Plastic Waste

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:02 pm on 8th September 2021.

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Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous The Second Church Estates Commissioner 5:02 pm, 8th September 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. There are two important reasons why this debate matters so much. First, plastic pollution is killing more than 1 million birds per year—that is a shocking figure. I have just come from a Royal Society for the Protection of Birds reception. In addition, more than 100,000 sea mammals and turtles—those majestic creatures of the sea—are dying every year from eating, or getting tangled in, plastic waste. We are making the biodiversity crisis worse. Secondly, plastics are currently contributing 1% of global carbon emissions, but projections show them rising to 15% of the global carbon budget by 2050 if we do not take action. That is absolutely the wrong direction.

The UK has not been idle on this issue: we have banned microbeads, restricted the supply of plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds, and we are consulting on banning single-use plastic plates, cutlery and polystyrene cups. The 95% reduction in supermarket plastic bag sales since 2015 shows what can be done. There are good measures in the Environment Bill, we have a world-leading plastic packaging tax coming in from April next year—£200 per tonne on plastic packaging that does not have a minimum threshold of 30% recycled content—and we are leading, with other Commonwealth countries, on the Blue Planet Fund, so we are working internationally as well. However, there is more to do, and my hon. Friend the Minister will be the first to champion us to go further and faster—I know how much she cares about this issue.

The House of Commons Library briefing paper states that in 2017 the UK was recycling 41.5% of our plastic waste. However, we were behind Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands and Germany. In particular, we are behind Lithuania, which appears to be recycling about two thirds—66%—of its plastic. Perhaps the Minister will go to Lithuania to see whether we can learn anything from them.

I, too, am excited about the deposit return scheme, which one or two colleagues have mentioned. That is really needed. Like every colleague on the Government Benches who has spoken, I urge the Government to go for the all-encompassing all-in option, which would capture 23 billion plastic containers every year, rather than the more limited on-the-go option, which would capture only 7.4 billion containers. That is the first extra thing that we could do.

Secondly, we must make recycling instructions clearer. I am sure that my wife and I are not the only couple in the country who stare endlessly at items of plastic trying to work out whether we can recycle them—it is very small writing and not clear. Perhaps the Minister will make us have really clear, large and easy-to-see instructions on products, so that we all know which bin that stuff should go in.

I am also pleased to hear that we will make progress with local authorities all having to recycle more items. With plastic, I understand that from next year every local authority in England will have to recycle plastic bottles, including clear drinks containers, HDPE—high-density polyethylene—milk containers, detergent, shampoo and cleaning product containers, and plastic pots, tubs and trays. That is good. Will we go further? Will we include more? We should not lack ambition.

In addition, there is what we can do personally—we will all of us, absolutely, want to hold the Government’s feet to the fire on this, but we can all recycle more ourselves. We can use more items for life. It is excellent that many shops, large and small, get that. I visited a new small business, the Good Life Refill shop on Leighton Buzzard High Street, where people can refill, as in the name. Tesco is also doing great things—Leighton Buzzard has one of the stores where we can recycle considerably more plastic than in other stores. Those are some good local examples but, please, we need to keep going on this. Our constituents really care about it, younger people in particular.