Thank you for contacting me about reducing plastic waste.
I agree that we need to do all we can to encourage people to recycle and to stop producing so much waste in the first place. We must all be more ‘resource efficient’, which not only eases pressure on the environment and our stocks of natural resource but reduces costs too, boosting productivity. Where waste is produced, wherever possible we must ensure it is recycled.
Without urgent action to cut demand, it is estimated 34 billion tonnes of plastic will have been manufactured globally by 2050. The Resources and Waste Strategy sets out plans to reduce, reuse, and recycle more plastic than we do now. The target is to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste throughout the life of the Government's 25 Year Environment Plan, but for the most problematic plastics ministers are going faster and have committed to work towards all plastic packaging placed on the market being recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025.
To keep products in circulation for longer ministers are taking steps through the Environment Bill to require products to be designed to be durable, repairable, and recyclable, as well as legislating for the use of extended producer responsibility schemes in a way that incentivises more resource efficient design. The Bill also includes powers to enable other commitments to be delivered which will improve the quantity and quality of the materials we recycle. These include commitments to implement a Deposit Return Scheme for drinks containers and the introduction of consistent recycling collections across the country.
Further, my ministerial colleagues have announced key details of the world leading Plastic Packaging Tax. The initial rate of the tax will be £200 per tonne and it will be paid by manufacturers and importers of plastic packaging that contains less than 30 per cent recycled plastic. Building on the microbeads ban, restrictions on the supply of plastic straws, drinks stirrers and cotton buds came into force on 1st October 2020, with exemptions to ensure that those with medical needs or a disability are able to continue to access plastic straws. Finally, since the plastic bag charge was first introduced in 2015, the Government has successfully prevented billions of plastic bags being sold and ending up in the ocean and environment. This charge has now been increased to 10p and extended to all retailers. It is anticipated that this extension will decrease the use of single-use carrier bags by 70-80 per cent in small and medium-sized businesses.
Export of Waste: I was elected on a manifesto which pledged to ban the export of all plastic waste to non-OECD countries and I would like to reassure you that my ministerial colleagues remain committed to clamping down on illegal waste exports. I know that ministers plan to introduce tougher controls on illegal waste exports, and the Environment Bill includes a power to introduce mandatory electronic tracking of waste which will make it harder for criminals to obtain and export waste illegally. I understand that a consultation on this will be launched in the Autumn.
It is illegal to export waste from the UK to be dumped or burned overseas. Under the UK legislation on waste shipments, businesses involved in the export of wastes are required to take all necessary steps to ensure that the waste they ship is managed in an environmentally sound manner throughout its shipment and during its recycling. It is welcome that over the last 12 months, monitoring by the Environment Agency has had a particular focus on preventing illegal plastic waste exports.
It is important that we promote UK-based recycling and export less waste to be processed abroad. I am therefore pleased that we are recycling more in the UK than ever before. This is not only good for the environment but can boost economic growth and create jobs. Where the UK cannot currently recycle materials economically, exports can help ensure those materials are recycled in recipient countries. While there is a legitimate global market for secondary materials, it must be, and is, subject to strict controls.
All waste exports need to be made in accordance with the relevant legislation and the UK has a system of inspections in place to verify compliance. The Environment Agency mounts targeted inspections at UK ports working with the shipping sector to help detect and prevent illegal waste shipments. It is welcome that any operators found to be illegally exporting waste can face severe sanctions, from financial penalties to imprisonment for a period of up to two years.
Turkey: I am encouraged that the Environment Agency has been proactively engaging with the authorities in Turkey on the issue of illegal plastic waste exports over the past year. The Environment Agency has also liaised with Greenpeace, following their recent report, in order to seek information which could assist them with their compliance monitoring and enforcement of waste exports to Turkey.
In 2020, the Agency prevented the illegal export of 46 shipping containers of plastic waste to Turkey and this year they have already prevented the illegal export of 122 further containers. The Environment Agency has developed a good relationship with the Turkish Ministry of Environment, who have expressed their thanks for the UK’s collaborative approach in preventing illegal exports of waste to Turkey. As you may be aware, Turkey has now banned the import of most plastic wastes.
Plastic or Artificial Grass: The 25 Year Environment Plan sets out the ambition to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste. I know more needs to be done and for the most problematic plastics Ministers are going faster. This is why they have committed to work towards all plastic packaging on the market being recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025.
It is for local authorities to comply with the legal and policy safeguards in place to protect biodiversity and ensure sustainable drainage. The Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act requires all public authorities in England to have regard for conserving biodiversity in the exercise of their functions. Our most important designated sites and species are also protected under legislation.
The Government is introducing new requirements to maintain and enhance the natural environment in England. Ministers are mandating biodiversity net gain in the Environment Bill to ensure that new developments enhance habitats for biodiversity. Surfaces such as artificial grass are of no value to wildlife, so any developer or local authority seeking to demonstrate biodiversity net gain would be incentivised to avoid the use of such surfaces in their developments’ shared green spaces.
In addition, the Environment Bill strengthens the current biodiversity duty on public authorities to require them to take action to conserve and enhance biodiversity, and introduces a reporting requirement for public authorities with the greatest potential to enhance biodiversity. This will further incentivise public authorities to adopt approaches that improve the environment.
The Government therefore has no plans to ban the use of artificial grass; I would prefer to help people and organisations make the right choice rather than legislating on such matters. However, the use of artificial grass must comply with the legal and policy safeguards in place to protect biodiversity and ensure sustainable drainage, while measures such as the strengthened biodiversity duty should serve to encourage public authorities to consider more sustainable alternatives.
Bottle Deposit Scheme: I am pleased that the Government remains committed to delivering on its commitments to introduce a deposit return scheme, but ministers also recognise that the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the economy and society in unimaginable ways, with many people reassessing their values, decisions and priorities in both the immediate and longer term. On this basis, the second consultation, which has now closed, builds on the first, offering a chance to explore further what the continued appetite is for a deposit return scheme in a ‘post-Covid’ context. This second consultation will also be used inform how a future scheme can be designed in the best and most coherent way possible to deliver on the objectives set out for introducing such a policy.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP