Environment Bill - Committee (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:32 pm on 5th July 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green 2:32 pm, 5th July 2021

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, even after a five-day interval and in a debate truncated by a perhaps now unnecessary withdrawal of a number of noble Lords. For the convenience of the Committee, I remind everyone that we are speaking about amendments that are all about the long-awaited and much-delayed bottle deposit scheme for England, an area in which we are notably world leading in foot dragging.

I shall give a few statistics. Ten other countries in Europe are operating these schemes, with bottle-recycling success rates running from an outstanding 98.5% in Germany, where of course they have had lots of practice since they started in 2003. Even down at the bottom of the pack, Estonia has a very respectable—certainly by our standards—83.7% bottle return rate. That is why Amendment 133, which sets a deadline for implementation, is so important, and I would have attached my name to it had there been space. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that it should be earlier still; it could have been delivered years ago, but January 2023 is practical. It certainly should not be left outside the term of this current Government—assuming of course that they continue for that long.

I want to speak in support of all the amendments in this group, with the partial exception of Amendment 134B, which would exempt small brewers. That is not because I do not think we need to consider such small producers, but rather that Amendment 134A in the names of the same noble Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, and the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is broader and more useful, covering all kinds of producers. There clearly needs to be some easy and simple way for start-up businesses, such as brewers or soft drink or juice producers, to access the scheme. One route might be to require larger companies to allow smaller companies to piggyback on their schemes.

I will focus my contribution on Amendment 134, which appears in my name. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, for her expression of support for the amendment. As with the earlier amendment on nappies, I declare the support from the aluminium industry association, Alupro, in preparing and discussing this amendment. I am sure that many noble Lords are aware that, for all the UK’s inadequate performance on recycling, it does relatively well in recycling aluminium compared to other materials, for reasons including the value of the material, with aluminium packaging recycling reaching its highest ever rate in 2020, with 68% of the material placed on the market being recycled. That includes 82% of all aluminium beverage cans. Of course, this is a material that can be recycled indefinitely, unlike most plastic.

We should not forget that the best option, at the top of the waste pyramid, is to reduce packaging materials and have no container at all, followed then by reusing packaging. But for recycling, aluminium is a good choice. Alupro put it to me—and I see the force of the argument—that a scheme with a flat deposit amount for all containers, regardless of the size of the material, would lead to switching from multipacks of aluminium cans to larger format plastic bottles, due to the cumulative cost of the deposit fee on multipacks. For example, a 20p flat deposit fee would add £4.80 to a 24-pack of cans, yet the deposit fee for the same volume of liquid in four plastic bottles would be just 80p. A 2019 poll of consumers found that a 20p flat deposit fee would encourage more than 60% of individuals to switch to large PET bottles at the expense of aluminium.

Alupro commissioned the research consultancy London Economics to look at consumer behaviour and the differential impacts of a flat or variable rate scheme. It found that the variable rate, as used in the successful Nordic schemes, would deliver significantly higher return rates in the first two years, while a flat-rate deposit would increase the amount of plastic sold and could lead to higher amounts of product wastage and increased portion sizes, which has an obvious impact on public health. It would also have a dramatic impact on the aluminium packaging sector, meaning up to 4.7 billion fewer cans, a very significant loss of revenue, and somewhere between 24% to 73% reduction in demand for aluminium cans in large multipacks. This is an industry with a case, and the practical sense of the bottle deposit varying according to the size of container is evident. Having seen such variable schemes in operation in various parts of Europe, with the scanning of bar-codes expected anyway to be part of the scheme, I think it presents no practical difficulties.

I know that the Minister, in the letter that he kindly sent to noble Lords on Friday afternoon, said—I paraphrase—“Let’s leave it to regulation and the implementation stage”. But why? Why not set out the basic ground rules now, in the Bill, to make sure that the scheme we get is fit for purpose and to give manufacturers time to prepare for implementation of the scheme as speedily as possible? That is what the very important Amendment 133, with which we started this group, seeks to attain.