Government Support for a Circular Economy

– in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 25 October 2023.

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Photo of Caroline Ansell Caroline Ansell Conservative, Eastbourne 4:30, 25 October 2023

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered Government support for a circular economy.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which is a leading non-governmental organisation on the topic, the circular economy is

“a system where materials never become waste” and the natural environment is able to regenerate, and in which

“products and materials are kept in circulation through processes like maintenance, reuse, refurbishment, remanufacture, recycling, and composting.”

The sustainable and regenerative system that it creates is one in which economic growth is decoupled from our resource consumption.

I hope to make it clear that there are economic opportunities to be derived from a more circular economy. It is great example of the environment and the economy going hand in hand, rather than being pitted against one another as competing and conflicting aims. The approach runs counter to the linear “take, make and dispose” approach to resource consumption to which we have become accustomed.

To illustrate the status quo, imagine a single-use plastic bottle of water. The bottle takes approximately five seconds to produce in a factory. It is transported to a shop for someone to buy, and it takes around five minutes to drink, at which point it is put in the bin. Having taken just five seconds to produce and five minutes to consume, the plastic bottle can then stay in our environment for 500 years. Even then—as I have been cautioned by the founder and lead member of Plastic Free Eastbourne, who is a modest local hero—the journey does not end there. Every piece of plastic that we have ever produced is still with us somewhere. When a plastic bottle eventually starts to degrade, it does not simply disappear; it breaks down into smaller parts—microplastics and even nanoplastics.

That is one of the reasons for the campaign to roll out refillable water bottles, which hon. Members will see if they visit my fair constituency of Eastbourne. The first refillable water bottle station, which I had the great privilege to attend back in the time between lockdowns, was introduced in 2021. That one refill station has now sprung to 14, and a further five are in the pipeline, so that people can return again and again to fill their bottles, in their own circular economy.

Plastic bottles are still in production in their millions, and we pay for the convenience, perhaps without thinking about the inevitable hidden costs to our environment. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has undertaken hugely important work in order to make strides in this area, and specifically to improve recycling rates in England. As recently as this weekend, DEFRA made important announcements about its reforms for simpler recycling, which will see councils across England providing for the collection of the same set of materials from households, including a weekly food waste collection.

There is perhaps a higher calling to that notion of food waste. I met just this week with an enterprise called Too Good to Go. Its app connects local shoppers to local businesses that are anxious to pass on food that would otherwise go to waste. In my constituency alone, 70,000 kg of food—equivalent in its carbon emissions, I am told, to 156 days of constant warm showers—has been saved from landfill.

The recycling reforms do not stop there. I know that the Minister’s Department has been working tirelessly to create an extended producer responsibility scheme for packaging that moves the burden of responsibility and payment for waste management from local councils to packaging producers. The scheme will help to ensure that the polluter pays for the packaging legacy that it creates. In doing so, it will encourage innovation and lower packaging use. It will also ensure that all the packaging we use has a clear label stating “recycle” or “do not recycle”.

As the Minister will know, last week was Recycling Week 2023. The theme was “the big recycling hunt”—an entire week dedicated to shedding light on the recyclable everyday household items that we do not put in the recycling bin, such as aerosols and plastic cleaning and toiletry bottles. With so many random recycling labels out there, the presence of a standard, recognisable label will remove doubt and help consumers to get it right when they go to the recycling bin.

Another critical aspect of the extended producer responsibility scheme is the modulated fee structure. In theory, that will mean that producers are charged different amounts, paying less for recyclable items than non-recyclable ones. However, I understand that industry is still awaiting the details, meaning that the timeline for roll-out is stretched, and there could be a scenario in which producers are paying into the scheme before the modulated fee structure has been implemented. The modulated fee structure is the key to driving the action we want to see from packaging producers. Could the Minister provide further clarity on the timeline? We need to ensure that we incentivise producers not only correctly but in a sufficiently timely manner for them to deliver change to their packaging.

The third pillar to these packaging reforms is the deposit return scheme for drinks containers. I know that progress on that policy has been fraught due to factors outside of DEFRA’s control, but it was an aspiration and ambition raised at Plastic Free Eastbourne’s recent water summit. It is considered an important solution, so how do we focus on it? It has worked incredibly well for our European neighbours, albeit less so across the border in Scotland. I understand that there are potentially lessons to be learned from that experience. I would welcome an update from the Minister on the scheme.

Individually and collectively, the reforms will be game changing for our recycling system and help to boost our stubbornly low recycling rates in Eastbourne and across England. In my own council area, the recycling rate sits at 32.8%, which is sadly below the national average of 44% and below next-door Wealden’s 48%. I am concerned about the risk that a focus on recycling may overshadow other processes I have referenced, such as reduction, reuse, refurbishment, re-manufacture and composting, which are all so critical to the creation of a circular economy.

Speaking of composting, let me return briefly to the topic of food waste. It is certainly welcome news that households will now have a weekly food waste collection. Even collecting food waste in its own bin has been shown to reduce the amount of waste created, perhaps by embarrassing people—awkward but true—into cutting their waste. The carbon emissions from food waste are enormous and represent a huge waste of money and food. Processing food waste through composting and anaerobic digestion will help to reduce the emissions that would have been created if it had gone into the general waste bin.

I also want to draw attention to what other countries, such as Italy, are doing with their collection of food waste and compostable plastics. Those plastics are made from bioplastics, which means that, unlike regular plastics, they are not made using fossil fuels and they break down quickly in industrial composting facilities. This challenge—the move from fossil-based plastics to those made from more sustainable and renewable raw materials such as corn and starch—was the subject of a petition by Eastbourne’s plastic-free community that garnered 1,446 signatures. This important topic was covered in some depth by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in its report published earlier this year.

I am aware that there are challenges in the transition to bioplastics, including with disposal, the question of one-time use, and the use of land to grow the raw materials. But the march towards the bioeconomy the world over, with ever-increasing uptake and interest in bioplastics, is something that we must surely be watching with keen interest. I understand that the UK does not have as many composting facilities as anaerobic digestion plants, but compostable plastics are increasingly being adopted by businesses that want to do the right thing for the environment.

Compostable plastics are a clear example of the market in action. Recognising the problem posed by single-use plastic waste, companies have invested in research and development, and come up with an innovative tech-driven solution. There are many businesses already operating in this space, and we should surely incentivise them rather than disadvantaging them with a framework that does not recognise the good that their work could represent.

The applications of compostable plastics are broad. I have seen them used in items such as coffee cups, packaging for online clothing deliveries, coffee pods, sauce sachets, tea bags, and—perhaps most relatably—food waste caddy liners. The Government and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation are in agreement that there is a role for compostable plastics in specific applications such as coffee pods and tea bags. In a recent DEFRA consultation on consistency in recycling, 77% of respondents approved of the introduction of compostable caddy liners, a move supported by the Bio-based and Biodegradable Industries Association, but the commentary in the executive summary suggests quite the opposite—that a majority disagreed with that move. Is that something that the Minister could resolve?

I have devoted a lot of time to packaging—I think that reflects both where the general public’s interest lies and where DEFRA has taken most steps—but packaging is only part of the circular economy. The UK throws away 300,000 tonnes of electrical waste from households and businesses each year. That makes us the world’s second largest annual contributor of e-waste, averaging a whopping 23.9 kg per person. The idea of fast tech—the disposable use of electronic goods—is gaining prominence among campaigners, and disposable vapes in particular have become a focus. The Government have taken steps to tackle disposable vapes, but the issue is much broader.

To illustrate that, recent research by Material Focus revealed that there are 7.5 million unused electrical children’s toys hidden in households across the UK. Even if they do make it out of the cupboard, they do not necessarily go to the right place. Three million toys have been sent to landfill in the past six months alone. That is enough to fill Hamleys’ flagship Regent Street store nearly 14 times over—not fun; we have all seen “Toy Story 3”.

I understand that some councils are voluntarily introducing kerbside or communal bins for e-waste collection. Even rolled out at scale, however, will that tackle the problem head on? Do we not need to look further upstream to the design of products and the obligations that we place on their producers?

Photo of Selaine Saxby Selaine Saxby Conservative, North Devon

I thank my hon. Friend for her excellent speech and for bringing this important matter before the House. She is talking about encouraging people to behave a certain way with reusable products, but does she agree that this place could also utilise the tax system more effectively? Take period products: unlike products that cannot be reused, we tax products promoted as “period pants” at 20%. Will she join me in supporting the Marks & Spencer campaign that went to No. 10 yesterday and saying “pants to the tax”?

Photo of Caroline Ansell Caroline Ansell Conservative, Eastbourne

I thank my hon. Friend for saying “pants to the tax”, and I am happy to confirm that I am 100% behind the campaign. It is a strange and extraordinary anomaly that period pants are classified as a garment, rather than as a period product. I cannot imagine anyone wearing period pants on other days of the month, just for fashion or pleasure, so I 100% subscribe to the campaign. We would be levelling up not only by changing the VAT regime for period pants, but by distinguishing between disposable and reusable. Surely we want to promote reusable in this context. It would be an important incentive because it would give choice, and my understanding is that the leading companies have pledged that the tax difference would be passed on to customers. This is another important way in which we can use the frameworks and levers around VAT and tax, as my hon. Friend said, to help people make the best and wisest decisions. I thank her for mentioning that important campaign.

Some products are more easily reused and repaired than others. A more circular approach in general would be a welcome step up in ambition, but I understand that the Minister is actively engaged through reforms to the waste electrical and electronic equipment regulations. It would be good to hear how those reforms are progressing.

Each year, only 1% of clothes are recycled into new clothes. It has been estimated that one truckload of clothing is landfilled or burned every second globally. On our high streets, charity shops do a fantastic job of providing access to textile reuse, both for clothing and for sometimes overlooked purposes such as furniture upholstery. Access to charity stores has helped to normalise reuse.

The work of charity shops will only go so far, however, and does not tackle the root cause. Back in 2018, the Government committed to consult on a textile extended producer responsibility scheme, but that has been superseded by other pressing priorities for the Department. However, there was a commitment to help establish the best waste hierarchy in order to better manage textile waste. With the Government target to halve residual waste, we have an incentive to tackle textile waste, but without a clear route to correct disposal, clothes will continue to be sent to landfill and incineration. In the light of that, I wonder what more the Minister might have planned to tackle textile waste.

This might be a Miranda Hart moment: my notes say “lubes”. For the benefit of Hansard, however, I might resort to “lubricants”. I wish to make some comments about cross-departmental collaboration. Energy is a resource that we must husband effectively and efficiently. With the UK target to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, we have been made to reassess our relationship with energy and the composition of specific resources that that might require.

Intuitively, we know that a more circular economy is one that uses renewable energy sources. In the south, looking across the downland from Eastbourne, we can see the most glorious vista across the waves to Rampion offshore wind farm, which powers half the homes in Sussex, and there is an ambition for an extension that would take in the whole county. As we continue to adopt renewables at scale, we must make sure that the resources that go into harvesting the energy are sustainable. The topic of blade recyclability is gaining traction, but the sustainability mindset should cover all aspects of the process, right down to whether the lubricants used in the generation of energy are sustainable. If our wind farms made the transition to bio-based lubricants, typically from vegetable oils, that would be very effective. Of course, the UK has abundant bio-based resources, such as rapeseed oil, for producing bio-lubricants.

There are further advantages to the adoption of a bio-based fuel. Bio-based fuels not only extend the life of the machinery, as evidenced by the Eden Project, but have a wider economic and environmental benefit: if they are accidentally discharged into the environment, they are benign compared with petroleum-based lubricants. Although waste and resources as a whole sit with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, wind turbines are a Department for Energy Security and Net Zero matter. It is vital that cross-cutting, cross-Department issues do not fall through the cracks, so I would love to know what work could be undertaken between DEFRA and DESNZ around such issues and challenges. I will take that up with colleagues in DESNZ.

I know that by covering only packaging, electronics, textiles and renewables, I have missed out many other sectors that would benefit from a circular economy, but I hope that I have gone some way towards illustrating the opportunities, and the case for Government support. Business giants such as Currys, Apple, M&S and IKEA have been experimenting with reuse and take-back schemes. Indeed, the likes of eBay stake their entire business model on reuse. I am sporting my latest purchase: my vintage M&S jacket recently procured through eBay. They are joined by a suite of start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises across the country that have put the circular economy at their heart. However, across the board, businesses are concerned that without stronger incentives, we will perhaps not see the leap from small-scale initiatives and trials to mass roll-out.

A circular economy is more efficient. It can save us money and make us money. In short, this is not a hair-shirted environmental mission. There are economic opportunities to be pursued, but after decades of disposability, there is work to be done to ensure that action is aligned with the Government’s commitment to creating a more circular economy.

Photo of Stewart Hosie Stewart Hosie Scottish National Party, Dundee East

Before I call the next speaker, may I remind the Front-Bench speakers that in these hour-long debates, the speaking times are five minutes for Opposition Front Benchers and 10 minutes for the Government? I call Andrew Selous.

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous The Second Church Estates Commissioner, The Second Church Estates Commissioner

Can I just check, Mr Hosie, that you did not want to call anyone from the other side of the Chamber first?

Photo of Stewart Hosie Stewart Hosie Scottish National Party, Dundee East

I apologise. I will happily call Mr Jim Shannon; I did not have his name down.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 4:54, 25 October 2023

I am happy that you are happy to do so, Mr Hosie. It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. First, I congratulate Caroline Ansell on leading today’s debate and setting the scene so very well by giving us an evidential base and information, which is so important. As we approach COP, it is always good to have these discussions, so that we can assess what stage we are at, in terms of product stability and waste management. Throughout the United Kingdom, we all have different strategies for contributing to the circular economy. It is always my intent to give a Northern Ireland perspective. I do it in every debate; I make sure that our position, as part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, is clear.

It is always a pleasure to see the Minister in her place. I look forward to her response and the solution-based answer that she always gives us. I am also pleased to see the two shadow Ministers in their place, especially the SNP spokesperson, Dave Doogan, who survived Storm Babet. We missed him in the debate here last Thursday, which was on his area of responsibility. It is good to have them both here.

Back home, the Department for the Economy has initiated a draft circular economy strategy for Northern Ireland. It stated:

“We are all experiencing the impact of resource scarcity in the rising cost of living. We know the earth provides an abundant, but finite supply of resources that we are rapidly depleting.”

That is a fact of life; that is where we are. This revolution of resources will be an essential part of reducing our emissions, and it will be embedded in climate action plans, and in Northern Ireland’s multi-decade green growth strategy.

Our research back home for the strategy has shown that Northern Ireland imports and extracts some 31.5 million tonnes of materials annually. That is the equivalent weight of nearly 16 million cars. It puts into perspective the magnitude of what we are discussing. For a country the size and population of Northern Ireland—we have 1.95 million people—we are consuming a disproportionate amount of the Earth’s resources. Clearly, that has to improve. It is estimated that each person in Northern Ireland is consuming some 16.6 tonnes of resources per year.

When I give a Northern Ireland perspective, I like to give an idea of what the council is doing in my constituency. Ards and North Down Council, which covers the area where I both work and reside, has proven committed to acting sustainably to create a vibrant and healthy environment. There is always room for improvement when it comes to meeting our net zero targets and waste management, but recognising the contribution that local councils and smaller devolved institutions can make to the UK is the first major step in regulating sustainability in our environments and products.

Ards Borough Council, or Ards and North Down Council as it is now, has a proactive recycling strategy. It takes away the blue bins, grey bins and black bins, and there are bottle banks as well. Those are all things that we do to try to make recycling more sustainable. However, unfortunately, we have come to a crux in the road: the recycling targets we have set seem to have been achieved, but having had population growth, we do not seem to be doing any more. The council is looking into how it can do better.

In conclusion, although the Minister does not have direct responsibility for Northern Ireland, I know that she engages with the Departments back home and, through the Assembly, directly with the councils. I ask her to consider the contribution that Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales can make to circular economies across the United Kingdom. This is not something we can do on our own; I want to get that point across. We cannot do this regionally in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales, but we can if we all come together. The good thing about agreeing on the targets and the strategy is that we can ensure that we all benefit. I look forward to engaging on this topic, and perhaps we will revisit it after COP28 this year.

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous The Second Church Estates Commissioner, The Second Church Estates Commissioner 4:59, 25 October 2023

It is a pleasure to take part in this important debate, so ably introduced by my hon. Friend Caroline Ansell. Someone said to me recently that when we say, “Throw it away,” we need to realise that there is no such place as “away”, because everything ends up somewhere. Matter becomes different types of matter. We need to think about our language sometimes, and to have a whole different mindset in this important area.

Today we are talking about reducing waste, reducing cost, conserving nature and making sure that the polluter pays. I think those are principles to which we would all sign up. They are inherently conservative as well, and they are really important. As my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne said, we have to move away from the linear economy of take, make and dispose, and towards the circular economy of reuse, repair, recycle and remanufacture. I pay tribute to businesses large and small that have been on this journey for a while. I think I first heard the expression “the circular economy” from Unilever. Many businesses get it, and they want a helping and supportive environment from the Government, which I know the Minister will try to provide for them.

We have already had many examples in this debate of items going unnecessarily to landfill, including toys. I was particularly pleased to present a Points of Light award to Charlotte Liebling from Leighton Buzzard in my constituency. She runs the wonderful charity Loved Before, which takes children’s teddies that have been greatly loved and often hugged night after night. When children do not want them anymore, the teddies go to Loved Before. They are sanitised, repaired, repackaged and loved again and again by other children. Charlotte has prevented thousands and thousands of teddies from going to landfill all over the country, and it was a pleasure to present her with her Points of Light award from our former Prime Minister a couple of years ago.

We are in the middle of a cost of living crisis, for reasons with which we are all familiar, and it is important to point out to our constituents that reusing resources and reducing waste can save the average household around £300 a year. That is not an insignificant sum of money for many families, so there is definitely an economic aspect to this, which will help people’s purses and wallets. I am pleased to see that many of our leading companies, such as IKEA, Currys, Primark and Apple, run take-back schemes. It is scandalous that many of us get pressured into replacing our mobile phones after only two years. The mobile phone companies do not upgrade the software, so we are almost forced to replace our phones, but it is good that companies such as Apple now have a proper take-back scheme, so that other people can use those phones, and they do not get wasted.

I was very pleased to see the Government’s announcement on Saturday morning. We have to recognise that recycling rates have plateaued at around 44% in England. They rose for a number of years, but we are not making the progress that we want. The Government have committed to starting a deposit return scheme in the next year or so; to introducing requirements on local authorities to recycle standardised items; and to making recycling labels mandatory. We need a very clear, easy-to-understand guarantee that if a product has the mandatory recycling label on it, people can put it in a recycling bin wherever they are in the country and know that it will get recycled, and they do not have to wonder whether the local authority will recycle it.

Weekly food waste collections are really important. A couple of years ago, I learned that if food waste was a country in its own right, it would have the third highest greenhouse gas emissions on the planet. That is hugely significant. These are very dangerous gases, such as methane, which is particularly bad for the environment, so this is so important. I gently say to some of my constituents, even up and down my road, that I do not always see the food waste bin outside. I make sure that mine goes out every week, because it is part of our civic responsibility to get with the programme if we care about the environment and our planet. That is a bit of gentle encouragement to some of my constituents.

Extended responsibility schemes for packaging are absolutely right, and the Government are right to be committed to the “polluter pays” principle. It should not be the taxpayer who always has to pick up the tab. Those responsible need to raise their game as well.

I welcome the Government’s commitment to the near elimination of biodegradable municipal waste to landfill from 2028. That is excellent. I am also pleased to see the commitment to raising the rate of recycling for municipal waste from 44% to 65% by 2035. I would love that to happen sooner, but let us at least try to meet that target, and get there earlier if we can.

I am also particularly pleased about mandatory digital waste tracking. There are too many fly-tipping cowboy criminals, as I mentioned in my maiden speech over 22 years ago, and we need to crack down on them. Congratulations to Peter Byrne at Central Bedfordshire Council, who has secured a number of convictions on that front recently, which is excellent.

There are a couple of areas where we could do more. There is too much farm food waste; that is food that could be eaten. It is not always easy to deal with; I had a particularly prolific apple tree this year, and I tried to give the apples away, but although I did as much as I could, I am afraid that some were wasted. I peeled, cored, sliced and froze as many as I could. Farmers need help in that area. Textiles have been mentioned, and it is shocking that only 1% are recycled. I would like to do another shout out to my dry cleaner, Met of Four Seasons Dry Cleaners in Dunstable, who has repatched my gardening trousers about 12 times. I keep on wearing them, and that is very good. Also, on electronic items, we have to get away from fast tech. It is also great that the UK was in the lead on the UN global plastics treaty.

Let me finish by saying that it is absolutely shocking that a plastic bottle takes five seconds to make, takes five seconds to drink, and then lasts for 500 years in our environment. We have to do better on that front.

Photo of Stewart Hosie Stewart Hosie Scottish National Party, Dundee East

Who on earth would have thought that we would be talking about the hon. Gentleman’s gardening trousers? I call Dave Doogan.

Photo of Dave Doogan Dave Doogan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy Security and Net Zero) 5:07, 25 October 2023

It is a genuine pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I want to touch on a couple of issues that were raised, and I am grateful to Caroline Ansell for securing this important debate.

Mr Hosie, in Angus we recycle—and I literally mean “we”: you, I and everyone else in Angus—54.7% of our post-consumer waste. That is to be celebrated, but I am relieved that the SNP administration on Angus Council is not resting on its laurels. In the last budget, it was looking at measures to get that figure even higher. Although I salute the plea from Andrew Selous for civic responsibility in recycling and disposing more responsibly of food waste, let me gently suggest that a statutory responsibility is far more effective. Scotland has a statutory responsibility on local authorities to collect food waste at the doorstep, and we have used it to good effect.

I think that disposable vapes are universally loathed among parliamentarians. I recently had to replace a tyre after it succumbed to the innards of a disposable vape. In this debate, we need to separate the truly pernicious public health element of disposable vapes, which are cynically marketed to children, and focus on the environmental consequences, which are vast and disastrous for us. I understand that the Government are looking at that. Will the Minister update us on what actions are being planned?

I know that we are not allowed to use props in the Chamber, but these water cups are among the products that are marketed as being allegedly biodegradable. Can the Minister update the Chamber on how genuinely biodegradable they are? My understanding is that they are biodegradable in little more than a marketing sense, and that the amount of energy that has to be put into recycling them, supposing that a facility that can recycle them can be found, is truly appalling.

Unlike here in Westminster, the Scottish Government are committed to implementing legislation to ensure a transition to a circular economy, and to support growth in green businesses while cutting waste and climate emissions. However, the UK Government continue to abuse their post-Brexit powers to prevent the Scottish Government from taking action. We saw that after the Scottish Government introduced the Circular Economy Bill to the Scottish Parliament. The Bill will give Ministers powers to set local recycling targets, which is fine; ban the disposal of unsold consumer goods; and place charges on single-use items. On that last provision, the Scottish Government went further and legislated for a deposit return scheme, which was due to go live in August ’23, until the malign last-minute intervention of the United Kingdom Government. They unilaterally halted Scotland’s ambitions until October ’25 at the earliest, and held Scotland back to keep us in line with England. A partnership of equals? I think not!

The European Commission adopted a new circular economy plan in March 2020. Europe is marching on ahead. Thirteen countries have a deposit returns scheme. It is entirely unremarkable on the continent and Scotland would be among that number were we not shackled to this failing Westminster system. A transition to a circular economy is crucial to our fight against climate change. We must remain committed to shifting away from a disposable economy. I am struck by hon. Members talking about throwing away. Away where? It does not go anywhere. It stays with us. We must remain committed to that priority. Our society should be based on the principles of recycling and reusing, and that should be achieved through deeds, not words.

I am saddened that the UK Government exposed their deep-seated—and justifiable—insecurity by preventing Scotland from following through on their legislation in this entirely devolved area, solely to show who is in charge and to mask their own legislative inaction. A shift towards a circular economy would also deliver reductions in energy consumption, which should be a priority alongside green power, but is not—not here in the UK, anyway. A transition to a circular economy could deliver significant gains for industry and generate savings, as others have already evidenced, for households and businesses alike.

The Scottish Government have been working to implement legislation to drive and create a circular economy, which would support the growth of green businesses. The deposit returns scheme was a significant part of that. When the Scottish Government were prevented by Westminster from introducing the DRS, Westminster blocked an issue that had cross-party consensus in a devolved area. Consider this contrast: when the Scottish Government disagree with the UK Government, we can decline to provide legislative consent; when Westminster decides that it disagrees with Scottish Government legislation, it blocks it. A Union of equals? I do not think so. We in the Scottish Government are committed to furthering the ambitions of environmental protection and renewal, and that is how we will continue.

Photo of Ruth Jones Ruth Jones Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 5:12, 25 October 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I first offer my congratulations to Caroline Ansell on securing this important debate. She made so many important points during her opening speech, which we obviously all listened to with great interest and agreement.

It feels as though we have been talking about circular economics for a long time, but we seem to be going backwards in some areas when it comes to action. It is estimated that there are enough unused cables in UK households to go around the world five times, alongside a hoard of 20 unused electronic items in every household across the UK, yet electronic manufacturers and online retailers do little or nothing to stem the flow of more and more. It does not seem to occur to them at the design stage to even think about making a product durable, reusable, able to be repurposed or built from readily replaceable and upgradable components.

Far too often, products are made with components that will fail and either cannot be repaired or can be fixed only by the original manufacturer. Our economy is stuck in a linear mindset, in which the full costs of environmental impacts are just not factored in. That means high-quality, long-lasting products are undercut by cheap, poor-quality goods that are designed for a single use or a short lifetime.

As ever, there are loads of great initiatives across the UK. In the summer, I had the privilege of spending a day at the Greater Manchester Renewal Hub in Trafford. It is a vast warehouse complex run by SUEZ. It has reuse and repair workshops and is operated by a whole team of community organisations. There are areas for furniture restoring and upcycling, bike repairs, and electrical equipment testing and repairing. Excellent-quality items are resold through the local shops and online. In my constituency of Newport West, our local shop, Remake, hires out products, repairs items and runs classes, including sewing classes, to enable local people to actually repair their own products and give them skills for the future, which is brilliant.

It is clear that need a proper circular economy action plan, but unfortunately we have a hopelessly piecemeal and hotchpotch system, which is emblematic of the Government’s current sticking plaster approach. Even worse, it seems that we now have the Prime Minister trying to turn recycling into a political football. The hon. Members for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon) mentioned the recycling figures. Certainly, in England they are very low. [Interruption.] I apologise; I meant Angus, not Strangford —I got my countries muddled up. Dave Doogan made the point about Scotland striving for higher recycling figures. In Wales, the recycling figures are always over 60%, and we are striving for 70%. We are the third best recycling country in the world at the moment and are striving to be second.

Some 80% of the environmental impact of a product is in the design phase, so to prevent waste we have to look at things such as built-in obsolescence and electronic products that are either designed not to be repairable or can be repaired only by the manufacturer. The Government’s adviser, the Waste and Resources Action Programme, recommended that Government should support businesses to focus on remanufacturing and repair, which will generate new jobs and tackle structural unemployment. We are also missing a huge opportunity to generate growth and jobs in the economy. Widespread adoption of circular economy business models has the potential to boost the UK economy by around £75 billion in gross value added, according to WRAP. It also believes that moving to a more circular economy, including through recycling, could create around half a million jobs across all skill levels and regions of the UK.

We need a strategy for a circular economy with proper and effective buy-in from the devolved Administrations. That will drive up vital business investment in circular design and reusability. Getting in place the right Government support for a circular economy is a real priority for the next Labour Government.

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 5:16, 25 October 2023

I congratulate my hon. Friend Caroline Ansell on securing this debate, which gives me, as the Minister, the opportunity to talk about so much that is going on in this sphere. I also want to extend a welcome to a gentleman from my hon. Friend’s constituency, Mr Sterno, who is here. I believe he is something of a hero locally and has introduced a plastic-free world, basically, in Eastbourne. I congratulate him on that. He also initiated the Spring Water Festival and refillable water stations. He is a model of the kind of constituent we would all welcome. I thank him for all his work and hon. Members and hon. Friends who have taken part.

Natural capital is one of our most valuable assets. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the land we live on and the stock of material resources that we use in our daily lives are at the heart of our economy, our society and our way of life. We must not take those for granted. In fact, my hon. Friend Andrew Selous highlighted that very clearly in his speech. I want to set out the things we are doing in Government. Contrary to what was said by the shadow Minister, Ruth Jones, and, much as I respect her, we are taking this very seriously and we have a joined-up strategy. She suggested that it was all piecemeal, but I think it will be clear by the end of my speech that that is not the case.

In our 2018 resources and waste strategy for England, we set out how we will preserve that stock of material resources by minimising waste, promoting resource efficiency and moving towards the circular economy. The strategy also made clear our intent to minimise the damage caused to our natural environment by waste and to promote clean growth as we move towards reducing the amount of waste we produce and better handling the waste we generate. The strategy combined immediate actions with firm commitments for the coming years and gave a clear, long-term policy direction in line with our 25-year environment plan, which was refreshed in January this year as our environmental improvement plan. This is our blueprint for eliminating avoidable plastic waste over the lifetime of the plan, for doubling resource productivity and for eliminating avoidable waste of all kinds by 2050—so perhaps I should present a copy of it to the shadow Minister.

I would like to assure my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne that my Department remains absolutely committed to these ambitious goals—as I know she is; that was very clear from her speech—and that we have set that out in those publications. Indeed, over the past few years, we have made considerable progress towards realising the aims set out in our plan.

With plastics, we began in 2018 by introducing one of the world’s toughest bans on plastic microbeads in rinse-off personal care products. I was just a Back Bencher then—although I should not say “just”—and it is one of the things that I am most proud of being part of, having come to this place. We raised the issue, we gathered the evidence and the data, and the ban was introduced—it happened. That was a huge step forwards.

We followed that in 2020 by restricting the supply of single-use plastic straws and cotton buds, and by banning single-use drink stirrers. From 1 October this year, we have restricted the supply of single-use plastic plates, bowls and trays, and banned single-use plastic cutlery, balloon sticks, and expanded and foam extruded polystyrene food and drink containers—the sort of bubbly or crackly ones. Furthermore, we also increased the carrier bag charge to 10p and extended it to all businesses back in May 2021. That has reduced carrier bag sales across the main retailers by an incredible 98%.

In addition to our domestic progress on plastic, the UK has shown real international leadership in tackling plastic pollution, which was mentioned earlier by a few hon. Friends. We are continuing to deliver international UK aid programmes through our blue planet fund. I was fortunate enough to go to Colombia in the summer and I launched a £10 million programme working with Colombia. Some of Colombia’s beautiful islands, beautiful as they are, are being completely weighed down by the weight of plastic and the lack of recycling. Terrible damage can also be seen in the ocean there. Our money is helping with education and work programmes to tackle all those things. I was genuinely so proud to see what we are doing and the lead we are taking on this.

Significantly, we are also co-sponsoring the proposal to prepare the landmark and legally binding treaty to end plastic pollution, which is absolutely critical. The UK is also a founding member of the High Ambition Coalition to end plastic pollution, which is a group of 50 countries calling for strong global obligations and targets, including the goal of ending plastic pollution by 2040. We hope that the eventual instrument—this is happening really quickly—will include obligations relating to the whole lifecycle of plastic, from production to consumption, right through to the environmentally sound management of waste, to create a legal framework for reducing the total quantity of plastic on the planet that goes out on to the market, and to set a really clear road map for that.

However, I always say, even when I go out on the international stage, that we have to take the lead at home. We have to demonstrate. We cannot tell other people what to do; we have to be doing it here, and I think everybody in the Chamber clearly feels the same.

Beyond plastic pollution, we are overhauling our whole approach to recycling and packaging waste. The collections and packaging reforms programme comprises a number of schemes. We have the extended producer responsibility scheme for packaging, known as the EPR, which, as has been pointed out, is very much based on the “polluter pays” principle. We also have the deposit return scheme for drinks containers, known as the DRS, and simpler recycling, formerly known as the consistency in recycling collection scheme—we have simplified the whole thing, including the name. Together, the reforms will make up three of the most significant commitments in our resources and waste strategy, and they will play a really key part in delivering our goals for the environment. These reforms will also drive clean growth and reduce the amount of waste that we generate.

Photo of Ruth Jones Ruth Jones Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Although the EPR and the DRS are laudable schemes, does the Minister agree that they seem to have hit the buffers? They have been delayed, and although we have had consultations, we are a long way down the line, yet nothing has happened so far. Does she agree that consistent recycling has also been a long time coming and that it should not be a political football?

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Lady will not be surprised that I completely disagree with her. All these schemes are aligning. Maybe she has not been listening to the recent announcements about all the things coming down the track, and maybe she does not have a complete understanding of how all these schemes will dovetail together. It is so important that we listen to business and to industry, so that we make these schemes work for everyone.

Photo of Dave Doogan Dave Doogan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy Security and Net Zero)

The Minister is gently pushing back against the Labour Front-Bench spokesperson, Ruth Jones, about the perceived lack of commitment from the UK Government. It is my understanding that the Conservative party’s 2019 manifesto contained a commitment to DRS, which included glass. Can the Minister confirm that that target has now slipped to 2025? There is a very good chance that, putting it mildly, they might not be in government in 2025.

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Scottish spokesperson raised the whole subject of the DRS in his speech. I was disappointed at the approach he has taken, because my officials and I are at pains to be working so closely with all the devolveds on this, particularly Scotland, in the light of what happened with its deposit return scheme. Just this morning I had a meeting with business and industry. The key things they want are good relations and inter-operability of the schemes. That is partly why we moved our EPR by one year, because we listen to business and industry, and they asked us for more time. These things are really complicated for our businesses to roll out, and we have to ensure that they work and will deliver what they are there for.

Absolute alignment is what would work best for all these schemes to achieve what I think we all want, and that is what we are working on with all our devolved counterparts. It would be brilliant if the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Newport West, could help that along in Wales, and if our SNP colleague, Dave Doogan, could help us along in Scotland—generally, we always get great support from Jim Shannon. That is something on which we could really work together strongly to help with this.

The overall objectives of our packaging scheme are to encourage businesses to consider how much packaging they use, to design and to use packaging that is more easily recyclable, and to encourage the use of reusable and refillable packaging—I have brought along my refillable water bottle, which is something we could all be doing, although I see that the shadow Minister has not brought along hers.

We have committed to setting ambitious new packaging waste recycling targets for producers, and the packaging EPR policy measures will be key in delivering these. The data already being gathered by the businesses will inform what the fees will be, and that money will be used to pay for the simpler recycling collection. It is all circular. The more recyclable the packaging the producer puts on the market, the lower the fee it will pay. That will drive the design, reusability and recyclability of the product. This is genuinely very exciting, and there are huge opportunities for business, industry and innovation, which some colleagues have referred to.

The deposit return scheme will help to boost recycling levels, just as the EPR will, and to reduce littering, which was one of the main reasons we wanted to bring in that particular scheme. As has been mentioned, the simpler recycling details have now been launched. They are very flexible. We have worked with local authorities so that they know there will be something they can work with. They can put all the dry recyclables into one bag if they wish to, and the food waste will be separately collected. That will be mandatory. As has been pointed out, this is one of the biggest contributors to our emissions. DEFRA’s biggest emissions contribution is food waste, so we must collect it. It is absolutely right that we are going to make that mandatory.

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous The Second Church Estates Commissioner, The Second Church Estates Commissioner

Very briefly, can the Minister confirm that, in the main, the local authorities that recycle the most have only three bins?

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Three bins is one possible direction. If a council still wanted to separate out all the products, as mine does in Somerset—if that works, because it has the systems and knows it can get the onward market right—then that is fine. But if it wants to put all those dry things into one bin, it can. It will then end up with three bins: that one, one for food waste and the big one for general waste that it is simply very hard to recycle, which will tend to go to incineration to create energy. But the worst thing is landfill, which is what we are trying to eliminate altogether.

We are also honouring our existing commitments to waste prevention, which is really important. So for England, maximising resources—

Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(14)).