AQW 8573/17-22 – Reducing the use of plastics

Mr Patsy McGlone (Mid Ulster): To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs what progress his Department has made on reducing the use of plastics.

Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs: In the New Decade, New Approach deal, the Executive is tasked with bringing forward actions to address climate change including creating a plan to eliminate plastic pollution.

An Executive paper will be tabled shortly proposing an action plan to eliminate unnecessary single-use plastics in the government estate. If agreed by the Executive, the plan will be introduced in October 2020 and changes to purchasing contracts with suppliers will be phased in over the following 12 months until October 2021.

The Department is now into Year 3 of the Tackling Plastic project with Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful and Sustainable NI providing public messages through social media and giving ongoing support and guidance to local businesses, schools and local councils about how they can reduce their plastic consumption.

DAERA implemented the Carrier Bag Levy for Northern Ireland in 2013. Our latest published figures show that 1.5 billion carrier bags have already been removed from circulation across Northern Ireland. I am presently reviewing this levy as there is evidence that reusable bags are only being used once.

DAERA’s College for Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) is working with Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA) food and drink processors to facilitate better engagement between the manufacturing sector and policy-makers to help create an improved, shared understanding of the use and potential reduction of plastic in food packaging.

DAERA has joined the other UK Administrations in becoming a member of the UK Plastics Pact this year. In contributing to the pact, the Department is directly funding the work of its organisers, the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), to develop and disseminate approaches to reduce the environmental impact of plastic packaging. Membership of the pact also enables the Department to use its contact networks to share innovations, data, analyses and reports with businesses and work is already underway to achieve 4 key industry targets to eliminate unnecessary plastics and/or increase recyclability by 2025.

I am continuing to work closely with my Ministerial colleagues across the UK to introduce a range of legislative drivers to help promote a Circular Economy waste package which will help to keep plastic in the economy and out of the environment. This includes ongoing work with other UK administrations on plans to introduce both an Extended Producer Responsibility scheme and a Deposit Return Scheme which together will contribute to minimising the amount of plastic packaging produced whilst maximising the amount of plastic packaging waste collected for recycling. Further consultations on the proposals are planned for early 2021. With other UK administrations having introduced or consulting on introducing legislative measures on single-use plastics, I am keeping the situation in Northern Ireland under review. In addition, HM Treasury will introduce a plastic packaging tax on plastic with less than 30% recycled content in April 2022 which will encourage a significant increase in the use of recycled plastic in packaging.

I trust this provides reassurance that both I and my officials are using a variety of approaches to engage with the problem of eliminating plastic pollution.