Fly-tipping and Illegal Dumping — [SIR MARK HENDRICK in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:29 pm on 24th May 2022.

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Photo of Ruth Jones Ruth Jones Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 3:29 pm, 24th May 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Mark. It is good to see so many colleagues in the Chamber, especially Government Members who are joining us in our plea for the Government to go further and faster in tackling the crime of fly-tipping and illegal dumping.

This is the first time I have spoken in the House since the election of a Labour Government in Australia, and I know the Minister will join me in wishing the new Prime Minister well on such a fantastic result. He is a friend to many in this place, including Adam Jogee in my team. Focusing on tackling the climate emergency worked down under, and I look forward to seeing the same thing happen here—and, of course, I am hoping for the same result here in the next election.

I thank Saqib Bhatti for calling this debate and providing the House with the opportunity to address our collective responsibility for preserving our country, protecting our environment and leaving our planet for the next generation. His predecessor, Dame Caroline Spelman, was of course Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the coalition Government, so his constituency has a keen interest in these matters. It has been clearly highlighted that many other constituencies across the UK do too, and the public are keen to do whatever they can to help. We have already heard about the Wombles and the litter-pickers across the UK. In Newport West, Malpas, Duffryn, Rogerstone and Graig all have litter-pickers out in regular occurrence. Our “road to nowhere”, which was a fly-tipping nightmare, has now been transformed into a road to nature, which is brilliant.

Hon. Members have rightly raised the scourge of waste in their communities, not just today but in many previous debates. Until Ministers step up and give councils the resources they need to keep our communities clean and safe, Members will continue to raise this issue and seek help, change and assistance. Thanks to a lost decade of Tory austerity, plastic waste is piling up on high streets and street corners, and in our green open spaces. Moreover, it is being exported to some of the world’s poorest countries, where what was supposed to be recycled material ends up in landfill, polluting our oceans. It is then shipped back to Britain for us to deal with. This is a very real problem, and it requires speedy, comprehensive and properly funded solutions.

Laura Trott highlighted the decrease in prosecutions by the Environment Agency. There is a reason for that: these agencies have been underfunded and understaffed for many years, and they have struggled to tackle waste crime and monitor waste exports because of the cuts to their budgets and staff numbers. We all know the impact that austerity has had on local government.

Hon. Members from across the House, including those who represent areas such as Meriden, have stories of how their local councils are struggling to deal with waste effectively, while being forced to cut waste collections. Labour believes that we need a more circular economy in the United Kingdom. The raw materials used to create our products should increasingly come from recycling our waste. Indeed, a Labour Government would take on the global waste crisis by investing in a new plastics recycling and remanufacturing industry, creating thousands of jobs, ending exports of plastic waste and reducing our contribution to ocean pollution.

I am sure the Minister knows that in England, the total volume of aggregate waste increased by 12% between 2010 and 2018. I speak to the House from a Welsh perspective: recycling must outpace the growth in consumption. That is a very simple sum that must add up.

Despite the new powers on waste targets in the Environment Act 2021, I am afraid that the Government have delayed the roll-out of important areas of extended producer responsibility, including the scheme administrators and fee modulation. The current inadequacies of waste collection and recycling systems mean that used compostable packaging tends to end up in either landfill or incineration, or it messes up recycling plants because some of the materials used can be as resistant to degrading in the sea as conventional plastics.

I do not want to show the Minister up, but I have to talk about the Welsh Labour Government, because Wales has been a standout performer in the UK when it comes to recycling rates and tackling waste pollution. The Welsh Labour Government have invested £1 billion since devolution in household recycling, and that has helped Wales’s recycling rates catapult from just 4.8% in 1998 to over 65% in 2021. The latest national recycling figures for Wales showed that we recycled 65.4% of our local authority-collected waste in 2020-21. Eighteen of 22 local authorities in Wales exceeded the statutory minimum target, and 13 reported an increase in performance on the previous year. The next statutory minimum target of 70% by 2024-25 has already been achieved by Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion, Conwy and Vale of Glamorgan. If the hon. Member for Meriden is hoping to find solutions to tackle waste pollution in his constituency, I urge him to look to Wales.

There are a couple of further points of interest. On the international dimension, since China banned the import of waste, illegal exports to other countries appear to be on the rise. I wonder why that is. England does not have the necessary waste and recycling infrastructure. I am afraid that has been made much worse by the soft-on-crime Conservatives, whose savage cuts have caused Environment Agency inspections and enforcement action to plummet since 2010.

When trying to stop waste and fly-tipping in our communities, it is worth looking at the provision for a deposit return scheme in Environment Act. That is limited to certain materials, rather than creating a framework that could be broadened to include more types of plastics or bioplastics in future. We know that deposit return schemes work successfully in other countries. We made it clear throughout Committee stage of the Environment Act that Labour supports a scheme funded by retailers and producers that collects plastic bottles, metal cans and single-use and reusable glass.

This is about pride and who we are as a country. For all the points we have raised about how to tackle the issue, we cannot ignore behaviour change. Waste does not just appear; it is caused by us all—everyday people going about our lives. That is why it is key that alongside all the enforcement, policies and decision making here in this place, we keep the focus on educating people. As my hon. Friend Stephanie Peacock said, education is key. That starts with how we preserve our planet by disposing of waste properly and safely, and includes why we all benefit from seeing and living on clean streets.

I hope the Minister will provide some answers to my questions. What are her plans to extend the deposit return scheme in the way Labour suggested? What discussions have taken place with the Treasury and the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities about ensuring that councils have the resources they need to tackle waste pollution? What lessons have been picked up from Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland about their approach to tackling toxic waste, fly-tipping and waste pollution? Those are simple questions and I hope the Minister will be able to give some answers.

I thank you, Sir Mark, for an interesting debate, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Meriden for bringing it to the Chamber.