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Repair and Reuse Programmes

Volume 808: debated on Monday 14 December 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the operation of repair and reuse programmes in (1) Scotland, and (2) Wales; and what steps they have taken to introduce similar such programmes in England.

My Lords, our resources and waste strategy for England outlines actions on reuse and repair. It will be supplemented by a new waste prevention programme to be published for consultation early next year. My department liaises regularly with the devolved Administrations on resources and waste policy. For example, in our landmark Environment Bill we are seeking powers related to making products easier to reuse, repair and recycle, which will be available to all four nations.

As the Minister is aware, Scotland is very committed in this sphere. Something like 88,000 tonnes of material have gone to repair and reuse. It is good for employment as 6,000 people are employed, and it is good for the economy in Scotland, with something like £244 million going into it. I am not convinced that England is assigning it the same priority as Scotland and Wales. Would the Government be willing to commission a feasibility study to see what might be possible by way of repair and reuse in England?

I disagree with the noble and right reverend Lord’s suggestion that the Government are not taking this issue as seriously as they should. We have made huge progress in the last few months alone. The time I have does not allow me to list all that progress but, in addition to the environmental benefits of repair and reuse, it is worth adding that reusing and repairing also saves people money, with the reuse sector estimated to have saved low-income households over £468 million in 2019. Growing the reuse and repair sector can support the revival of high streets and the levelling up of our towns and cities by providing high-quality jobs across the country. It is a priority for this Government.

My Lords, I thank the Minister, but it is now more than a decade since Scotland first introduced the Zero Waste Plan. There are reuse programmes in England, often run by local partnerships, including councils. However, at least up to this point, their size and scope varies and, crucially, they are not adequately supported by the Government. Are the Government reviewing the Scottish experience and, if so, what lessons does the Minister believe have been learned from it?

My Lords, we work very closely with all the devolved Administrations and are permanently looking for ways to improve our approach to tackling waste issues. I point the noble Lord to the Environment Bill, which will shortly be coming to this House. It includes clauses that will enable us to introduce secondary legislation on product design; for example, to support durable, repairable, recyclable products. It will also enable us to introduce extended producer-responsibility schemes for a whole range of products, which will also encourage manufacturers to ensure that the products they make are designed to be recycled, reused or repaired.

My Lords, the European Union has committed to establishing a right to repair, guaranteeing consumers the availability of spare parts or access to repair. Will the Government’s long-delayed consultation on the waste prevention programme offer English consumers the same?

The new waste prevention programme has been delayed. I simply point to the pandemic, which has delayed much of our progress on this and many other issues; in addition, the date that the waste prevention programme was due for release coincided with the last general election and purdah rules. However, we have developed a new draft waste prevention programme for consultation. It will include a range of measures, including to encourage more reuse and repair. It is due to be launched in the next few months and will reflect a very serious ambition on the part of the Government to move towards a zero-waste or circular economy.

My Lords, the older generation have always repaired and reused. It is good that the younger generation—including my grandchildren, who are now mostly in their 20s—are very keen to repair and reuse as part of their commitment to the environment. The BBC has taught many people how to do things for themselves and make things, sometimes from things that are being reused. Can the Minister assure me that the Government will encourage these activities?

I can certainly give that commitment on behalf of the Government. We are absolutely committed to providing whatever support is necessary to shift gear—to move towards a situation where we no longer live in a throwaway economy and products are designed to be reused, recycled or repaired. There is a whole range of areas where this needs to happen, whether it is microplastic or plastic pollution, single-use coffee cups, construction waste, food waste, fast fashion, or so many other areas besides, each of which is getting the attention that it merits in my department. As I said earlier, our legislative approach to tackling this issue will reflect a very serious ambition to move towards a zero-waste economy.

My Lords, the repair and reuse initiatives in Scotland and Wales are welcome but we are way behind countries such as India, where repair and reuse make an important contribution to the economy. Will the Minister consider adapting Scotland’s Revolve hubs and introduce other initiatives, such as reducing VAT on products made from recycled materials, in moving us to more responsible living?

One of the prime focuses of the waste strategy—as well as the Environment Bill, which will be coming forward shortly—is to move to a situation where we are not using materials that are not recyclable. We will be using a whole range of tools to achieve that. For example, we are introducing a landmark tax—I think it is a world first—on packaging that does not have at least 30% recycled content. We are introducing extended producer responsibility across a whole range of products which, given that they would have to take on the full cost of disposal, will strongly incentivise producers and manufacturers not to use materials that cannot be recycled. That principle applies right the way through our approach to tackling waste. Waste is increasingly becoming a direct financial liability; as a consequence, manufacturers will be more thoughtful with regard to what they produce and how they produce it.

My Lords, I want to return the Minister to the right to repair. What action do the Government propose to take in the Environment Bill against companies that deliberately design goods that cannot be repaired even when those repair facilities ought to be available? What specific proposals does the Minister have on that matter?

That is exactly the focus of the work that we are doing. The purpose of the Environment Bill and the overall waste strategy is precisely to tackle “built-in obsolescence”—the problem that products are designed and sold with the view that they can only be thrown away and end up in landfill. As I said, no single policy lever can deliver the change that we need, and a whole ecosystem of changes is reflected in the Environment Bill and in our broader waste strategy. Combined, these will have the effect that the noble Baroness is seeking.

Is the noble Lord aware of the amazing work being done by social enterprises in this field? They are not just making a huge contribution to the environment but providing jobs, often to people in very challenged circumstances. Are the Government doing anything to see how that sector can be helped to grow and develop?

That is a very important point. There are examples further afield, for example in Austria, where government subsidises the creation of repair centres, which are specifically designed to employ people defined as difficult to employ; that is something we are looking at. There are so many benefits of shifting towards a reuse, repair, recycle model—with regard not just to the environment or lessening our global environmental footprint but to the economy and job opportunities, often for people who struggle otherwise to secure employment.

My Lords, as one who has until recently, given Covid, spent a large proportion of my time split between London and Wales, the difference in the recycling level at home in Wales as compared to London has been very dramatically brought home to me. Clearly, lessons can be learned in comparing how such operations are undertaken in different places. Given that 20 years has gone by since devolution was set up, might there be a case for a systematic approach to considering the best lessons that can be learned from the devolved regimes to apply in England, and indeed vice versa?

That is absolutely right—there is much that can be learned and much information, advice and ideas that can be exchanged between the various nations. The Welsh Government are often credited with having funded reuse and repair, and rightly so, but we have done this as well. In May last year, the WRAP-administered Resource Action Fund received £18 million from the Government. It was launched to support resource efficiency projects with the goal of diverting, reducing and better managing waste. We will set up further measures to support reuse and repair in the forthcoming waste prevention programme. As I said, our ambition is very high in this regard, as it is in other parts of the United Kingdom.

My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has regrettably elapsed. We now move to the third Oral Question.