In February 2020, we committed to Northern Ireland’s continued participation in the development of UK-wide proposals to reform the packaging producer responsibility system and the introduction of a deposit return scheme (DRS). The plan is to consult on these schemes this year. Powers are being taken in the Westminster Environment Bill to provide for a deposit return scheme for Northern Ireland, alongside England and Wales. Such a scheme can significantly increase the recycling and recyclability of single-use drinks containers. A deposit return scheme could also result in a substantial reduction in the amount of littering in Northern Ireland. Germany, Norway and the Netherlands, for example, have achieved collection and recycling rates of 98%, 97% and 95% respectively for plastic drinks bottles. The options for the scope of material and size of container, deposit level and model of a DRS will be presented in the forthcoming consultation.
I thank the Minister and wish him well in his new role. It is certainly no reflection on him when I say that I hope that he is not in post for long. I sincerely wish Edwin Poots a full and swift recovery.
As Health Minster, Edwin Poots recognised the value of cross-border, North/South collaboration. Is the Minister aware of any discussions that have taken place with the Irish Government on the coordination of a deposit return scheme across the island?
First, I thank the Member for his kind words. I do not intend to be here too much longer either. I can assure him that I will leave with grace when the time comes. I will not incite crowds to attack Dundonald House in the hope that I can stay longer.
The Member makes specific reference to the cooperation that has existed with the Republic of Ireland. It is not intended that we take forward the scheme on an island-wide basis, and that is for a number of reasons. First, we are doing a UK-wide scheme because that will be consistent with the packaging that will be in place. There is also the issue of waste collection, which is different. In the Republic of Ireland, waste collection is managed more by private firms, whereas, here, the councils deal with that. However, my officials have met counterparts in the Republic of Ireland to discuss the schemes and identify any issues.
Minister, this is of great interest to me. I was interested in your response, particularly your reference to the case study of Germany, where the refund scheme has been extremely successful. I know from speaking to the industry that there is a great gap in the conversations being had between departmental officials, the plastic manufacturing industry and the recycling industry. Is there a point at which we can formulate a working group to ensure that we maximise our recycling capacity for single-use plastics?
The consultation document that will go out will consider all these issues. The Member will also be aware of the work that my predecessor has done in relation to single-use plastics. We are all aware of the damage that those can cause and of our need to increase recycling rates across the board. It is right that all these things are taken into consideration.
Minister, I would like to be associated with all the good wishes to you.
There are so many single-use drink containers, from plastic fruit juice drink containers to milk containers. Does the Minister anticipate that the full range of these cartons will be included in any future scheme?
I welcome the Minister's comments, and I would, obviously, welcome a deposit return scheme. We are currently in an environmental crisis. You may be aware, Minister, that I have tabled a private Member's Bill on single-use plastics. I would certainly welcome the Minister's view on and support for a total ban on single-use plastics.
It is worth noting that the Northern Ireland Civil Service, led by DAERA, is presently implementing a plastic reduction action plan to end the unnecessary use of single-use plastic across the Northern Ireland Civil Service and government estate. DAERA is on track to achieve that by the target date of October 2021. Suppliers are presently identifying alternatives to the disposable items that are currently in use, and a staff awareness campaign across all departments has commenced. That is important; people want to see that leadership.
In relation to further legislation on the issue, my predecessor advised the Assembly in November 2020 that he had asked DAERA to look at introducing restrictions on nine common single-use plastic items along the lines of bans proposed elsewhere in the UK. To meet the commitment in 'New Decade, New Approach' to tackle plastic pollution, we will propose further measures to control plastic waste, including legislation on plastic caps and lids, labelling, recycled content and reductions in single-use plastic cups and food containers.