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Plastic Packaging

Volume 790: debated on Wednesday 2 May 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they plan to take to reduce the amount of plastic used in packaging for food, drink and other consumer items.

My Lords, the Government have been working with WRAP, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and industry to develop the UK plastics pact, announced last week. The pact seeks to eliminate single-use plastic packaging by 2025 and ensure that 100% of plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable. In addition, government and industry are investing in research on plastics innovation and the development of more-sustainable products.

My Lords, I think the Minister will agree that it is no exaggeration to say that we are poisoning our planet. Will he confirm that 70% of the rubbish on Britain’s beaches is plastic? Will he also confirm that, by 2050, the weight of plastic in the oceans will exceed the weight of fish, and that micro-plastics have been found on the tops of mountains and in the polar regions? I appreciate what the Government are trying to do, but are we not facing a desperately urgent crisis which requires more urgent action nationally and internationally?

My Lords, I entirely endorse all the instincts that the noble Lord has expressed in terms of our need to take action both at home and overseas. Just at CHOGM, there was a strong desire within the Commonwealth countries to deal with marine pollution. Through the UN, the G7, the G20 and CHOGM, we have been working extremely hard, because this issue must be dealt with internationally. At home, we fully recognise that we need to advance the necessary changes. That is why our resources and waste strategy to be announced later in the year will represent an important way forward.

My Lords, noble Lords will know of my passion for this issue. I even have an eco-coffee cup in turquoise blue that I use every morning, which saves me 25p. I am delighted at the way in which this issue has gone up the agenda so strongly—it means that we can make a big difference. But how is my noble friend getting on with boosting recycling in local authorities by bringing in soon a single system for recycling, and by ensuring that all plastics have their recyclable quality marked on the product?

My Lords, I endorse what my noble friend has said, which is why the four-point plan that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State announced is precisely about reducing the amount of plastic in circulation, addressing different plastics in use, improving the rate of recycling and making it easier for people to recycle. That is why we need to work with local authorities. There are some very good examples, both rural and urban, of local authorities increasing their rates of recycling, and I applaud them.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that, besides local authorities, the Government need to make extra effort with producers to give them guidance about using only one sort of plastic, where that is practical, because it is the mixed plastics that are so difficult to recycle?

My Lords, this is where I think industry is working much more effectively than very often we appreciate. Indeed, industry has committed to finding solutions to ensure that the recycling of all black plastic packaging is sorted out by the end of this year. Clearly, with innovation, we want to ensure that the plastic we are producing is readily recyclable.

My Lords, it is good that we are making such progress on the issue of plastic and food packaging but it is important to think holistically about this. In the UK we throw away about 235 million items of clothing every month, 60% of which includes polyester. Bishops know a thing or two about dressing up, and churches and charities know about recycling, but will the Minister say what steps are being taken to address the use of polyester in human packaging?

I may have needed notice of that very intriguing question. However, it goes to the heart of what I would call wise and sustainable use, and it is why I actively encourage natural fibres. The use of wool is a very good idea.

My Lords, I declare an interest in the all-party group. Will the Minister accept the urgent request of industry—the sector represented by the Food and Drink Federation—to have a holistic approach to this so that every form of plastic is dealt with in the measures to be drawn up by the Government?

My Lords, as I say, I think that industry is absolutely seized of this. I could take noble Lords through the companies involved in coffee and coffee cups, and the number of them that are now dealing with rewards, with water filling stations in their coffee shops, et cetera. I think that what we are looking at now is the beginning of a considerable revolution in the way we do things.

My Lords, one of the consequences of the Government’s Brexit policy is that all pallets importing food into the UK or exporting it from here will have to be disinfected at the frontier if they are made of timber. Will the Minister encourage the use of recycled plastic for pallets so that this does not have to happen? It would also save some of the trees that are used in pallets.

My Lords, wearing my other hat as Minister for Biosecurity I know that the noble Lord will well understand some of the dangers that we have had from pests and diseases coming through in timber packaging. I take the point very seriously indeed. We need to look at all sorts of innovative ways of reusing and recycling plastic. He has given a very good example of the reuse and recycling of materials.

My Lords, is it not a question of physician, heal thyself? Should not this House and the Parliamentary Estate look very carefully at its lack of progress in dealing with plastics and other products? Plastics can only be recycled twice, so when one talks about continually recycling plastics, it is not accurate. Would it not be better to look at products such as the bottles being developed by Choose Water, in Scotland, that use no plastics?

My Lords, it is incumbent on us all, whether it is the Government, this House or Parliament. That is why I am very pleased that the Services Committee is looking at this precise point. When I think of the many plastic cups that I see in all our Committee Rooms, I think that we undoubtedly should lead by example.