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Beverage Containers

Volume 978: debated on Wednesday 6 February 1980

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4.13 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require all beverage containers to bear a minimum refund and to provide for the prohibition of the use of metal containers with pull tabs.
The world is facing an energy crisis. Everyone is aware of rising energy costs and the terrible world recession. We might argue that part of the cause of the energy crisis is the political instability in the Middle East. But that is a mere bland, superficial analysis. The reason behind the rise in energy costs is the scarcity of supplies. The modern industrial world is very wasteful of energy and of many other resources.

If we look around we see that there are many spheres where waste is so obvious that we almost come to accept it, especially in packaging where in many cases we have taken a step backwards. This is particularly so when we consider the supply of beverages such as beer, cider and soft drinks. Twenty years ago the vast majority of such goods were supplied to the United Kingdom market in the form of returnable glass bottles. Now, however, the use of that most ideal packaging method is being phased out and we are seeing more and more metal cans and non-returnable bottles. This adds up to a considerable depletion of resources, considerable visual pollution, a vast amount of energy consumption and added danger to life and limb.

The aim of my Bill is to correct that situation by requiring that all beers, ciders and soft drinks should be sold in returnable containers with a refundable deposit. This would not prohibit cans, merely those with ringpulls. I have singled these out because they are difficult to recycle, because of the metal mix of which they are made, and because the detached tabs constitute a danger to humans and animals. In fact, all non-returnable containers are a danger. The non-deposit bottle is less likely to be deposited in a safe place, is more likely to be broken and as a result may cut animals and humans. The National Farmers Union is continually worried about the problems of non-returnable packages in all forms.

Glass is the ideal container because it has the advantage of re-use as well as recycling. We have only to look at the milk bottle to see how it has borne the test of time in this country. The dairy industry today still advocates the use of the milk bottle. We should encourage, by legislation, similar use of glass returnable containers in the areas that I have suggested. By doing so we would immediately reduce the litter problem and that of refuse disposal, bearing in mind that 10 per cent. of all domestic refuse is made up of glass or metal containers. At the same time, we would save energy in the cost of production, save on resources and protect environmentally sensitive areas.

Glass is made of two predominant products—basically sand, which comes from the North Downs and part of Norfolk, and limestone which is mined in two national parks, the Yorkshire Dales and the Peak District. Therefore, I am arguing for a package which would save energy and be environmentally desirable.

However, this problem is not confined to Britain. It is international. It has been tackled with more vigour in other countries. In the United States a number of States have legislation along these lines—Maine, Vermont and Michigan, for example. In the EEC, Denmark only last month introduced a ban on the sale of beers and soft drinks in anything other than returnable bottles.

I cite as the best example that of Oregon, simply because the legislation there has been on the statute book for the longest time. As a result of the Bottle Bill there, the number of jobs increased, prices stabilised, there was an improvement in hygiene, a reduction in litter and resources were saved.

What I am asking for today will be inevitable in the long run. The time is now coming when we must follow certain other countries and give a lead to those that are lagging behind. I realise that I am moving into a sensitive field. The vested interests of big business will undoubtedly favour the staus quo. They have done so in other countries. But this House has never been intimidated by any outside interest. I am sure that on this occasion it will not be so intimidated.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Dr. David Clark, Mr. David Alton, Mr. Andrew F. Bennett, Mr. Patrick Cormack, Mr. Tam Dalyell, Mr. Selwyn Gummer, Mr. Peter Hardy, Mr. George Park, Mr. John Home Robertson, Mr. David Stoddart, and Mr. James Wellbeloved.