Amendment 33

Environment Bill - Report (2nd Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 9:03 pm on 8th September 2021.

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Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville:

Moved by Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville

33: Clause 51, page 31, line 6, at end insert “including fly-tipped items.”Member’s explanatory statementFarmers and landowners currently have to pay for the removal of all fly-tipping. This amendment is intended to extend the ‘polluter pays’ principle to fly-tipping.

Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, in speaking to this group of amendments in my name, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for adding her name to Amendments 33, 37 and 41. I will deal with the fly-tipping amendments first.

Fly tipping, and its effect on our environment, especially in rural areas, is a scourge, unsightly and extremely costly for landowners and farmers to remove. I am grateful to the Minister for his amendment to Schedule 10, but fear that it does not go far enough. Amendment 33 adds the words, “including fly-tipped items”; Amendment 37 adds the words:

“to remove all fly-tipping at the expense of the manufacturer or producer”.

Both amendments seek to ensure that the “polluter pays” principle applies to fly-tipped items. Amendment 39 allows farmers and landowners to install CCTV cameras where fly-tipping has occurred in the past. This very small suite of amendments allows the principle of the “polluter pays” to become a reality.

Currently, it is far too easy for those who have large, redundant items in their home or large amounts of green waste to fill up their trailers, cars or vans and travel around the country looking for some likely green lane, gateway or field in which to dump their waste. They do not wish to pay for legal disposal. The cost to the farmers and landowners is enormous, running into several thousands of pounds each year.

There are those who ditch ordinary household waste in the same way and pollute the countryside with what could be toxic chemicals. There are the professional criminals who cruise around villages and housing estates, spotting who is having a clear-out, and offer to take the waste away for a small fee. The householder jumps at the chance of not having to deal with the problem themselves and pays up, thinking that it is all sorted. These criminals then go on to a site which they have used before, often on many occasions, and dump the waste on the landowner and farmer’s land. The installation of CCTV at sites which are used more than once is essential to help farmers and landowners deal with this problem by identifying those responsible and bringing them to account.

The NFU is supportive of this group of amendments and hopes that offenders caught dumping waste illegally should see fines as a proper punishment, which will therefore act as a deterrent. Fly-tipping figures have increased to 1 million during lockdown and are likely to have risen as the country came out of lockdown. The eagle-eyed among you will note that I withdrew my amendment that asked the Government to recompense farmers and landowners for the costs of clearing up fly-tipping; this was a blatant attempt to make the amendment acceptable, at no cost to the Government. I hope that the Minister can accept these three amendments, which would benefit those who clear up the waste that others leave behind and allow for measures to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice.

Before I move on from this group, I refer to a small article in the Metro newspaper from 8 July, which I read on the tube. A farmer caught several fly-tippers in the act and

“blocked them in with a car, tractor and forklift truck”.

He was

“fed up with rubbish being left on his land, so set a trap”.

He said:

“‘Fly-tipping is regular here, so I parked the car across the gateway’ … One of the tippers threatened him, saying: ‘I’ll just smash my way out.’”

The farmer replied:

“‘That’s why I bought a £200 car.’ The dumpers left their truck at the scene and it was seized by the police who are investigating”.

I hope that a prosecution resulted from that incident.

Amendment 41 does not really fit with the other amendments, but in the interests of moving things along I agreed to group it with the others. This articulates an extremely important point of principle about compostable packaging. Big brands are expanding their use of these materials in the search for alternatives to plastics. Meanwhile, consumers seek out compostable packaging, with 83% of them saying in polling that they prefer it to traditional plastic. The question is how the materials are then composted. Food waste schemes provide the means for compostable materials to be disposed of safely and efficiently, but only if there is consistency across England, so that consumers know that these materials should go in their food waste bin.

The amendment refers to flexible materials, properly certified to internationally recognised standards. The items that we are really concerned with are films, which are very difficult to recycle. Indeed, the amount that is recycled remains stubbornly low, at only 6%, according to WRAP figures. In Committee, the Minister said to me:

“If a plastic is genuinely compostable and not going to break down into small particles of plastic that will do even more harm, including it in food waste to compost would make perfect sense. However, we are not there yet from a technological point of view. We certainly do not have the confidence to do that.”—[Official Report, 30/6/21; cols. 916-7.]

At that time, I asked the Minister for a meeting, to which he agreed. Despite pressing his private office to arrange this, there has been no offer of the promised meeting to discuss the straightforward difference of understanding between us on this issue. Evidence from the Association for Renewable Energy and Clean Technology, whose members include composting and AD plants, shows that 42 composting plants and some of the 90 AD plants treating food waste are currently able to accept and process compostable packaging. These plants would welcome a visit from the Minister.

The UK Plastics Pact sets a target to ensure that 70% of plastics are effectively recycled or composted by 2025. That cannot happen while a quarter of plastic packaging is flexible material but only a tiny fraction can be recycled, particularly where the film is very thin and where it is food-contaminated. Compostables must be part of the picture. In answering Amendment 41, would the Minister please agree to meet compostable film producers, as well as those composting them successfully, and to visit one of the sites where this is happening? If he is not satisfied with the current evidence, would he commission research, through Defra, to look at how bioplastics are processed in composting plants here in the UK? It cannot be right for these materials to be stripped out by processing plants and incinerated or sent to landfill. This is betraying the customer and the consumer. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

My Lords, it is a pleasure to support the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville. I apologise for not having signed the CCTV amendment; I did not spot it. Fly-tipping is something that I do not think any of us would support. Of course, it has inherent dangers, not only to the public but to wildlife in affected areas, especially if it contains toxic materials such as asbestos. There can be damage to watercourses and soil quality from the dumped waste.

Greenpeace has some quite interesting stuff on this. It has been checking areas and samples of materials resembling topsoil, covering large areas of the ground at sites where plastic waste has been burned because people do not know what to do with it, were found to be composed of shredded plastic and not earth at all. That then just gets washed out everywhere. We all know what microplastics are doing to our ecosystem.

I shall keep my remarks brief because we are all tired, but I point out that the Local Government Association is also urging people to dispose of their waste properly, which is fair enough, using the nearest household waste and recycling centre. It has worked tirelessly to keep these open during the pandemic. It also talks about wanting furniture and mattress companies, for example, to do more to offer take-back services to reduce the amount of waste produced. That is something we have not explored enough. In places such as Germany, they take back lots of packaging and so on, and they will take back items. We are very behind on that in this country.

Amendment 41, about plastic, deals with a very complex area. A lot of the plastics that are called biodegradable, disposable and so on are actually not. We have to be very sure: what we need are definitions of what “biodegradable” and “compostable” mean. We need plastic—so-called plastic or whatever it is—to be compostable in average situations; that is, in my compost heap and not necessarily under ideal temperature- controlled conditions. I would argue that these amendments are very valuable and give all sorts of good ideas to the Government. I hope they take them up.

Photo of The Duke of Montrose The Duke of Montrose Conservative

My Lords, I am very glad to join in this debate on fly-tipping, spilling over into the world of plastic disposal. I am a farmer, and the NFU has voiced its support, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, mentioned, because it is a huge problem in some areas, along with all anti-social behaviour. Around where I am, the anti-social thing tends to be people taking things away rather than bringing things along, but that is another topic. They come and chop down trees to have bonfires and so on.

Perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, can tell us what she has discovered about restrictions on having CCTV. It is very easy nowadays. We have done it already. We have a movement-sensitive camera that can be set up anywhere. It will record whatever can be seen in infra-red so that you can do it at night. I do not know if there is a restriction in law that prohibits this being used as evidence, but it would be an important thing to do.

The grouping of this amendment has spilled over into the question of plastic disposal. As a farmer, I was interested to see how it affects the farming industry. Plastic packaging waste from agriculture represents approximately 1.5% of the overall volume of plastic packaging in the waste stream in England. The message I got from the NFU was that it recognises the pressing issue of plastic waste and supports the direction of travel of many retailers to either eliminate plastic packaging or replace it with compostable and recyclable material.

However, when looking to reduce plastic use, it is important that food safety and quality are not compromised. It is also important that the costs of replacement packaging are not merely passed down to the primary producer. Multilayer plastic films act as barriers to oxygen, water and aroma and are important for protecting food items such as fresh fruit and vegetables. Limiting the performance of specialised packaging could lead to an increase in food waste, which is already an issue in itself. The NFU and its membership have been working closely with retailers and WRAP to reduce waste on farms. Our involvement with Courtauld 2020 has allowed great strides in the understanding of food waste and steps to curb it.

A great deal of plastic, as anybody who has visited a farm nowadays will see, is used to preserve feedstuffs for animals. We have great quantities of, very often, black plastic. There is a recycling route for it but, of course, there are great difficulties with contamination. These are things that will gradually need to be overcome.

Photo of Lord Khan of Burnley Lord Khan of Burnley Opposition Whip (Lords) 9:15 pm, 8th September 2021

My Lords, I will speak to all the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, who has very passionately illustrated the scale of the problem and the urgent need to address it, both in Committee and today. Fly-tipping not only affects the hard work of our farmers in producing food and caring for the environment but takes a huge toll on farming families, both emotionally and financially.

As I have said, any type of fly-tipping is unacceptable, and it is key to prosecute fly-tippers and recover the clearance costs where possible. We also need to ensure that councils provide advice and guidance on measures that can be taken to prevent further fly-tipping. Those who produce pollution should bear the costs of managing it and preventing damage to human health or the environment. The polluter pays principle is part of a set of broader principles to guide sustainable development worldwide. This principle should extend to farming.

We are disappointed that the Government have not taken the initiative to fix this and respond to these amendments in a clear and direct manner. I remind the Minister that new data from the Environment Agency shows that farmers are the group most affected by large-scale, illegally dumped rubbish. The NFU’s recent rural crime survey revealed that fly-tipping was the most prolific crime experienced by its members, with 48% of those surveyed saying that they had experienced it in 2020. The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, reminded us of that point in relation to the concerns of the NFU. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, also mentioned it.

Nearly 50,000 people have signed an open letter demanding immediate action to tackle fly-tipping in the countryside, following a surge in waste crime during the Covid-19 lockdown. In an Oral Question on fly-tipping in the House of Lords on 23 June this year, I was very reassured to hear the Minister talk about launching the Joint Unit for Waste Crime. How has this worked out in terms of enforcement, specifically in relation to fly-tipping in rural communities? I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to the amendments. How will she reassure farmers who are calling for urgent action on the fly-tipping crisis in rural communities?

Photo of Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this important debate and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, for her amendments. I can only apologise that no meeting has taken place between her and the Minister; we have had a lot of meetings over the summer break, and it is a bit of a mystery to us as to why we have not followed up on this. We will investigate and a meeting will be expedited.

I begin by emphasising our commitment to tackling the crime of fly-tipping. We appreciate the difficulty and cost that fly-tipping poses to landowners. We expect all local authorities to exercise their power to investigate fly-tipping incidents on private land, prosecuting the fly-tippers and recovering clearance costs where possible.

Regarding Amendment 39, landowners are already permitted to install CCTV on their land. I am grateful to my noble friend the Duke of Montrose for his contribution. Defra chairs the National Fly-tipping Prevention Group, which has published advice for private landowners on dealing with fly-tipping. To reassure my noble friend, the NFU works very closely with Defra in this endeavour. It actually recommends that landowners consider installing CCTV to protect their property. Subject to data protection laws, landowners may also provide footage to law enforcement authorities to support prosecution cases.

The Environment Bill will give enforcing authorities more powers to tackle fly-tipping and other waste crime, including so-called Facebook fly-tippers operating from their homes. It also grants regulators additional charging powers that will enable them to raise extra funding to tackle waste crime and poor performance in the waste industry.

Turning to Amendments 33 and 37, extended producer responsibility clauses in the Bill already include provisions which could enable asking companies to take full responsibility for their products when they become waste, including when they have been unlawfully discarded. This can include the costs of removing littered or fly-tipped items, including from private land. Measures in the Bill on deposit return schemes will also allow the deposit management organisation to use money received under a scheme for the protection of the environment. This could include costs associated with the removal of littered or fly-tipped items. We have recently consulted on a deposit return scheme for drinks containers to help reduce littering and improve their recycling. While we are not currently considering introducing a deposit return scheme for other items, measures in the Bill will allow us to set up more deposit return schemes for other items, which could include those which are frequently tipped—for example, fridges and mattresses.

On Amendment 41, on compostable plastic, I sympathise with the concern of the noble Baroness. However, the infrastructure to process compostable plastic is not currently widespread enough to include these materials for collection with food waste. We just cannot be certain that compostable plastic can be treated at anaerobic digestion plants or composting facilities in a way that does not increase the plastic contamination in compost. However, I can confirm that the Minister would be delighted to meet representatives of one of these facilities in future. I should also reiterate that we can add compostables as a recycling stream on its own later, when we have the evidence. Evidence suggests that compostable and biodegradable plastics do not fully break down in the open environment and must be treated in industrial composting facilities to be broken down. There is also a lack of strong evidence that compostable plastics provide benefits to soils when successfully composted.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, is correct that at present there is no reasonable certainty over whether there are benefits to the final digestate—which I understand is a fertilizer—and compost products resulting from the inclusion of biodegradable and compostable plastic materials as feedstock. However, there are provisions in the Environment Bill to add additional waste streams, provided that they meet the conditions set out in the Bill and that we are clear on the environmental impacts. This will involve further necessary work to understand whether compostable packaging can meet the conditions set out in new subsection 45AZC(4). This must be met before further recyclable waste streams can be added for collection. We are currently analysing responses to our recycling consultation on reforms to recycling consistency, which sought views on the use of compostable caddy liners. I hope this reassures the noble Baroness of the Government’s intentions and I ask her to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, referred to local authorities urging householders to use household waste recycling centres, taking mattresses and other items there. That is really useful. The household waste recycling centre in our area is very well used. It has a camera feed on its website which shows what the queues are like, so that if you are at home and waiting to see what time to go in, you will usually find that you can get in between 5 pm and 6 pm without having to queue. Not enough people use those centres.

The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, spoke about movement-sensitive cameras. I am not convinced that they would be sufficient as evidence in court for a prosecution. However, the Minister said that Defra produces guidance for using CCTV in a way which would be sufficient evidence for a prosecution.

I welcome the deposit return schemes. I am very interested in their possibly including fridges, and they could probably be extended to washing machines, which often find their way into the countryside.

The noble Lord, Lord Khan of Burnley, referred to the petition which people have signed to say that they are outraged by fly-tipping. It is undoubtedly true that, as people walk or drive around their local areas, they are pretty disgusted by the amount of fly-tipped rubbish that has been left.

On compostable film, I am grateful to the Minister for the offer of a meeting and hope that this can now take place without delay. There is obviously some discrepancy between the information we have received from different sources, and it would be good to have it cleared up.

Having said that, I am satisfied with the response that I have received and am pleased to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 33 withdrawn.

Schedule 5: Producer responsibility for disposal costs