Plastic-free Packaging (Fruit and Vegetables) — [Mr David Hanson in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:17 pm on 12th November 2018.

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Photo of John McNally John McNally Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment) 5:17 pm, 12th November 2018

Exactly—why not do both? We would like to hear how those schemes can be developed, and that will have to happen across all the home nations and probably across the whole world.

We are all aware that there is a problem with how we dispose of, for example, plastic cotton buds. Those have been banned for years in America, but we are still using them here, which is unacceptable. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on flood prevention, I know those buds are a constant problem: they are used in schools and colleges, they go down waste pipes and plug holes, and they cost a fortune. They cause problems, including for insurance companies, so at the end of the day we all have to pay for them. Those problems are totally avoidable. We do not need those buds, and action has to be taken. In Scotland, we are trying to ban the manufacture of plastic stem cotton buds. We announced our plans in January this year, and the UK Government followed in October. I believe that Wales is behind in this area, which is surprising: it has been leading on a lot of these policies, but it is behind the curve in this area.

I have visited supermarkets and other retailers in my constituency of Falkirk. They all recognise the need to reduce the quantity of plastic used in packaging for the sake of sustainability, and without a doubt customers also feel a desire to reduce the amount of plastic packaging they buy. Although that is a challenge, it could ultimately be a win-win situation for retailers: they could improve sustainability and cut packaging costs.

Those retailers are tackling that problem in creative ways, which is extremely encouraging. For example, they are seeking to eliminate the use of black plastic, so the plastic they do use can be easily sorted and recycled. Familiar items such as milk bottles and plastic trays are being redesigned to make them lighter, increase the use of recycled plastic in their manufacture, and eliminate the use of unnecessary and unrecyclable items.

However, I visited Dobbies in Perth last week—I was at a funeral in that city, and went for a cup of coffee with my wife—and there was an advert on a screen about how to use plastic when building up Christmas decorations. I thought, “How on earth can they be doing that in this day and age?” That should not have been on the screen at all.

Falkirk Council is phasing out single-use plastics in its offices and introducing initiatives to help communities recycle. TerraCycle, a UK-wide company, is helping communities arrange convenient pick-up points for recycling. Through Keep Scotland Beautiful and Zero Waste Scotland, the Scottish Government have funded initiatives such as Revive Falkirk, teaching people what they can do to reduce food waste and make low-carbon dietary and life choices as well as the skills they need to upcycle or repurpose discarded goods.

Small, often family-run companies such as Forth Valley Recycling & Packaging and Nathans Wastesavers in my home town of Denny are establishing themselves at the forefront of this new economic sector. The many ethical companies across Scotland and the UK need certainty that standards will be maintained and aligned post-Brexit. Will the Minister comment on whether the new policies that are coming forward will be aligned to those standards?

Plastic packaging is only part of the story. Making a concerted effort to effectively tackle this problem requires addressing issues such as fly-tipping and lack of public waste infrastructure—what we on the Environmental Audit Committee have called “binfrastructure”. It surely cannot be beyond the wit of manufacturers and local authorities across the UK to harmonise colour-coded bins to match colour-coded products. Why can we not have a green label to match a green bin, an amber label to match an amber bin, and a red label to match a red bin, as Mr Sheerman touched on earlier? It is so confusing; nobody seems to know what to do when they get all their material together. We need to prevent waste going into our bins unnecessarily.

Last year, environmental prosecutions in England were at a record low. Responsibility for that was laid at the feet of local authorities in England, while simultaneously, those authorities’ funding was being slashed. That is short-termism at its absolute worst. The UK could learn a lot from Scotland’s collaborative approach, bringing together enforcing agencies and other stakeholders to tackle fly-tipping. The Scottish Government set up a national Environmental Crime Taskforce in 2013, which co-ordinates the efforts of local authorities, regulators, police and other stakeholders in tackling environmental crime, including waste crime. There are tools, and there is guidance to support them. For example, Zero Waste Scotland has created the FlyMapper tool for local authorities and land managers, which lets stakeholders report and map fly-tipping, identifying growing “grot spots” in real time.

Those are all good initiatives, but the petition to stop waste and plastic misuse gives a better option for the consumer by highlighting the need to prevent the problem from happening in the first place by going to the source: the manufacturing stage. I love that the petition acknowledges that change is required and suggests that supermarkets be put under scrutiny to ensure they are taking their corporate responsibilities seriously. That would be welcome.

To finish, I want to offer something personal. In my family, we like dirty carrots. My mother is 97, and when I go out she wants dirty carrots brought back. She does not want anything wrapped in plastic. We try to do exactly the same: we use locally grown produce, particularly from farm shops, markets and our local independent greengrocers. It is good practice. We know it cuts down on emissions and helps the local economy thrive. I am all for enabling local, independent greengrocers to thrive.