Theresa Villiers – 2020 Speech on Plastic Waste

Below is the text of the speech made by Theresa Villiers, the Conservative MP for Chipping Barnet, in the House of Commons on 15 June 2020.

Like others, I support this SI to ban the supply of single-use plastic stirrers, cotton buds and straws. I think the range of exemptions proposed is fair. I also believe that it is reasonable to have postponed implementation, so that businesses and local authorities did not have to deal with this in the midst of the pandemic.

As a modern economy, we will always need single-use plastic—the covid emergency alone will have seen the use of hundreds of millions of single-use plastic items—but as a society, we need to get much better at treating plastic as a precious resource to be used only where necessary, and reused and recycled wherever possible. It is plastic waste that is the problem, not plastic. Plastic as a packaging material is safe, secure, hygienic and cheap. It is also tough and long-lasting, which has a hugely negative environmental impact when it is not properly disposed of, because it can last centuries in the natural environment.

Tackling plastics pollution is one of the defining environmental challenges of our generation, which is why I welcome the energetic campaign run on this issue by the Daily Mail and Sky. There is an important place ​for bans such as the one we are considering as part of a wider strategy to address plastics pollution, because these regulations are an important means to push producers to switch to more sustainable materials and to push all of us to dispense with items that are not essential.

This will only be effective as part of a wider package of measures. I therefore join others who have spoken this evening in urging the Government to maintain progress on extended producer responsibility. We also need to see the long-awaited deposit return scheme delivered in accordance with the timetable set by the Government, and we need to ensure that both those schemes operate in a way that minimises costs for business at a time of turbulence in the economy. I also ask the Minister when we will see the carrier bag charge extended to smaller retailers.

It is important to emphasise again that domestic action alone is not going to solve this problem; if we are to address the scourge of plastics pollution in our oceans, we need to use our aid budget to support the developing world positively and energetically in dealing with their plastic waste responsibly. Significant steps have been made through initiatives such as the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance, but addressing this kind of issue should be included in the UN convention on biological diversity, and preferably COP26, too.

Turtles choke on plastics, dolphins can drown if they get tangled up in it, seabirds can inadvertently feed it to their young, and marine life ingests millions of small pieces of it. Plastic is a tremendous asset for our society and our economy, but we must become much more responsible in how we use it, because of the terrible harm it can do when thrown away. We must act to prevent the environmental disaster of plastics in our oceans, and I welcome this statutory instrument as a helpful step forward in achieving that goal which we all share.