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

Well, perhaps, but the hon. Gentleman should be aware that emissions would be generated because heavier goods would be transported around the country—around the world, in fact. That is why we need a balanced approach. This is not solely about plastic. The hon. Gentleman wants us to move back to just using paper bags and glass products, but that would be worse for carbon, so we need a balanced approach. The important thing is to have a lifecycle approach that considers the production, consumption and end of life of the plastics that are placed on the market.

At the production stage, plastics should be designed to be easily reusable or recyclable. As it stands today, all plastic is technically recyclable. It is just that the economics do not necessarily encourage that, and sometimes the amount of contamination prevents that. At the consumption stage, we want consumers to be encouraged to use more reusable items. They should be able to identify easily how plastics should be recycled. At the end-of-life stage, more plastics should be reused, repaired or recycled.

As has been said, there are many benefits to plastic, which does not decompose and can last centuries. However, it can end up as litter in the natural environment, and there are concerns about the fact that litter on land often ends up in the oceans. There are problems with the pollution that can arise from plastics, so we want to prevent plastic waste from occurring in the first place, as well as managing it better when it does. Our strategy sets out how we intend to do that through a more sustainable use of resources to ensure we waste less and reuse, recycle and repair more. Moving away from a “take, make, use and throw” approach, and creating a circular model for plastics, means that the environment, the economy and society will all benefit.

As I have already said, one of the keys to this is design. The Government are currently consulting on extending producer responsibility for packaging. That is a powerful policy approach in which a producer’s responsibility for the product it places on the market extends to the post-use stage. Producers will pay the full net cost of managing packaging waste. The differentiation in the levy will incentivise products that are easier to reuse or recycle. As announced in the Budget last year, the Government are consulting on the introduction of a specific tax on plastic packaging with less than 30% recycled plastic content to stimulate demand for recycled plastic. That should encourage manufacturers to produce more sustainable packaging and will create demand for more recycled material.

The two schemes will work together coherently to improve recycling rates, and the revenue collected from these measures will enable investment in further action to address the issues surrounding single-use plastics, waste and litter, and help improve the waste system in the UK. We are working closely with the industry, businesses and consumers to ensure their views are taken forward in new schemes that may affect them. We are supporting businesses that are already taking on the challenge of reducing plastic waste and improving recycling.

The right hon. Member for Twickenham referred to the carrier bag charge. He will be aware that, in our consultation, we are discussing extending it to all retailers and increasing the charge. The deposit return scheme is a big challenge for our country. It is easy to imagine what could happen at the front end. We are consulting on two potential options relating to what people tend to consume on the go, as opposed to all plastic bottles and cans.

The back end of the system is more complicated. I have been on a learning journey to different countries in the European Union to look at how we might do that. We are consulting on that. The hon. Member for Falkirk is right to say that Scotland is taking steps forward in that regard, and we are in discussion with it. We are also looking at how we can provide a new product labelling scheme, such as eco-labels, to help consumers make better decisions. We would like to see greater consistency of labelling so consumers know what they can recycle.

On households, we are not alone in the European Union in having kerbside collections, but we want to ensure that there is greater consistency in what councils collect—not necessarily how they collect it, but what they collect. We are having a further consultation on that at the moment, and are introducing separate food waste collections, which will improve recycling rates and, if they are treated appropriately, should be a better way of reducing carbon emissions. By creating a reliable, vibrant market, with Government support through the levies that will be introduced in the extended producer responsibility system, we should be able to support councils in making that innovation change.

Innovation by industry will continue to be necessary. We have helped by pledging £20 million to the plastics research and innovation fund, and a further £20 million to the plastics and waste investment fund. Those funds are aimed at encouraging innovation to boost recycling and reduce littering. Through the industrial strategy challenge fund, we are investing up to £66 million towards the development of smart, sustainable plastic packaging. We also support WRAP, which was asked about earlier, and the UK Plastics Pact, which bring together businesses across the entire plastics value chain to make the necessary improvements.

The Government have set ambitious targets. It is important that we work with consumers and industry to reduce plastic waste. Our strategy considers the whole lifecycle of plastics. In that regard, I believe that once we get through this consultation and introduce the necessary measures in the Environment Bill, where we do not have powers already, we can really work together to tackle this plastics challenge.