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Volume 795: debated on Wednesday 13 February 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to introduce a simple and uniform system for both (1) labelling plastic and (2) bin collections in England, with the aim of reducing the use of plastic and encouraging recycling; and if so, by what date.

My Lords, we intend to introduce a uniform recycling labelling system for all packaging, including plastic packaging. We also intend to have a simpler, more consistent waste collection system. We will consult on these proposals arising from the resources and waste strategy very shortly. Thereafter, we will seek legislative opportunities so that these measures can be introduced by 2023.

My Lords, I am a little disappointed, because the time for action is now, as our useful debate before Christmas showed. People need to use less plastic and to recycle more of what they use. There is a woeful lack of clarity on what is recyclable. The simple “one to seven” industry codes need to appear clearly on all plastics, and all local authorities should have a uniform bin system—one for food waste, one for garbage, and one or more for recycling. There should also be uniform guidance on plastic, perhaps linked to the numbers I have mentioned.

Irresponsible use of plastic is causing huge damage to the environment. Does my noble friend accept—I think he does—that focused, simple, uniform action is needed and that our mother of Parliaments needs to move fast on this?

My Lords, I understand and share my noble friend’s wish for action. The truth is that we need to get this right in consultation and working with local authorities and industry. However, that does not stop a lot of progress being made before the primary and secondary legislation comes through. That is why I am very pleased that only recently Cornwall Council, for instance, announced that it will adopt a weekly separate collection of food waste and a weekly collection of segregated recyclable materials. Indeed, many supermarkets and retailers are engaging in this now. I agree—I want it done as soon as possible, but we need to get it right.

My Lords, should we not take a much harder line with manufacturers that produce plastics that cannot be recycled? The Government could start by producing an approved list of materials that are acceptable, which should then be underpinned by charges to those who continue to produce non-compliant products. The Government could do that immediately.

My Lords, that is why we have committed in our resources and waste strategy to reforming current packaging producer responsibility systems. The measures that we wish to bring forward will incentivise producers to make much more sustainable decisions at design stage and point of manufacture. This is consistent with the “polluter pays” principle. We want producers to be more responsible for the full costs of managing their packaging.

My Lords, should not this House be leading the way in reducing the use of plastic? Virtually all the mail that comes home from this House, especially during the Recess, is in heavy plastic—magazines arrive wrapped in plastic—and I hope the Government will encourage the authorities to stop doing that.

My Lords, obviously both Houses are aiming to eliminate avoidable single-use plastic by this year. I am mindful of what the noble Baroness has said and in Defra and across Whitehall we are all seeking to reduce the use of plastic. It is a very good point.

My Lords, it is not feasible to force all local authorities into standardised waste collections. Geographical areas across the country vary from blocks of flats in cities through to isolated rural homes down winding lanes. Currently, 50 different types of plastic are produced and used in the UK compared to two in Norway. Surely a more productive way forward is for the plastics industry to play its part by producing fewer plastic types and ensuring that what is produced is recyclable. Does the Minister agree?

Yes and yes. We need through research and investment, both public and private, to ensure that materials and plastic are reused and recycled much more and that there is consistency. The noble Baroness is right: the lowest recycling rate is in Newham at 14% and yet in the East Riding of Yorkshire it is 64%. There is great disparity in all regions and we need to work on obtaining a more consistent and higher rate of recycling.

My Lords, the issue is not only recycle and reuse but reduce. I was at the celebration of the first anniversary of the Eco Synagogue a few weeks ago and saw real alternatives to plastic being developed by industry, such as Indonesian seaweed to replace 16 billion packets of ketchup, mayonnaise and the like. Alternatives are being produced but industry is so heavily invested in the production of plastic that it is difficult to make the commercial switch. What are the Government doing to fund the development of alternatives to plastic which will help us to make the change that is needed?

The right reverend Prelate referred to research. Innovation and research is a considerable part of the resources and waste strategy, and there is £20 million for the plastic research and innovation fund. This is about finding not only better forms of plastic but compostable alternatives. We have the exciting prospect of recycling and reusing more in dealing with our waste in this country.

My Lords, does not the evidence strongly suggest that where we cannot eliminate the use of plastic we ought to incinerate it, rather than send it for so-called recycling to the Far East, where much of it ends up in rivers and thereby in the ocean?

My noble friend is right. This is why waste incineration for energy has increased to 41.4% whereas landfill, for instance, has fallen from 79% in 2000 to 12.5% currently. We are now increasing considerably the amount of energy recovery from incineration. If it is not to be reused or recycled then this is a much better option than any of the others, including landfill.

My Lords, I strongly disagree with the Minister and the fellow opposite—the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley—because although, obviously, we should not be sending plastic abroad, we should also not be incinerating it. To call incinerated energy green is nonsense—it is not green. I produced a report last year, a copy of which I think I sent to the Minister, saying that incineration was about to overtake recycling. Has that point been reached? Are we burning more waste than we are recycling?

No we are not, my Lords. To be precise, in 2017 the household recycling rate was 45.2%. Perhaps we should discuss this outside the Chamber but my understanding is that 50% of energy from waste is deemed to be renewable. It is better if, rather than using landfill in that waste hierarchy, we recover energy where we cannot reuse or recycle. The overwhelming point is that innovation and research will help us to reduce the use of plastic and, wherever possible, reuse and recycle it.