Environment Bill - Committee (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:45 pm on 5th July 2021.

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Photo of Viscount Colville of Culross Viscount Colville of Culross Crossbench 2:45 pm, 5th July 2021

My Lords, I have put my name to Amendments 133 and 133A because the DRS is one of the most important parts of this Bill. It will have a seismic effect on consumer behaviour, improve our environment and strengthen the circular economy. I and many noble Lords have already spoken about the blight of litter. Two-thirds of roadside litter is estimated to be made up of drinks containers.

The scheme is so important that it needs to be wider in scope and swifter in implementation. The present target of late 2024 at the earliest is far too slow for such an important measure. It was first announced by Michael Gove in October 2017; the initial consultation promised implementation at the start of 2023; now we are told it will be the end of 2024 at the earliest. This chronology means that the present target for the much-anticipated DRS will mean at least six and a half years before implementation, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said.

I know this scheme is complicated, but it is so important that all speed is needed to implement it. I ask the Minister to listen to the words of his colleague Michael Gove who, in praising this scheme in his 2019 speech at Kew Gardens, cautioned:

“Time is running out to make the difference we need; to repair the damage we as a species have done to the planet we have plundered.”

Does the Minister agree with the Environmental Audit Committee, which described the 2024 target as “disappointing”?

I also support Amendment 134 as the Government need to ensure that the scope of the scheme is as wide as possible, as the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, said. They need to embrace the all-in scheme; I can see why the on-the-go 750-millilitre criterion has been posited as an option, but a recent survey of stakeholders in the beverage container sector, which includes supermarkets, manufacturers and consumers, shows 69% support all-in while a mere 15% support on-the-go. To quote Michael Gove’s Kew Gardens speech again,

“I believe an ‘all-in’ model will give consumers the greatest possible incentive to recycle.”

The UK’s recycling record has been dire in recent years. This is an opportunity for us to slack off that shocking record and lead the world in recycling.

It is not hard to understand why all-in is the preference of so many. It allies simplicity and maximum benefit for the environment, and goes to the heart of the circular economy. Studies estimate that an all-in scheme will recycle 3.2 times as many drinks containers as an on-the-go one. The Minister knows only too well the limitations of kerbside collections. Recycling centres have problems separating out the wide variety of materials, and often there are problems finding ways to use the recycled material effectively. I ask the Minister to listen to manufacturers, which say that the specially designed reverse vending machines in the scheme must be much more effective at separating different materials and consequently creating a much higher quality of material for recycling. As a result, the use of recycled material will increase. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, said, reverse vending machines are proving effective in other countries; obviously, the more types of materials and sizes of drinks containers included in the scheme, the more material will be recycled.

The extra materials covered by the amendment would allow clarity for both manufacturers and consumers and conformity with other nations in the UK. The cut-off point of 750 millilitres for drinks containers could distort the market in unthought-of ways. It could encourage consumers to buy bigger bottles of unhealthy fizzy beverages to cover the deposit’s charge, and manufacturers could invent methods to avoid the scheme. A distortion in the market leads to all kinds of unintended consequences. I will give an example from Germany: the exclusion of milk products from such a deposit scheme resulted in soft drinks companies introducing milk protein into their drinks to make sure they were excluded from the scheme. As a result, Germans who were lactose intolerant suddenly could not buy or drink soft drinks. Surely it would be better to make this deposit scheme as simple and wide-ranging as possible to avoid such a distortion.

One of the aims of the Bill is to dazzle the COP 26 with our world-leading environmental legislation. What better way to do that than by the Government putting a DRS on the face of the Bill which would be quick to take effect and wide-ranging in its impact? It would be a statement to the world that Britain intends to reduce its carbon emissions and litter problem and become a recycling superpower.