Deposit-return Scheme

2. Questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Climate Change and Rural Affairs – in the Senedd at on 15 May 2024.

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Photo of Tom Giffard Tom Giffard Conservative

(Translated)

2. Will the Cabinet Secretary provide an update on the progress of the Welsh Government's deposit-return scheme? OQ61100

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Labour 2:24, 15 May 2024

I will, Tom, and thank you. On 25 April, a joint statement on the deposit-return scheme was published, outlining the interoperability positions agreed by all four nations. Having worked closely with England and Northern Ireland on the development of their legislation, it forms the basis for our legislation, which is now being drafted.

Photo of Tom Giffard Tom Giffard Conservative

Can I thank the Cabinet Secretary for the response? I know the Welsh Government in its new iteration is keen to create the impression that it is in listening mode. We've heard that from the Cabinet Secretary for North Wales and Transport as regards 20 mph, the Cabinet Secretary for Education as regards additional learning needs reforms and from yourself yesterday regarding the sustainable farming scheme. So, I wonder whether you'd be willing to listen to those breweries across Wales who are concerned about the impact that the inclusion of glass in the deposit-return scheme would have on their businesses. Last year, with the Secretary of State for Wales, I visited Bang-On Brewery in Bridgend—I know you're familiar with it; I meant more from a geographical perspective than a familiarity with the product, Cabinet Secretary, but I'm sure you're familiar with Bang-On Brewery, nonetheless. [Laughter.] And they informed me that they thought the impact of the deposit-return scheme meant a bottle of beer there could cost as much as £12.50 or more. So, I wonder whether you've taken time to reflect on the fact that England, Scotland and Northern Ireland are not progressing with glass in the deposit-return scheme in the initial instance, and whether Wales now, under your tenure as Cabinet Secretary, might want to follow suit.

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Labour 2:25, 15 May 2024

Well, a couple of points to make in response, Tom. First of all, not only are we keen to engage, but we have been engaging, and I've had two or three round-tables, including with the supply chain, including with brewers, the retail and hospitality sector, over the last few weeks that I've been in post. I'm keen to engage with them, keen to work through how we take this forward.

But just a reminder of why we see glass as being so critical: it is, for a variety of reasons, not least our trajectory to zero carbon, touched on in the previous question—. The fact that we have to, to recycle glass, heat it to 1,500 degrees before we turn it into a recyclate product is significant. Reuse of glass is a major breakthrough in our zero-carbon trajectory, and Wales is far ahead of many others on the recycling of plastics, what we're doing on single-use plastics, what we're doing on aluminium and so on already. We are already third in the world and possibly moving upwards in terms of our recycling, because of bold measures we've taken. But glass needs to be in there; it needs to be an all-in scheme. It's not a question of 'if' but 'when'—it is not a question of 'if' but 'when'. Because this is not only to do with zero carbon, it's to do with litter and the effects of litter on communities, and litter and the links with deprivation, and litter and the links with deprivation and then with criminality, if it's not tackled. It is to do with animal welfare as well. So, there are a number of reasons.

But we will continue to work with all businesses, Tom, very closely indeed, as we seek not only to take forward the four-nation statement on DRS, which we have signed on, but also our fundamental principled position on glass. There are reasons—very good reasons—why glass should be in, and reasons, by the way, why leaving glass out for too long or at an early stage will lead to additional costs for businesses as well. Look at the increase in some of the landfill costs in England at the moment—that's what we're trying to protect against.

Photo of Luke Fletcher Luke Fletcher Plaid Cymru 2:27, 15 May 2024

It's very typical that we have three Members from Bridgend contributing to this question and we all want to talk about Bang-On Brewery. But Bang-On Brewery is a good example, as are other small breweries across Wales, of some of that concern that is there around glass being included in the DRS, particularly the administrative burden that'll be placed on these smaller producers, who, more often than not, are more like passion projects, staffed by one, two or even three people. So, my question to you, Cabinet Secretary, is: how do we actually ensure, then, that those smaller producers, who, to be fair, aren't the ones that are contributing the most to the litter on the streets, how do we ensure that that administrative burden on them isn't so much to the point where they then start considering what actually their future trading in Wales is actually going to look like?

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Labour 2:28, 15 May 2024

Thank you, Luke, and I get a feeling I'm going to get some invitation from Bang-On Brewery at some time to go down and visit their premises. I'll clearly be hugely reluctant to take up that invitation—no, I'll definitely accept it, if it does come.

But just to say that working with businesses has already been extensively under way. Can I just remind all colleagues who are contributing to this, that there was a position, only a couple of years off, where there was a UK-wide sign-off on everything, including glass? It's not that Wales has changed its position or Scotland has changed its position; it's that England has changed its position. [Interruption.] Sorry, there are some comments behind saying Scotland has changed its position. Scotland were confronted by a UK administration that said that they would use UKIMA, the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020, to thwart their ambitions to move ahead. But, actually, there was sign-off across all the nations on that consultation only as recently as two years ago.

Can I just say, in terms of small breweries, there are ways in which we can deal with this, and small producers as well? So, for example, recognising the potential impact on small producers, producers may choose to register product lines with less than 5,000 units placed on the market across the UK per annum as a low-volume product. Now, this exemption is designed to support those producers with low-volume sales products or specialist sales products who would find DRS requirements disproportionately burdensome. We actually want to work in Wales with our small producers, so that we can support them to make the most of the opportunities, from more resilient supply chains to decreased material costs, and particularly through our plans on reuse in Wales. So, we will continue to work with all of our small producers.

Photo of Jack Sargeant Jack Sargeant Labour 2:30, 15 May 2024

Can I welcome this question being put forward and the Cabinet Secretary's answers already? I note the Cabinet Secretary's ambition around the importance of the four-nation approach. I also note his comments around glass being included in a scheme. Very similar to the comments we've heard from Tom Giffard and Luke Fletcher, in my role as chair of the Senedd cross-party group on beer and pubs, I've spoken to a number of small and microbreweries who do have those concerns that have been raised this afternoon, particularly around glass, and when that would be introduced.

Your commitment is really welcome to the industry. I think you're demonstrating that already by meeting a number of times, through round-tables and other avenues, with the industry and stakeholders of the industry. Can I ask you therefore: will you carry on engaging and speaking to the industry—perhaps through the cross-party group as a vehicle to engage with many small and microbreweries across Wales—to make sure that any scheme doesn't disadvantage small and microbreweries across Wales, which play an incredibly important role in our Welsh economy? Diolch.

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Labour 2:31, 15 May 2024

Jack, we will, of course, continue that engagement. My thanks for your engagement in this role, with your chairmanship of that group as well, which is a very well-loved cross-party group, I have to say, here in the Senedd.

We'll continue that engagement, but just to reiterate: this is not Wales being the odd one out here. This is Wales trying to do the right thing for our planet, for recyclate as well, and also for a resilient industry. There are real costs, I have to say, to phasing glass in at a later stage, or blocking it from being phased in. It has considerable issues. So, for example, it excludes the material with the greatest carbon footprint and what has the greatest potential in sustainability, but it also means that we could be into the 2030s at the earliest before we introduce glass. Bear in mind that there are over 50 countries that currently have this and the majority actually with glass as well. If we have an initial roll-out without glass, imagine the costs of the redeployment of the equipment that would then take glass subsequently. So, there are a number of reasons why—. And also there wouldn't be a level playing field. So, between aluminiums and plastics and steel and glass, there wouldn't be a level playing field.

But we will, Jack, continue to work in partnership with you, the group, but also with those wider, small-and-medium-scale businesses, which are so important to food and drink within Wales, on whatever proposals we take forward.