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Plastic Use

Volume 670: debated on Wednesday 29 January 2020

It is a delight to see the Conservative Benches so well attended for International Development Question Time.

My Department is providing expertise to help developing countries to reduce plastic usage and funding innovative pilot projects in, for example, Uganda and Ghana to improve recycling rates and waste collection.

Given that 2020 is set to become the first year in which the pieces of plastic in our seas outnumber fish, will the Secretary of State update the House on the Government’s plans for the UK to play its part in tackling that shocking statistic by means of, for instance, their new Blue Planet fund?

Let me first welcome my hon. Friend back to the House: we are all delighted that he is back with us. As he knows, the Government have committed £500 million to the Blue Planet Fund to help developing countries to manage the marine environment. The fund, which is in the process of being designed, will run for five years from April next year, and will focus on four priority areas in marine management: fisheries, pollution—including plastic pollution—climate change and marine protected areas.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to tackling plastic use. In my constituency, Workington, people care about the future of our seas and oceans. Young students at Ashfield Infant and Nursery School, Holme St Cuthbert School and St Michael’s Nursery and Infant School have written a book about Driggsby, the young fin whale who sadly died on a Cumbrian beach, a victim of plastic poisoning. What is the Department doing to rid the world’s oceans of plastic waste?

About 70% of the litter in the ocean is plastic, and I therefore commend the work of my hon. Friend and his young constituents in highlighting the clear and present danger of plastic pollution to life in our oceans. The Government recognise the need for action through our joint leadership, with Vanuatu, of the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance, and we are supporting technical assistance for countries that are committed to taking practical steps to tackle marine pollution.

In the poorest countries, 93% of waste is burnt or discarded on roads or open land or in waterways. Will the Secretary of State expand on his answer to the first question, and tell us what he is doing to develop a system of improved waste collection while also encouraging recycling in many of those countries?

The hon. Gentleman has raised an important point. Let me give him a couple of examples. In Uganda and Ghana, my Department is providing support for pilot projects. We are working with businesses to improve waste management and increase recycling. In Uganda, for example, we are working with the Kampala plastics recycling partnership.

The Dutch non-governmental organisation The Ocean Cleanup has discovered that most plastics in the seas come from abandoned fishing gear and nets. Does the Secretary of State agree that assisting fishermen in developing countries is one way to eliminate that waste?

The hon. Gentleman is right. I have talked about the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance, but he will also know that at the 2019 United Nations General Assembly the Prime Minister announced the global ocean alliance of countries which aims to protect at least 30% of the global ocean within marine protected areas by 2030.