Plastic Waste

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 8th September 2021.

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Photo of Elliot Colburn Elliot Colburn Conservative, Carshalton and Wallington 4:30 pm, 8th September 2021

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered reducing plastic waste.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees, and a pleasure to be back in a fairly busy Westminster Hall. Thank you to all colleagues for expressing an interest in today’s debate. I would also like to thank the many organisations and charities that have, I am sure, been in touch with all right hon. and hon. Members to prepare briefings, particularly the Conservative Environment Network.

Reducing plastic waste is a mammoth topic to tackle. I fear our short time today will allow us only to scratch the surface. I would like to begin by outlining why this is such an important issue to discuss. It is a topic often raised with me by residents of Carshalton and Wallington. I am sure colleagues here today will share similar experiences from their constituencies. I had the pleasure of visiting Culvers House primary school in Hackbridge recently after pupils had written to me about plastic pollution and why they were so passionate about it. They thought more could and should be done. I am very grateful for their insight.

We all know the harm that the scourge of plastic pollution causes our environment, but it is worth going over some of the numbers, because they make stark reading. Plastic waste in the UK continues to grow, with more than half of all plastics ever manufactured being made in the past 15 years. An estimated 5 million tonnes are used every year, nearly half of that being packaging alone. Plastic waste harms our natural environment if it is not recycled, lasting centuries in landfill or, if discarded as litter, polluting our oceans, rivers and soils, and the creatures that rely on them.

Plastic production and waste contribute to climate change. Current projections show that, if the strong growth of plastic usage continues as expected, emissions of greenhouse gases by the global plastic sector will account for 15% of the entire global annual carbon budget by 2050. Again, that barely scratches the surface of the scale of the issue, but it gives an indication of the challenge we face and the action that must be taken.

I want to say a big thank you to the Chamber engagement team at the House of Commons for their amazing work in engaging with the public ahead of today’s debate to find out people’s priorities. I thank the more than 500 people who took part in that survey. I will go over some of the headline figures that came out of that piece of work.

People were asked what measures should be taken to ensure that plastic waste is recycled, rather than sent to landfill or incinerators. Respondents came back with many suggestions, such as better education on how to recycle and the need to do so; more consistency in approaches across local authorities, with many citing confusion when moving from one area to another; preventing recyclable materials from being sent abroad; and introducing deposit return schemes. I will go into that later.

After the three or four debates about incinerators that I have held in this place, the Minister will know about my passion to ensure that they are properly regulated. When one opened in my constituency, on a visit there I witnessed recyclable waste being put into the incinerator. I know the Minister is well aware of my interest.

The second question asked what steps should be taken to reduce the amount of plastic waste being produced in the first place. Suggestions included banning single-use plastics, especially for food products; using incentives, legislation or both to assist transition away from plastic packaging; and holding businesses accountable for the plastic that they produce. What stood out for me in that question was the word “reduce”. We often speak about recycling and reusing, both of which are, of course, much better than landfill and incineration. Nevertheless, we must remember that at the peak of the waste hierarchy, the best thing that we can do is reduce the amount of waste that we produce in the first place, so that must be our aim.

Finally, people were asked about how we can use technology to reduce the amount of plastic that is produced and to deal with the plastic that is within the circular economy at the moment. Suggestions included using technology to find alternatives to plastics, particularly when it comes to packaging; investing in technologies such as biodegradable or compostable plastic; new technologies to look at labelling, in order to track the life cycle of plastics and use that as an education technique; and using plastics in more innovative ways for house building, roads, pavements or construction—images from around the world that I am sure many colleagues have seen before. Indeed, it has been a pleasure for me to meet many businesses, charities and organisations that are looking at developing new technologies or that have such technologies, which they are trying to use as a way to deal with this issue. Although there is no silver bullet, and I am sure that everyone would agree that there is no one solution or one thing that we can offer, the new technologies out there certainly give us a chance to make a considerable impact.