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Schools: Great British September Clean

Volume 805: debated on Thursday 24 September 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to encourage schools to participate in Keep Britain Tidy’s “Great British September Clean” campaign.

My Lords, we are proud to support national clean-up days such as the Great British September Clean, and we continue to use our influence to encourage as many people in businesses as possible to participate in such events. We want every child to have the opportunity to learn about the impact of litter. The Eco-Schools programme, run by Keep Britain Tidy, works with schools to change littering habits, putting young people at the heart of environmental issues.

My Lords, I am pleased to hear what the Minster says about getting every child involved. If children were better educated about the ghastly scourge of litter, over time they and their families might not dump litter in our towns and countryside, as currently happens. So will my noble friend convene a meeting with an Education Minister and me to consider adding to the national curriculum for year 6 an afternoon picking litter on our roads and lanes—one afternoon of their education? Besides the fact that 10 year-olds would probably quite enjoy the afternoon, it might gradually inculcate into our society an understanding that dropping litter is just not acceptable.

Of course I understand the noble Lord’s point. The Keep it, Bin it campaign, run by Defra with support from Keep Britain Tidy, has had an impact on young people’s attitudes. One of its goals was to align young people’s slightly more casual attitudes towards litter with those of the general population, and polling suggests that that gap has considerably narrowed. In addition, 70% of schools in England are members of the Eco-Schools programme, and we are working hard to increase that.

Will the Minister give schoolchildren a strong lead on a continuing basis to learn to recycle and to reduce the growing litter problem, particularly with cans and bottles? Will the Government introduce a deposit return scheme on bottles and cans, as they are doing in Scotland, and as they have in the whole of Scandinavia and in Germany? Will they offer this incentive to schoolchildren to learn about recycling and avoiding littering by introducing such a scheme? Will the Minister commit the Government to that, please?

My Lords, as well as the Eco-Schools programme, there are many other resources available to schools if they wish to teach pupils about the impact of litter and the importance of not littering. Organisations like Keep Britain Tidy, the Campaign to Protect Rural England and the Marine Conservation Society have all produced excellent resources for schools about litter and the damage that it can do to the environment. We are committed to introducing a deposit return scheme, and I see no reason why that cannot operate effectively in our schools.

My Lords, while a national clean-up is to be welcomed, and helps to generate community spirit, would it not be better for the Government to mount a hard-hitting campaign to encourage the nation to dispose of its waste in a more environmentally friendly way? That could be coupled with stringent fines for offenders. Only in that way will people—and it is not only children—change their habits and take their rubbish home rather than throwing it out of car windows and leaving it behind after picnicking. Does the Minister support such a strategy?

The Government support a dual strategy. We are launching and running a number of educational campaigns, using both conventional media and social media, and as I said in a previous answer, we are seeing the impact of that, particularly on young people’s attitudes. In addition to that, and to supporting numerous rubbish collection or litter days, we are also empowering local authorities to take stronger and more robust action against people who continue to litter.

My Lords, if we are to encourage schools to participate in the Keep Britain Tidy campaign, does the Minister not agree that we should encourage adults, even more so, to set an example? Britain has the reputation of being the dirtiest country in Europe. Is it not time for zero tolerance? In all my years I have never seen anyone fined for littering. As part of this campaign, I suggest that the Government and the public authorities also raise their game. For example, does the Minister not agree that there is an urgent need for more rubbish bins and recycling points, more frequent removal of litter from public places, and proper enforcement of fines?

It is, of course, already an offence to drop litter, and councils have legal powers to take action against offenders. Anyone caught littering can be prosecuted in a magistrates’ court, which can lead to a criminal record and a fine of up to £2,500 on conviction. Alternatively, councils have been given powers to issue fixed penalties—on-the-spot fines of between £65 and £150—and we have recently published improved guidance to councils and others on the use of their fixed-penalty powers for littering and related offences. In addition, we have significantly increased the penalties for fly tipping.

My Lords, to follow up the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, given that plastic bottles remain one of the main sources of litter, can the Minister clarify exactly when we will see the long-awaited bottle deposit scheme?

The Government committed, in our 2019 manifesto, to introduce a deposit return scheme for drinks containers, and we are seeking powers in the Environment Bill to enable us to establish deposit return schemes. The Bill needs to complete its journey through both Houses, and I very much hope that will happen as quickly as possible. The specific details of a DRS will be presented in a second consultation in very early 2021.

My Lords, if the Minister has that meeting with the Department for Education, will he consider the fact that there is no shortage of subjects that would like a little bit of curriculum time? At the moment we have a very squeezed curriculum because of the pandemic, and there was not that much space there in the first place. Before taking time out of the school day, please have a think about what damage that may do to the rest of the education system.

Increasingly, many schools put emphasis on an environmental component of the curriculum. I have spoken at hundreds of schools, and I am yet to visit one where the environment is not a major focus. What is useful in the approach of most schools today is that they weave this issue through existing curricula. In addition, the Government have been ramping up our support for national clean-up days, and we have been proud to support and endorse many of those events. This month, for instance, we are encouraging as many people in business as possible to participate in the Great British September Clean and the Great British Beach Clean, and we anticipate that numerous young people will join in those events—and, we hope, become lifelong environmentalists.

Will my noble friend also work with small businesses in the fast food industry to ensure that they have bins available so that people, particularly young people going out for lunches, can bin their rubbish after their meals?

The noble Baroness makes an important point. We believe fundamentally that businesses should try to reduce the amount of litter that their products generate. The litter strategy sets out how we intend to work with the relevant industries to tackle certain types of particularly problematic litter, including, of course, fast food packaging. Councils do have powers to tackle persistent unreasonable behaviour, and, through the Environment Bill, we will increase those powers.

My Lords, I am sure the Minister will agree that, with litter and waste, prevention is better than cure. In the light of the Which? study out this morning showing that two-thirds of branded grocery packaging is not fully recyclable, what steps are the Government taking to force companies to switch to less packaging and less damaging packaging, and to cover the costs of dealing with the waste? Following on from the questions asked by two other noble Lords, why do we need another consultation on England’s bottle deposit scheme, when we are already world-trailing on delivery of this?

On the second point, consultations are more often than not a statutory requirement, but on the broader point, the Government absolutely agree that the emphasis should be shifted as far as possible on to producers. As noble Lords will know, we are introducing extended producer responsibility through our legislation, and that means making those producers pay the full lifetime costs of collecting and managing packaging when it becomes waste. But we also want to encourage businesses to design and use packaging that is easily recyclable, and these reforms will complement the introduction of a tax on plastic packaging that does not contain at least 30% recycled content.

Does my noble friend agree that apart from parental behaviour, role models are an excellent way of encouraging young people to have a positive attitude to litter? Have Her Majesty’s Government been able to enlist sports or other celebrity personalities to engage with the campaigns?

That is an extremely important question and I am afraid that I can only partially answer it. However, the Government, having taken the steps they have and planned future steps, are providing something of a role model. We have reduced the annual sales of single-use carrier bags by over 7 billion through the 5p charge. We introduced a world-leading ban on microbeads in rinse-off personal care products. We are introducing a ban on the supply of plastic straws, cotton buds and stirrers. Our Environment Bill takes that much further. On the international stage, we are among the biggest contributors in the world to tackling the scourge of plastic pollution in our oceans. But I take my noble friend’s question on board and will get back to him.

My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has elapsed, and I apologise to the two noble Lords who are unable to ask their questions.