Unsustainable Plastic Packaging

I spoke today in the debate on unsustainable packaging.  This was one of those brought about by the e-petition process and the subject couldn’t be more pertinent.  Indeed, as I outlined in my speech, the dangers of plastics are clearly being recognised by the younger generation too: 


Pupils at Belmont Academy in Ayr have recently taken part in the “Full Cycle 2019” connected world challenge at Dumfries House in Cumnock. I am pleased to report that they received a pupils’ choice award—well done to them and their teachers.


5.13 pm


Bill Grant


It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir George. I thank the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) and the Petitions Committee for securing this important debate.​

By 2050, some 34 billion tons of plastic will have been manufactured globally. The waste might be shipped around the world and will blight many countries—many of which do not contribute to the waste, but host it. That is a wicked thing that some countries impose on others. It seems inexplicable that we have come to produce and rely on a material that is potentially detrimental to our future—but indeed we have. This material is allegedly cheaper to produce new than by recycling existing products. If it is subjected to fire, it will, in most circumstances, give off a potentially deadly cocktail of toxic gases, and if it is discarded in watercourses, it will continue to pollute our oceans. Neither of those outcomes are welcome.


The UK Government have confirmed that their strategy, as part of their new 25-year plan to improve the environment, aims to eliminate avoidable plastic waste—a worthy aspiration. Having spoken previously in debates on this subject, I am well aware of bans on microbeads, straws, stirrers and cotton buds, together with plastic bag charges and refill facilities for plastic bottles. I commend Scottish Water for its promotion of such facilities throughout towns in Scotland. Eventually, these measures will all have positive impacts on the environment.


Those actions alone are not enough and we need to do much more, but from that beginning I understand that the UK Government are consulting on proposals to incentivise producers and retailers to take responsibility for the environmental impacts of the packaging that they choose to use. Added to that, the Government have committed more than £60 million in funding for global research and to assist Commonwealth countries in preventing plastic entering the oceans.


A constituent of mine recently highlighted to my office staff that receptacles have been placed on Turnberry beach in South Ayrshire, into which the public can place plastic waste washed up on the shoreline. That is a good local initiative. I also commend the local rotary clubs in Ayrshire for their effective annual beach cleans. I am sure that that goes on all over the United Kingdom, and I commend the work of rotary clubs throughout the UK and Ireland. These beach cleans remove tons of potentially polluting plastic each year. Although I am not always there, I am happy to join them, when I can, on a Saturday morning.


I understand that another of the Government’s aims is to work with retailers to explore the introduction of plastic-free supermarket aisles. Of course, as has been mentioned in previous debates, other more traditional forms of packaging—such as glass bottles—might have a similar cost to the environment in their production and transport, even if disposal and recycling can be easier. As glass is heavier than plastic, transporting it carries a higher carbon footprint. As with all things, we need to strike a balance.


I want to commend a local initiative, whereby reusable glass milk bottles have been introduced by the Kerr family of South Corton farm near Ayr. Their customers secure glass bottles, which they take to the farm to get fresh milk for themselves straight from that wonderful dairy farm. They get the freshest milk and reduce the use of plastic bottles, which are so commonly used for the conveyance of milk.


In the meantime, I note in the media that Asda, like Waitrose, plans to make its packaging 100% recyclable by 2025, and is encouraging local primary school children, ​including those in Girvan in my constituency, to take part in a series of interactive activities to learn about plastic use and recycling.


The dangers of plastics are clearly being recognised by the younger generation. Pupils at Belmont Academy in Ayr have recently taken part in the “Full Cycle 2019” connected world challenge at Dumfries House in Cumnock. I am pleased to report that they received a pupils’ choice award—well done to them and their teachers.


Mr Jim Cunningham


The hon. Gentleman mentions that people are moving towards the use of milk bottles as opposed to plastic containers. There was an interesting article a couple of weeks ago—in fact, it was on television in the midlands—which showed that more and more people are going back to their local milkman, because they use bottles rather than plastic containers. Does he agree that that is a good thing?


Bill Grant


Yes, exactly; that is a good thing. Many if not all in this Chamber will remember the wee phrase on milk bottles: “Rinse and return”.


Mr Cunningham


I used to deliver them.


Bill Grant


Yes, it is a good step forward. It is a small step, but a step in the right direction.


The pupils’ choice award was won by the pupils for their innovative project on plastic pollution, and I commend them for their efforts. Let us hope that the politics of plastic proceed with the same enthusiasm.


We must not fail our future generations. As has been mentioned, this might be one occasion when we should turn the clock back to the days of our parents and grandparents. They managed daily tasks, and to sustain themselves and their families, without the same reliance on plastic. The fish-and-chips wrapping of that era has been mentioned, and we all remember the days when fish and chips seemed to taste that wee bit better in yesterday’s newspaper.


Finally, will the Minister provide an update on the consultation that closed last month, and can he confirm that the introduction of a new plastic packaging tax in April 2022 is still on target? A quarter of a million signatories to the petition cannot be wrong, and they have to be listened to.