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Single-use Plastics

Volume 799: debated on Tuesday 1 October 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what measures they are taking to reduce the consumption levels of single-use plastics.

My Lords, we have banned microbeads on personal care products, reduced single-use plastic carrier bags and invested £100 million in plastics innovation. We are banning the supply of plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds from April 2020; seeking powers through primary legislation to charge for specified single-use plastic items; and delivering our promises to introduce a DRS, provide consistent recycling collections and reform packaging waste regulations. Consumer single-use plastics will be removed from central government offices from January 2020.

My Lords, plastics have been hugely beneficial to society and civilization, but sadly their misuse is now very detrimental to all of us. I welcome everything that the Minister has said, particularly the plastic bag tax, which has been a huge success, reducing consumption by 85%. I hope that this direction of policy will continue, but can my noble friend the Minister tell me, first, whether we are promoting research into whether we can get the embedded energy and the oils out of plastic and reuse them—that is a very complicated question—and, secondly, whether we can educate the public more so that they, particularly young people, do not go around with a single-use plastic bottle in their hand the whole time but use a renewable one?

My Lords, a lot of us are now very much using renewable bottles. I am pleased to say that, in the Year of Green Action, I have one in my office that is very useful. That is why I mentioned the £100 million of research in my original reply, because clearly there are still a lot of answers that we do not know and we want to do things better. That is why there is £20 million for the Plastics Research and Innovation Fund, a further £20 million for the plastics and waste investment fund and £66 million through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. All of these are part of what we need to move to, which is reducing plastic, and, wherever possible where we have plastic—and we will, of course, need plastic for things such as medicine and medical facilities and so forth—ensuring that we reduce, reuse and recycle sensibly.

My Lords, in her first Commons debate, the new Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers, repeated the mantra that the Government needed time to get the primary legislation on plastic waste right. Given that the Minister has repeated time and again to this House that he understands the urgency of this issue, has he persuaded his boss perhaps to speed up that legislation for which we have been waiting for quite some time, and might we get to see that legislation listed in the Queen’s Speech?

My Lords, we have said that we will be introducing the environment Bill in the second Session. I very much look forward to it, if I am in position, and hope that this will be something on which we could all work, because that is one of the key features. When I make inquiries about whether we need primary legislation for some of things we need to do, I am advised that we do. That is why it will need to be done through the environment Bill. I absolutely take the point: we have a finite planet and the longer we wait, the more damage that we will have to deal with. We are still producing too much plastic; that is why we need to advance and why the Plastics Pact is so important in working with industry. We are starting to see success on that, but we need to do a very lot more.

My Lords, would it not be highly advantageous if we were to follow the example of the National Trust and replace plastic wrapping with that made from potato starch, which is compostable?

I declare my membership of the National Trust, and indeed, my compostable bag was put on my compost heap over the weekend.

My Lords, at a time when it is estimated that we use in excess of 35 million plastic bottles a day, of which only 20 million are recycled, what additional measures are being taken to promote reusable bottles? What measures are being taken to prevent plastics being leaked into the oceans?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to raise the oceans. As 80% of the waste in the oceans comes from the land, the first thing is to stop it getting there. I understand that currently in this country 70% of plastic drink bottles are collected for recycling. I mentioned the deposit return scheme because other countries which have reintroduced it have got up to over 90%. That is why we are actively working on the options and are having further consultations. These things take time, because industry will require new infrastructure to undertake this, and we want it to land well when it starts.

My Lords, since the ban on plastic cotton buds and the use of microbeads in cosmetics, which the Minister referred to in his earlier Answer, there appears to have been a bit of a lull in action on plastics. Despite some manufacturers making changes to their products, we are still seeing a large number of plastic straws in pubs and bars, despite what the Minister said. Is it not time that the Government published a list of those who do not take this matter seriously and are still using single-use plastics?

The noble Baroness is right that a number of responsible companies have already started to remove plastic prior to the ban in April 2020. I encourage all manufacturers to think about this so that we achieve a ban with people stopping voluntarily. On lists, and more positively, if I had time I would read out the very long list of manufacturers and retailers that are engaging in this, on some of the issues such as black plastic or using alternatives. We need to work with industry and encourage it, and obviously some of the fiscal measures we are proposing are all about, for instance, reducing plastic packaging.

My Lords, one of the things my parents and grandparents used to say was, “Fine words butter no parsnips”. If we have learned anything from the school strike and Extinction Rebellion protesters, it is that the Government are not acting fast enough. Why does the Minister keep telling us that it all takes time? We do not have the time—we must get a move on.

In fairness, if we want consistency of recycling in all local authorities, it will take time, because you have to build installations—they do not happen at the flick of a switch. As much as I agree with the noble Baroness that flicking the switch and getting it sorted is desirable, it is not practical, and we need to carry people with us. I therefore understand the frustration, and we want to get it done, but it is not possible overnight.