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Volume 622: debated on Thursday 2 March 2017

1. What steps she is taking to deal with the effects of microbeads in products not included within the scope of her Department’s proposed ban. (908998)

We ran a consultation between 20 December and 28 February on proposals to ban microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products. The consultation also sought evidence on the extent of the environmental impact of microplastics found in other products. We are now reviewing the responses to the consultation and any new evidence will be used to inform future UK actions to protect the marine environment.

May I welcome the proposed ban as far as it goes? However, it appears that several products such as make-up and sun cream will be excluded. I therefore urge the Minister to adopt the Greenpeace definition of microbeads, which is,

“all solid water-insoluble microplastic ingredients of 5mm or less in any dimension used for any purpose.”

I am sure that my hon. Friend will welcome the fact that many manufacturers are proactively removing microbeads from their products. We will consider the responses to the consultation carefully and use them to inform any future policy.

9. I urge the Government to go further than the United States and ban all products containing microbeads that risk getting into the marine environment. Will the Government reject the idea that biodegradable microbeads could be used instead, because there is no evidence that there is such a thing? Will they also commission some research into whether microbeads in human tissue have a long-term health effect? (909007)

The US ban has not yet come into force, but we will continue to monitor its progress and consider any learning from that approach. Our proposals so far are supported by evidence, which shows that rinse-off products can damage some marine environments. We have extended the consultation and issued a call for evidence on other matters.

The Government’s progress on banning microbeads is welcome, but other forms of plastic are polluting our seas, including the 15 million plastic bottles that are thrown away every day. The Cornish-based charity, Surfers Against Sewage, has obtained 209,000 signatures to a petition that calls for a plastic bottle deposit-return scheme. Will the Minister meet me to discuss how we can advance that petition and make progress?

I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the matter. As I informed the House at the previous Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Question Time, we are looking at the issue in the context of the litter strategy. Let me take the opportunity to publicise this weekend’s Great British Spring Clean campaign, in which I am sure many hon. Members will be involved. I also want to advertise BBC Suffolk’s “don’t be a tosser” campaign. Frankly, we do not want people who toss litter about to flood our beaches with the plastic bottles that my hon. Friend mentions.

A microbeads ban would be welcome, as would extending it to more products. However, as has been said, larger plastics that break down and become microplastics in the marine environment are the biggest problem. A deposit-return scheme would make a big difference. What is the Minister doing with the circular economy to try to get manufacturers to design out such products so that we do not have the problem of what to do with them in the first place?

The advance of plastic packaging reflected consumer desire for on-the-go, safe products that individuals can carry. I welcome instances of manufacturers introducing their own recycling schemes. When we were children, we perhaps got pocket money on some of the deposit-return schemes, but we now have kerbside recycling, which has successfully increased the amount of recycled plastics.

The Minister has shown real leadership on the issue and I applaud the Government’s efforts so far. However, for us to make a genuine difference we need other countries to get on board. Will my hon. Friend say more about what she is doing to ensure that we work collaboratively across borders to tackle the problem?

My hon. Friend is right. I understand that the recent explosion of nurdles in the world’s oceans is due to the fact that several containers fell off a ship and the contents were dispersed. We are all stewards of the ocean and we therefore want to work with other countries and support efforts to ensure that our oceans are as clean as they can be.

Having visited the nurdle hotspot at Kinneil, we clearly need to know much more to quantify their impact and presence in our seas in order to eliminate them. To date, the European Union has co-ordinated and funded much of the research by scientists in the UK under the marine strategy framework directive. Can the Minister give any certainty that those scientists will still have funding or opportunities for collaboration with European scientists after the UK leaves the EU?

The United Kingdom is a leading player in OSPAR. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we protect more than half the seas of this region. I am confident that we, and our scientists, will continue to work with many other countries to tackle this global issue.