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Plastic Pollution

Volume 682: debated on Thursday 15 October 2020

We are committed to tackling plastic pollution. We introduced a microbeads ban and reduced single-use plastic carrier bag usage by 95% in main supermarkets. We are also increasing the single-use carrier bag charge to 10p and extending it to all retailers. We restricted the supply of plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds the other day, and we are seeking further powers in the Environment Bill to charge for single-use plastic items, making recycling more consistent, and we will be reforming packaging waste regulations.

It has been suggested that one way of reducing pollution is to make greater use of oxo-degradable plastic. This involves using an additive in conventional plastics that causes them to break down and fragment into microplastics that, in the marine environment, can be digested by organisms. In addition, oxo-degradable material in the waste stream is a contaminant and causes a reduction in the levels of recycling. Will the Minister commit the Government to acting on the call from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and join the EU in banning the use of oxo-degradable plastic?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. The Government recognise that innovative packaging types can help reduce the environmental impact of plastic if disposed of in the right way, and I know that he has a lot of knowledge in this area owing to his constituency connections. However, there is currently only limited reliable published evidence on the environmental impacts of oxo-biodegradable plastics—that is a mouthful. DEFRA and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy published a call for evidence last year to better understand the effects of these and compostable plastics on the environment, and we will be publishing the results later on in the autumn.

What steps are the Government taking to ensure the responsible disposal of face masks and other personal protective equipment?

Of course, that is a question that many people are thinking about, and I thank my hon. Friend for it. The covid-19 pandemic has led to an increase in PPE, but we are starting to see businesses rise to the challenge, producing items such as reusable face coverings—we are seeing a whole lot in Parliament—that can be washed and reused, but, obviously, hygiene must be taken very seriously. The Government have published guidance on the disposal of face coverings and other PPE during the pandemic.