Amendment 34

Part of Environment Bill - Report (2nd Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 9:30 pm on 8th September 2021.

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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.