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Waste Prevention Programme

Volume 807: debated on Tuesday 10 November 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they plan to publish their revised Waste Prevention Programme for England.

My Lords, we published our review of the waste prevention programme 2013 this summer and hope to publish our revised draft waste prevention programme for consultation in the next few months. It will build on our resources and waste strategy, published in 2018, which sets out our plans to move away from the inefficient linear economic model of “take, make, use, throw” to a more circular economy.

My Lords, the climate crisis demands urgent action to reduce carbon emissions from waste and to keep resources in use for as long as possible. In their delayed waste prevention programme, will the Government introduce an explicit target for waste prevention by 2050, as the Welsh Government already have?

The International Resource Panel estimates that resource extraction and processing of materials contributes to about 30% of global particulate matter emissions, 50% of total global greenhouse gas emissions and 90% of biodiversity loss and water stress. Industrial emissions from manufacturing are responsible for approximately 21% of UK domestic emissions. The Environment Bill will include a target relating to resources and waste. As I speak, that target is being assessed with a view to being introduced .

Water companies in England discharged raw sewage into rivers over 2,000 times last year. The chair of the Commons Environmental Audit Committee, Philip Dunne, has a Private Member’s Bill and an amendment to the Environment Bill seeking to place a duty on water companies to end that filthy practice. Can the Minister explain why the Government are not supporting his efforts and whether he believes this should be included in the revised waste prevention programme?

My Lords, the Government strongly believe that the water companies need to take full responsibility for their contribution to pollution in our water systems. Those duties are there, and it is a matter for the water companies to adhere to and honour them. My colleagues at Defra have established a new working group between officials and business representatives to understand better what more the Government can do to ensure that the water companies step up. That work will be concluding shortly and the Government will take action on the back of its results.

My Lords, if all the new incinerators that have planning permission are built in the next few years, incinerator capacity will double just when we are trying to reduce our waste. So what are the Government going to do? Are they going to encourage us to actually increase our waste, or will they import waste from abroad so that we can burn it?

My Lords, the Government are very committed to minimising waste across all sectors. We have seen significant progress. We have consulted on major reforms to the way that waste is managed, including deposit return schemes, extended producer responsibility and consistent recycling collections. We have set up pilot schemes to reduce food waste. We have published proposals for targets in the Environment Bill. We have announced that the carrier bag charge will be extended to all retailers and increased to a minimum of 10p from April next year. We have introduced a ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds. We have provided funding for the development of recycling facilities for hard-to-recycle products, particularly plastics. We have published a call for evidence on the development of standards for biodegradable and compostable plastics. Of course there is more to do but I do not think there is any doubting the Government’s commitment to minimising our environmental impact by reducing waste.

My Lords, will the Minister advise the House if our strategy will include playing a leading role in cleaning up the global waste trade, perhaps by introducing mandatory standards, traceability and certifications for the ultimate recipients of waste originating from the UK?

On one level, of course, waste is a commodity. There is a legitimate global market in secondary materials and there is a system of international rules on shipments that must be followed when exporting waste for recycling, which of course we always encourage importing nations to enforce. In addition, those involved in the shipments of waste from the UK are required to take all necessary steps to ensure that it is managed in an environmentally sound manner. Recognising the problem highlighted by my noble friend—the problem of waste mountains in some countries that cannot or do not manage their waste properly—we have committed to banning the export of plastic waste to countries that are not members of the OECD and therefore are likely not capable of managing the waste that we send them.

My Lords, a waste prevention programme needs to be a dynamic document, moving with advances in science and technology. At the other end of the process, the public need to play their part in minimising waste. To prevent the nation from being subsumed in unnecessary waste, will the revised waste prevention programme have measures that tackle both ends of the spectrum?

I can absolutely provide that assurance. The Government are seeking powers through the Environment Bill that will enable us to set standards across the board. That means resource efficiency requirements, including spare-part provision, recycled content, durability or the potential to disassemble and repair. We are addressing the waste stream—it is not so much a spectrum but all the way round the circle—of the waste ecosystem in which we live. The first product group that we will be looking at and regulating will be textiles, furniture or construction products, but we plan to expand far beyond that in the near future.

My Lords, while I thank my noble friend for his encouraging Answer, what plans does he have to raise awareness among the general public about the problems of food waste, given the enormous impact that it has on climate change, ahead of COP 26 next year?

My noble friend makes an important point. The UK is absolutely committed to meeting UN sustainable development goal target 12.3, which seeks to halve global food waste at consumer and retail levels by 2030. Our resource and waste strategy included policies such as better redistributing food to those in need before it goes to waste, for which we have provided £15 million of new funding; a consultation on the annual reporting of food surplus and waste by food businesses; and publishing a food surplus and waste hierarchy to support businesses in preventing waste. In response to the Covid-19 emergency we announced £3.25 million of additional funding to enable redistributors, big and small, to get more food to those in need, and that has been supplemented by further funding from DCMS. This is a priority issue and we have seen progress, but of course there is more to do.

I would like to follow up on the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, about food waste. Food waste has been the low-hanging fruit because everyone agrees that it is a terrible thing. The retailers have cleverly managed to reduce their own food waste, which is now down to 3%, whereas household food waste is now up to 70%. One of the main reasons for this is that supermarkets do not want to be left with old food, so they package large units of things such as mushrooms and fruit in a lot of plastic for lower-income people and, as a result, some of it goes to waste. Which part of the Government’s strategy will start to encourage supermarkets—which unnecessarily use a fifth of all plastics to wrap up fruit and vegetables—to offer loose selections so that people can go into the store and buy exactly what they need and not what the supermarket wants to give them? That will help to save money and cut down on waste and stop the situation where the poorest households throw away more food.

There is no doubt that what we often refer to as consumer waste is nothing of the sort: it is producer waste. Very few people go into a supermarket wanting to buy a sprig of parsley encased in a brick of plastic. We are very keen to reduce the amount of packaging used and to ensure that the packaging that is used is properly and meaningfully recyclable. One of the measures that we will be using, and which I believe will deliver the most change to packaging, is extended producer responsibility, which is at the heart of our Environment Bill. That is a shift in emphasis from consumer to producer responsibility, requiring producers to take responsibility for the full lifetime costs of the products subjected to the regime of extended producer responsibility—of which packaging will, of course, be one.

My noble friend may not be aware of it but I have been pressing his predecessor on reducing plastic waste since before the Attenborough revelations, and I welcome some of the changes that my noble friend has described. However, how will sustainability initiatives be ramped up to deal with other negatives from Covid? We have seen a resurgence of disposable cups, discarded masks everywhere, and, in Wandsworth—which is one of my favourite councils—very long delays in the delivery of the special bags that households need to recycle their waste. These small things matter a lot.

Undoubtedly, there has been a huge increase in the amount of plastic waste generated as a consequence of the pandemic. I think that probably, to be fair, that was both unavoidable and inevitable. However, on the litter component, laws are in place to address littering. Whether it is a face mask or a packet of chewing gum, the law is the same. We of course strongly encourage local authorities to use the powers they have to ensure that those who engage in littering are penalised. On plastic waste generally, we have a whole suite of measures in relation to reducing the use of plastic, reconciling different types of plastic so that the recycling stream is not undermined, and ensuring, as I said, that the responsibility for the full lifetime cost of dealing with plastic rests with the producer and not the consumer. I think that that will shift the market.