Plastic Waste

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:07 pm on 8th September 2021.

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Photo of Dave Doogan Dave Doogan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Agriculture and Rural Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Manufacturing) 5:07 pm, 8th September 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. I thank Elliot Colburn for securing a debate that we are all invested in—so are our constituents, clearly.

The UK Government simply must do more to combat the plastic crisis. They must seek to match the Scottish Government’s significantly more ambitious targets and achievements. Protecting Scotland’s natural environment is a key priority for the Scottish Government and always has been, which is why we are bringing forward a circular economy Bill to encourage the reuse of products, to reduce waste and to increase recycling. That comes on top of all our other actions since 2007.

We are good at recycling in Scotland, but we want to get even better. The recycling rate in my Angus constituency is 59.1%. That is not quite the 66% of Lithuania, but if the Minister wants to come somewhere slightly more expedient than Lithuania, she is more than welcome to see what we do in Angus.

Consumers need confidence that the trouble they go to in order to recycle does not result in their commodified recycling turning up in mixed-plastic bales to be shipped somewhere far away and end up smouldering on a roadside somewhere, as we saw in Turkey. That does not instil confidence in consumers to do the right thing. This crisis must receive renewed attention from the UK Government, not least because the UK is estimated to produce 5 million tonnes of plastic waste every year, nearly half of which is packaging.

According to National Geographic, half of all the plastics ever manufactured was produced in the past 15 years, as others have said. That is clearly and profoundly unsustainable. Without oversharing, I must mention my fondness for Mr Kipling’s lemon slices. I am too fond of them, and it is unfortunate that they come in a plastic tray, inside a plastic sleeve, inside a cardboard box, held together with—I hope—a water-based glue, although it might be a plastic-based glue. That is not okay, and it is done in pursuit of a competitive edge.

The growing use of plastic is a feature of competition, largely in food production, a shift to ready-made produce, and the growth of the food service sector. Legislation has not been anywhere near keeping pace with changes in the market. As Geraint Davies mentioned, plastic packaging is not cheap. It may be relatively cheap in monetary terms to produce, but it is not cheap in environmental and generational terms.

There is a technological and a cultural dimension to this crisis. Culturally, we need to move to greater awareness of our purchasing decisions, to drive producers to change their practices, but we need the legislation to back that up. There will always be plastic waste, and we need to halt those bales of mixed plastic being shipped out and dealt with somewhere else; we need to deal with our mess here. In our regime, it is “Out of sight, out of mind.” That is the UK’s position and it is incorrigible.

We need a technical vision, too. We need to see beyond the current challenges and find a route out of them. This might seem a little abstract, but I want to touch on the production of Concorde, the supersonic passenger aircraft. It is no exaggeration to say that the engineers and technicians who designed that aircraft had no idea how they were going to do it when they embarked on it. We need to recover some of that ambition and eagerness to confront the challenges in front of us.

The Scottish Government led the way in October 2014 with the plastic bag charge, with England following after. Scotland is again leading the way. We have already banned personal hygiene products containing plastic microbeads, and plastic-stemmed cotton buds. In this parliamentary Session, the SNP will take action to ban single-use plastic cutlery, plates, straws, balloon sticks and so on. Those are some of the most environmentally damaging single-use plastics, and we will ban their manufacture and supply in Scotland. My hon. Friend Patricia Gibson went through the entire list, and I have touched on some of the imminent improvements in Scotland. They will be supplemented by an ambitious deposit return scheme.

I urge the Minister to listen to Members from her own party, if not to me, and to have the most ambitious deposit return scheme. The one that we are to introduce in Scotland next year will incentivise the recycling of not only single-use plastic drinks containers, but cans and glass bottles. Scotland is leading the way, and I very much hope that the UK Government will follow in this context and many others. It is incumbent on Ministers and the Government to ensure that this is delivered on.

May I, in a conclusion that is hopefully not too confusing, speak up for plastics, as some right hon. and hon. Members have done? I do not fancy a life without plastic. I do not want to get on an aeroplane without plastic; I do not want to get ill in a world without plastic; and I really do not want to clean up after my 12-year-old Golden Retriever in a world without plastic. Plastic is not the villain here. We must minimise its use in a way that is consistent with our climate objectives, but focus on the post-consumer regime. The operative word in the plastic waste crisis is “waste”, and I urge the Government not to waste any more time.