Amendment 34

Environment Bill - Report (2nd Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 9:15 pm on 8th September 2021.

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Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park:

Moved by Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park

34: Schedule 5, page 171, line 37, after “appoint” insert “, or make provision for the appointment of,”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment enables regulations to make provision for the appointment of an administrator for extended producer responsibility.

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)

My Lords, I am pleased table Amendments 34, 44 and 45, which will support the swifter and more effective implementation and operation of extended producer responsibility measures.

In Committee, we recognised that a priority of the House was to ensure that we are able to get extended producer responsibility regimes up and running as soon as possible. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, highlighted this on Monday. These amendments will save both time and money when setting up and running new schemes and will apply right across the UK.

The amendments allow us to adjust the provisions for appointing scheme administrators from a solely competitive procurement process to allow for the appointment process to be set out in regulations. This increased flexibility will benefit smaller schemes such as for single-use products. We anticipate in these instances that a process which would have previously taken 12 months could now take four.

Amendment 44 gives the Environment Agency, the Natural Resources Body for Wales and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency the same charging powers in relation to Schedule 5 as they have for Schedule 4, which is granted through Clause 64. This amendment allows them to make one scheme with both provisions from Schedules 4 and 5, as opposed to having to have two separate charging schemes.

Amendment 45 provides for the same powers for the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs. As a package, these amendments will enable the swifter establishment of extended producer responsibility schemes. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Chair, EU Environment Sub-Committee, Chair, EU Environment Sub-Committee

My Lords, the last time I spoke at this Report stage was on Monday, when we were talking about very macro issues around the emergencies of biodiversity and climate change. Those are really important, and I was very glad that the House saw that. However, we all know as well that the minutiae—the micro side—of how this Bill’s provisions are delivered are equally crucial to its success.

We also know that, on extended producer responsibility, the circular economy and making consumers fully informed about what they want to do and how they can make the right decisions for the environment they live in, those small issues are really important to make this Act—as it will be—a success in terms of its delivery.

So the reason I tabled this amendment—and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, for her support in this—is a very practical one: to make sure that when consumers see products, they are able to judge easily, straightforwardly and instantly in terms of a purchase decision—or a longer-term investment in other consumer goods—that they are making the right decision for the environment. Quite frankly, this amendment just states the obvious: to make sure that labelling within this country is single, straightforward and obvious and that consumers recognise it and act upon it. It does not ask that there is some sort of sham competitiveness in this area but that there is a single labelling scheme which is world class, as the Minister would want it to be; that it is clear, concise and consistent; and that labelling is the same whichever shop, retailer or e-commerce site you go to, so that it can be understood more and more as time goes on.

I tabled a similar amendment in Committee, and the Minister was sort of sympathetic but did not really say that this is what the Government saw. To me, it is obvious that this has to be the case. We know from the examples of energy efficiency labelling, and I think I used the example of how you wash your clothes in a washing machine, that those are the sorts of labels that people get to know and understand over time. It is in that way that we make sure that consumers and citizens who want the right thing for the environment are able to make the right choices.

This idea is not exactly a clever one, but it is very much supported by Which?, consumer associations and—my goodness—manufacturers, because it has to make sense. On that basis, I hope the Minister can give greater reassurance from the Dispatch Box—I will not take this to a vote; no way am I going to do that—that we are going to have consistency, transparency and the ability to enable consumers, as I said, to make the right choice for the environment through this system. I am sure that is what the Government want. What we do not want is the alternative: a shopper going into one high street shop and seeing one sort of labelling system, and then going on to an e-commerce site and seeing another. That does not make sense. We do not understand that. This is not an area where we should have competition; it is an area where we should have one excellence that meets those criteria.

I could not agree more with the government amendments. When I was a board member of the Marine Management Organisation, I was absolutely clear that these areas should be self-financing, in being able to reclaim costs, which I understand is part of the rationale behind the government amendments. Unfortunately, that was rejected during the passage of the Fisheries Act, but never mind. The amendment on nappies, from the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, is on the similar theme of consumer information and in an area that we have all experienced in life, but one in which the volume and effect is huge, as the noble Baroness illustrated in Committee. It is on the similar theme of making sure that consumers understand the impact of their purchasing decisions.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green 9:30 pm, 8th September 2021

My Lords, I speak to Amendment 125 in my name, kindly supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. As the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, noted—it is a pleasure to follow his contribution—these two amendments fit together well, because they are talking about consumers who desperately want to do the right thing, but we are simply not giving them the tools to make that possible, at the moment. Noble Lords may remember the background to this amendment, and it was just referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. In Committee, I moved a broad-ranging amendment addressed particularly at disposable nappies and an encouragement to replace them with reusable nappies. The Minister at that time kindly acknowledged how much larger this issue is than perhaps people think.

Since then, at this stage of the Bill, we have seen the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, table an amendment that covers part of the same territory as mine and which seeks to promote reusables. I was delighted to attach my name to that and I am sure the House will be a little surprised, and perhaps pleased, to see the noble Baroness and me co-operate on this.

I want to look at the other side of this, which is the problem with the grave misuse and abuse of language that we see in the labelling of nappies now. Speaking as a former sub-editor, it particularly offends me. Proposed new subsection (2) of the amendment sets out the way in which phrases such as

“reusable … biodegradable … eco-friendly … environmentally friendly” are put on nappies, because there are no legal limits to how those words can be used, and they are used misleadingly. As the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said, we have a problem of sham competitiveness. The market is out of control and regulation has failed to control the market.

To be concrete about what this means, a study carried out by YouGov at the start of the year found that 7% of nappy users wrongly put their disposable nappies into the recycling. In London, 11% of disposable nappy users were putting their nappies into the recycling. Among younger people, aged 18 to 24, 15% were putting their disposable nappies into the recycling. What does that mean? In Buckinghamshire, to take one example, 13% of lorry loads of recycling contained disposable nappies. It was estimated that, in Leicestershire, up to 4,000 disposable nappies were being removed from the recycling every day. They spoil all the material with which they come into contact, and they have to be removed by hand once they reach the sorting facility, which is extremely unpleasant and unhygienic for the person having to work in that recycling facility.

Why is this happening? A survey from 2019 carried out by the North London Waste Authority found that more than one-third of people who were doing this said that there is a recycling logo on the packaging. That may indeed mean that there is recycled plastic in the wrapping or something like that. One-fifth said it was because of the use of the term “disposable”, which they thought meant that the nappies could go into the recycling. We have to focus on how people desperately want to do the right thing and put as much as they possibly can into the recycling. Behind this, we have an industry-driven and company-driven approach to push recycling rather than reducing and reusing, which are the top two elements of the waste pyramid. We have a huge problem here.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, I do not intend to push my amendment to a vote tonight, but I do think we have to see much faster, more effective action from the Government. I suspect I shall hear in the Minister’s response terms such as “discussion”, “consultation” and “talking to the industry”. The industry is the problem. The solution is the Government putting down a line and saying, “You cannot use these words in a way that costs all of us money”. A few people and companies are profiting, and the rest of us are paying in all kinds of ways—environmentally, financially, through our local government costs and in the encounters we have, unfortunately, with nappies in places where they simply should not be. It is late. This is a big issue that covers a small area. I really would like to hear some progress from the Minister.

Photo of Baroness Boycott Baroness Boycott Crossbench

My Lords, I am in agreement with the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, on this amendment about nappies. Three billion a year are used in Britain. It is roughly 6,000 a baby and 8 million a day. It is a staggering number. The Ethical Consumer has found that only four brands in this very crowded market are genuinely recyclable or reusable.

I really urge the Government to take on this amendment because, especially in any area to do with babies—which I know very well from the world of baby food—the terms “sustainable”, “organic” or anything that makes you think it is all right always sells. It is a free for all, wild west market out there and, frankly, nappies are money for old rope for these companies, so they want to stick on incredible claims of all the things parents want to believe. Accepting this amendment would be doing everyone a huge favour. This is something we can do something about and we do not need to waste our time on it.

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

My Lords, I am grateful to those noble Lords who have spoken in this debate at this late hour. First, we support the Government’s amendments that the Minister has introduced, and we are grateful to him for his meeting on some of these subjects.

Secondly, I have every sympathy with Amendment 35 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, which would require

“clear, consistent and validated labelling” on goods to ensure that consumers can make informed choices and care for their purchases in the most energy-efficient ways. He has given some excellent examples of the challenges consumers currently face with competing styles and content of labels. In particular, the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, drew attention to the criteria for labelling which already exist in the United Nations Environment Programme and Consumers International.

In his response to a similar debate in Committee, the Minister said:

“The precise design of future labels or other means of communicating product information will be subject to further policy development, including evidence gathering, analysis and consultation.”—[Official Report, 30/6/21; col. 880.]

In his follow-up letter, he set out how the Government were looking closely at how best to enable consumers to make more sustainable purchasing decisions. I simply say to the Minister that there is some urgency in getting on with this work. I hope that if, as we have heard, standard labelling systems are already available on an international level, we will take the opportunity to embrace those standards and apply those lessons, rather than creating a whole new system from scratch.

Finally, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, for once again raising the important issue of single-use nappy waste, the need for incentives for individuals to use reusable nappies, the need for a better campaign to inform users of the environmental damage caused by disposable nappies and the ready availability of eco-friendly alternatives. As we have heard, there are some shocking statistics about the adverse impact of millions of disposable nappies on the environment. They are being dumped in huge quantities into landfill and being misplaced into recyclable waste streams, where they contaminate whole batches of otherwise recyclable materials. As the noble Baroness rightly said, there is considerable misinformation among parents about the content of nappies and how they should be disposed of. We agree that there is a need for a huge information campaign and a cultural shift in attitudes, as well as help for those who cannot afford reusable nappies in the first place.

In the Committee debate, the Minister made it clear that Defra is taking this issue seriously, both by taking powers in the Bill to act and by commissioning an environmental assessment of the waste and energy impacts of washable and disposable products. I say to him simply that those actions cannot come soon enough and I hope he is hearing the strength of feeling and unanimity of noble Lords who have contributed to this debate.

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) 9:45 pm, 8th September 2021

I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this debate.

I begin with Amendment 125, proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. We are very much aware of the environmental issues associated with absorbent hygiene products—which makes them sound a lot nicer—including those relating to incorrect disposal. We recognise the importance of the issue and have commissioned an independent environmental assessment of the relative impact of washable and disposable nappies. With that research added to the evidence base, as well as the powers in the Bill to make secondary legislation, we will be in a good position to take action where necessary and appropriate. I assure the noble Baroness that this includes action along the lines set out in her amendment.

I also assure the noble Baroness that the powers we are seeking through the Bill will allow us, among other things, to set standards for nappies and introduce labelling requirements. We will be able to mandate product labels to require specific information about products such as nappies; for example, regarding their environmental impact or how best to dispose of them. We will also be able to introduce a requirement for products to have marks or symbols signifying that they meet certain standards.

Briefly, in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, on a point also made by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, new guidance to be produced shortly by the Competition and Markets Authority will address issues relating to environmental claims. That, we hope, will help business to both understand and comply with its existing obligations under consumer protection law.

I turn to Amendment 35, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. I reassure noble Lords that the powers he is asking for in his amendment are already covered by the powers set out in Schedule 6. In fact, it is fair to say that the powers in the Bill are broader than the amendment specifies; for example, we are able to regulate how information might be provided. I agree that it is essential for labelling to be consistent, simple, clear and understandable, and that will be a central consideration as we develop and introduce regulations.

I end by agreeing and very much empathising with the frustration expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. Like all my colleagues in Defra, we want this work to happen very quickly. There is an unavoidable process but we are pushing as hard as we can. I hope that I have managed to reassure noble Lords that the Government are aware of the environmental issues associated with absorbent hygiene products as well as the importance of clear, consistent labelling regimes. That is why we have included powers in the Bill to tackle those specific issues. I ask noble Lords to not move their amendments.

Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Chair, EU Environment Sub-Committee, Chair, EU Environment Sub-Committee

I understand that this is Report and I seek clarification. The problem is that this is a broader issue, as the Minister said. I am just trying to clarify whether the Government are committed to a single, consistent system of labelling in terms of recycling and extended producer responsibility. Will there be one system or is it still open for there to be multiple systems?

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 can confirm to the noble Lord that we will do everything we can to ensure a simple, understandable and clear system. I cannot tell him whether there will be a single system but clarity, simplicity and transparency are absolutely the driving considerations.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

The Minister said that the Government would seek to help businesses understand their obligations. I hope—perhaps he can reassure me—that the intention is to regulate the activities of businesses so that they do not continue to profit while the rest of us pay.

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)

The goal is to ensure that businesses understand their obligations under existing law and to avoid the problem of misleading labels around environmental performance. If the evidence points us towards regulation, then that is what we will do.

Amendment 34 agreed.

Schedule 6: Resource efficiency information

Amendment 35 not moved.

Amendment 36 not moved.

Schedule 8: Deposit schemes

Amendments 37 and 39 not moved.

Consideration on Report adjourned.