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House of Lords Hansard
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07 February 2018
Volume 788

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to reduce the use of plastic and to ensure that the maximum amount of plastic can be recycled.

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My Lords, the Government have banned microbeads in cosmetics and taken 9 billion plastic carrier bags out of circulation with the 5p charge. More needs to be done and we will be taking an ambitious approach. My right honourable friend Michael Gove has recently set out in a four-point plan how we will reduce the use of plastic and ensure that where plastic is used it is easier for households to recycle.

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My Lords, we need a sense of urgency, given the scale of the challenge on plastic. We need dynamic and radical ideas—as, I think, are promised in the new strategy—that need to cover research, alternatives to plastic, and recycling, where, I am afraid, we still await a single system that consumers can understand. Will the Minister kindly ensure that his energetic Secretary of State focuses on this—busy though I know he is in supporting the Prime Minister on other fronts?

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My Lords, I experience day in, day out the energy of my right honourable friend and we are very grateful for it. Clearly it is important that we undertake research. We want plastic to be reusable and recyclable and for recycling to be understood. That is why, in working with BEIS, Innovate UK, Research Councils and industry, we need to bring forward bids for the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund so that we can develop more sustainable materials with a lower environmental impact. We are also working, within WRAP’s framework, to ensure greater consistency. Yes, we want to have a common set of materials that are recycled. Working with local authorities we have already made some advances and there are some very good examples of where councils have increased their recycling, some by over 14% in one year—so it can be done.

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My Lords, my local authority, like many others, recycles plastic but not black plastic, which is a major proportion of all plastic. WRAP, the excellent organisation which the Minister has already referred to, has found a solution to this by changing the pigment that puts in the black colour. As an immediate action, following up the noble Baroness’s reference to energy, will the Government insist that that pigment is changed so that that proportion of plastic can be recycled as well?

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My Lords, industry has certainly been working on this, as has WRAP. Indeed, industry has committed to bringing in by the end of this year the solutions that will enable the sustainable recycling of all black plastic packaging. Waitrose, for example, has decided not to have black plastic but to have other plastic—so industry across the piece is working on this.

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My Lords, last year the Environmental Audit Committee recommended a legislated deposit return scheme for plastic drink bottles, which has proved extraordinarily successful in the US, Norway and Germany in improving collection rates and reducing littering. When do the Government plan to do the same in this country?

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My Lords, the right reverend Prelate mentioned litter. One of the problems we face with plastic is that too many of us are dropping plastic, in the terrestrial and marine environments. The call for evidence on the deposit return scheme closed in November. The working group is due to provide advice to Ministers on potential incentives for drink containers early this year. We are—as I say, with an ambitious Secretary of State—looking for progress.

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My Lords, there has been a common theme among Conservative spokespersons to criticise the performance of the Welsh Assembly Government, and they have recently had to apologise for that. Is this not an area where perhaps those same Conservative spokespersons should be asked to praise the Welsh Assembly Government, who are pioneers in this field? The Government have been rather tardy in following them, so there has been a great loss during the years that the Government failed to follow the lead of the Welsh Assembly Government.

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My Lords, I am a unionist and therefore, wherever things are going well, wherever it is in the country, I am delighted. I have looked into this. In Wales a lot of the recycling percentage—it comes down to weight—is down to the fact that it has done far more food and garden waste recycling. That is why it has a higher recycling rate: 58% compared with 44.9% in England. I am very pleased that there is success in Wales on that. We certainly want to improve that, but there are plenty of local authorities in England with recycling rates of over 60% and I congratulate all local authorities that are recycling, whether it is plastic, food or other materials.

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My Lords, with respect to marine pollution, will my noble friend also take a look at the issue of PCBs—polychlorinated biphenyls—and in particular at the work of Paul Jepson of the Zoological Society of London? He concluded that, although PCBs were banned in the 1980s, they are still getting into European seas and are responsible for the fact that the resident pod of killer whales has not been able to have babies around the British Isles for many years.

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My Lords, I take that very seriously indeed. It is fair to say in marine and across the piece that international collaboration is key. Whether it is the G7, the G20, the UN, OSPAR—

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The European Union.

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Of course, my Lords. We are in the world leadership on this issue. Noble Lords on the opposite side do not seem to like the fact that our country does rather well at a number of things, and it would be much better if that were appreciated in the same way that I am delighted when Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland has a success.