Plastics Recycling

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 7:19 pm on 23rd April 2019.

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Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 7:19 pm, 23rd April 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I congratulate Sir Vince Cable on securing this important debate on plastics recycling. I also congratulate Hugh Gaffney on being the only Member to intervene and stay to listen to the response. I am conscious that most of this issue is devolved, but I am aware of his passion for ensuring that there are improvements.

I welcome the other contributions to this important debate. A number of hon. Members highlighted that this is not a dilemma. We need less plastic waste, but we must recognise the benefits that plastic can bring in improving the environment, such as by lowering carbon and reducing the use of other common materials, including paper and glass. As John Mc Nally pointed out, the use of some plastic can reduce food waste. In other cases, it is not always necessary to use plastic. Rachael Maskell said she felt terribly frustrated when she went shopping. The Government have encouraged plastic-free aisles, and she will see that more and more supermarkets are making it more straightforward for people not to have to pick up a plastic bag, although for many consumers that is still convenient.

On the resources and waste strategy, to which hon. Members have referred, the Government are clear that we want to move towards a circular economy, in which raw materials are used efficiently and waste is minimised, so we have set high recycling ambitions. I am very conscious that, as Sandy Martin said, the amount of recycling has not increased greatly in the past few years. It has somewhat plateaued, although it has continued to increase in England.

Wales in leading the way, and Northern Ireland has made a big improvement, driven by its collection of food waste. England is third of the nations, and Scotland is fourth. I will not say that it is last, because that would be a bit insulting; I know how ambitious it is. Nevertheless, the nations continue to learn from each other. We continue to collaborate, and are consulting together on what we are doing about things such as the producer responsibility schemes, because we believe that there is a good reason to try to have a consistent approach across the UK, especially considering that, once we leave the European Union, this will certainly become a devolved matter. I am pleased that the Governments of the four nations have recognised why it would be sensible to collaborate in that regard.

We are setting a 65% municipal recycling rate by 2035 and a minimum 70% recycling rate for packaging waste by 2030. It is our intention that, by 2025, all plastic packaging placed on the market will be recyclable, reusable or compostable, and we want to eliminate avoidable plastic waste by the end of 2042. A number of uses of plastic are well considered. In particular, a lot of single-use plastic gets used in the NHS, and it would not necessarily be appropriate to want to get away from that. Nevertheless, there are ways in which we can manage it at the end of its life so it is more environmentally beneficial.