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

That is correct, but with one qualification: it also makes the export of waste valuable. I will come back to the particular problem associated with that in a moment.

In the short time that I have, I will put three specific issues to the Minister. The first concerns data, which has already been raised by the Environmental Audit Committee. There are vast disparities in the numbers that make it very difficult to make sense of what is happening. To quote a few examples, I think the official figures are that 1.5 million tonnes of plastic waste is generated every year in the UK. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that it is about 5 million tonnes, and Economia, which does consultancy in this area, estimates that it is about 3 million to 4 million tonnes. Perhaps they are using different definitions, but we need clarity, because at the moment there is wild variation.

That also applies to what is being achieved in terms of recycling and waste disposal. I understand that the official figures are that 91% of waste is either recycled or recovered in other ways—the definition of recovery includes incineration and export—and only 9% goes to landfill. However, again, the World Wildlife Fund has wildly different numbers. It suggests that 48% goes to landfill, 20% to 30% is recycled, and 22% is used as an energy source. I do not know why there is that difference. Again, it may be a definitional question, but some clear and unambiguous statement from the Government about the position would be very helpful.