SPEECH ON ENVIRONMENT BILL

It is a great honour to speak in this debate, and I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford), who mentioned hedgehog superhighways. I look forward to those because there is a hedgehog living in my garden at present that is providing an interesting if prickly object for my dogs to look at.

This is an important Bill. Many constituents have contacted me asking that I speak on it. I am pleased to say that I support it. As a sailor, walker and erstwhile forest resident, I care deeply about our environment, and I know that the Bill delivers in several key areas. ​Of these, I consider the creation of the Office for Environmental Protection to be a most important step forward. As we know, this new and—incidentally—world-leading regulator will scrutinise policy and law, investigate complaints and take enforcement action when necessary, and about time, too.

These actions and powers will be used to ensure that we leave the environment in a better condition than we found it. As the Secretary of State said, we will be the first generation to do so, and I am proud of that. While the OEP will be a national body, however, we must also focus on the individual to reduce our collective impact on the environment. Encouragingly, the Bill does that in several ways, especially when it comes to tackling plastic waste. No doubt plastic waste is a global problem. I believe that recycling and reusing plastic products should be central to any response. Concerningly, the numbers are not good. Of the 6.3 billion metric tonnes of plastic waste ever discarded, only 9% has been recycled. That is, of course, a worldwide figure and this is a truly global problem, but our “use once and discard” approach to unrecyclable plastic cannot have helped. It is good news that plastic straws, drink-stirrers, cotton buds and the like will be banned from April 2020, but there is so much more to do.

I am pleased that the Bill builds on that ban by making packaging producers liable for the full net costs of dealing with their products at the end of life—a financial penalty that should lead producers to begin to design their products with reuse and recycling in mind. If we do this, we will get our approach to plastic packaging right, which is crucial given that, of the 5 million tonnes of plastic used in the UK every year, nearly half is packaging.

The Bill also introduces, or reintroduces—I remember them well—deposit return schemes, which will further reduce our plastic waste output. Those schemes are proven internationally, as I saw during a recent visit to Berlin. They will increase recycling and reuse, and reduce littering.

As for consumers, I believe that the Bill will start to change our approach to plastics. Primarily, it will be influenced by the new charge for single-use plastics, which seeks to mirror the success of the plastic bag charge that led to a 90% decrease in plastic bag use. I have no doubt that, because of that new charge, we will reduce our dependence on single-use plastics, or find a sustainable alternative. These changes will almost certainly lead to a tangible reduction in our plastic waste output. As someone who has spent many hours trawling the Walton backwaters in my wonderful Clacton constituency and picking up plastic flotsam and jetsam, I could not be happier. Our water is precious.

We led and engineered our way into our present position. It is not beyond the wit of man to engineer our way out, and I believe that it is incumbent upon us in the UK to lead that way out.

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