It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. I thank my hon. Friend Elliot Colburn for instigating today’s debate.
I may be found regularly in Stroud balancing food on my baby’s head, having already stuffed my pockets and her sling full of my purchases as I join millions of people who refuse to pay 10p for a carrier bag. Such shopping/baby juggling was unthinkable even five years ago, but the Government’s determination to bring about meaningful change has led, as we have already heard, to a 95% cut in plastic bag sales in major supermarkets since 2015. When I start worrying about the scale of the issue of plastic pollution, I think about the change of behaviour on carrier bags, because it gives me hope. By golly, do we need hope on plastic pollution.
The UK is a world leader, but it is estimated that 5 million tonnes of plastic is still used here every year, and nearly half of that is packaging—8 billion drinks containers include plastic, and they end up landfilled, incinerated or lost in our precious environments. Plastic waste lasts centuries in landfill, pollutes soils, rivers, wetlands and oceans, harms the creatures that inhabit them and weakens our environmental infrastructure that is essential not only for ecosystems but for our future.
Closer to home in Stroud, littering and fly-tipping is a constant feature of correspondence, casework and the local council’s work. As my hon. Friend mentioned, children are really exercised by the issue and I regularly receive letters from schools. Our farmers have reported livestock being harmed by ingesting plastic rubbish, and local people want to see massive corporations such as McDonald’s and Tesco taking responsibility for the litter that flows from their stores. Covid has not helped—masks like the ones we are wearing around the room are often found on the streets. The Government have hugely increased the fines that can be imposed for littering, but we need to see regular prosecutions to create a serious deterrent.
I am proud that Stroud is the greenest constituency in the greenest county of Gloucestershire: we are already punching above our weight. One of our volunteer groups, Stroud District Action on Plastic, works with individuals, businesses, schools, clubs and other community organisations to reduce their plastic footprint. The group was accredited by Surfers Against Sewage in 2020. We have zero-waste environmental shops, such as Greenshop in Bisley, Waste Not, Want Not in Berkeley, Loose in Stroud, Stroudco food hub, the Stroud Valleys Project shop and the Shiny Goodness health store and Beeswax Wraps in Nailsworth—I could go on, but I would probably be told to be quiet.
What are our asks? There is no question in my mind that the Conservative Government are working incredibly hard in this area. The Environment Bill gives a range of new powers, and our creation of the Blue Planet Fund will help developing nations to tackle marine plastic pollution, so action is not just here with restricting plastic straws. We have heard the list of things that we have done.
One of my constituents works for an organisation called City to Sea, which is calling for the ban on plastic plates, cutlery and polystyrene cups to be considered even more swiftly than we are doing with our autumn consultation, and brought in as a matter of urgency. I support that, and I will press for it. The Government’s proposed deposit return scheme is excellent, but it can and should go further with the all-in system that we have heard about. It would capture 23 billion drinks containers a year, while the limited system would capture only about 7.4 billion. I recognise my hon. Friend’s suggestion that technology could be used better too. I hope Stroud’s successes will spur many others on.