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Recycling: Plastic Bottles

Volume 782: debated on Tuesday 28 March 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have any plans to introduce a deposit return scheme to reduce plastic bottle waste and increase recycling.

My Lords, we are determined to reduce litter on our streets, roads and beaches as part of the Government’s litter strategy, which we will launch shortly. The strategy will focus on education and awareness, better enforcement and improving cleaning and litter infrastructure. We recognise that there is more to do and will continue to work with business, WRAP, local authorities and campaign groups to increase rates of recycling across the board.

I thank the Minister for that reply, but why is the department not prepared to show more leadership on this issue? After all, we know the scale of the problem. In the UK, we are using 35 million plastic bottles a day, 16 million of which end up being dumped on our streets, in our rivers, in the sea and in landfill. We know the scale of the problem, and we also know that there are solutions. Other European countries have already introduced bottle deposit schemes with great success. We know that, when we introduced the 5p plastic bag levy, it cut the number of single-use plastic bags considerably. Such measures can work. Is this not just a question of leadership? Why does the department not take a stronger line on this issue?

My Lords, I certainly intend to take a very strong line and am looking forward to the launch of the litter strategy. The reason that these matters are so important is that they affect everyone in this country, whether it is litter or the importance of recycling resources. That is why the Chancellor said in the Budget that by 2020 targets for overall packaging recycling would increase to 75.4% and for recovery to 82%. This Government are very ambitious in their desire to improve our environment.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the scheme that operates in Denmark works very successfully? It is not government led; my understanding is that it is led by industry and that the work is done by the supermarkets, which pay to put the facilities in. Is this not the type of leadership that we should look to—that is, leadership from the industry, where it saves money in the process as well?

My Lords, I want to express my thanks to business across the piece for being involved in the litter strategy. One thing to come across strongly is the importance for its reputation that business sees in assisting us with recycling and with avoiding litter. I want to endorse what my noble friend has said: business is key to the success of this.

My Lords, the Minister mentioned the welcome but ambitious packaging recycling targets set in the recent Budget. Given that household waste recycling targets are going backwards, how do the Government expect to meet them?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right that there was a slight drop, and that is why we absolutely need to do more. That is why I think the work of WRAP will be very important. But let me give some examples of where recycling is working tremendously well: South Oxfordshire District Council has achieved 66.6% household waste recycling; East Riding has achieved 66.1%; and Rochford District Council has achieved 66%. We want to raise the bar where local authorities are doing very well. That is what we want across the country.

My Lords, I hope the Minister will not think I am being discourteous, but his first Answer could have come straight out of “Yes Minister”. His subsequent answers were similar to those the Government gave when we talked about putting a tax or some penalty on the excessive use of plastic bags. We are getting nowhere in this. Surely we must do something—it is an environmental scandal. Could we not have some action instead of these platitudes from civil servants?

My Lords, I have never taken the noble Lord to be anything other than courteous, and I do not take what he said in any untoward sense. On what he said about the plastic bag charge, there are 6 billion fewer plastic bags in circulation and the 5p charge has raised £29 million for good causes. These are good examples. I am sure that when the litter strategy is launched, as I hope it will be soon, the noble Lord will agree that we are trying to be—and will be—ambitious.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the WRAP board. My noble friend will be aware of WRAP’s consistency framework, which should help drive up recycling rates of not just plastic but other commonly collected waste streams. Although the framework was launched only in September, can my noble friend update the House on how it is going with local authorities?

My Lords, my noble friend is right. WRAP is currently working on seven local authority partnerships across 49 local authorities. This is to review the impact of greater consistency for household recycling, and I am sure that savings efficiencies and increased recycling will be had from that. It is early days, but I think the local authorities I mentioned show success. We want to raise the bar so that local authorities can see there is business sense in working together to improve recycling.

My Lords, I had better put that in the Library. Of course I wanted only the positive news, but I am afraid that, absolutely, there are local authorities that we want to encourage and need to do better. It is also in their business interests to ensure that they are recycling well and are litter-free places to work in and do business. The whole purpose of the consistency framework is to raise the level of those authorities that are not doing as well as they should.

My Lords, is there consistency in the new litter strategy? Certain council areas encourage you to put the bottles in a certain box and others do not. I have lived in the same house for nearly 30 years and we have had six different types of instructions about litter. If there was consistency throughout the country, I am sure it would benefit everybody.

My Lords, what my noble friend said is precisely part of the work of this consistency framework, to make it easier for people to recycle and to make better understood what can be recycled. I very much hope that, as we proceed, ever more can be recycled from products.

Does my noble friend have any plans to set forth from his office with a plastic bag in his hand and a camera crew in tow to pick up litter in and around Westminster, and set a fine example to the nation?

My Lords, if my noble friend had been with me in Ipswich for the national spring clean, he would have been with the honourable Member for Ipswich and the Labour leader of the borough council. We picked up an enormous amount of litter from around Ipswich. I should say—my officials will not like this—that we visited a fast-food store not too far away with a bag of litter and presented it to the very agreeable manager, who realised that more needed to be done.