Bishop of Salisbury asks questions on plastic waste trade and recycling

On 22nd January 2020 the Bishop of Salisbury, Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, received answers to two written questions on plastic waste:
The Lord Bishop of Salisbury:
(i) HL226 To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the illegal shipment of plastic waste from the UK to Malaysia, following the decision by the government of China to ban any international plastic waste being processed within mainland China.
(ii) HL227 To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made towards reducing the production of unnecessary plastic and encouraging the development of alternatives to plastic.

Answers:

(i) Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park: The Government is deeply concerned about the illegal trade in waste, including reports of illegal plastic waste exported from the UK to Malaysia. Recognising the difficulties experienced by some countries in managing imports of plastic waste, the Queen’s Speech on the 19 December included a commitment to ban the export of polluting plastic wastes to countries that are not members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). We will consult this year on the date by which this should be achieved.

We are working closely with the Malaysian Government to support the return of 42 improperly documented containers of plastic waste. In addition, the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur is currently supporting the Malaysian Government in tackling the wider plastic waste problem. This includes sharing UK experience as well as collaborating with the Malaysian Government in developing a Malaysian version of a Plastics Pact (a cross stakeholder grouping) to drive more effective management of plastic and plastic wastes. My department and the British High Commission also facilitated a technical meeting in Kuala Lumpur between UK and Malaysian enforcement authorities to improve plastic waste export/import protocols.

While we acknowledge that there is a legitimate export market for plastic waste as a secondary raw material, we take firm action to enforce against those engaged in the illegal export of contaminated, low quality and unrecyclable plastic wastes.

Compliance with the legislation on waste shipments is monitored by the UK’s four environmental regulators[1]. In England in 2018/19 the Environment Agency inspected almost 1,000 shipping containers at ports and returned over 200 of those to sites. During this period, the Environment Agency also prevented 12,000 tonnes of waste from reaching ports which may have otherwise been exported illegally. 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.

[1] The Environment Agency in England, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales


(ii) Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park: The Government’s Resources and Waste Strategy (RWS) for England, published in December 2018, sets out our plans to reduce, reuse, and recycle more plastic than we do now. Our target is to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste throughout the lifetime of the 25 Year Environment Plan, but for the most problematic plastics we are going faster – that is why we are working towards all plastic packaging placed on the market being recyclable, reusable, or compostable by 2025.

We have already made good progress. The Government’s 5p plastic bag charge has led to a 90% reduction in the use of plastic carrier bags in the main retailers, and last year we consulted on plans to extend the charge to all retailers and on increasing the minimum charge to at least 10p. A summary of responses will be published soon. We have also introduced a world-leading ban on the sale of microbeads in rinse-off personal care products.

In 2019, the Government consulted on a number of key policy measures set out in the RWS: reforming existing packaging waste regulations; exploring the introduction of a deposit return scheme for drinks containers; increasing consistency in the recycling system; and introducing a tax on plastic packaging with less than 30% recycled content. These measures will help reduce the production of unnecessary plastic and encourage the development of alternatives to plastic. In July 2019, the Government published its responses to these consultations; more detailed consultations on these measures will be published this year. As announced in the Queen’s speech the forthcoming Environment Bill will include powers to enable Government to deliver these measures.

The Government has also announced £60 million of funding through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, alongside a £150 million investment from industry, towards the development of smart, sustainable plastic packaging, which will aim to make the UK a world-leader in sustainable packaging for consumer products. To better understand some of these new and emerging materials, the Government published a call for evidence on the development of standards for bio-based, biodegradable, and compostable plastics last year. We recognise the role these materials could play in reducing the impact of plastic waste, however we must be wary of unintended consequences. A Government response to this call for evidence will be published in spring.