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Packaging (Extended Producer Responsibility)

Volume 642: debated on Wednesday 13 June 2018

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require producers of packaging products to assume responsibility for the collection, transportation, recycling, disposal, treatment and recovery of those products; and for connected purposes.

In recent years, Members of Parliament have worked hard on this issue in an attempt to safeguard our wildlife and oceans for future generations. I pay tribute to their efforts, and I am grateful to colleagues from all parties for their support for the Bill. Packaging pollution first came to my attention more than 10 years ago, while I was working as an adviser to Ministers in the Welsh Government. Back then, the impact that packaging and plastic pollution were having on wildlife, natural resources and climate change was becoming increasingly evident. That is why in Wales we introduced the 5p charge on single-use carrier bags, which has resulted in a 71% reduction in their usage since 2011. That is a perfect example of the difference that can be made when a Government acts.

The UK Government followed Wales with a 5p charge in England four years later, but since then their commitment to addressing the overwhelming amount of single-use and non-recyclable packaging that we use every day can only be described as erratic at best. David Attenborough recently said:

“Wherever I go now, whether it be in the mountains, on the moors or on the coast there is discarded plastic everywhere. The government hasn’t a clue, by the time they act it will be too late.”

Only last week, tests carried out by Greenpeace found that even in the remotest parts of Antarctica there is microplastic contamination. Not only is it ruining one of the most pristine environments on the planet, but the tiny shards of plastic—often less than a twentieth of a millimetre wide—can be mistaken for prey by tiny marine animals. Those microplastics then make their way up the food chain, potentially inflicting harm on larger animals such as sea birds and whales, as well as getting into our food chain via shellfish.

My father spent two years in Antarctica with the British Antarctic Survey, from 1961 to 1963. I am really proud of the pioneering work that he carried out there—and even more proud that it was recognised by the naming of the McMorrin glacier after him. I remember from when I was growing up his many stories of life in that vast, beautiful, untouched landscape and of how the natural world shaped him. His passion for the environment and his determination to change things has stayed with me. It is unthinkable that our actions today are threatening those previously untouched landscapes, and many others just on our doorstep.

We have now reached a crisis point. In Cardiff, clean-up volunteers describe seeing on the banks of our rivers piles of takeaway cartons, broken-up polystyrene, and even a swan’s nest made of plastic bottles. The founder of the Cardiff rivers clean-up group said:

“There is a huge opportunity with people wanting to make a difference, the governments need to be a lot stronger, stop talking and just do it.”

A recent study by Eunomia suggests that UK Government figures drastically underestimate how much plastic packaging waste Britain generates. Its analysis suggests that it is a staggering 50% higher than projected. However, that is unsurprising considering that Eunomia also analysed the composition of UK waste and found that the system for calculating recycling rates is inclined to overestimate success. That is not ideal when we use those figures to make decisions and future projections.

In France, there is a proposed 50% penalty for packaging that is not easily separated and that is therefore considerably disruptive to the recycling stream, such as coffee cups and black plastic packaging, which is problematic. Instead of just introducing a higher penalty, the Government need to address a common complaint of producers, which is that the current system does not substantially reward, and therefore encourage, recyclability in product design. A solution could be to introduce bonuses for producers via a reduction in the levy that they pay. The bonuses could cover three categories, including reducing the packaging weight of their product, making it easier to recycle, and raising awareness by applying a clear and correct label to the product.

Why is the Bill so important? Because crucially, with extended producer responsibility currently not enshrined in law, the cost of recycling falls to councils, which are already struggling to pay for social care, education and community services, while also being asked to pick up the tab for recycling and waste management. Currently, businesses that handle packaging are required by law to pay for the recycling and recovery via compliance schemes, whereby the more packaging they produce, the more they pay. Between 2014 and 2016, the average revenue from that compliance was about £60 million a year, but the estimated cost of the delivery of recycling services across local authorities is nearly £600 million. So even if local authorities benefited from the full amount, it would still come to only 10% of the cost borne by local authorities. It is a cheap form of compliance for the producer, but one that means that others pay the cost of ensuring that products are properly recycled and disposed of at the end of their life cycle, which is absolutely necessary. Research shows that more than half of UK councils have had to cut budgets for collections and for communications and advertising for kerb-side plastics recycling.

The aim of the Bill is to encourage producers to take responsibility, not only for the product but for its disposal—to be responsible for the clean-up and not just contribute to it. It would encourage producers to innovate and change the packaging of their products and to contribute more to getting better recycling infrastructure for all councils within whose area their product is consumed.

Most importantly, this Bill is what the British public are calling out for. A recent study shows that almost all 16 to 75-year-olds in the UK are concerned about the effects of plastic waste on the environment, with 54% willing to buy more products made from recycled materials, but there is only so much that consumers can do if alternatives are not available. In my constituency of Cardiff North, students at Rhiwbeina Primary School have started the Kids Against Plastic #PACKETin campaign. The children collect crisp and chocolate wrappers and post them back to the manufacturers with a letter asking them to switch to packaging that can be recycled. That is a positive campaign that gives our next generation a voice—but are the producers listening?

Some supermarkets are willing to play their part and listen to customers, but they cannot force independent producers to change their packaging. Manufacturers welcome the Bill because it would help innovation and drive growth. That is why I urge the UK Government to take heed, work with me on the Bill and respond to the growing number of voices becoming more and more frustrated by being unable to prevent packaging pollution. The BBC’s “Blue Planet” has had a massive impact on our psyche. Who can forget the image of the turtle wrapped in a plastic sack, or the photo of the stork wrapped in a plastic bag? If the UK Government do not use their power to legislate properly, such images are going to keep on coming. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That Anna McMorrin, Mary Creagh, Zac Goldsmith, Ben Lake, Kerry McCarthy, John Mc Nally, Dr Matthew Offord, Jo Platt, Liz Saville Roberts, Mr Barry Sheerman, Alex Sobel and Matt Western present the Bill.

Anna McMorrin accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 26 October, and to be printed (Bill 226).