I beg to move amendment 16, in schedule 4, page 151, line 12, leave out “may” and insert “must”.
It is still a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray, even though we are not mentioning that. It is lovely to have the Minister back in her rightful place. The Environment Bill is very important and long overdue, as we have heard. I want to touch on the reason we are here, what we are dealing with, and how we can honour the pledges and promises made to the people of the United Kingdom, primarily in England.
The Bill, according to the Government’s published paper, comprises two thematic halves. The first provides a legal framework for environmental governance, which my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test so knowledgably touched on this morning and last week. The second half of the Bill makes provision for specific improvement of the environment, including measures on waste and resource efficiency, which we are discussing today. In the coming days, we will cover air quality and environmental recall; water; nature and biodiversity; and conservation covenants. They will all be discussed. We need to get the Bill right to ensure that we honour the promise to provide a once-in-a-generation piece of legislation—a promise that the Minister and many Government Members heralded at every opportunity, at least until the Bill disappeared back in March. It is so good to have it back.
That is why Her Majesty’s Opposition have tabled this amendment. We must not have a Bill that is made up of passive “mays” or “coulds”; we need “wills” and “musts”. Many in this House and across England, and those in the sector, have waited hundreds of days for the missing-in-action Bill. Now that it is back and we are here in Committee, we must not waste—I apologise for the pun—the opportunity to have the strongest possible legislation, so we have tabled the amendment.
I thank the hon. Member for proposing the amendment. I also welcome her taking up the cudgels—perhaps I should say something less aggressive.
Yes, taking up the baton on behalf of the Opposition. May I assure the hon. Member for Newport West that the Government have every intention of making regulations using schedule 4? The Bill creates producer responsibility obligations in respect of specified products or materials. That is one of a number of provisions that will enable us to take action significantly to improve the environmental performance of products across their entire life cycle—from the raw material used, to end-of-life management. Other powers in the Bill include our ability in schedule 5 to require producers to pay disposal costs for their products; our powers in schedule 6 to introduce deposit return schemes; and the powers in schedule 7 to set resource efficiency standards in relation to the design and lifetime of products.
The Government need the flexibility to decide what measures will best deliver the outcomes that we want. Imposing producer responsibility obligations in all cases may not be appropriate. The power is drafted in a way that gives us the flexibility to choose the appropriate measure or combination of measures for any product, and to decide which producers are obligated, the obligations on them, and the steps that they need to take to demonstrate that they have met their obligations.
In this instance, we will use these powers to introduce new regulations for producer packaging responsibility. That will increase the reuse and recycling of packaging and reduce the use of unnecessary and avoidable packaging. In 2019, we consulted with the devolved Administrations on proposals to reform the regulations, and we will consult again in 2021, so it is a lengthy process, but a lot of discussion has informed this. In the resources and waste strategy for England, we made commitments relating to updating our already up-and-running producer responsibility schemes on waste electricals, waste batteries and end-of-life vehicles; these powers are needed to implement those commitments. We also committed to taking action to address food waste.
Products vary. They have different supply chains, use different materials and have different impacts on the environment. That is why we need to be able to introduce product-specific regulations, using the appropriate powers. This power provides the flexibility to impose producer responsibility obligations where it is appropriate to do so, and that flexibility would be removed by the amendment. I therefore ask the hon. Member to kindly withdraw it.
I thank the Minister for her comments. I take the point about flexibility; in my previous job as a physiotherapist, however, we had both flexibility and control. Splints and corsets were very useful in ensuring flexibility in confined areas. That is why the “mays” should be turned into “musts”. The grammar is important to us. But I take the point, and this is a probing amendment, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
I beg to move amendment 158, in schedule 4, page 151, line 16, after “waste” insert
“, reducing the consumption of virgin materials,”.
This amendment is about taking strengthened measures on tackling waste. It refers to virgin materials, which the Minister mentioned previously. For the benefit of those outside these walls who are maybe not as knowledgeable as the Committee, these are materials like new paper or plastic.
This amendment, although specific and focused in its approach, seeks to ensure the Bill includes the strongest possible measures to tackle waste. The wider focus on the obligations and responsibilities of producers is important—not because the Bill will directly impact those parts of the world outside the UK, but because of the need to get our own house in order in the UK, and in England specifically. We need to do this because it is important to set an example to others, and the Minister alluded to this in discussions about COP26 next year.
We want a strong Bill. If colleagues support this amendment, we will help deliver a strong Environment Bill with a strengthened schedule 4. It would make clear to the producers of materials used in everyday life that they have responsibilities and we are going to hold them to account.
I welcome the intention behind the schedule, which is to shift the burden of disposal costs from local authorities and the taxpayer to producers; the burden on them has historically been too low. I also welcome the shift in this Bill towards tackling food waste. I have been campaigning on this in Wandsworth borough for many years, and to see that it will be in the legislation and has to be addressed by the council is very welcome. However, in some ways, the drafting is too loose; as often in this Bill, it needs some tightening up, and I hope that these Labour amendments will be useful in doing that.
In terms of virgin materials, it is not good enough to focus on the end-of-life solutions for materials. The schemes introduced under this schedule need to incentivise producers to make the right decisions at the start of the process, as well as ensuring that they fulfil environmental responsibilities at the end. As the UK Environmental Law Association recommends, the Government need to clearly signal that extended producer responsibility covers the full life cycle, not only waste disposal. Reducing virgin material use is key to this, and to the Bill being as ambitious as we want it to be. Amendment 158 adds some words to ensure this.
Virgin materials include timber, plastic resin derived from the petroleum refining process and mined materials. This amendment would ensure that the producer responsibility scheme considers upstream measures that tackle consumption and production as well as waste minimisation. Although waste minimisation is important, it is not sufficient by itself to guarantee a reduction in virgin material use. Without adding this amendment, we cannot be sure the outcome will be the reduction that we need to see.
Manufacturing products with virgin materials usually requires much more energy and depletes more natural resources than using recycled materials, so when we reduce their use, there is also an offset for other processes. Action to reduce usage of virgin materials is essential to tackle overall depletion.
I thank the hon. Member for her interest in this provision and for this amendment. I reassure her and the Committee that the amendment is not needed.
Reducing the consumption of virgin materials is important; we all agree on that. In our 25-year environment plan, we stated our long-term ambition of doubling resource productivity by 2050. That is about maximising the value and benefits we get from our resources, and managing these resources more sustainably to reduce associated environmental impacts.
I can assure the hon. Member for Putney that we are tackling this issue in the Bill. We have powers in schedule 5 to require producers to pay the disposal costs of the products or materials they place on the market, and for these costs to be varied according to the design or consumption of the products. Through the costs that producers pay, they can be incentivised to design and manufacture products that use fewer materials, that include more recycled materials, and are much easier to recycle and break down, so that the parts can be reused elsewhere.
In my constituency, as in many others, I suspect, there is often difficulty getting recycling plants put in. I completely agree with the Bill’s intention to shift the cost to producers. However, what proposals are there to get recycling plants and places to process the waste, paid for by the producers, put in the right places? One could spend all the money one likes, but if there is nowhere to get the waste recycled, it cannot be recycled.
I thank my hon. Friend. He touches on the crux of the matter. This is all-encompassing. We are driving towards what we call a circular economy. That is the purpose of the measures on waste and resources. They will ensure consistent collections, though we have not got on to that yet, and require products to be more recyclable, but we will need them to be collected and recycled. That will drive the demand for those plants to be established in the right place. Things will join up much better than they do today. That is what the measures in the Bill are all about. I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important point. This should make the whole procedure a more complete circle.
Do the Government intend to invest in some of those recycling centres, or is the intention to leave it to the private sector to fill that need? That is a topic I have been pursuing lately and I am interested to hear the Minister’s views.
That topic is not referenced in the Bill. Those are issues relating to how the regulations will work when it comes to producer responsibility and deposit return. Local authorities will still play a huge role, but the great point is that they will not be responsible for all the costs any more. What is brilliant is that the costs will be shifted on to the businesses. They will then be forced to design products that are much easier to recycle. That brings us again to the circular economy. I thank the hon. Lady for raising another good point.
The measures will help us to tackle waste from the beginning of the life cycle, and complement measures elsewhere in the Bill that support the later stages of that cycle. There are also powers in schedule 7 that will allow resource efficiency requirements to be placed on specified products. Those requirements will relate to factors such as the materials from which the product is manufactured, and the resources consumed during its production. For instance, thinking off the top of my head, one could say that clothing or textiles must contain a certain amount of recycled fibre. There could be a requirement to use fewer virgin materials or more recycled materials in the manufacture of the product.
I am pleased that the hon. Member for Putney welcomes the schedule. It is great to have that positivity, and I applaud her work on food waste. It is very exciting that it will become law for food waste to be collected. That will be an important part of the Bill, because while some local authorities, such as mine in Taunton Deane, do collect it, loads do not. Much of it ends up in landfill, giving off emissions. We could make so much better use of it, and could focus attention on how much food waste is produced, which is frankly shocking.
Is the Minister’s example of requiring a certain proportion of textiles to include recycled materials now a policy?
I was just giving a random example, off the top of my head. I do not see any policies written here. Is the hon. Gentleman trying to catch me out?
I was, and I thought the Chairman was going to interrupt me when I mentioned all the food.
Finally, schedule 4 allows us to set obligations on producers in relation to reuse, redistribution, recovery and recycling. All that will contribute to a more resource-efficient economy. For those reasons, I ask the hon. Lady to withdraw the amendment.
I am grateful for the Minister’s reassurance, in which she stressed the importance of the cyclical nature of the production of goods. We must break the cycle of new, new, new. I am risking the wrath of the Chair, but when I sat on the Environmental Audit Committee, we had an investigation and report into the throwaway nature of the fashion industry; that is very relevant to the Bill.
I thank the hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden, my hon. Friend the Member for Putney and the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith for mentioning the importance of recycling centres. There is no point in everyone sorting their recycling at home if there is nowhere to recycle things. That is an important part of the process, which is why we will press after the legislation is enacted to ensure that happens. Having received the Minister’s reassurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
I beg to move amendment 159, in schedule 4, page 151, line 32, after “be” insert “prevented, reduced,”.
As you might notice, the amendment is very similar to others put before the Committee today. It focuses on the strength of the language that Ministers have chosen to use in the Bill. In recent days, my hon. Friends the Member for Southampton, Test and for Cambridge and I have said that we will hold Ministers to their promise to deliver a once-in-a-generation Bill. “Once in a generation” means it has to be big, bold and comprehensive. That is why we are calling on the Minister to use the strongest language in the Bill. I implore the Minister to be ambitious and bold in the text that is used.
I want to be helpful. I want the Minister to be able to sing from the rooftops about the Bill. I hope she will acknowledge the Opposition’s willingness to make it an even better Bill that really delivers for people across the whole UK. Let us not limit ourselves to moving things around, or shuffling deckchairs on the Titanic. Let us use this Bill to deliver real, long-term change.
The amendment would add “prevented” and “reduced” to the Bill, so that it does not just say “reused” and “redistributed”. We want the country to cut its reliance on plastics and paper, and to tackle waste in a meaningful way. Once again, the amendment will help deliver a strong Environment Bill with a strong schedule 4.
As my hon. Friend has described so well, the amendment would widen the powers, so that producer responsibility regulations allowed targets for waste prevention and reduction, not just reusing and recycling. That is absolutely vital to achieving real carbon reduction and real waste reduction.
Waste prevention focuses on reducing the amount of waste generated from the source. It involves looking at manufacturing, processing, packaging, storage, recycling and disposal processes, to identify opportunities to manage waste and minimise the impact on the environment.
Although this looks like a minor amendment, the two words to be added would create another dimension to the powers of the Bill and the impacts it covers. activities would include mapping packaging and production waste to inform and develop good practice, and developing recommendations and strategies for prevention, recovery and reuse. The words “prevention” and “reduction” are essential for doing that. An example from real life is utensils. The measures would look not just at plastic utensils and how to deal with them when they are thrown away, but reusing utensils from the start, so there is no re-packaging to look at. I have been campaigning about nappies, which form a huge part of our landfill. Preventing the use of disposable nappies would incentivise producers. “Prevention” could be a game-changing additional word in the Bill. A home composting scheme run by my neighbouring borough of Lambeth looks at the prevention of waste right from the beginning, in the home.
This provision would enhance the Bill. I endorse the addition of the words “prevented” and “reduced” .
I want to add a little bit of context to amendment 159. As my hon. Friends the Members for Putney and for Newport West have already mentioned, it increases the dimension within which these issues can be considered in terms of targets. It does so not by an accidental addition of words, but essentially by adding what is in the Government’s White Paper “Our waste, our resources: a strategy for England”, which was published in 2018.
In that White Paper, the Government fully embrace the notion of the waste hierarchy, and the document contains lots of good charts to illustrate it. At the bottom of the waste hierarchy are things such as landfill. Moving up the hierarchy, we find energy from waste, which is still pretty low in the hierarchy; after that, it is necessary to start recycling. From a policy point of view, measures should always drive waste as far up the hierarchy as possible. If it is possible to recycle waste, rather than putting it into an incinerator as an alternative to burying it in the land, that is what should be done. If, however, there is residual waste that cannot be incinerated or recycled—there is some of that in the waste stream—it should be put into landfill, but only on a residual basis. We would hope that over time, the amount of waste going into landfill will be virtually nil, because we have moved up the waste hierarchy in terms of how the system works.
In the waste hierarchy, there are two other categories above recycling: reducing and preventing. The best way to handle a waste stream is to make sure that there is less waste in it in the first place, and that it contains only things that cannot be reused or prevented from arising. At that point, we would be dealing, pretty much, with a residual waste stream when it came to volume and climate change energy considerations. In the whole waste stream, the only waste to be addressed would be residual waste from a largely circular economy, in which products are designed to come apart so that the parts can be put to other uses, and, through industrial symbiosis, products that one company views as waste are presented to other organisations as raw material.
That process is possible only if product design or articulation allows it to happen. For example, the expectation would be that a vehicle could be taken apart and all the components—even if they are made of different elements, and they are not all metal or plastic—would be sufficiently pure and reusable to be used as the raw material for something else straight away. As we will discuss later, that is particularly important with the coming upon us of electric vehicles. If electric vehicles cannot be taken apart—in particular, if their batteries cannot be taken apart to recover the rare earth elements, lithium and other materials for use in other batteries, so that they are not put into the waste stream in the first place—we are not very far down the line of recycling.
Reuse is immensely important in the waste hierarchy. It sits only marginally behind the reduction of packaging and the reduction of unnecessary elements in manufacture, by careful design, to ensure that a product uses the minimum amount of material that is compatible with that material’s life. If we do those things, we will have a complete waste hierarchy in operation. The two words that would be added by the amendment are essential components of that hierarchy. I am not saying anything particularly novel or different, because that is the process the Government have adopted in their waste strategy.
My hon. Friend speaks with passion and experience on this issue. This is not novel, so I have found myself wondering, exactly as he does, why those words have been excluded. Would he care to speculate on why the Government would choose not to have them in the Bill?
My hon. Friend, as always, makes an important point about what is and is not in the legislation. I would expect him to have similar views about other words. It seems plain to me that if the waste hierarchy is to be adopted, all the components of that hierarchy must be in the description. They are not there, and I cannot speculate on why not. It may be that those who drafted the Bill were not fully aware of the waste White Paper when they sat down late at night to write that passage. If they were not, they should have been. The amendment would offer an opportunity to rectify that omission. We are not suggesting that there was any malevolent intention; perhaps it is just an omission. I hope the Minister can oblige us by ensuring that the words sit proudly in the Bill, alongside Government policy.
I thank the hon. Member for Newport West for the proposed amendment. Although I recognise the intentions behind it, I must disagree with it. She pressed the Government to be as ambitious as possible, and I assure her that we are being ambitious. I am delighted that we think in the same way in wanting the highest ambition; I like to think that we are as one on that.
I do not believe we need the amendment. The power, as drafted, already allows us to place obligations, including targets, on producers to prevent waste or to reduce the amount of a product or material that becomes waste. Paragraph 2(2) gives examples of how targets may be set. They include, but are not limited to, the setting of targets to increase the proportion of a product or material that is reused, redistributed, recycled or recovered to prevent it from becoming waste. Those examples do not prevent the powers in schedule 4 from being used to set targets in relation to preventing waste from being produced, or reducing the amount of waste that is produced.
Producer responsibility obligations could be set as targets to incentivise producers to prevent or reduce waste, but they do not have to be set only as targets. We can all get a bit hung up on targets. Targets are important, but we could use the powers, for example, to require producers to take specific action to tackle waste, such as by requiring retailers to take back products. There is a lot of work in this space in the area of electronic waste, where department stores are expected to take back products. Another possibility could be single-use cups, once they have been used. Obligations such as this should create a strong incentive to create less waste in the first place: I think we are all agreed that that is what we are driving towards.
The hon. Member for Putney made a similar case about the circular economy. I applaud her work on nappies; I was one of those mothers. I have three children, and—this was a long time ago, when people were not talking about this sort of thing—with my first child, I used only washable nappies. Can you imagine, Mr Gray, how much work that was? Oh my goodness—not to mention the smell! I am not digressing, because this is all relevant. I was a news reporter at the time, and I interviewed a lady who had set up a business making these nappies, so I thought, “I am going to use those.” In fact, I think I used my child allowance support to pay for them. That was what I had decided I would do, but it was a labour of love.
The point is that through all these measures in the Bill, manufacturers of any product will be driven to think about what is in it. For example, are nappies made of recycled material? Do they have recycled content? Could they be reused? Are they washable? The Bill will drive everyone to think like that.
If they made nappy pins that did not stab the baby.
The hon. Member for Putney also raised an important point about garden waste. We have now legislated for garden waste to be collected: that is in clause 54.
I also wanted to give a quick résumé about the life cycle issue that the hon. Member for Southampton, Test touched on. He mentioned the waste hierarchy, which is basically driving towards a circular economy. That is the driving force of the resources and waste strategy, and it is the intention behind the Bill. I will whizz through the related measures in the Bill, which are about raw material, extraction and manufacturing.
The resource efficiency requirement power enables standards to be set that relate to the materials and techniques used by manufacturers, such as specifying the minimum amount of recycled fibre in clothing, as we mentioned earlier. The resource efficiency information power will drive the market by providing consumers and businesses with the information they need to make sustainable choices. I can see my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester looking at me; in order for him to be able to make the right choices, he wants to know how sustainable a product is, so that he can buy that one as opposed to another one. There will be more information and more labelling.
On end of life, the resource efficiency powers can be used to specify that products are designed so that when they reach end of life, they can easily be dismantled—exactly as the hon. Member for Southampton, Test has outlined—and the materials can be recovered and recycled. Our powers for deposit return, extended producer responsibility and recycling collections would enable better management of products and materials at the end of life. That will increase reuse and recycling, and it will reduce the amount of material that is incinerated or landfilled.
Preventing waste from being created in the first place and reducing the amount of waste that is produced is a priority for the Government. That is why we have stated our ambition to achieve zero avoidable waste by 2050. We will do this though the measures set out in the resources and waste strategy—we seek the powers for some of those in this Bill—and through other initiatives such as the new waste prevention programme, which we hope to publish and consult on in the near future. On all those grounds, I ask the hon. Member for Newport West if she might withdraw her amendment.
What an enlightening debate we have had. In terms of one-upmanship, dare I say it, my hon. Friend the Member for Putney has managed reusable nappies for four children. This debate has been useful, and it is good to have all the ideas, because only by putting all our heads together can we make this Environment Bill ground-breaking. We want it to work, and that is why our amendments are designed to help, not to hinder.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test made the important point that as well as recycling, the reusing of goods, parts and components is crucial. People want to do the right thing. Since programmes such as “Blue Planet” have come along, people are much more aware of pollution and how they can play their part. They want to do the right thing, and this Bill must make it easy for them to do so.
The Minister mentioned garden waste. At the risk of blowing Wales’s trumpet, Wales already has a successful garden waste scheme—in fact, recycling rates in Wales are very high—so perhaps she can look across the border. She also mentioned targets. If we do not have targets, how do we know if we are getting to the end of the road? How will we know if we are improving unless we set targets in the first place? We should set targets not to be punitive, but to help us to assess our progress; that is why they are important. We believe that the amendment is also important, so we will press it to a Division.
I beg to move amendment 160, in schedule 4, page 154, line 38, leave out “any” and insert “specified”.
This amendment is very similar to others that have been tabled. It focuses not on the strength of language, but rather on the choice of language that Ministers have opted for in this Bill. By leaving out “any” and inserting the word “specified”, we are looking to ensure that we deliver results, rather than a scattergun or “we hope” approach. The amendment is relatively straightforward, so the Chair will be pleased to know that I will not go on when I do not need to. I hope that Ministers will take the amendment in the spirit in which it is intended, because we want the Bill to have teeth and to be effective. Above all, we want it to be useful and to deliver, so this amendment seeks to ensure we are focused on results, not just on good intentions and misplaced hope. As I have said, “once in a generation” means that the Bill has to be bold, big and comprehensive, so we call on the Minister to use the right language. We believe that the amendment will help to deliver a stronger Environment Bill, with a strengthened schedule 4.
I thank the hon. Lady for the amendment, but I reassure her and the Committee that it is not needed. Paragraph 11(2) provides the ability to specify in regulations the activities that count as recovery. That means that the way in which energy is to be obtained from a product or material can be specified in regulations. The power is designed to be flexible, given the broad range of possible products on which we may decide to impose producer responsibility obligations. I reassure her that in making any regulations, it would be our intention to impose regulations on producers in relation to options higher up the waste hierarchy, such as prevention, reuse and recycling—all the things that we discussed earlier—as a first priority. In simple terms, it means that we will be encouraging the prevention, reuse and recycling of waste over energy recovery. I therefore ask her to withdraw the amendment.