Let me first congratulate my hon. Friend on being the leader of the group of 50 Conservative Members who gave up single-use plastic for Lent. Her leadership in that regard is well known.
Our microbead ban is one of the toughest in the world. We have taken more than 9 billion plastic bags out of circulation through the 5p levy; we have announced that we want to end the sale of plastic straws and stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds; and we are consulting on the deposit return scheme. At the Commonwealth summit, we launched the Commonwealth Blue Charter as a group of 53 nations. I am pleased to say that the UK and Vanuatu are leading the Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance, which brings together countries, businesses and non-governmental organisations to tackle the global challenge of plastic in the marine environment.
I was delighted by this morning’s news that all our top supermarkets will ensure that all their plastic is recyclable within seven years. We know that half the plastic in the oceans comes from developing countries, but only 0.1% of our overseas aid is spent on helping those countries to deal with waste. Will you work with the International Development Secretary to increase that amount?
I am pleased to say that that is already under way. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister recently announced a £61.4 million Commonwealth oceans package to boost global research and development. In particular, £3 million will fund new waste management initiatives in cities, building on the successful waste management programme launched by the Department for International Development in Sierra Leone. We are also funding the £6 million Commonwealth litter programme.
Does the Minister accept the very weak analysis of UK marine litter in the UK’s “Marine Strategy Part Three”, which has been highlighted by the Environmental Audit Committee? Given that 80% of marine litter comes from the land, is there a plan to monitor litter levels and how the litter reaches the marine environment? When will the Government announce a timescale for the publication of a more accurate assessment of the levels and impacts of marine litter?
A year ago we launched the litter strategy, in which we said that we would estimate a baseline. The inclement weather in the first part of the year has led to a slight delay in the gathering of research findings, but we intend to publish them before the summer so that we can take effective action where there are hotspots. I encourage people to join the clean-up, organised by the Daily Mail and Keep Britain Tidy, which will take place between 11 and 13 May. The purge of plastic goes forever forwards.
Obviously, plastic bottle litter is a huge part of the problem. When will the Government take real action? I know that a consultation is taking place, but will the Minister commit herself to introducing, as soon as possible, effective legislation to provide for a deposit return scheme covering drink containers of all sizes, including plastic bottles? Will she confirm that she has the Treasury’s support in working with producers to finance such a scheme?
The front end of a deposit return scheme is pretty common across different systems; the challenge is how the scheme is operated and financed. We need a scheme that will be effective in tackling on-the-go consumption in particular. No other country faces that specific challenge, and that is why it is taking us some time to complete the consultation, which will be published later this year. If legislation is required, we will of course introduce it, but at this stage we need to work out the details of the scheme.
At the launch of the 25-year environment plan, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister identified that issue of the wide range of polymers used. I assure my hon. Friend that the Government are working, through officials, with the Waste and Resources Action Programme and the UK plastics pact to undertake the research and innovation required for manufacturers to work together to reduce the number of polymers, so that there are fewer of them and they can be recycled more readily.