Plastic Waste

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:42 pm on 8th September 2021.

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Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West 4:42 pm, 8th September 2021

Thank you, Ms Rees. It is good to switch places—I was in the Chair this morning. I thank Elliot Colburn for bringing the debate on this enormously important matter to the Chamber.

People may know that the United Nations predicted that by 2050, there would be more plastic in the sea than fish. The problem we face is that plastic is simply too cheap, which is why it is thrown away. The reason for that is essentially that 6.5% of global GDP is used to subsidise fossil fuels, creating cheap plastic. China is now putting more subsidy into fossil fuels than the United States, the EU and Russia combined, which means plastic is too cheap. It is incumbent on us to take leadership to reduce subsidies and to tax plastic so that the price goes up. We know from simple taxes such as the carrier bag tax that that has an effective impact on behaviour. It is all very well preaching that people should use less plastic, but people need fiscal drivers to make the change.

Meanwhile, the landfill tax is significant, and although I would not argue against that, local authorities have been driven towards building more and more incinerators. I will be involved in a meeting next week—possibly with the Minister—about the Edmonton incinerator, which generates 700,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year at a time when 85% of the plastic that Camden throws away is recyclable. We need a carbon tax, and although one is coming for plastic made of less than 30% recyclate, we should do better than that. Indeed, the tax itself will be £200 per tonne, compared with the EU tax of £685 per tonne.

We need to drive up those costs to switch producers and consumers. Frankly, if I went to Costa Coffee and could get a cheaper coffee in a china cup than in a takeaway cup, I would stay indoors to drink it. We need to think carefully about that and take tough action. It is all very well having a 25-year environment plan, but that is simply too long to wait. The Government’s target is for zero avoidable plastic waste by 2042, and for zero avoidable waste generally by 2050. Yet on current projections we know that by 2025 we will have breached the Paris 1.5° threshold ambition to address climate change. Plastic waste is generating incineration waste, which is causing massive problems in terms of emissions, and that is in addition to the waste in our oceans. Alongside that there is a lot of evidence that these fumes do not just change the climate but affect people’s health, because ultrafine particulates breach the filters.

In a nutshell, I am calling on the Government to up their game in terms of taxation, timing, enforceable targets and the deposit return scheme, and to let businesses and consumers know that the cost of plastic will go up in the future and that the best advice, in terms of their pocket and of climate sustainability and the local environment, is to look at other forms of packaging and so on. For instance, the cost of clothing would not be pushed down by the fact that we are all wearing plastic clothing and breathing in particulates and so on.