Amendment 8

Environment Bill - Report (1st Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 9:30 pm on 6th September 2021.

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Baroness Jones of Whitchurch:

Moved by Baroness Jones of Whitchurch

8: After Clause 3, insert the following new Clause—“Environmental targets: plastics reduction(1) The Secretary of State must by regulations set a target (the “plastics reduction target”) in respect of a matter relating to reducing plastic pollution and the volume of non-essential single-use products (including but not limited to plastics) in circulation.(2) The specified date for the plastics reduction target must be by 31 December 2030.(3) Accordingly, the plastics reduction target is not a long-term target and the duty in subsection (1) is in addition to (and does not discharge) the duty in section 1(2) to set a long-term target in relation to resource efficiency and waste reduction.(4) Before making regulations under subsection (1) which set or amend a target the Secretary of State must be satisfied that meeting the target, or the amended target, would further the objective of reducing the volume of non-essential single-use products (including but not limited to plastics) in circulation.(5) Section 1(4) to (9) applies to the plastics reduction target and to regulations under this section as it applies to targets set under section 1 and to regulations under that section.(6) In this Part “the plastics reduction target” means the target set under subsection (1).”Member’s explanatory statementThis new Clause would require the Secretary of State to introduce a target for reducing plastic pollution and the volume of non-essential single-use products (including but not limited to plastics) in circulation in the economy and society.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, I am moving Amendment 8 and speaking to Amendments 10 and 36 in my name, and I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, for adding their names in support. We are now moving on to a different but equally important issue.

These amendments would require the Secretary of State to set an overall target for reducing the amount of single-use and other plastics in circulation by 2030. Amendment 8 provides a specific obligation that would require more urgent action than the longer-term measures in the 25-year environment plan. Amendment 10 would require draft regulations to be set before Parliament by October 2022, and Amendment 36 would create a new clause to deliver an overarching “plastics strategy” to Parliament. This would include a reduction in plastics use, waste and pollution as well as avoidance of harmful substitutions and measures to help to mitigate impacts on climate change.

We believe that these are necessary because current UK legislation, and indeed the proposals in the Bill, address only four of the top 10 types of plastic pollution—and, even then, only in part. Yet we are surrounded by evidence that plastic pollution is suffocating our planet: it is choking our wildlife and it is in the food that we eat and the air that we breathe. This is why we need a target and a strategy to reduce plastic pollution overall, rather than dealing with it piecemeal. This is what our amendments would deliver.

Meanwhile, the current target, in the resources and waste strategy, of eliminating all avoidable plastic waste by 2042 is simply not bold enough. We had an excellent debate on this issue in Committee, and it attracted widespread support. There was huge frustration that the Government are not being tougher on this issue. Noble Lords all had excellent examples of how waste plastic was damaging their local habitats and waterways, how discarded fast-food containers were littering the streets, how wet wipes were blocking the sewers and how single-use plastic bags were fouling our rivers and destroying marine life. Then there are plastic sachets of cosmetic goods, single-use plastic masks and polystyrene packaging—the list goes on and on. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, rightly made the point that health issues also arise from plastic waste, which is increasingly being digested by humans in the food chain, with as-yet unknown consequences for public health.

All the evidence shows that the public want to see urgent action to limit the use of plastic. They increasingly understand the environmental damage that it can cause. Almost 80% of British people are trying to use less single-use plastic—but, although they are doing their bit, they also want action by businesses and government to address the main causes of plastic pollution, so there would not be a political problem in moving more quickly on this issue.

I acknowledge that the Government have taken some action already: the action on microbeads and plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds is welcome, as is the increased charge for plastic bags. However, with the best will in the world, these issues are just the low-hanging fruit; they do not address the major causes of plastic pollution. We know that just 10 products, including plastic bags, bottles, food containers and fishing gear, account for three-quarters of global ocean litter. Plastic bottles and beverage containers alone contribute 33% of plastic pollution in our oceans and are a major source of street litter, despite the fact that alternative, recyclable drinks containers already exist.

It is a step forward that the Government have now announced that they are taking action on plastic knives, forks and plates—but this involves yet another consultation on a very small part of the plastics mountain, with an implementation date of 2023 at the earliest. We will make very slow progress if the Government are going to have a separate consultation on every knife, fork and spoon in production. Meanwhile, the EU and the devolved nations are already moving ahead on implementing a ban on these items.

The fact is that action on plastics so far has been painfully slow and beset by delays. As it stands, the Bill simply gives the Secretary of State powers to act on these issues; it does not set meaningful deadlines for change. In his response to the debate in Committee, the Minister talked about needing

“a more holistic approach to reduce consumption, not just of plastic, but of all materials.”—[Official Report, 23/6/21; col. 255.]

He said that that was why he felt that a long-term approach was needed—but we do not need to wait until 2042 for this holistic approach to be rolled out.

We all want to see a more circular economy with more resource efficiency and less waste. We also understand the need to guard against undesirable substitutions for plastics, but we believe that our deadline of 2030 is quite modest and would deliver the more holistic approach we all recognise is necessary. I therefore hope that noble Lords will see the sense of our amendment and give it support. I give notice that I am minded to press it to a vote, depending on the Minister’s response. In the meantime, I beg to move.

Photo of Viscount Colville of Culross Viscount Colville of Culross Crossbench

My Lords, I have added my name to Amendments 8 and 36. It has been four years since “Blue Planet II” seared on our minds the image of the pilot whale mother refusing to let go of her dead calf. In the commentary, David Attenborough tells viewers that it could have been poisoned by its mother’s milk, contaminated with microplastics she had absorbed from the plastic pollution in the ocean. It thrust into the public mind the unseen blight of microplastic pollution on our planet, which is destroying the health, and often the lives, of billions of creatures. New studies show that it is also having an adverse impact on human health.

This pollution comes not just from broken down plastic packaging and products but from microbeads in our cosmetics. As the Minister has said repeatedly during this Bill, the Government want to deal with this problem holistically. However, the clauses he cites to support this claim and the action the Government have already taken to reduce plastic pollution will give neither a holistic response nor the means by which it can be measured.

The noble Baroness, Lady Whitchurch, mentioned the ban on microbeads in rinse-off personal care products. It is important to emphasise that, while this is laudable, the ban still allows trillions of microbeads from cosmetic and sunscreen products to pollute our seas. This now represents nearly 9% of microplastic pollution. Of course I welcome the Government’s ban on plastic stirrers and cotton buds and the consultation launched on plastic cutlery and plates, which is to take place this autumn. These are supported by voluntary agreements, such as Textiles 2030 and the plastics pact. All these measures are important, but they are piecemeal attempts to deal with a massive planet-wide problem. To tackle such a huge issue, we need to look at the economy as a whole and for this country to lead the world in creating a path to resolving the dreadful scourge of plastic pollution. Equally importantly, we need to know that, beyond the warm words, progress is being achieved.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has explained the deficiencies in the 2018 government resources and waste strategy. It is a very ambitious document; I spent much of the first lockdown reading it and felt that the Government had the issue in hand when I first read it. However, the target to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by 2042—although excellent and most welcome—misses out the steps to achieve that target. To reach any target you need milestones along the way that allow industry and consumers alike to organise a progressive and achievable series of intermediary targets. That is what proposed new subsection (2) of Amendment 8 offers, with an earlier target of 31 December 2030. I fear that without progressive plastic reduction targets for the coming years, we will not succeed in beating one of the great scourges of our times.

I am aware that there are doubts about the targets for measuring microplastic pollution and how it can be measured. In the past there have been similar doubts about measuring carbon emissions. However, scientists have come up with amazingly accurate metrics in this field. The same is being achieved for plastics pollution. The Joint Research Centre of the EC worked with 100 laboratories across the globe last year and came up with 16 different methods for measuring plastics in the water. If a target is included in the legislation, I hope the OEP can work with these scientists to harmonise the best ways to measure and monitor the problem.

It is in the Government’s interest to focus the public’s minds on the steps they are taking to reduce plastic pollution. If they can prove by December 2030 that they are being effective, the public support will be enormous. Recent polls show that 92% of people in this country are concerned about this issue. It is easier for the public to monitor visible plastic pollution such as litter and discarded plastic masks; however it is harder to focus the public’s minds on the invisible microplastic pollution which makes up 50% of plastic pollution in the ocean. I ask the Minister to respond to public concern by having a target for reduction in nine years’ time, which can quantify the effect of the Government’s action.

I have also put my name down to Amendment 36, which calls for a plastics strategy for England. I am glad this is grouped with Amendment 8. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, pointed out, the two amendments work in tandem. A plastics strategy on the face of the Bill will allow Parliament to hold the Government to account on tackling this issue, and a plastics pollution target will allow that strategy to be checked against quantifiable goals. The only reason I can think of why the Government would not want to introduce a pollution target is a fear that they might fail to meet it.

I ask your Lordships’ House to support Amendment 8. In doing so, noble Lords will respond to a huge public concern. In the coming years, it will allow Parliament to hold the Government’s feet to the fire and ensure that this country leads the world in determinedly and continually bearing down on the scourge of plastics pollution in all its forms.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green 9:45 pm, 6th September 2021

My Lords, I have signed Amendment 8, and I support the others in this group. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, not just on an excellent, very clear introductory speech but on her relatively simple, clear Amendment 8. Is it not obvious to everybody that we need to reduce the volume of non-essential single-use plastic products—and more than just plastic, but plastic predominantly?

Plastic is the most incredible material. I could not function without it. But, before lockdown, my partner and I had reduced our single-use disposable plastic to virtually nothing. Covid put a hole in that, because so much food is wrapped up and there was not much choice. But now we do have a choice, and it is obvious to everybody that we have to encourage a policy environment that diverts food manufacturers and retailers towards, for example, compostable materials for food-contact packaging instead of plastics. Of course, we have to make sure we can compost those materials easily and not just by some special arrangement with local authorities.

A Plastic Planet is a global solutions organisation, and it has the single goal of inspiring the world to turn off the plastics tap by working with politicians, the UN, scientists and industry to convey the importance of the situation and to take action in reducing the use of plastic. It has created several schemes. Our Government could just pick up many of those schemes and use them immediately; they are ready-made and oven-ready.

According to 2020 figures from WRAP, flexible plastic represents a quarter of all UK consumer packaging, and plastic packaging is 40% of global plastic production. It is a problem. Only 4% of that consumer plastic packaging is currently recycled. The rest ends up in landfill or incineration, contaminating other waste streams such as food waste or, worse, our oceans and natural habitats where wildlife is threatened. It is threatened not just by contamination but by direct injury. We have all seen photographs of animals tied up, and birds tied up in plastic and dying. As WRAP acknowledges in its road map:

“Urgent action is required to address the complex challenges that underpin this: poor design, collection infrastructure, inconsistent communications, sorting challenges, reprocessing technology, capacity and unstable end markets.”

The Government claim to be a leader in tackling plastics pollution, but Greenpeace pointed out that they are actually fuelling the plastics crisis. The UK is the biggest contributor to this waste production behind the USA. What we do is force our waste on other countries. Some have refused, but, apparently, 40% of our plastic waste is sent to Turkey, where of course it is producing serious health problems for the people in the surrounding areas, such as respiratory issues, nosebleeds and headaches. So the Government are fuelling not just the nature emergency but health crises as well, and you have to take responsibility for that.

The Green Party has a long-term policy whose aim is to have no more than 20% residual waste and to recycle and compost more than 80%: also, to have the costs of disposal charged to all district councils in direct relation to the quantity of waste collected for disposal by each district. This provides an incentive to district councils to promote waste reduction and increase recycling, as they will save directly on disposable costs. I hesitate to put more pressure on councils, because they are already incredibly strap-cashed—I mean cash-strapped; it is getting very late for me, it is 50 minutes past my bedtime. They are already deprived of funds by this Government, so they would have to be funded to do this.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative

I am very persuaded by my noble friend’s argument for a holistic approach to waste. Could my noble friend take this opportunity, in the context of these amendments, to set out how his approach would differ from the circular economy which we were signed up to when we were members of the European Union? I hate to deprive the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, of her beauty sleep, but, at the risk of doing so, I will ask my noble friend why we are continuing and indeed increasing our export to countries such as Turkey and, I understand, other third countries, considering that we have the facilities to dispose. We are a first-world country and have much better facilities to dispose of this. My understanding is that landfill sites, certainly in England, are full and that many have already closed. I just wonder how, in the context of disposing in particular of plastic waste, we will address this issue as a responsible Government.

Photo of Lord Blencathra Lord Blencathra Chair, Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, Chair, Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to listen to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, but I was getting increasingly worried, over the years, that I was tending to agree with so much of what she said. Then I realised, when I saw her sitting temporarily behind me, that she might be a closet Conservative after all. I was quite overwhelmed and thought how much more joy there is over one sinner that repenteth than over 99 just persons.

I was tempted to support these amendments, even to the point of a vote. When I heard the announcement last week from my noble friend at Defra that they were planning to ban single-use cutlery and plastic plates, I asked myself: if a Minister has the power to do this without putting anything in the Bill, can he extend it to other plastics as well? That is my main question for him. If he can do that, I would like him to target my bête noire which, initially, is polystyrene. There is absolutely no justification now for any polystyrene food dishes whatever: whether they are used as takeaways, for carry-outs or plastic cups, there are paper alternatives.

The other totally unjustified use of polystyrene—without rehearsing the speech I made in Committee—is in packaging material, whether it is those awful plastic bubbles that go everywhere and get stuck to everything under the sun, or large pieces of polystyrene holding televisions or tape recorders and so on. There is no need for them whatever, because cardboard can do the job infinitely better—it is just as sound and can protect valuable material. I also suggest that that should be a target: one could move on that very quickly indeed. The polystyrene used in house construction is another matter; it could take longer to come up with an alternative.

There is a final form of plastic I would like the Minister to tackle. If one buys ready meals, for example, some seem to come in grey containers, some in white containers and some in black containers, but I understand that if they are all mixed together in recycling, the whole thing is useless—only some of them are recyclable. So I simply say to my noble friend that, if he has powers to do so, can he start to compel the food manufacturers and supermarkets to go for a plastic microwavable dish that is recyclable and get rid of those which destroy the recyclability of the good ones?

Those are the only points I wish to make to my noble friend and I come back to my question: can he reassure me that he and Defra have all the necessary powers, in due course, to ban any other forms of plastic, whether it is horrible little sachets with shampoo in them, plastic food containers or polystyrene? That is all I seek from my noble friend tonight.

Photo of Viscount Trenchard Viscount Trenchard Conservative

My Lords, there is an emerging consensus that plastics are worse for the environment than other substances used in single-use products. The plastics tax scheduled to be introduced next year will create an incentive for suppliers to shift away from plastics towards other substances, such as glass, aluminium and cardboard. However, this will not necessarily benefit the environment in all cases. I agree very much with what my noble friend Lord Blencathra just said about polystyrene, but the situation as far as plastic bottles are concerned is different. The carbon footprint released by the manufacture of glass and aluminium is around five times greater than that released by PET manufacturing. In other ways, too, PET has advantages over other substances for water and soft drinks bottles. Do we want a return to the days when there was a significant risk of cutting your foot on broken glass discarded on a beach?

Furthermore, there is growing public acceptance of a higher proportion of recycled material within bottles on the market today. Many brands of bottled water now supply bottles containing 50% recycled material. As far as plastic bottles are concerned, the answer is surely to introduce a deposit return scheme similar to that in operation in Germany, which should enable us to equal the German achievement of recycling 98% of plastic bottles compared with our record of around 68%.

Amendment 36 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, would introduce a plastic strategy for England. I think it should cover other materials besides plastics. It is also essential that discussions with the devolved authorities result in the adoption of a single coherent strategy for the United Kingdom as a whole. The Scottish deposit scheme, for example, requires producers to provide a great deal of detailed information, but, bizarrely, does not require labelling to state clearly whether a product can be recycled. This is very difficult for small brewers that sell through wholesalers that distribute products in England and Scotland.

I do not know whether the noble Baroness and her co-signatories recognise the conflict inherent in subsection (3) of their proposed new clause. Subsection (3)(a) seeks to achieve

“a reduction in single use plastics”.

This is surely incompatible with subsection (3)(b), because the shift to greater use of glass and aluminium will result in increased carbon emissions.

As far as bottles are concerned, if we can move to a culture of recycling based on an effective deposit return scheme, there are reasons to retain PET. We should not throw the baby out with the bath-water.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

My Lords, my noble friend raises an important point: we must not condemn plastic out of hand if it is a better option than another. Regarding Amendment 36, which is the one that I like in this group, his concerns will be covered under proposed subsection (2), where the Secretary of State sets out his objectives. If the objective quite clearly states that plastic is the best material for a particular process and preferable to another for carbon, the strategy would take that into account.

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Chair, Built Environment Committee, Chair, Built Environment Committee

My Lords, I rise mainly to speak to Amendment 8, though my observations are also relevant to the other proposals. I share the mover’s desire to reduce plastic use and plastic waste, especially given the damage they are doing to our rivers and oceans and the creatures they support. We have all seen the horrific pictures of fish throttled by plastic, and there is growing awareness of the growth of plastic use and its irresponsible disposal—but this amendment would not provide the best way to achieve the desired objectives.

The proposals are inappropriately interventionist and wasteful of administrative effort and political capital. They are also insufficiently radical, as they mainly focus on single-use plastic. Using a bag, a cup or a fork—or, indeed, a plastic car part—twice is only marginally better than using it only once. The question is whether the use of the resource is justified or whether the need could be satisfied in a way that did not use damaging plastic.

I am also of the view that we should not focus the Bill and our efforts on yet another strategy and yet more targets in this area. We need action now—I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, feels the same way—and preferably on an international basis. What plans does the Minister have to encourage international effort in this area? Do the Government perhaps envisage raising it at COP 26, when all those who could drive real change on plastics are gathered together?

We also need research to develop and get to market substitute products that break down safely and rot in a few years. I have seen everyday plastics that break down within 18 months pioneered at Imperial College. The French have developed plastic substitutes made from vegetable crops and the Italian fashion industry has pioneered the reuse of plastics such as fishing nets in its designer clothing. Use of such technologies should be invested in around the world.

Plastic is oil based, and the stratospheric growth in its use needs to be reduced by international action and domestic taxation. Small changes such as the phasing out of plastic straws, forks and microbeads are fine and to be commended, but they do not begin to bring about the change in resource use that we need. Sadly, the Government have been too slow in reducing the damage caused by plastics. I have been calling for many years for a decent national recycling system for plastics, with proper labelling of products and recycling bins backed by sensible incentives to replace the motley collection of schemes run by different local authorities. I welcome the move towards a single, consistent scheme of recycling across the UK, and ask my noble friend the Minister when that will come in. In this case, we should have a uniform system of bins and labelling to get recycling up from current levels, reducing the pressure on landfill, which has been mentioned in this debate, and making it easy for the consumer to help with the change that we need in plastic use.

In conclusion, I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for the progress that is at last being made on plastics with this Bill—and I think there are a lot of powers in the Bill—but I urge him to focus on the detail and actually to deliver. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, for initiating this debate, but I believe that her objectives could be better met by other means.

Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 10:00 pm, 6th September 2021

My Lords, given the hour, I will try not to duplicate the contributions of others. I will speak to Amendment 8, which I have signed, and I support Amendments 10 and 36 in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and others. The noble Baroness introduced this important group of amendments with knowledge and passion. Others have also spoken with passion and repeated their comments from Committee.

Plastic pollution is all around us, yet we seem unable of our own free will to tackle its use, reduce its impact and move to alternatives. It is therefore imperative that we use the opportunity of the Environment Bill to take bold steps to legislate to ensure that plastic use and pollution are reduced as quickly and effectively as possible. It is, of course, true that not all single-use items are made of plastic. Other items have a limited use, and it is time to move away from a throw-away society. Plastic is the most invidious and long-lasting material, contaminating our countryside, waterways and seas. It kills our wildlife, which becomes entangled in its web, and poisons those animals and birds that unwittingly eat it.

A target for reducing the use of plastics must be set for December 2030. This target must be stringent to be effective. Vital to achieving reduction in the use of plastics is a properly thought-out plastics strategy. This should be laid before Parliament by March 2023. This is not an unreasonable target for completion. Plastic reduction was trailed in the 25-year environment plan, and much work has been done on this subject already.

I welcome the contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and agree that we should not be exporting our waste to other countries; I spoke to that in Committee. Microplastics are present in all areas of our life: our oceans, landscapes and mountains. All around us, microplastics are polluting our lives and wildlife. Plastic bottles and polystyrene packaging and food wrap, however well designed, are still causing pollution. Microplastics, which occur from plastics breaking down into tiny pieces, must be tackled. Legislation to ban microbeads in wash-off products was welcome, but this dealt with only 1% of plastic pollution, whereas beverage litter contributes to 33% and tyre dust to 18%. It is really time that we met this challenge head on and produced both targets for plastics reduction and a proper plastics strategy to ensure that this happens, with milestones to ensure that progress is being made.

The country as a whole is extremely concerned about the use of plastic and the pollution it produces, the effect it is having on our wildlife and the unsightly detritus around our countryside. Now is the time to show that the Government are taking this matter seriously. If the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, presses the amendment to a vote, we on the Liberal Democrat Benches will be supporting her.

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this important debate. The Government of course share the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, regarding plastic pollution, and we are already working hard to address this urgent issue. Building on the action taken to date on the most commonly littered items, we announced just a few weeks ago that we will carry out a consultation this autumn on banning single-use plastic plates, cutlery and polystyrene drinks containers. The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, will be pleased with the last one, and I confirm that the answer to his question is yes: we already have the power to extend that ban to any items that cause environmental damage. I strongly agree with his condemnation of the foam used to protect televisions, sachets and all the rest of it. I hope that we will be able to go much further than we currently have.

The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, made the point about the carbon footprint of plastic versus the alternatives. He is right in some circumstances—a paper bag versus a plastic bag, for example—but it is not just about carbon, as a number of noble Lords have said. The damage that plastic does when it gets into the environment goes far beyond its carbon impact, as we saw in those extraordinary David Attenborough images.

Regarding Amendments 8, 10 and 36, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, the Government’s view is that publishing a separate plastics strategy and setting a plastics target in isolation from the wider waste agenda risks detracting from the action that we are taking now to achieve our overarching circular economy ambitions. It is worth emphasising that our profligate attitude to resources is doing immeasurable harm to the natural world, and not just our use of plastic. Extraction and processing of those resources in the round contributes to about half of the total global greenhouse gas emissions, as well as 90% of biodiversity loss. And the problem is growing. Globally, we extract three times the amount of resources from nature as we did in 1970, and that figure is set to double again within a generation unless we change course.

The Government are committed to reviewing the resources and waste strategy every five years, and this provides an opportunity to set out further detail on our approach to tackling plastic pollution within our transition to a circular economy. The Bill already requires the Government to set and achieve at least one long-term target on resource efficiency and waste reduction, and we intend to set a target to reduce consumption of all materials, including plastic. In addition, the Government are already exploring packaging recycling targets, under the proposals for extended producer responsibility for packaging. We have made progress to increase reuse and recycling and combat unnecessary single-use plastics. The Government introduced bans on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds last year, and I have already outlined our next steps to build on that. Following the success of the carrier bag charge in reducing consumption of single-use carrier bags by 95% in the main supermarkets by 2020, the Government have increased and extended it to all retailers in May this year.

In addition, this Bill includes a number of measures targeting all stages of a product’s lifecycle, which will enable the Government to further tackle plastics and plastic waste as well as drive toward a more circular economy. These measures include powers to enable us to apply extended producer responsibility across a wide range of material and product streams, introduce deposit return schemes and establish greater consistency in the recycling system—a point made by my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe. The Bill will also allow us to place charges on single-use plastic items, set minimum resource efficiency and information requirements for products, and ban the export of plastic waste to non-OECD countries.

In response to a comment made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, local authorities have always been, and will always be, under pressure, but we have committed that any additional cost incurred as a consequence of this Bill will be covered by central government.

On the international front, we are very much engaged in trying to encourage other countries to tackle their waste problems. We set up the Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance, and well over half of Commonwealth members have signed up and committed to it. Many of them have already introduced legislation to reduce single-use plastics. We are one of the leading countries calling for an international plastics treaty—a sort of Kyoto agreement for plastic—and we are very active members and funders of the Global Ghost Gear Initiative. More than half of the waste in our oceans is actually ghost gear, abandoned fishing gear, as opposed to plastic bags and the like. We are doing a great deal internationally. We can and should do more, but we are objectively world leaders in relation to the international campaign.

This Bill provides a robust approach for ambitious targets and takes action to achieve them. The amendments are therefore worthy but unnecessary. I hope the examples that I have put forward reassure the noble Baroness that we are very much on the case in tackling single-use plastic as well as plastic more broadly, and I beg that she withdraws her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken. Once again, the examples that people have given underline the scope and scale of the task. I think there was also consensus on the need for urgent action.

I have listened carefully to what the Minister had to say. I absolutely accept, of course, that there are consultations taking place, but our concern always has been and continues to be that they are happening on a piecemeal basis. It is also true that the Bill gives Ministers powers to take further action but, again, there are no deadlines in the Bill for those measures, so we are left waiting—step by step, item by item—for progress to be made. I know that there is a lot of activity, but not much is landing at the moment in terms of practical measures to cut back on the use of plastic.

The fundamental problem here is that the Bill has a fragmented approach to reducing plastic pollution rather than, as I was saying earlier, a holistic approach to tackling all plastic pollution. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, that our Amendment 8 is not just about single-use plastics; it is about an overall reduction in the plastic in circulation, setting a precise target that we believe will focus minds and deliver what the public are crying out for. There is huge public pressure for this.

The Bill has measures on resource efficiency and waste production, and those are welcome, but, as it is framed, it is likely to miss out, for example, lightweight plastic products and microplastics, which have little monetary value but cause huge damage to the ecosystem —one of the points that the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, was making. It is also true that it says very little about other important issues, such as discarded fishing gear, plastic pellets and synthetic fibres, which are part of the campaign of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, that there is the continuing scandal of exporting our waste. I heard what the Minister said about that and I am pleased to hear that those talks are taking place but, again, this requires more urgent and immediate action.

Fundamentally, we believe that our amendment is practical and achievable. In a sense, it is much easier than some of the complex issues that we were talking about earlier, to do with tackling soil and air quality. This is something to which we know the solution now—we know the answers. For most of the issues that we are talking about, there are alternatives to using plastic. It is not as though we are waiting for the science to catch up with us.

A plastics strategy is required to reduce the use, manufacture and sale of single-use plastics. We need to make sure that we avoid switching to more damaging alternatives, but those issues can and should be delivered by 2030, in line with the other shorter-term measures in the Bill. It would require ambition and leadership, and that is what we expect from this Government.

Amendment 8 says that we should set a deadline for an overall reduction in the use of plastics. I am sure that everybody here agrees with that and believes that this is what needs to be done. We need to write it into the Bill, so that we can make sure it happens to a sensible deadline. It can be done by 2030, and we believe it should be.

I regret that the Government have not felt able to embrace our proposal, and on that basis I would like to test the opinion of the House.

Ayes 81, Noes 107.

Division number 4 Environment Bill - Report (1st Day) (Continued) — Amendment 8

Aye: 81 Members of the House of Lords

No: 107 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Amendment 8 disagreed.

Amendment 9 not moved.

Clause 4: Environmental targets: process

Amendment 10 not moved.

Consideration on Report adjourned.

House adjourned at 10.29 pm.