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Plastic Waste

Volume 635: debated on Thursday 25 January 2018

On 11 January, the Government published our 25-year environment plan, which states our ambition to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste. We have already banned microbeads in personal care products, we are removing single-use plastics from Government estate offices, we are exploring a reward and return scheme, and we welcome the introduction by retailers of plastic-free aisles. We are also investigating how we can develop our producer responsibility scheme to give producers more incentives to design more resource-efficient products.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. Hayling Island beach has been recognised for its clean coastline by being awarded a blue flag for the past 26 years, partly because it is plastic-free. Will the Secretary of State congratulate Havant Borough Council and local residents, and continue to support coastal communities to keep coastlines plastic-free?

I absolutely will. The leadership shown by Havant Borough Council is equalled, of course, by the leadership shown by my hon. Friend. When I had the opportunity to visit his constituency and its coastline last year, I saw his commitment to our marine environment. It is vital that colleagues such as my hon. Friend are applauded for their determined environmental work.

People in Chelmsford really care about their recycling. Will my right hon. Friend confirm what actions we can take to ensure that the end product can be put to meaningful use after we put things in our recycling?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. She has made determined efforts in not just this Parliament but the European Parliament to make recycling easier for all. We are exploring how we can better co-ordinate efforts at a local level to ensure that more material is recycled and, indeed, that more recyclable material is used.

On a visit to Bywaters recycling centre in Bow yesterday, I saw the amazing work that the waste industry is doing to tackle our waste and heard about some of the challenges it faces. I was told that the Chinese ban on imports of UK waste has caused the price of recycled paper to fall from £100 a tonne to £20 a tonne, and I presume that the same can be said for plastic. That will have an impact on the viability of councils’ recycling contracts and will feed through to council tax bills. Does the Secretary of State agree that we can tackle the problem by setting long-term targets for the waste industry, such as the 65% target by 2035 that has been suggested by the EU?

Setting appropriate targets is absolutely part of this. One of the challenges of the EU’s target is that, because weight is such an important component in how the EU measures recycling, it does not always incentivise quite the right behaviour. Even though the EU has made important strides, I am glad that our own Government have gone further by ensuring that we tackle the scourge of single-use plastics.

The UK is in a unique position to tackle plastic waste in the world’s oceans due to the number of our overseas territories. Will the Secretary of State be speaking to those overseas territories to develop a comprehensive strategy in this area?

Well—[Interruption.] It was a very good question. The hon. Gentleman always asks very good questions, whether in this House or elsewhere, and he also writes very good books. He makes an important point, and the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), will be meeting representatives of the overseas territories next month. He is right that there is more work to do on the network of marine protected areas around many of our overseas territories, and he is right to encourage us.

I am sure that the hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) will feel that his status not just in this House, but in the country—perhaps even in the world as a whole—will have been greatly enhanced by the generous tribute that has just been bestowed upon him by the Secretary of State.

12. Primary school pupils at Oxley Park Academy in my constituency have launched a campaign to replace plastic straws with environmentally friendly alternatives. Will the Secretary of State commend their initiative and, if I send him the details, will he take on board their suggestions? (903549)

I absolutely commend the pupils’ initiative. The next generation often puts some of us to shame in its commitment to ensure that we have a more sustainable approach towards the environment. There is another youngster who has been leading the charge against plastic straws: the relatively newly installed editor of London’s Evening Standard, whose “The Last Straw” campaign has been instrumental in ensuring that commercial organisations ban plastic straws. He is a relatively new entrant to my profession of journalism and I commend him on his promising start.

The Secretary of State thinks that the young man is not doing too badly, and I am sure that the young man concerned will feel fortified by that.

I commend the Secretary of State for the publication of the environmental strategy, which is an important and significant step, but there are still opportunities to do more. Will he tell the House why he allowed 25 years in the strategy for the elimination of non-essential plastics? If they are non-essential, surely we can do better than that.

I have enormous respect for the right hon. Gentleman. The nature of the 25-year plan was a recommendation of the Natural Capital Committee and, as he knows, it covers a wide range of issues. The Government are bringing forward more demanding and more ambitious targets to reduce single-use plastics, but he is right to encourage the Government, and all of us, to do more.

I wish you, Mr Speaker, and the Minister a happy Burns day. In Scotland, there is discussion about a plastic bottle return scheme. What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with his counterparts in the Scottish Government to ensure that a system can effectively work while preventing English bottles from being paid for by the Scottish Government, and vice versa?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. On the subject of Burns day, I recently had discussions with the Under Secretary of Agriculture for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs at the US Department of Agriculture to see whether he could lift the ban on haggis. Although the American President has many faults, he has one virtue: he has a Scots mum. On that basis, I hope he may listen sympathetically.

On the equally important issue of the deposit return scheme, we will be working with devolved Administrations to ensure that we have a UK-wide approach wherever possible.

The House will certainly want to be kept informed about the haggis situation, and I am sure the Secretary of State will not disappoint us in that regard.

Mr Speaker, I am sure that you would agree that plastic pollution is one of today’s great environmental challenges. The Secretary of State has mentioned the importance of recycling a number of times, so I am concerned by reports that the Government have been opposing the new EU targets. Will the Secretary of State explain why the Government are opposing the new recycling targets?

We are anxious to make sure that, across the EU, we have the right targets. One of the flaws with the EU system, as I acknowledged earlier, is that because of its reliance on measuring through weight, it sometimes incentivises the wrong approaches. I am confident that our own country has gone further than the European Union has requested or suggested on everything from banning microplastics to looking at taxes on single-use plastics and, indeed, introducing the charge on plastic bags. In all those areas we have shown that we have gone further and faster than the EU, and of course that is the Government’s ambition for a truly green Brexit.