I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The issue will be driven by consumers, and producers need to take a role, but we as legislators also need to look at the issue and debate it from time to time. I look forward to the Government’s response later today.
As the petition states, there is a specific problem with the amount of plastic being used. In some parts, it cannot be recycled. Almost all types of plastic can or should be recycled, but some are less likely to be recycled because of the issues of cost and the local sorting infrastructures in place. An example of that is black plastic, which for technical reasons is generally discarded as landfill. Industry estimates suggest that that amounts to between 26,000 and 60,000 tonnes each year.
Although the packaging and retail industries are already making efforts to modify materials to improve recyclability, significant improvements can clearly be made if retailers are incentivised to use alternative materials. I understand that the packaging industry is developing new materials that will increase the number of options open to manufacturers. I am pleased to note that much of that work is being driven by retailers. The packaging and retail industries are working together to push those innovations forward. Initiatives such as Pledge4Plastics, the “New Plastics Economy” initiative and the industry-led Plastics 2020 Challenge and plastics industry recycling action plan are playing a key part in that. It is encouraging that major brands, including Coca-Cola, Danone, Mars, Unilever and Sainsbury’s plc, are leading by example and supporting such initiatives. Government at all levels has a responsibility to encourage progress, not least in these times when local government needs to look for cost savings and efficiencies.
The media also have a role to play. I am pleased that tomorrow, Sky will be launching an initiative right across the corporation known as Sky Ocean Rescue. Tomorrow, it will be showcasing the documentary “A Plastic Tide”, which looks at the amount of damage caused by the plastics in our oceans. There are some startling facts. It is estimated that there are 5 trillion pieces of plastic in the world’s oceans, with 8 million tonnes of plastic ending up in the ocean every year. The average UK household uses one rubbish truck’s worth of single-use plastics each year. Every minute, an equivalent amount is dumped into our oceans. Some 40% of all plastic in Europe is used only once. A plastic bottle is estimated to take 450 years to break down into microscopic pieces. Plastic bottles are the third worst plastic polluter of the ocean. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation calculates that by 2050, the plastic in the world’s seas will weigh more than all the fish.
The Government are clearly committed to an increase in recycling and a reduction in the amount of waste going to landfill. It is positive that targets for plastic packaging are set to increase until 2020 and that the Government are consulting on increasing targets for other materials. Through the Waste and Resources Action Programme, the Government are supporting the sort of material development and usage that I have just mentioned. The guidelines issued in October regarding what can and cannot be accepted for recycling were a helpful step forward.