by products that do not, but which also fail to meet the Fine to Flush standard.
The Government urgently need to provide clarification and detail about the schemes they will introduce under extended producer responsibility and the powers in the Bill. Their coverage, their delivery, the methods of consultation and the anticipated financial flows all need to be developed quickly. Action should be targeted on those areas where the most environmental damage is caused. The objective of my Amendment 124 is to provide some urgency, and to ensure that the Government have to bring such a scheme forward. That would give the industry, and to some extent consumers, a very clear direction of travel, and it sits very well with Amendment 119, which would introduce the statutory start date.