Plastics Recycling

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 6:29 pm on 23rd April 2019.

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Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable Leader of the Liberal Democrats 6:29 pm, 23rd April 2019

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered plastics recycling.

I am grateful for the opportunity to lead an environmental debate after an environmental weekend. I was lucky enough to be part of the Opposition leaders’ meeting with Greta Thunberg this morning, which reminded us all that there is a world beyond Brexit.

I want to narrow the discussion to the issue of plastics recycling. I know it is well-trodden territory in many ways. In the past 20 years, a whole body of British legislation and policy has been built on the waste directive. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has four consultations in varying stages of completion. We will no doubt touch on some of those issues. There is also a great deal of very good documentation, including the excellent paper from the Library on plastic waste.

I acknowledge from the outset that the issue is superficially simple, but actually extremely complex. There are many different kinds of plastic, each with different approaches with different costs and benefits. There are many useful and necessary applications. For example, there is an enormous distinction between macroplastics and microplastics. The macroplastics that we talk about in public debate include plastic bottles. Microplastics are built into such things as our clothing and the wear of tyres, and may have even bigger environmental impacts.

I approach the subject from three different directions. First, like many Members, I have been lobbied, through vast numbers of letters, by local schoolchildren about the issues to do with plastics in the ocean. They asked me to raise the issue in Parliament, which I am now doing. In many cases, they were highly motivated by seeing the David Attenborough series, “The Blue Planet”. Those arguments have been well rehearsed and I do not need to develop them.

In researching for today, I found some of the facts—perhaps we should call them factoids—surrounding the subject very striking. One was that while plastics are generally very light and buoyant, we are heading to a situation where the weight of plastics in the ocean will soon exceed the total weight of fish. Even more strikingly —it is authoritative, because it came out of a Government press release—every year, the ingestion of plastics by fish and entanglement result in the loss of a million seabirds and 100,000 sea mammals. That is extraordinary. Children have every reason to be very exercised.