Single-use packaging charges could go beyond plastic

The House of Lords has voted in favour of an amendment to the environment bill that would mean charges could be applied to any single-use materials, and not just plastic.

This “simple but important amendment… goes to the heart of the throwaway culture”, said Labour’s Baroness Jones during the debate this week. It would ensure that single-use plastics “are not simply replaced with other single-use materials that also cause environmental damage”, she said.

Footprint has regularly reported on the single-use substitution scandal, which Baroness Bennett likened to ‘dieselgate’, “where we saw encouragement of a shift to diesel vehicles, with severe deleterious effects on human and environmental health”.

PWC estimates, cited in a 2020 report by Green Alliance, show that switching all current consumption of plastic packaging (1.6 million tonnes) on a like-for-like basis, to the other materials currently used for packaging in the UK could almost triple associated carbon emissions from 1.7 billion tonnes CO2e to 4.8 billion tonnes CO2e.

Lord Goldsmith, minister of state at DEFRA, argued that “reckless and wasteful use of resources” remained a government priority. He pointed to other policies, including the plastics tax and the forthcoming consultation on bans for single-use items including cutlery and plates. There is “a particular and acute need to reduce consumption of single-use plastic and the particular and enormous environmental harm that it causes”, he said.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe, for the Conservatives, also said the amendment went “too far”. “What is wrong with a coloured paper straw or a paper spoon to eat an ice cream? It will rot afterwards. I am also happy to see cans of coke, especially if they can be recycled, as they would be if we made it a great deal easier for people to recycle.”

However, the amendment, which broadens out the powers in Schedule 9 currently allowing charges to be levied against sellers of single-use plastic items only, was endorsed by 203 votes to 167. MPs will have the opportunity to overturn amendments when the bill returns to parliament.

The government was defeated in a number of amendments to the bill this week. “All told, peers have tabled more than 130 amendments to the bill, showing that there is still a substantial appetite to make it the best it possibly can be,” Ruth Chambers, senior parliamentary affairs associate for the Green Alliance, told Ends Report.

Rumours were also flying around that the bill could be delayed again. Confronting these during the Lords debate, Lord Goldsmith said they were “almost entirely mischievous and not true. We do want to get this Bill done by COP 26 […] and we feel that it is in the national and international interest that we should pass the bill in the strongest possible form before COP 26.”

Whether that includes the single-use packaging amendment remains to be seen.

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