Amendment 119

Part of Environment Bill - Committee (4th Day) – in the House of Lords at 7:15 pm on 30th June 2021.

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Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 7:15 pm, 30th June 2021

My Lords, I thank everyone who has contributed to this debate. We have heard some excellent proposals about how we can, for example, improve the labelling of items to make sure that we recycle and reuse efficiently. The noble Lords, Lord Bradshaw and Lord Chidgey, and others are rightly concerned about what is being flushed down our drains—the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, gave us some vivid examples of the consequences of non-flushable items clogging up our sewers. We clearly need action on wet wipes. The statistic that we are flushing 7 million wet wipes a day down the drains is truly shocking. How can so many consumers not know the damage that is being done by these actions? It is a matter of communication as much as anything. I did not see the “Panorama” programme, but I saw the chunk of fatberg that was on show at the Museum of London a couple of years ago and I can verify that it was truly horrific.

The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, raised an important point about the proper labelling of products with an agreed improved design—he is quite right about that. He points to the success of energy-efficiency labelling and we can all identify with the urgent need for consistency and clarity of labelling. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, echoes this need for clarity and for the detail of the resource efficiency of products so that people can make informed choices. He is right that we should ensure that products such as domestic equipment should be designed for long life. We should know what we are buying and what the ultimate lifespan of these materials is.

As the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, said, it should be easy to do a great deal better on this issue. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, asked what the Government are doing on labelling. I understand that there is already considerable work going on to agree a consistent labelling regime, but maybe the Government should make it more of a priority to choose a system and sign off the design so that we can all see it in practice.

The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, is pursuing the same approach as I have taken in my amendment, which is to try to pin down the Minister and the Government on dates—in this case, on the use of single-use plastics. I agree absolutely that it should be possible for the Government to publish such a scheme by the end of the year. The issue of single use is going to be a running theme through a number of groups as we debate them in the coming hours and days.

I was quite taken by what the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, said about the perverse application of the internal market, which was surely never intended for the use that it is now being put to, which is stopping the Welsh Senedd taking more immediate action on single use. I am not sure whether the Minister addressed that issue, but it was never intended, I am sure, that the internal market should have that effect.

Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, raised the huge issue of disposable nappies and the environmental damage that they create by being dumped in huge quantities in landfill or misplaced in other recyclable waste streams. She gave us some shocking examples about their impact on the environment. I pay tribute to the work of the Nappy Alliance and all others who have campaigned tirelessly on this issue. We urgently need a cultural shift to using reusable nappies, as well as better information about the materials and packaging used in disposable nappies. As the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, said, many people think they are made from paper and do not realise that they have a plastic content. I thank the Minister for updating us on the work that the department is doing on this problem, but clearly there is far more to be done.

Finally, I welcome the many comments from around the Chamber in support of my amendment, but the Minister will not be surprised to hear that I am a little disappointed in his response. I do not doubt his personal commitment, but the truth is that the introduction of extended producer responsibility has already been delayed. It has been three years since it was first proposed, and our deadline will take another three years, so it is absolutely reasonable. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, said, she would have introduced a much more immediate deadline. I understand that we have to allow time for producers to adjust, but if we do not set a deadline there is a real danger that they will simply drag their feet in the consultations and we will find that we are consulting more and more without an immediate deadline to focus individual minds. I have to say that we feel that there should be more ambition and that our date and deadline is a reasonable deadline for producers to deliver.

As a final point on that, noble Lords just said that the use of “may” was standard phraseology, but there are some “musts” in the Bill, so we could have had a “must” on this occasion. Perhaps that is something we can look at when we return, as we inevitably will, to this issue on Report. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 119 withdrawn.

Amendments 120 and 120A not moved.

Sitting suspended.