The covid emergency has demonstrated how vital plastic is, forming the primary component in billions of items of personal protective equipment and other medical equipment used to fight the virus and save lives. It is versatile, low cost and durable. However, it is that strength—that durability—that has led to increasing public concern about plastic littering our neighbourhoods and polluting our seas. Plastic will always be a part of our economy and our daily lives, but we urgently need to reduce our reliance on it and also make sure that more of the plastic that we do use is reused or recycled.
This Conservative Government are doing more than any of their predecessors to address the issue. We were one of the first countries in the world to introduce an extensive ban on microbeads in personal care products. Our charging scheme, as we have heard, has led to a dramatic reduction in plastic bag use, and the Environment Bill contains groundbreaking proposals for further action.
That includes extended producer responsibility, to make the companies benefiting from plastic packaging pay the full cost of disposal. That will give them an incentive to consider the impacts that their products have after they have been used by consumers. I hope that the Minister will also put pressure on the takeaway sector to play its part in reducing plastic waste and tackling litter. Local authorities are at the sharp end of dealing with litter and household waste, so I would argue that the bulk of the proceeds of extended producer responsibility should be used to help councils keep our streets cleaner and to ensure that more of our household waste is recycled.
A second key proposal in the Bill is the deposit return scheme for drink containers. In its 25-year plan for the environment, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs points out:
“Millions of single-use bottles jostle their way around the oceans, carried on the currents even to the remotest and most fragile Pacific atolls.”
I appeal to the Minister, as I have done on previous occasions, to make progress as quickly as possible on both EPR and the DRS, given the urgency of the situation and the impact of these drink containers.
Lastly, I turn briefly to the subject of oxo-biodegradable plastic. I have been briefed by Symphony Environmental, which is an export success story and employs a number of my constituents. It considers that policy makers both here and in the EU are not basing their approach to oxo-biodegradable plastic on the scientific evidence. It strongly denies, for instance, that its d2w product emits microplastic when it breaks down. I ask the Minister to engage with Symphony Environmental and consider the research it cites—for example, from the Laboratory of Microbial Oceanography in France—before taking a decision on whether to introduce the ban envisaged in article 5 of the EU single-use plastic directive.
We need to reassess our attitude to plastic fundamentally if we are to deal with the appalling damage it can do to our oceans, and the eyesore it can create in our streets and parks if it is thrown away irresponsibly. We need to break away from the linear “take-make-consume-dispose” model, which assumes that resources are abundant, available and easy to dispose of. Our commitments on climate and nature simply cannot be met unless we move to a more circular economy by reusing, repairing and recycling much more than we do now. We set ambitious goals in our 25-year environment plan, and the Environment Bill will turn them into binding targets. The question for the Minister is: are we on track to deliver the change we need to meet those targets?