On 28th November 2017 the Bishop of St Albans, Rt Revd Alan Smith, asked a question he had tabled to Government about its plans to reduce waste. The exchange with the Minister and subsequent questions from other Members are below:
Budget: Reduction of Waste
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they plan to implement action announced in the Budget Statement to reduce levels of waste.
The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Lord Bates) (Con): My Lords, the Government’s call for evidence to explore whether the tax system or charges could help reduce single-use plastic waste will be launched early in the new year. The implementation of policy thereafter will depend on the outcome of this call for evidence.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: I thank the Minister for his Answer. While I welcome all plans for reducing the amount of waste that is being created, will the Minister also commit to implementing the strategy announced in April by the last Government, which promised a world-class anti-littering campaign and a litter innovation fund?
Lord Bates: We launched the litter strategy for England earlier in the year. That has an ambition to ensure consistency in anti-littering across government, tough enforcement on those responsible for littering and an ambitious clean-up of our streets, highways and byways. The litter innovation fund was launched in August and it will be open to people to come forward with innovative ideas as to how we can implement that strategy. I think we are in a strong place as regards that.
Lord Campbell-Savours (Lab): My Lords, in the Budget report there is reference to £30 million being allocated to the Environment Agency to deal with illegal waste management arrangements. Why is that money being allocated only to the Environment Agency and not to local authorities, when they are dealing with a huge problem nationally of illegal tipping, which is stripping out from local authorities funds that are preciously needed in other areas of environmental health?
Lord Bates: The noble Lord is absolutely right in saying that the Environment Agency takes the lead on that. The £30 million was committed to it and in 2015 we announced another £20 million to tackle waste crime, which costs local authorities, the taxpayer and business around £605 million a year. It is a very important part of this, the Environment Agency in England takes the lead on it and it is right that it should have the resources to tackle waste crime.
Lord Geddes (Con): Will my noble friend use his best endeavours to persuade the publishers of magazines to encase their products in paper rather than plastic, perhaps beginning with the House magazine?
Lord Bates: These are great and innovative ideas and things that ought to be looked at. We have some very strict targets for increasing the recycling of paper products and we are on our way to meeting them by 2020. It means that everyone has to play their part, including the House magazine.
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, has the Minister had a chance to study reports from the Institute of Engineering and the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene which state that between 6% and 10% of greenhouse gases are produced by food waste, that around 100 million tonnes of food was dumped in Europe in the course of the last year alone and that, worldwide, if the food that is being wasted were available to eat, it would feed 1 billion people who are estimated to be without food or hungry today?
Lord Bates: The noble Lord is absolutely right. Of course, as part of our clean growth strategy, we have an ambition to reduce the level of food waste by half by 2030. The Courtauld initiative is also aiming to reduce food waste between 2015 and 2025. It is also part of the ambition of sustainable development goal 12. So all the strategy, all the rules and all the ambition are there—we just need to see the action.
Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD): My Lords, given the nearly 40% cut in local authority funding this year, can the Minister say what incentives he intends to implement to encourage householders to increase recycling to assist councils to meet their recycling targets and reduce expensive landfill and fly-tipping?
Lord Bates: In terms of landfill, of course it was the landfill tax introduced by the Conservative Government in 1996 that has reduced the amount going into landfill by some 70%. On local authorities, it is not just about money; it is actually about ambition and determination. We have neighbouring local authorities with varying recycling rates. Lewisham has a recycling rate of 18% but Southwark has a recycling rate of 35%, while Trafford has a recycling rate of 60%. We think that it is not just about money; it is about learning and the political leadership that will ensure that we deliver this.
Lord Davies of Oldham (Lab): My Lords, does the Minister accept that normally this House would take some encouragement from the fact that the Treasury is taking the lead on an environmental issue? But what is it proposing to do? It is proposing to carry out an inquiry into how taxation impacts on plastics. Surely it can be a bit more proactive than that.
Lord Bates: One of the most recent ideas we had on that was about plastic carrier bags; we put 5p on them two years ago. As a result, we have seen usage reduce by 83% in two years, saving 9 billion plastic bags and leading to a 40% reduction in the number of plastic bags washed up on British beaches. That is exactly the type of innovative initiative that the Treasury should be working on, in partnership with other government departments.
Lord Hayward (Con): My Lords, following on from that comment, does my noble friend recognise that in fact large numbers of people in this country would welcome a complete ban on plastic bags throughout England? There is also a general sense that there is excess packaging on fruit and vegetables. Just as my noble friend suggested that we could start at home, large amounts of fruit and veg that are delivered to this House go from grower to wholesaler, are wrapped in plastic and then delivered for immediate consumption in the restaurants in this building. It is unnecessary.
Lord Bates: My noble friend is absolutely right. This matter is urgent because if you put one plastic bottle in the ground today in a landfill site, it will not be fully degraded until 2457. The legacy we are leaving to our children is extraordinary. That is part of the reason we are taking the tough action that we are—not just for this generation and this time but for future generations.