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Plastic Pollution

Volume 667: debated on Thursday 31 October 2019

To tackle plastic pollution, we have introduced a world-leading microbeads ban, reduced single-use plastic bag usage by 90% in the main supermarkets, and launched the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance to tackle the issue globally. We also have a widespread package of measures on plastic pollution in our Environment Bill.

I thank you, Mr Speaker, for your tremendous support for Back Benchers throughout this House during your time in the Chair. I also thank Becki Woolrich, who founded Stafford Litter Heroes, for all that she and her colleagues have done. By this weekend, they will have collected more than 2 tonnes of litter from the area in a very short time. We should pay great tribute to volunteers like them.

There are 5,000 items of marine plastic pollution per mile of beach in the UK. The amount of plastic produced globally has increased from 1.5 million tonnes in 1950 to 320 million tonnes a couple of years ago. It is clear that we need to produce less plastic, not more, so will my right hon. Friend explain what we are doing to ensure that as much plastic is recycled as possible and that that happens here in the UK? Plastic should not be shipped overseas for other people to deal with.

My hon. Friend is correct: current levels of plastic pollution are intolerable, and the Government are determined to tackle them. We will be introducing a system to incentivise plastic packaging producers to use more recyclable material, but also less material in general. We will be banning plastic stirrers and cotton buds. We are introducing a deposit return scheme on drinks containers. We will also be introducing more consistent recycling to help everyone to recycle more to tackle the terrible problem of plastics pollution.

Plastic was rare when I was brought up in the 1950s, so is it possible for the Government to set targets to get us back to those low levels? Recycling just delays the amount of plastic going into the environment.

Our Environment Bill provides the opportunity for future Governments to set targets on the use of resources and recycling. Reducing the need for single-use plastics is an important part of this, but recycling will also be a crucial part in reaching our goal of eliminating avoidable plastic waste in the coming years. That is why we are seeking to increase the amount of plastic that is recyclable and is recycled.

May I, too, wish you all the best, Mr Speaker? May I also thank you for teaching me the value of patience and for helping me have considerable exercise for my knees during my time in this Chamber?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that my constituent Nik Spencer has invented an incredible, groundbreaking piece of technology that would eliminate the need for plastic waste entirely if it is commercially adopted, because it converts plastic waste in the home into energy? If, as I very much hope, we are returned to government, will she agree to meet me to see how we can stimulate and incentivise technologies such as this machine, so that we can tackle plastic pollution at its source?

Yes, I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. I fully agree that technology is going to be crucial if we are to address the concerns that have been expressed in the House today about plastics.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for making me feel welcome in the short time I have been here so far.

After “The Blue Planet” and other television programmes, after the in-depth investigations by Friends of the Earth and others, after the mass campaigning by schoolchildren all over the world to prevent plastics in our oceans and after the verdict against a major British company for exporting unsorted waste, can the Secretary of State explain to me why there was nothing in the Environment Bill to tackle waste once it has left this country or to ensure that material collected in good faith for recycling is actually recycled?

The Government are absolutely determined to crack down on any unlawful waste exports and to ensure that waste that is exported is dealt with appropriately. I wish to emphasise that this Government are doing more or less more than any other Government in the world on this, including by making real progress in ensuring that we protect 4 million sq km of the world’s oceans by the end of next year.