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Litter Strategy

Volume 799: debated on Monday 15 July 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress is being made on implementing their Litter Strategy for England, published on 10 April 2017.

My Lords, progress includes improved enforcement powers for councils, with a near doubling of the maximum on-the-spot penalty, the launch of our ambitious Keep it, Bin it anti-litter campaign and continued delivery of the litter innovation fund. We were also pleased to support this year’s Great British Spring Clean, which mobilised over half a million people and involved over 175,000 young people. The litter strategy brings together communities, businesses, charities and schools to deliver real change.

Does my noble friend agree that it is a somewhat strange paradox that, at a time of growing and wide concern—quite rightly—about safeguarding the environment, there seems to be an increasing problem with litter all over the place? Without the fantastic work of street cleaners, we would realise how big a problem this really is. Will my noble friend say what more can be done to educate our schoolchildren about the problems of litter; the danger it causes to the environment, disfiguring it, and the health hazards it can cause?

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. That is why education and awareness are key elements of the litter strategy; we want every child to learn about the impacts of litter. Citizenship education is part of the statutory national curriculum at key stages 3 and 4. There are also 19,200 schools in England which are registered eco-schools—that is around 79%, and this number is growing daily. The Great Big School Clean was central to the Great British Spring Clean. There is very much more to do, but we certainly need to work with the next generation to have a better environment.

My Lords, we have been waiting for the introduction of a bottle deposit scheme, which would play a significant part in reducing litter from plastic bottles and tin cans, for some time now. Given that the Government’s latest consultation on this issue was completed a couple of months ago, what is now stopping them from introducing this measure, which would have widespread popular support and do a great deal to tackle the litter problem?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness that the deposit return scheme is a very important part of what we need to do. There clearly needs to be further work with business to ensure that the scheme runs satisfactorily when we implement it. The first consultation closed on 13 May. This is very important in terms of littering and of increasing recycling. These two things go together. I am as impatient as the noble Baroness to get this done as soon as possible.

My Lords, glass is a major problem when it litters our countryside—for humans, for fire risks and for wildlife. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, mentioned the deposit return scheme. Scotland has recently introduced a 20p deposit return scheme which includes glass. Will the Minister confirm that any scheme introduced in England would include all sizes and materials, including glass?

I had better check on that precisely for the noble Baroness. I will put a letter in the Library. The whole purpose of the deposit return scheme is to ensure that, in our ever more circular economy, we recycle and reuse more, whether it is glass, plastic or aluminium. I will write to the noble Baroness.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that a much cleaner Britain ought to be a relatively easy political objective to achieve? Will he agree that one thing that is needed is more people picking up litter? As we are trying to keep people out of prison, a great deal more use could be made of community service orders to ensure that litter is picked up.

My Lords, we have a great dilemma. We can do all that we need to do and want to do, with many more people picking up litter—over half a million were doing so in the Great British Spring Clean—but roughly one in five people admits to dropping litter. The whole purpose of the education and awareness campaign is precisely to bear down on the fact that a lot of our fellow citizens do not think it is socially unacceptable to drop litter. For all sorts of reasons, we must tackle that because it is damaging to the environment and wildlife, and it looks dreadful.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, given that we have so many local authorities with different recycling schemes, we should have a national standard and a national plan for recycling? That way, maybe we will begin to drive up recycling rates, which are appallingly low in most local authority districts.

That is precisely why we are working on it. The noble Lord is right: we want to have a consistent, clear and easy to understand range of products—the widest range of products—that are recyclable. It all goes back to the need to enhance our environment, and that is part of that work.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the state of the verges on our major roads and motorways and on railway embankments is something that we should all be ashamed of, particularly when a lot of tourists use these routes? When I asked previously, I was told that health and safety stopped people from picking up litter on major roads. Is there any way that we can overcome this and ensure that our roadsides are kept clean?

I agree with the noble Countess that our roads are not a good advertisement. That is why we have been working with Highways England. Highways England has been working on 25 particular hot spots that are really bad—indeed, nearly 20,000 bags of litter were picked up in the Great British Spring Clean. We need to do more on that and more on working with the highways network and the railways. That is why I am pleased with the Keep it, Bin it campaign. It is all to do with working with many different bodies to ensure that the message gets about that it is not acceptable to drop litter.