Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, yr Amgylchedd a Seilwaith
Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee22/09/2022
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Delyth Jewell MS|
|Huw Irranca-Davies MS|
|James Evans MS||Dirprwyo ar ran Janet Finch-Saunders|
|Substitute for Janet Finch-Saunders|
|Jenny Rathbone MS|
|Joyce Watson MS|
|Llyr Gruffydd MS||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Ben Maizey||Sefydliad Siartredig Rheoli Gwastraff|
|Chartered Institution of Wastes Management|
|Brett John||Ffederasiwn Busnesau Bach|
|Federation of Small Businesses|
|David Chapman||UKHospitality Cymru|
|Jemma Bere||Cadwch Gymru’n Daclus|
|Keep Wales Tidy|
|Liz Smith||Cyswllt Amgylchedd Cymru|
|Wales Environment Link|
|Megan Thomas||Anabledd Cymru|
|Richard Caddell||Canolfan Llywodraethiant Cymru|
|Wales Governance Centre|
|Will Henson||Sefydliad Materion Cymreig|
|Institute of Welsh Affairs|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Andrea Storer||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Elizabeth Wilkinson||Ail Glerc|
|Marc Wyn Jones||Clerc|
|Matthew Richards||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:48.
The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.
The meeting began at 09:48.
Croeso ichi i gyd i gyfarfod cyntaf y tymor newydd o'r Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, yr Amgylchedd a Seilwaith Senedd Cymru. Croeso yn ôl i Aelodau ar ôl toriad yr haf. Mae'r cyfarfod hwn yn digwydd ar fformat hybrid; mi fydd rhai Aelodau gyda ni fan hyn yn yr ystafell bwyllgor ac eraill yn ymuno ar-lein. Ac ar wahân i addasiadau sy'n ymwneud â chynnal y trafodion mewn fformat hybrid, mae'r holl ofynion eraill o ran y Rheolau Sefydlog yn aros yn eu lle. Mi fydd yr eitemau cyhoeddus yn y cyfarfod yma, wrth gwrs, yn cael eu darlledu ar Senedd.tv, ac mi fydd yna gofnod o'r trafodion yn cael ei gyhoeddi, wrth gwrs, yn ôl yr arfer. Mae'r cyfarfod yma'n ddwyieithog, ac felly mae yna gyfieithu ar y pryd ar gael o'r Gymraeg i'r Saesneg. Os bydd larwm tân yn canu, yna mi fydd angen i Aelodau a'r tystion, neu'r rhai sydd yn bresennol yn yr ystafell, beth bynnag, ddilyn y tywyswyr a'r staff a dilyn y cyfarwyddiadau sy'n cael eu rhoi. Dydyn ni ddim yn disgwyl ymarfer tân, felly, yn amlwg, mi fydd angen ymateb yn briodol. Gaf i groesawu James Evans atom ni, yn ymuno â ni yn y cyfarfod yma yn absenoldeb Janet Finch-Saunders? Croeso, James. A gaf i ofyn hefyd, neu atgoffa Aelodau, i ddiffodd y sain ar unrhyw declynnau fel nad ydyn nhw'n tarfu ar y cyfarfod? Hefyd, wrth gwrs, fel rŷn ni'n arfer ei wneud, jest i ofyn a oes gan unrhyw Aelodau unrhyw fuddiannau i'w datgan. Nac oes. Iawn. Ocê. Diolch yn fawr iawn. Reit, ocê.
Welcome, all, to the first meeting of the new term of the Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure Committee at the Senedd. Welcome back to Members following the summer recess. This meeting is being held in a hybrid format, with people joining us online and others in the committee room. Aside from the adaptations relating to conducting proceedings in hybrid format, all other Standing Order requirements remain in place. The public items of this meeting of course will be broadcast live on Senedd.tv and a record of proceedings will be published as usual. The meeting is bilingual, and therefore simultaneous translation from Welsh to English is available. In the event of a fire alarm, Members and witnesses, or those present in the room, should leave the room following instructions from the ushers and staff. We're not expecting a test today, but, obviously, there will be a need to respond appropriately. May I welcome James Evans to the committee in the absence of Janet Finch-Saunders? Welcome, James. And may I remind Members to ensure that all mobile devices are switched to silent mode, so that they don't disturb the meeting? Also, as usual, I'd like to ask if Members have any declarations of interest. No. Thank you. Thank you very much.
Ymlaen â ni at yr ail eitem felly, sef i glywed tystiolaeth ar y Bil drafft Diogelu'r Amgylchedd (Cynhyrchion Plastig Untro) (Cymru). Mi fydd Aelodau'n cofio, wrth gwrs, bod y Prif Weinidog wedi cyhoeddi, fel rhan o'r rhaglen ddeddfwriaethol, y byddai yna Fil yn cael ei gyflwyno i wahardd cynhyrchion plastig untro, ac ynghlwm â hynny, mi oedd yna gais am broses graffu gyflymach na'r arfer. Yn dilyn hynny, mi ysgrifennodd y Pwyllgor Busnes at y pwyllgor yma yn gofyn ein barn ni ynglŷn â’r opsiwn o hepgor Cyfnod 1. Mi ofynnon ni wedyn i’r Pwyllgor Busnes i beidio â dod i benderfyniad tan y tymor yma, tymor yr hydref. Yn y cyfamser, mi lwyddon ni i gael cytundeb y Llywodraeth i gyhoeddi Bil drafft dros yr haf, fel bod modd i ni o leiaf ymgynghori gyda rhanddeiliaid ar hwnnw. Mi wnaethpwyd hynny ar 15 Awst, pan ymddangosodd y Bil drafft. Mi aethom ni’n syth i ymgynghori, a dwi’n falch i ddweud ein bod ni wedi cael rhyw 34 o ymatebion, sy’n nifer cadarnhaol, dwi’n meddwl, o ystyried yr amser o’r flwyddyn a’r cyfnod oedd ar gael i bobl i ymateb. Erbyn hyn, wrth gwrs, mae’r Bil wedi’i gyflwyno’n ffurfiol, a hyd y gwelwn ni, does yna ddim gwahaniaeth rhwng y Bil drafft a’r Bil sydd wedi cael ei osod, felly mae hynny’n galonogol o safbwynt yr adborth dŷn ni wedi’i gael a’r modd y gallwn ni ddefnyddio hwnna fel rhan o’r craffu. Ac, yn ystod y cyfarfod yma a’r cyfarfod nesaf, wrth gwrs, mi fyddwn ni’n clywed tystiolaeth lafar gan nifer o randdeiliaid gwahanol ar y Bil, ac rŷn ni’n anelu at gyhoeddi adroddiad yn nodi barn y pwyllgor yma ar y Bil mewn pryd i lywio’r ddadl ar egwyddorion cyffredinol y Bil yn ddiweddarach yn y tymor yma.
Felly, mae’n panel cyntaf ni’n ymuno â ni, ac yn cynrychioli’r sector amgylcheddol. Yn ymuno â ni o bell mae Jemma Bere, sy’n rheolwr polisi ac ymchwil gyda Cadw Cymru’n Daclus a Liz Smith, sy’n swyddog eirioli a pholisi gyda Cyswllt Amgylchedd Cymru. Croeso i’r ddwy ohonoch chi. Mi awn ni’n syth i gwestiynau, os ydy hynny’n iawn, ac mi wnaf i gychwyn drwy ofyn eich barn chi ar y diffiniadau sydd yn cael eu cynnig yn y Bil fel ag y mae e, yn enwedig, wrth gwrs, y tri diffiniad allweddol yn y Bil yma o 'ddefnydd untro', neu 'single-use', 'cynnyrch plastig', neu 'plastig' ei hun, wrth gwrs. Mi fyddem ni â diddordeb mawr i glywed eich barn chi ynglŷn â’r diffiniadau hynny. Dwi ddim yn gwybod pwy sydd eisiau mynd yn gyntaf. Liz, wyt ti eisiau mynd yn gyntaf?
On we go to item 2, to hear evidence on the draft Environmental Protection (Single-use Plastic Products) (Wales) Bill. Members will recall the First Minister's announcement in July that the Welsh Government announced that a Bill would be introduced to ban single-use plastics, and associated with that, there was a request for an expedited scrutiny process. The Business Committee subsequently wrote to this committee to seek its views on the proposal to bypass Stage 1. We then asked the Business Committee to defer its decision on this until the autumn term. In the meantime, we had a commitment from the Welsh Government to publish a draft Bill over the summer so that we could consult with stakeholders on that. That was done on 15 August, when the draft Bill appeared. We went straight to consultation and I’m pleased to say that we received about 34 responses to the consultation, which is quite positive considering the time of year. By now, the Bill has been formally introduced, and, from what we can see, there is no difference between the draft Bill and what has been laid and that is heartening, considering the response that we’ve had and the feedback that we’ve had so that you can use it as part of the scrutiny. And, during this meeting and the next, of course, we will be taking oral evidence from a range of stakeholders on the Bill and we’re aiming to publish a report setting out the views of the committee on the Bill in time to inform the general principles later this term.
So, our first panel of witnesses are joining us and represent the environmental sector. Joining us remotely are Jemma Bere, who’s a policy and research manager with Keep Wales Tidy and Liz Smith, who is an advocacy and policy officer with Wales Environment Link. Welcome to you both. We’ll go straight to questions, if that’s okay, and I’ll start by asking your views on the proposed definitions in the Bill as it is, in particular the key definition of 'single-use', 'plastic products' or 'plastic' itself. We’d be very interested to hear your views on those definitions. I don’t know who wants to go first. Liz, do you want to go first?
Yes, I'm happy to. So, I'll just say, to start off with, that Wales Environment Link is a network of 33 environment charities, and just to make clear that while Keep Wales Tidy and the Marine Conservation Society work on it in the most detail, it is an issue that affects all of the environment charities; it is something that is overbearingly a lot for their nature reserves and for those who own land and for those who clean up rivers, it's a huge issue. So, just to say thank you very much for inviting us and we're very pleased to be able to reiterate that force from the sector.
On your question of whether the plastics definition is suitable, we think so. It's pretty much aligned with the EU definition, which is what we want to see. Ultimately, no matter what happens in terms of the UK imports and exports in the future, Europe is still going to be our closest neighbour for those things, and to have that sort of alignment makes complete sense, and the Bill definition is very much in line with the EU definition, that it's
'made wholly or partly from plastic and that is not conceived, designed or placed on the market to accomplish, within its life span, multiple trips or rotations'.
I think that that is really important—that's it not just about plastic; it's about how things are used, and it's not also trying to lighten the fact that it's not necessarily just plastic that's a problem, but it's the way that things are developed so that they only have one use before they go to landfill or wherever.
Thank you. Jemma. I think they'll automatically unmute you in future. You don't need to unmute yourselves, if I'm right.
Thank you. So, Keep Wales Tidy, hopefully you will all have heard of us. We work with an army of volunteers across Wales to tackle litter and other local environment quality issues. We also work quite a lot on behavioural change. So, we come at this from a behavioural perspective as well, which is really, really important. So, I completely agree with Liz that I think the definition is adequate and I really support the alignment with the EU definition and the single-use plastics directive. And also the inclusion of single-use carrier bags—a first for the UK, and something that I think is a really good evolution from the introduction of the single-use carrier bag charge, so, it's really good to see that inclusion on there. So, it's really comprehensive.
Okay. Because from what I've seen, there are concerns about the current definition of 'single-use', that it's too open to interpretation, and there's reference to concerns about the supply of multipacks of family-sized products. I mean, that's reflected in some of the concerns, I believe, that have been expressed.
That is something that Wales Environment Link brought up in its evidence. I mean, ultimately, despite the intention of the Bill, we do need to think about possible loopholes and things that manufacturers and businesses could get around. If it's a multipack, it's technically not single-use; it's, say, a pack of eight, therefore it's used eight times, but it's still, say, an eight-pack of cans. So, we do need to be careful about loopholes like that. For example, you could have plastic cutlery and you could pop a label on it saying, 'Please wash this and reuse it', but that doesn't mean that people actually will. And that's where it's very helpful to have Keep Wales Tidy's views on behaviour change, because it's not as simple as just saying, 'Ban it' and it will be done. If local authorities—well, local authorities aren't going to be the main people, but if businesses and manufacturers are going against the spirit of the Bill and trying to find different loopholes and are popping a label on it to say, 'You can wash this and reuse it' even though it wasn't remotely intended or designed that way, then that is a way it could be gotten around. And I think that that's where perhaps local authority enforcement will be important to be able to interpret, 'Okay, has someone tried to get around this, or this is truly actually a resuable product?'
Yes. Okay. That hints at how fraught this kind of approach could be, doesn't it really. Jemma, do you want to add anything particularly on that?
I did want to add something around the inclusion of manufacturing as well as supplying. So, Scotland, when they introduced their single-use plastics ban, they included manufacture. And this is really important, partly because it does come from an EU-wide piece of legislation. So, as Liz alluded to, aligning ourselves with European markets is really important. So, if we're manufacturing items here in Wales, if we're manufacturing these items that have been banned for sale, but we're exporting them, there's a very high chance that they're going to go to countries that might have a lesser developed infrastructure, and will make it more likely that they're going to end up being disposed of irresponsibly and maybe even end up back on our shores, which is something that we really don't want. So, that inclusion of manufacturing is quite important on a global responsibility level.
Absolutely. Okay. Thank you for that. Huw.
Thanks, Chair. One of the interesting things with this is that we're slightly behind the curve here in Wales in bringing this forward, but we have the benefit then of looking at what others have done and deciding whether we could do even better. So, let me just ask you: in terms of the currently proposed list of single-use plastic items, are you content with that, or do you have any other suggestions where we might go further with either exclusions or inclusions to the list? And, of course, both of you, in your own ways, are very much involved with litter surveys and so on; you see what's being dumped out there. That may well inform future changes to this. So, are you happy with what's currently proposed? Should we be content with this, or have you already got ideas of what else might be included or excluded?
I think it's good that we've gone further than England in adding things like polystyrene and making sure that there is that true alignment with the nine items in Europe, but we do think that it's very important that we can add items to it in future. And it's important that Ministers in the Senedd have a form of review so that we can add things. Because, again, not to be entirely cynical, but new things will come on the market, and not necessarily things that we could have predicted, and things that will get around the single-use directive that may come out that we then want to add later on to say, 'Oh, wait, no, this isn't the intention of the Bill at all.'
So, yes, I'll let Jemma talk about the Keep Wales Tidy surveys, but the Marine Conservation Society does the Great British Beach Clean every year. They also collect great data on what actually appears. So, for example, the proportion of plastic and polystyrene waste is still very high. It was up to 39 per cent in 2017—looking at the figures I've got here—sorry, for plastic and polystyrene content. In 2021, it was 13 per cent, but we know that the way things come up on the seas it's not always sequential, and it's not '13 per cent gone down to—oh, we're doing great'; it's just that the tides haven't brought it in yet. So, yes, we do think that there's a possibility to use that data, hopefully, from organisations like the marine conservation and Keep Wales Tidy, to add to that and say what's becoming a problem.
Before I invite Jemma to come in, Jenny just wants to come in.
I just wanted to pick up on this point, because I thought that the list from the Marine Conservation Society, per year, was very interesting. And although you say, 'Well, it's do with the tides', I just wanted to probe that because obviously a reduction from 22 per cent to 12 per cent is statistically significant. So, there must surely have been something else going on. The tides don't change that much from year to year, do they?
I am not a geographer—I can promise you that. It's quite a complicated way of how things actually get to our shores. There's that tanker of Lego that keeps washing up bits and pieces on one beach, and it changes every single year. I'm not saying that it's not impacted by the way things change over the years, but I don't think it's as simple as, 'Things have reduced and therefore we're doing fine.' It's probably washing up on different beaches. Just because it's not in Wales doesn't mean it's not coming up on all beaches, and that's why we've got to think about that globally responsible role. Jemma, did you have anything to add to that?
The first thing to say, I guess, is if you're collecting data on litter it's notoriously difficult anyway, because it moves just by the very nature of the thing. In regard to additional items, I could spend days listing the potential items that you could include, but I think the really important thing is that we can respond to the really persistent and problematic items, as we have the evidence for it. As well as the Marine Conservation Society's Beachwatch data, Keep Wales Tidy undertake litter surveys in every local authority every year, so we've got about 15 years' worth of data on that. That's quite helpful in analysing trends, and I think that's quite an important thing to consider in the passage of this Bill.
For example, over COVID, we saw PPE litter overnight become a new form of litter. We see a little bit less of the face masks now, but we still see wet wipes quite commonly as litter on our streets, which is a new thing. In the past 12 months, we've seen an increase in disposable vapes, so single-use vaping sticks, and anecdotally we're hearing from local authorities in the last few months of a rise in fast food packaging litter, which they are attributing to the cost-of-living crisis and the cost of energy going up. So, it's quite important to recognise that the data will change depending on consumer trends and some persistent items can become quite problematic very, very quickly.
Yes, it's a constantly moving situation, really, isn't it? I think one of the key areas for us as well is the change in habits and other items replacing some of the items that are going to be banned, which may eventually need to be added to the list at some point. Thank you for that.
Can I just add to that as well? There is an element for policy levers too. This legislation is good, and we're pleased to see it finally come forward, but it can't all just be done through bans; there's reusable things and things that are slightly different to the single-use items, and helping businesses—encouraging and legislating to make sure businesses actually have a form of end of life and a circular way of taking their packaging back is also really important. Like Jemma said with the PPE, that was an example where there were unprecedented circumstances—I'm absolutely blaming nobody—but reusable face masks that can be washed are a perfectly acceptable alternative, and yet still single-use was promoted at every avenue with public sector organisations. Again, I just want to emphasise that I'm not remotely blaming anybody, because it was a pandemic. We're still maybe going back into that. But there is something to be said for the way policy levers in, say, local authorities could perhaps fund a reusable mask for their staff, instead of having single-use available—very simple interventions that can make things quite different. Behaviour change does come along that way. It's not just through legislation.
Yes, an absolutely fair point, and well made. Thank you. Joyce.
I think it's been answered.
You're happy, are you? Okay. There we are. Thank you very much. Delyth, then.
Diolch, Gadeirydd. Sorry to the technicians; I always unmute myself when I know I should just remember that you're going to do it for me. Sorry.
I'm just picking up on exactly the point that has just been raised, really. With the bans and with the exceptions that are listed—some products have exceptions and some others don't have exceptions—do you think that the guidance in the Bill for that is clear, and do you think that the reasoning is always made clear about why some have exceptions and why some don't? Do you think that there is room for there to be more clarity on that? I'm thinking particularly of the link with consumer behaviour that you were just referring to, Liz, just to try to get businesses but also individuals to understand why certain things are banned, rather than offering an opportunity for people to be able to circumnavigate things and that kind of thing.
One of the clearest exemptions is for medical purposes, and we'd absolutely agree with that. It would be unfair to put the burden on vulnerable people to say, 'Well, you have to change everything, too.' But that doesn't mean that we can't—. For example, taking plastic straws, they're often very important for people with disabilities, but there's also the prospect of metal straws, and what they need to be able to do is have, for example, carers being able to know that they can be cleaned and reused or sterilised, depending on what they need to do, and have that education and information and not entirely put the burden on the citizen.
Another example would be—it's not an exemption—reusable nappies and washable nappies. I was looking into the baby boxes that the Welsh Government did. That had a great prospect for being able to give people an option. What was really upsetting was that reusable nappies that were put in the packages weren't used at all, and I can completely see why, because people weren't told how to use them. Peer-to-peer support for that kind of thing is really important. You can't just dump things on people and say, 'Right, can you just use this? Great. Thanks. You can Google it.' They need that peer-to-peer support. It's quite a big learning curve for a new parent to then say, 'Oh yes, and you also need to learn this completely new way of doing it that your parents and grandparents won't be able to tell you how to do.' But with the peer-to-peer support and perhaps someone who is able to come and teach and say, 'This is the system you need to set up', that change can actually happen. But you can't just put the onus on citizens, it has to be something—.
Again, there are elements of, yes, we want to say that people should use reusable things, but reusable things are often a lot more expensive. For example, cotton buds; you can get reusable ones. There's a great company called LastSwab—this isn't an endorsement, but there's a company that does one reusable cotton bud that you can then wash and reuse. But that's obviously going to be a lot more expensive than buying a pack of 100 cotton buds. So, as these things get banned, it would be great if retailers can be encouraged to stock these reusable things and also have information available on how to actually use them to help bring people on that journey. But yes, we don't want to put burdens on anyone who needs an exemption, but again, like I was saying earlier, we don't want that to be used as a loophole. We don't want people just to say, 'Oh, it's medical therefore it's fine'. We still want to bring people on a journey to using reusables.
Jemma, did you want to come in?
Yes. I think Liz alluded at the beginning to people acting in the spirit of the Bill. So, what we'd like to see is that this provides a setting for a social norm to be achieved—what Wales is about is about plastic prevention at source. And whilst you have these exemptions, and I think they are perfectly needed in the medical sector, the fewer exemptions you can have, the better, just purely for clarity and that kind of communication. But there is also a lot, obviously, that the health sector can do to reduce the plastic that they use in non-medical settings. There are still plastic cups in hospitals, for example. There is wider public procurement, and that's where that spirit of the Act should really come in. It's about prevention and getting rid of those single-use items wherever possible, and the exemption kicks in where that is not possible.
It may be possible to use Welsh Government levers that are used for other kinds of environmentally friendly mechanisms. I remember the invest-to-save fund helping a lot of hospitals get LED lighting; what's to stop Welsh Government from providing funding to help people transition over to a more sustainable circular system rather than single use?
Huw has asked to come in as well here.
It's on this issue of exemptions and arguments being made and some of the criticism then that this adds to the complexity, although I take in mind exactly what you're saying that this is a push and a journey, bringing consumers and businesses with us. But that complexity is going to be a thing, whether it's with medical exemptions or others. One of those exemptions that we've heard of in some of our evidence is from—. I'd better declare my role as a Co-operative Party member, but sometimes people confuse that, Chair, with being a shareholder of the Co-operative—. But, anyway. Sometimes people put public things out saying—. Anyway, I'm putting that on record. But the Co-op itself has led the way on some of this stuff with single-use compostable bags made from high-technology compostable bioplastic. Now they're worried that that will get caught up. I'm not asking you to comment on that specifically, but do you accept that there will be, during the course of this Bill, some powerful arguments being put forward, not just from the medical sector, but from others, to say, 'Don't have the unintended consequences that you actually trash potentially good products that can help us on this journey'?
I don't think that this Bill alone will have that big an impact in that regard. But in the UK, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are all working together on the extended producer responsibility regulations, which are due to come into place, I think, in 2024, and that alludes to all food and drink packaging. The scale of the payments and the industry changes required, because it's based on material and the recyclability, will have an impact on what goes to market and it will, I think, create potentially a lot of very difficult materials coming on to the market and be used as alternatives as producers try and escape the payments or reduce their payments.
One of the biggest problems there is that we don't have a legal definition as to what biodegradable and compostable is, so, at the moment, it would be very, very difficult to go down the route of specifying the items and the materiality without that definition in place. A lot of biodegradable and compostable items—and I can't speak specifically around the Co-op bags and what they use—are not designed for home composting. A lot of them are designed to biodegrade in quite hot conditions of 60 degrees centigrade and above—so, industrial composting or incineration.
There is some evidence, but not completely robust, that if something is labelled as biodegradable, there's a higher propensity for people to litter those items because they think that 'biodegradable' means magically disappearing, in the same way that an apple might, for example. And I think that highlights one of the potential unintended consequences. But I don't think that the items covered in this Bill are going to attract that much of a scale change. I think a lot of businesses have made some of those changes already, but certainly the EPR for packaging will probably see those sorts of material changes at scale with a potential impact, unless that definition is very robust and defined across the UK.
That's very useful, actually, because we've had quite a bit of evidence around the oxo-degradable and oxo-biodegradable and whether one is good or better or worse. That's really useful. Diolch.
The problem is that anything can be defined as biodegradable if it biodegrades in 2,000 years. That's an unintended consequence. Yes, it biodegrades; yes, in 1,000 degrees and in 2,000 years, it'll be gone, but maybe even not. So, those definitions are important. And while I wouldn't want to stifle innovation, like Jemma was saying, the extended producer responsibility stuff could create a universal way, and then we can actually look at universal ways to dispose of. Wales has got this home composting system that a lot of other countries don't have. In which case, is it biodegradable in the council composting system? Is it biodegradable at a home composting system? These things need to be more specific.
Okay. That's really good. Thank you. Diolch yn fawr. Shall we move on, then, to Jenny?
Thank you. This Bill has been a long time in gestation for reasons we don't need to rehearse. I wondered if you could tell us how you engaged with the Welsh Government on the intentions behind this Bill and whether the concerns you may have expressed over the years are reflected in the draft Bill.
I'll just say from WEL that we've taken part in every consultation on plastic for at least the time I've been here in the last six years. I think the Welsh Government do want to—. I understand there's been circumstances beyond their control that's not been able to move it forward, but we are consulted a lot without things actually necessarily taking place, so it's very good to see this finally taking place. There's been a small amount of engagement with the local environment quality team on potentially adding things in future, like wet wipes that contain plastic, and that's welcome, to see what might be intended in future, but WEL doesn't have a lot of direct chats. Although that's not to say—. Civil servants are always very happy to, and I would say that Jemma probably has more to say on that from Keep Wales Tidy's point of view.
Yes. So, we've also responded to all the consultations. It feels like a long time ago, although we understand the reasons for the delay of this specific Bill. Keep Wales Tidy work very closely with the LEQ team in Welsh Government and to some extent the waste team as well. I think, last year, we—. Sorry, I'll check the years. But at some point in our litter surveys, we added the items that are in this Bill to our litter surveys to try and get a kind of baseline measure of how prevalent they are in the litter stream, and I can send that over after the committee, if you're interested.
Thank you. One of the issues is the use by Government itself of single-use plastics. So, we've already discussed single-use wet wipes—we don't need to go back to that—but, for example, local authorities use plastic bags in a lot of cases for the disposal of household waste. Some are still using it even for the disposal of recyclable waste, but there's obviously an issue around residual waste. Have you had any conversations about the alternatives that might be available for that sort of activity?
Not specifically for that sort of activity, but I think what the single-use carrier-bag charge did was it reduced carrier bags, and also as I said, it communicated that social norm. So, I think there are a few people still using plastic bags, but it's significantly less, which I think was the intention of the levy. There are a number of other policy mechanisms obviously available to Welsh Government around levies or tax incentives, and there are a number of different ways that you can get across what the preferred behaviour might be.
I think there's a lot to say around behaviour change and the communication, and communicating where we want to be in five years, and looking at the whole suite of mechanisms that might play a role in communicating to the public across Wales about the reusables and alternatives, whilst being aware of—what Liz alluded to—the affordability and the availability of those alternatives, and what we might want to promote and support with.
Okay. So, do you talk to end users, consumers, about some of the complexity of this, as a way of informing Government? Because I appreciate that when you're doing litter picks, you're working with members of the public.
I can speak anecdotally from us engaging with people around the consultations back in 2020, and what we hear from our volunteers a lot is that they don't understand why these things are still on the market. They don't understand why a deposit-return scheme still hasn't happened; they don't understand why producers aren't doing their bit. And explaining all of the legislation and the delays in legislation—because we are aware that there are a lot of things going on in terms of extended producer responsibility, in terms of trying to get a deposit-return scheme up—I think, generally, the public don't understand the delays. So, from our point of view, there is a real appetite for this, and I think since Blue Planet II, really, there's been a kind of impatience around why Government hasn't acted quickly enough to address all of these sorts of things.
Okay, there we are. Thank you. We'll move on to Delyth again, then.
I think it's been covered.
Are you happy with that? Yes, okay. Joyce.
I want to know whether you've got any views on whether there should be a grace period for businesses before formal enforcement action is taken, and if you do think that, how long do you think that should be?
It's a tricky one, because we didn't mention that in the Wales Environment Link evidence. But I think, in line with things that we've said about the way retailers would have peat containing compost, there's an argument to be said for making sure that all the stocks are used before they're not restocked again, but it's also that messaging of, 'Oh, it's okay to continue selling these, because we just need to clear our backroom.' So, it is a difficult one for us to answer. I would say that we don't want to be encouraging more single use, but there is an argument to be said that the backroom should be clear. I'm afraid I can't land on either side of that without the members having made a call.
Okey. Thank you. Huw, you wanted to come in.
Yes, not directly on this, but it links to what we've been discussing. Every night I drive home and I drive up a lovely little lane on the way back to the hill where I live called the Hollies, a beautiful little lane. Every night, there is new litter dumped on that. Let's say we take this through, we do it very cleverly, we nuance the legislation as we are going through, and people say, 'Well, job done. We've done the single-use plastic stuff now,' but what we find in the Hollies, along that lane, is every other type of litter just going along. I just want to ask you a little bit about consumer behaviour and how this ties into this and other legislation related to littering and the environment. Are we doing enough? Do we need to do more in concert with this Bill to explain to people that this is only part of the journey and that they also just need to get a bloody grip on littering as well?
There's an element of that, absolutely, but there's also an element of communication from local authorities, I'd say, too. Wales Environment Link has said in previous submissions on fly-tipping that you need to have the nudges both ways; you need to have the positive nudges and the negative—we don't say 'negative nudges', but you need high fines for fly-tipping and councils need to be able to give priority to investigating those, because it's usually, from members' data, repeat offenders. It's a small proportion of people who do it again and again. So, with appropriate fines and appropriate intervention going both ways, that should be able to get the behaviour change both ways. If people don't like the carrot, they get the stick.
But I guess my challenge on this, Chair, is that we might well, through clever interventions here with legislation and the guidance and regulations that follow, deal significantly with the real problems of single-use plastics. But do you have any fears whatsoever that that then sends a signal to people that says, 'Well, I can still throw other stuff away, because that stuff will biodegrade in the woods. That stuff will be swept up by somebody else, and it's not so much of a problem'?
I could speak to you for days about this, Huw. Certainly not 'job done'. I think that this is a very small step in a very long journey, and so one of the things that we're waiting on and has been delayed is the littering and fly-tipping prevention plan for Wales. Scotland is writing their second, so we're behind on that as well. There's quite a holistic approach in the draft that we saw that went out to consultation. There's quite a holistic approach in terms of how you engage with the public, how you engage with businesses, and behaviour change is a really big element of that. I think we're expecting that later in the year.
There are other policy mechanisms that can be introduced: our long-promised deposit-return scheme, other levies, all of which send the message. Certainly, I think we see this as quite a small and, if you don't mind me saying, delayed step towards the bigger stuff that needs to be done. In fact, in our original consultation response in 2020 to the single-use plastic Bill—this Bill, or this proposal—we actually set out a suggestion of a five-year plan as to what sort of policy mechanisms could be reviewed and looked into over the next five years, in order to get us to a stage where we were really taking a preventative approach towards plastic and litter.
Some of this is tied into the extended producer regulations that are going on in the UK, and we're somewhat tied to the UK Government and delays there as well. So, whilst recognising that, I think that there is a still a whole suite of things that we should be doing, and this is just the start of it. All of those elements of what we could be doing, and what we could be addressing—and the litter and fly-tipping prevention plan probably being the central tenet to that—all speaks to behaviour change at its heart, and should, and prevention as well, not just reactive things. So, we don't want the waste to be there to be thrown on the road when you're driving home, and we don't want to be reactive to that.
Okay. Before we come on to Jenny, who's going to take us to another area of questioning, can I just pick up on the process for adding or removing items to the list of banned single-use plastics? Not the actual items that you might add or take away, but the way that Government can actually add legally, or through regulation, et cetera. Do you have any view as to whether that's too onerous, or is it not robust enough? Are you pretty content with what's being proposed, in terms of consultation and affirmative process, et cetera?
It's by affirmative resolution, isn't it, to add extra items to the list? I do think it should be periodic and not just something that's—. If it's only affirmative, doesn't that mean that it's only if someone actually brings it up, and then Government decides to bring it forward? In which case, it could mean that we have cycles where they just go, 'Oh, we haven't got time to deal with this, so we're not going to deal with it.' I think we'd want to see it as a timely, periodic review period, and something regular that charities and other sorts of undertakers, like Dŵr Cymru, can say what's been turning up in their sewers and what's been flushed—enough of an opportunity and a regular enough schedule that people can feed into that, without suddenly being rushed last minute.
Okay. There we are. Jemma, anything to add?
I'd agree. I think it would be good to have a proactive approach. So, I mentioned the litter surveys that Keep Wales Tidy do, and Beachwatch. Dŵr Cymru will have data, and I'm sure quite a few other organisations, as well as volunteers. If you wanted to get the public really involved, it would be really good to have a year or two, in conversation with Welsh Government, around what they wanted to look at and what sort of data they wanted to explore, so that we could build up an evidence base, in order to feed that into a review, which could be every year, every two, three years, but certainly periodically. And then, also, bearing in mind that consumer trend change, which I talked about earlier.
Okay. Thank you. It's been suggested to me that it might not actually be an affirmative procedure; it's just an ability to create regulations, but we'll check that. Okay. Diolch yn fawr iawn. Jenny.
I just want to go back to something that you mention in your evidence, and we've already spoken about, which is the lack of any definition of biodegradable materials—that the UK EPR regulations have yet to lead to any proper definition. Given that our aim is to eliminate all plastic waste, single-use plastic waste, and to have a circular economy, how do you think we are going to address the endless proliferation of new inventions that describe themselves as outwith the legislation, given that we all used to manage perfectly well without single-use plastics when some of us were much younger?
It's a good question, Jenny, and I think a lot of it will depend on the definitions and the fees that are set around the materials for the extent of the producer responsibility scheme, which, for logistical purposes, should probably be the same across the UK. I think that the definition of biodegradable should feed into that, because if something is truly biodegradable, as opposed to pretend biodegradable or masquerading as compostable, they would be subject to fees, whereas if something was truly biodegradable they wouldn't be. At the moment, the truly biodegradable products aren't subject to extended producer responsibility fees, although this is all yet to be confirmed, and I think that there are probably going to be a lot of delays on the UK side—that's kind of what we're expecting, and it's a real shame, because obviously the UK alignment is quite important for producers and getting that set up very clearly for industry.
Sorry—. Adding to that, it's a similar problem for wet wipes and having something labelled as 'flushable', in that lots of wipes have been labelled as flushable that are not remotely flushable, and, whilst the UK has come up with a definition of 'fine to flush', that, again, shows the importance of labelling. Of course, people will just follow what the label says. Unless the label is clear about what it can do, and where it can be flushed, and where it can be degraded, people are going to be misled. That's why those definitions are really important; we can't just leave it up to businesses to decide what they think is biodegradeble.
Yes, sure. Joyce wants to come in on this as well.
I just want to bring in something completely different. We all see litter on the land, but we don't necessarily see it in the seas. I want to talk about the circular environment. We hear about the circular economy, but if people throw things out on land, they will end up in the sea and vice versa, because it is a circular environment. And I did mention, the other day, that, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts, there are 11 million metric tonnes of waste in the sea currently, and that could double by 2040 or could triple by 2040 if there's an instance of being overwhelmed by trying to recycle those plastics. So, do you think that it would be useful if people started talking about a circular environment and reminding people that, just because they don't have a boat, which is most people, and just because they put something in Huw's lane, which he talked about, that it might not actually end up in the sea, where there's large evidence already that that is affecting the fish that are feeding on it, and hence people are probably eating it?
I think it's a powerful message that when people learn that there are microplastics in the fish they eat, they realise that it's truly circular; it's come back into your body. So, I think there is a role, not for scare tactics necessarily, but for education, because we often have to fight against the fact that it's out of sight, out of mind, and people think that, like fly-tipping in Huw's lane, because it's dumped it's gone. So, yes, I do think that there could be some education around that and the way that wildlife gets hurt by the plastics as well and gets entangled in things like plastic fishing gear. There are some really hard-hitting evidence and images, you know, when a whale gets washed up and it's full of marine litter in its stomach, that kind of thing. It's horrible, but it also does bring it home to people, like, 'This is where it ends up; it ends up in wildlife stomachs, it ends up in our seas, it ends up making trash spirals in bits of the ocean'.
Okay, thank you. Jenny.
On the specifics, the proposal is to include oxo-degradable products in the list of banned products. In the absence of the UK regulations, how do you think the Welsh legislation, at the moment, addresses what we're actually talking about?
It does propose to ban oxo-degradables, doesn't it?
Yes, it does, but, given that there is no definition of it, what needs to be added to make it clear what we're talking about?
My understanding of oxo-degradables is that they are quite specific. So, in line with the single-use plastics definition, it's a very specific process, whereas the biodegradable label could apply to almost everything. So, the oxo-plastics, as in the Bill, are a very specific—. I'm not a chemist, sorry, but there's a very specific process—
No. Okay. We can talk to the scientists later, but I'm just talking about the legislative robustness of this draft legislation.
Yes. I hear what you're saying. I think the fact that it is oxo-degradable and there's no differentiation between oxo-degradable and oxo-biodegradable is an issue that's been raised in some of the evidence that we've had, which we can pursue. The suggestion is, of course, that, given that there is no definition, it's all oxo-degradable, it's whether they're the slightly better types or the worse types.
It demonstrates why definition is important, doesn't it?
The oxo-degradable argument has been that they still do break down into microplastics. If it is in the right area where there are microplastics, but not going to the wider environment, there could be an argument for them. But the way that there has been a lot of discussion in Europe as to whether they should be included or not—it demonstrates why definitions are important.
Yes, well, we've had Australian definitions and all sorts highlighted in evidence as well, so we can pursue that. Just before we conclude this session, can I ask about the proposals for post-implementation review in the Bill? I presume that that's something that you welcome. You touched on it earlier. Is there anything that you want to say, particularly, around that or what's being proposed there?
I don't think anything further than having a regular review period is important, which charities and other organisations can feed into, and to have a wide—as Jemma was saying, letting volunteers be able to take part as well, not just those who professionally talk to the Government. It should be all sorts of people who take part in litter picks all the time, and they've got really good data, even anecdotally, that's quite strong.
Okay. Are we happy? Huw?
Can I just ask a very quick question? It's very simple, but the most complex question, really. As currently described, will this Bill do what it sets out to do: its policy objectives of cleaning up the environment, improving our health and well-being as well, because of removing single-use plastics? How confident are you that this will achieve its policy objectives? Jemma?
Go on, Jem.
On its own, Huw, it's not going to clean up the environment. It will hopefully take these items specifically out of the environment, and these are quite—. They tend to be quite prolific. They tend to be small. So, while you might not notice them as litter, they will break down very quickly. They will get into our waterways very quickly. So, there's a bigger impact than we could probably even attempt to measure by taking out these items. So, that is really positive. On its own, it's not going to clear up litter, but I mentioned earlier that there's a whole suite of things that should follow on from this.
How effective will it be at cleaning up plastic pollution?
It will be effective at stopping more plastic being sold, but the pollution is still there. It doesn't magically remove the pollution that's already existing, but it's a good start to stop the deluge of further plastic pollution, I'd say.
Okay. Well, on that note, can I think you both for your evidence—both written and oral—this morning? We will clearly be leaning quite heavily on that as we consider this Bill. You will also be sent a transcript of proceedings this morning, just to check for accuracy. With that, again, thank you both for your attendance. The committee will now break for 10 minutes, and we will reconvene to hear another evidence session at 10:50. Diolch yn fawr.
Diolch yn fawr.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:39 a 10:50.
The meeting adjourned between 10:39 and 10:50.
Bore da, a chroeso nôl i gyfarfod y Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, yr Amgylchedd a Seilwaith. Croeso i'r tystion sy'n ymuno â ni ar gyfer trydedd eitem yr agenda, o graffu'r Bil drafft Diogelu'r Amgylchedd (Cynhyrchion Plastig Untro) (Cymru). Rydyn ni'n mynd i ganolbwyntio ar y sector fusnes, ac ymateb y sector honno i'r Bil arfaethedig, yn y cyfnod nesaf yma. I wneud hynny, rydyn ni'n croesawu dau dyst: gyda ni fan hyn mae Brett John, sy'n ddirprwy bennaeth polisi Cymru gyda'r Ffederasiwn Busnesau Bach, a hefyd, yn ymuno â ni o bell, mae David Chapman, sy'n gyfarwyddwr gweithredol Cymru gyda UKHospitality Cymru. Croeso i'r ddau ohonoch chi.
Mi wnaf i gychwyn, os caf i, gyda chwestiwn gweddol gyffredinol. Mae yna ddiffiniadau yn y Bil pan mae'n dod i bethau fel diffinio eitemau un defnydd, ac yn y blaen. Dwi jest eisiau gwybod, a dweud y gwir, os ŷch chi'n credu bod yr hyn sydd yn y Bil—y materion yma sydd yn cael eu rhestru yn y Bil fel eitemau a fydd yn cael eu gwahardd—os ŷch chi'n credu bod hynny'n ddigonol, neu oes yna elfennau rŷch chi'n credu y byddai'n well gyda chi eu hepgor neu, yn wir, eitemau eraill y byddech chi'n hoff o weld yn cael eu cynnwys. Brett, wyt ti eisiau cychwyn?
Good morning, and welcome back to this meeting of the Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure Committee. Welcome to the witnesses who are joining us for this third item on the agenda this morning in terms of scrutiny on the draft Environmental Protection (Single-use Plastic) (Wales) Bill. We are going to focus on the business sector, and that sector's response to the proposed Bill, in this next session. We're welcoming two witnesses to do just that: we've got Brett John, deputy head of policy Wales for the Federation of Small Businesses, and we're also joined remotely by David Chapman, who's executive director for Wales at UKHospitality Cymru. A very warm welcome to both of you.
I'll start, if I may, with a general question. There are definitions in the Bill when it comes to things such as defining what single-use plastic items are, and so on. I just want to know if you believe that what is contained in the Bill, and these matters that are listed in the Bill as items that will be banned, whether you believe that that list is sufficient and adequate or are there things that you would like to exclude, or other items that you'd like to see being included. Brett, do you want to start?
Diolch, Cadeirydd. From the perspective of the Federation of Small Businesses, our priority for the definitions is that there is consistency. We're aware that there are many nations around the globe that are pursuing similar types of legislation, and we've had the EU directive on single-use plastics over the last couple of years, which has now been implemented by a majority of EU states. The Scottish Government has adopted that definition of plastic in their legislation, which was passed last year. We know that the UK Government, equally, has banned a number of the plastics that we see in this legislation, so securing alignment where possible is the priority for small businesses, to avoid any potential confusion.
But again, another priority, whatever the definition that's decided upon by the Welsh Government, it's how that's communicated to the small business community that is essential. Many of these businesses will be dealing with a series of different crises at the moment, spinning a number of different plates, so having that clarity in the legislation is something that is a priority for us. So, the overarching term, securing that alignment is a priority, but how we communicate that is as important to the small business community in Wales, which makes up 99 per cent of the business population.
Okay. David, anything to say specifically on definitions before we come to the actual items that are listed?
Not in particular. I think I'd like to endorse what Brett was saying there, and to say that we obviously have a lot of larger employers and the consistency and the alignment factors— [Interruption.] I'm very sorry. The consistency and the alignment factors are really important to businesses that are cross border, and I think if we can do anything to remove confusion in administering this—. I do understand that the Senedd has its own policy agenda, and we obviously want to help that be pursued and be successful, but at the same time, there's a big communication element that's required in order to make sure that businesses that cross borders are aware of the differences, should that be the case. And we'd like to encourage that there's as much alignment as possible.
Okay, and we will pursue the cross-border issue in greater detail a little bit later on. So, Brett, then: what about the items that are explicitly listed? Any issues with those, or is there anything that you feel would be better excluded or, indeed, added?
Well, I think by the Welsh Government's own admission in the explanatory memorandum and regulatory impact assessment, the veracity of some of the evidence for a couple of the materials is more robust in some than others. Going forward—and I know we'll perhaps come on to additions—that evidence base needs to be there, both in terms of achieving the rationale of the objective of the Bill, but also an assessment in terms of the alternatives that are acceptable. Like I mentioned earlier, there are a number of countries that are already pursuing a number of these bans for a number of the materials. The list for Wales is more comprehensive than elsewhere in the UK. Fortunately, some of the groundwork in terms of those alternative materials would have already been done in that, in terms of alternative supply chains. But it's crucial that the Welsh Government communicates that there are acceptable futureproofed alternatives to the existing prohibited list, so, we don't want the goalposts changed in a couple of years where we change from an emphasis on the terrestrial and marine emphasis and instead look to the broader life cycle of material and measure the carbon footprint of that in more comprehensive terms. So, we want the list to be clear, but we also want the alternatives on how that's communicated from Welsh Government to be clear as well.
In terms of the specific items, just—
Before you come to specific items, but the wider action from Government here, because we've been reminded earlier, you know, that this is very much just one part of the jigsaw. It is going to be incremental, isn't it? You will be finding an evolving situation that might not be ideal, but that's where we are, really.
Yes. But equally, I don't think the options that are available to Welsh Government are the status quo versus an outright ban, and like you suggested, this ban is only one piece of the jigsaw. Everything else that happens alongside it—. At the end of the day, the legislation is a 20-odd page document in itself. It doesn't achieve the objectives that we want to see; it's the actions of businesses and bringing them along on that journey that's the priority, and helping to inform individuals, as well, about what differences they can make in terms of taking their own containers to a cafe, for example, or making sure that they feel more comfortable using reusable bags in clothing settings, for example, because that was another issue that was brought up by the Welsh Government in terms of the single-use nature of baggage in those settings in particular.
Okay. Sorry, I interrupted you. You were just about to tell us about the items on the list.
Well, just to use one example of the oxo-degradable plastics—. What is an oxo-degradable plastic? I'm sure that everyone in this room may well be familiar with what it is, but in itself, it's not a specific product, it's a quality of its composition. But SMEs, like I was saying earlier, are dealing with a whole host of different issues, and I know that members of this committee will be members of other committees, wearing many different hats and having to get around many complex issues. But equally, these SMEs need to be experts in HR, in supply chains, in marketing, in their own products all at the same time. So, knowing what is compliant and what's not is going to have to be a priority in terms of that information element. It's not necessarily something that should be adjusted in legislation, but we need to remind ourselves that the legislation is drafted by legal teams and experts, but that's not going to be consumed by the masses of SMEs that we have that cumulatively will make that difference and achieve the objectives.
Thank you. Huw wants to come in before I come to David.
We heard earlier from witnesses from Keep Wales Tidy and Wales Environment Link. They shared their concern over the clarity of the definition, but where they'd see the definition going, I suspect, is, they were saying, 'Well, is'—what do we term it here? 'Oxo-degradable plastics'. 'Is it degradable over 2,000 years, or can it be degraded within a fast period, within your home compost ones?' Or at least not burnt and incinerated in order to break down its chemical components. So, clarity is one thing, but if Welsh Government were to say, 'Well, yes, what we mean, what we will define by oxo-degradable will be that it will be rapidly degradable within traditional composting systems.' Would that scare the horses from that perspective?
Like I was saying earlier, the ban is only one element of these things. If there are alternatives that are more effective in terms of using what is the current supply in a more effective way, and composting where possible, then that is a better alternative that doesn't necessarily cause disruption for those businesses that are having to deal with so much at the moment anyway.
Yes. And what about those businesses that actually produce, currently, some of the alternatives that may not be in the definition that, if you like, from a strong environmental perspective would say, 'These need to be rapidly oxo-biodegradable,' as opposed to having other treatments on them and so on, or within 1,000 years or even a few hundred years, would that cause problems in the supply chain if the definition was clear, but actually really ambitious?
Well, I think that the development of some of those more acceptable alternatives or existing alternatives need to be supported by Welsh Government to help those businesses innovate in a way that's more sustainable through agencies like Business Wales. I'm sure we'll get on to what support can be offered by the Welsh Government to those businesses and help to develop the markets of acceptable and sustainable alternatives.
Thank you, Brett. I'm mindful, David, that there's a lot for you to cover now in coming back or picking up on some of these, but particularly what's on the list, because obviously the hospitality sector is very much on the front line of using many of these items, and maybe we can touch on the oxo-degradable stuff as well that Huw mentioned.
I think there's a danger—. I completely agree with what's just been said by Brett in the conversation there, but I think there's a danger that we might be getting caught up too much in how many angels can dance on a balloon stick—there's an argument here. The important thing is that the onus is on all of us to affect change. We've embraced that change. You've seen the sustainability guides that we're producing for our members.
Going back, I was involved with a policy conference in 2008 for WTA, Wales Tourism Alliance, in which we had the whole of the day dedicated to how businesses could be more environmentally friendly, and we had Jonathon Porritt as a speaker. So, for the last 15 years, to my recollection, businesses in Wales have been trying to, where they can, be involved in a transition towards a greener and more safely environmental way of trading. We do recognise that we are a step in the chain, beginning with the Welsh Government and ending with the consumer, and every part of that has to be active, engaged and involved, and we have to work with you about not simply these hardline definitions on paper, but about the practical realities of what is needed to affect this change as we go along. It's quite possible that we'll be asking you for some amendments here and some amendments there, but the important thing is that we're all totally committed to the direction of travel and we'll help wherever we can to make that work.
I think, regarding some of the issues, the main case that we'd like to make is that this transitional activity is given time for the businesses to be able to absorb that and to work with you in agreement, but with definite commitment, and I would hope that we'd be able to do that going forward, in the next year or so, to make this as smooth a transition as possible. I'll speak again about the transitional arrangements when we come on to some of the matters later.
Okay. Thank you, David. Right. We'll move on then to Joyce.
Good morning, both. Do you agree with the proposed exemptions, or do you have any concerns about enforcement of those exemptions?
So, if I can take that to begin with. I know that there have been some concerns that were mentioned earlier in the week about exemptions on the use of the plastic straws, for example. I think it's for others, perhaps, to advise on whether or not those are acceptable in those care settings. In terms of the enforceability of it, we'd want to guarantee that there is that fair enforcement, particularly when we come to cross-border issues as well, and I know Llyr hinted that we'd come back to that in more detail. But, yes, I'd say that the exemptions need to be considered within the broader picture, that if it gets to a point where there are so many different exemptions that perhaps the outright ban is not the most effective way of dealing with the problem, then that's a different discussion altogether about whether or not that item should be included. But, in terms of the specifics of whether or not something is acceptable in a care setting is something for others to advise on.
Okay. David, anything in particular on the exemptions?
Nothing to say, other than I think it's back to that same point about we're looking for the best way forward, and we're not looking for exemptions to avoid; we're looking for practical realities when it comes to trading, and we can work those out with you and take it from A to B as smoothly as possible. So, we would hope that exemptions would be a phase rather than any sort of permanent attempt to change legislation.
Ocê. Diolch yn fawr. Huw.
Okay. Thank you very much. Huw.
I think I've largely covered the issue on the oxo-degradable plastics, but this issue of exemptions and the clarity, just to return to that, Brett, from what you're saying, it would be helpful if this Bill minimised—but with good argument for any exemptions—tried to minimise the number of them to give that clarity, so that businesses, and hospitality businesses as well, didn't have to interpret really complex definitions of what's allowed and what isn't.
Yes, I think that that's a sensible starting point—that there needs to be clarity. And if there are so many exemptions that it does become unclear, then there ought to be that wider discussion about whether it should be included. But, I'd make the point that it's not necessarily about what's in the legislation but the support that's offered around it to help those businesses understand whether or not they're compliant. That needs to be the priority.
Do you have any lessons from the past, including, for example, when we took forward the previous proposals around carrier bags years ago? There was a lot of concern within the sector about how that would be implemented, interpreted by corner shop owners et cetera, et cetera. Are you relatively confident that, if we get the legislation right, there is precedent, actually, for communicating this very effectively across the wider business sector?
Yes, in terms of the communication of the whole legislation, I think—
And how it works practically on the ground, so that an individual trader, a business person—
Yes. I think where the carrier bag charge can be distinguished from this list though is that this is undoubtedly much more complex, just in the sense that there's a number of different materials that are being proposed. But what we saw in that example was quite an extensive public information campaign. Everyone was aware of it, from individuals to businesses, manufacturers, and they were clear on what the options were and whether or not they were compliant, in a way that I don't think can be automatically applied to this legislation.
James wants to pick up on something as well.
Yes, it's around communication. With the exemptions list, I'm thinking of different types of businesses, say a butcher, for example, because in the exemptions, you can put meat and fish, et cetera in plastic, but most butchers now don't just sell meat; they sell veg, they sell everything else that goes along with it. Do you think there could be an added level of bureaucracy that comes in when those businesses perhaps have to do audits around what plastic is being used for what? Do you think that that could add a bit of confusion for those types of businesses that are using, on the one hand, plastic for one thing and having to use, perhaps, paper bags for another?
Yes, it goes back to that point about simplicity; that needs to be guaranteed throughout the process, including whether or not there are audits, or when we come to enforcement. I don't think, if there is non-compliance, that it would be intentional in many cases, it would just be simply out of not being aware. If you look at the carrier bag stipulations about not wanting to be greater or thicker than 49 microns, I probably wouldn't be able to identify a bag that was greater than 49 microns. [Laughter.] So, that's just one example, I think, of the complexity. But, yes, simplicity is a theme that needs to be reflected throughout the legislation and implementation, including, as you were saying, the auditing and enforcement stages.
Diolch, Cadeirydd. Brett, it's exactly that point actually that I wanted to ask you about. Really confusing—well, not confusing but it is confusing—but complicated provisions about carrier bags. What it is it—the wording? It's 'film no greater than 49 microns and thickness'. Do you think that that is a concern, that those provisions are just so complicated, and how could better guidance potentially be given to businesses to help them to navigate this?
One of the key priorities I mentioned earlier was that matter of consistency, and I think that that's one of the welcoming elements of the carrier bag stipulation, in fairness, is that it is reflective of previous legislation in this area around 49 microns. So, yes, absolutely, that needs to be the priority, but coming back to that point about how it's communicated, I think Business Wales has a clear role to play, as does the Federation of Small Businesses. We point to them consistently as being a one-stop-shop, essentially, of business advice and business support services, and this needs to be one of those areas that they can offer support on, because the reality is that most small businesses—the vast majority—recognise that they have a role to play when it comes to achieving net-zero ambitions, but less than a quarter of them understand what the Welsh Government's policies actually are on net zero, or what they can do to help facilitate that. So, that's where Business Wales has its role to play, and we hope that they do play that role in the implementation of this legislation.
Thanks, Brett. David, was there anything you wanted to add to that?
Yes, I think so. The carrier bag legislation was very simple to understand, pan Wales, and well communicated. Those three elements made it very easy for businesses to get what was going on, to adapt and to do it. The problem as I see it is that it would involve local authority individual assessments, and we've had difficulties in the past, with both scores on the doors, when that was introduced, and some of the COVID measures, about consistency and about capability within local authorities to be able to do that work. Those that were well up on labour in that area were able to be more enthusiastic about that work than some others that weren't, and as a result there was an inconsistency. That doesn't help at all for the industry across Wales to be able to deliver.
I think the other thing, and this involves a chain, is that we did a lot of work on a voluntary basis. In fact, I chaired a group for the Courtauld commitment that we had with WRAP for four or five years, and part of that work involved looking at waste and how we could reduce our waste. The difficulty with doing that, we found, after a three-month series of case study work that we did directly within different industries and different places, was the consumer end. For instance, on that side of things, my estimation was that, by clever use of food and supply chains, and the type of packaging and ordering that sort of packaging from our suppliers, we could probably reduce our waste consumption by about 15 per cent, but probably the other 85 per cent would be down to consumers, who would have to change their own way of doing things. As I used to say at the time, I don't think there is anybody that I know—. I'm sure all the people attending here today are the same, in that they very rarely underorder a curry, for instance, and that leaves food waste, which then has to be dealt with.
There has to be a consumer awareness campaign attached to some leniency and some adaptability within the Government processes, and a lot of, which we will be involved in, enthusiastically drumming up support from the industry to be able to make this work. All those components need to come together if we're able to make the most of what you're trying to achieve. I'm not duplicating any of the information that we've supplied, in order to keep the process as short as possible, but you will see from our supplier information that we're developing, which will be launched, I think, in a few weeks' time, how we're committed to trying to make that work. We've been trying to get that message across to our suppliers, about packaging and other areas. But there will be some difficulties where we have to look at replacements and the availability of those replacements. Things like balloon sticks, I've been told by our industry people, are quite an expensive replacement.
Another thing we need to consider is the current economic climate, where businesses are, and I would like to encourage the thought that not only are we all in this together about this issue, but we're all in this together about helping business sustainability generally, and that involves economic sustainability. We really must try and combine that together. So, it's a wider answer, but I think the answer is that it's essential that there is simplicity. It's essential that we're able, where we can, to have a product to go to and not a variety of products or confusion over those products, about whether or not they apply to the law. We also need to have really effective communication all the way through the channels, and that wasn't always evident, for instance, during the differences between the UK Government and the Welsh Government over COVID with some of the practices that had to be done, particularly for our customers, where we found staff particularly getting abuse from visitors who just didn't understand that it was a different setup with different requirements. We must prevent anything of that sort of difficulty happening, particularly for our staff, who are fairly beleaguered at the moment, short in supply and struggling to help us get through the current economic difficulties.
Thank you, David. Jenny.
We live in a world where we assume that all this single-use plastic has always been there, but 50 years ago it didn't exist. How did people manage without plastic balloon sticks in the past? I just wondered if the point you were making about changing consumer attitudes isn't absolutely a key part of this and something we're going to need to address. Won't that resolve—assuming we're clear in our messages—some of the concerns you have about your members getting abuse?
Let's look at other things that have changed. There certainly has become in the last 20 years a much bigger bottle-drinking culture than previous keg drinking with reusing glasses. And that is a consumer-led activity, with different catchments of our audience. We're in the business of providing fun and pleasure for our customers; we don't always want to be in the position of saying, 'Well, you can't have this, you can't do that.' So, there is an educational element, but we encourage the enjoyment and the experience to be foremost and to make the most of that that we can. And we are struggling at the moment, as you know, to actually win the battle against very high prices being imposed because of inflation—food inflation and energy inflation—and that means that the experience has to be really good and has to be what people want when they come in.
I go back to the comparison with WRAP where, if you try to cut portion sizes, then the customer will feel cheated rather than that they're contributing to a nutritional movement, and they maybe won't come back to the same business, they'll go to an alternative that provides larger portion sizes for the money. So, all of us have to work in a way where, from top to bottom, the communication about this works. And if that is able to change habits, which I hope it would if it was necessary to do so, then so be it, but we do have to understand where the marketplace is at the moment and where people are in it as well.
Thank you. The need for clarity I appreciate is really important. Can I just pick up, Brett, on something you put in your evidence? You argue that there will be a larger demand for non-single-use plastic. Just explain to me what conversations you've had with the Welsh Government on this. There must be other alternative ways of doing things, rather than having yet another industry that we're then going to have to clear up later on.
I think it's a fair point that when we talk about alternatives we don't necessarily just mean alternative materials but we also mean alternative ways of doing things. So, with the polystyrene cup example, we're not necessarily just saying, 'Let's invest in a different kind of cup lid', but instead changing behavioural patterns to ensure that people themselves feel more comfortable bringing their own beverage containers into shops. I think it's part of that wider information campaign to ensure that we're not just looking at what are the alternatives that will require those small businesses to make investments of time and resource and looking to supply chains that may not be fully functional or robust yet. But there is that wider question of how can we change behavioural patters to align with the aspirations of the legislation.
In your discussions with the Welsh Government, surely you're also seeing this as part of a package, a suite of measures that are coming in. So, extended producer responsibility is not very far off. There's the deposit-return scheme, to go back to David's point about people wanting things in bottles—if they want stuff in bottles, they'll have to pay a deposit in order to get them to return the bottle. So, I wonder how much discussion there has been with Welsh Government officials about how we make that step change so that businesses aren't having to think about what's the next thing we're going to ban, but having that real change in culture amongst the businesses as per the UKH sustainability commitment, which seems like the way to go.
I think this goes back to the point I was making earlier: that the overwhelming majority of small businesses recognise that they have a role to play, but it's at the next step that we encounter the challenge—they're not sure what exactly the steps they need to take are in order to facilitate the change that we all want to see. So, when it comes to banning a number of plastic items, I think it's natural to then consider what's the alternative that is a material itself rather than what behavioural change can take place. And this is why I keep mentioning Business Wales as having a clear responsibility.
Earlier this year, we published a report on business support in Wales, where we asked small businesses what they wanted support on, and, actually, sustainability ranked very high, but in terms of how that was reflected in the numbers of people, or numbers of businesses that contacted Business Wales or received help through Business Wales for sustainability, that was very, very low. So, that's where Business Wales really needs to step up and ensure that businesses understand that it's not just looking at what alternative supply chains there are. And I think there is still a discussion, though, around how we can strengthen those, particularly indigenous suppliers in Wales, to address those where an alterative is necessary, but also the behavioural change that needs to take place as well.
Okay. So, you've not yet had that assurance from Business Wales that they are going to step into the space to provide that advice.
If you go on to the Business Wales website, I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a number of the solutions that are necessary in this context, but I think the sustainability piece needs to be looked at from a broader perspective. This isn't the only legislation that Welsh Government is developing at the moment; we're also seeing what bins need to be used in the commercial setting to make sure they are separated out. So, the sustainability point and interventions that are taking place need to be looked at as a package in which each of those businesses can play their part in helping to achieve net zero aspirations.
When we talk about timescales for transition, what would be reasonable, do you think?
In terms of the enforcement date, what we've seen in Scotland and England in terms of the legislation that's been passed there is that it's been at least half a year. That's my understanding. There doesn't need to be so much focus on the enforcement date, but rather making sure that that work in the interim is done to a satisfactory level.
Going back to that point around the alternative materials that will undoubtedly be necessary in some cases, our concern is that larger suppliers have much more power in terms of their ability to procure those materials in terms of time or having a department that looks at legal compliance. Making sure that that work is done—that businesses understand what they need to do—is more important and then can be book-ended by an enforcement date. But that grace period really needs to be used effectively to develop that awareness.
Does that work for you, David?
The important thing—I think I mentioned earlier, and it really is important—is about the transition, and everybody needs to be onside. And there's a willingness to do this, but also we need it to be done in a way that is seen to be combined and progressive rather than it being a strict, overnight deadline that creates difficulties for our operators to be able to fulfil their side of the bargain, if you like. I think it's for the Government to look at timetabling. What we would ask for is that these considerations are taken into account and that the industry is prepared and ready to go with you when you think it's the right time to do that. We will certainly do whatever we can to make that work.
Thank you. Joyce, did you want to pick up on that?
Just on this point on the grace period, going alongside that, would it not be helpful if the Government also put in some reminders to industry that they can't forward buy? I'm not talking about small industries, because they wouldn't be able to forward buy and stockpile things that might be a little bit cheaper as a way of getting around the legislation and the grace period, but I'm talking about the bigger businesses that you've mentioned that will have greater capacity to do that, and therefore, their grace period could be extended if it means that they're using up the existing stock.
I'd certainly support that, if I can come in on that; I'd certainly support that. I think it's not about getting around things; it's about making it work, as I keep coming back to, but I think it's really integral. Sustainability is right across the board. We're signed up to it; we're looking at sustainable tourism; our customers expect it from us, and we want to make sure that they get a product that they're happy with, and is part of their commitment as well. So, we're all on side with this.
That is a very practical suggestion, that where there will be the opportunity to not have to waste bags or whatever it would be, in order to meet a deadline, that there is some sort of sensible recognition of the ability to be able to use those bags properly and at least have some life with them, and to evolve it in a way that I think more businesses would certainly adhere to, with suitable communication.
So, I think we're working on this together and we'll do everything we can with that. I keep coming back to that, but I think it's really important that there is a strong commitment seen from the industry, where there is no pushback. It's about making this work and helping you make the most of this.
Okay, thank you. James wants to come in with a brief intervention as well, and then we'll have to move on to Delyth.
It's all right, the Federation of Small Businesses—. As somebody who is actually involved in business, I always find that change is also a great opportunity for people to do something differently. With the implementation periods, what discussions are you having with industry, as the Federation of Small Businesses, where some of the people in Wales who are already creating the plastic items have actually changed their business models to start producing the alternatives instead, and what sort of work are you doing around that to give these other companies the opportunity to do something differently?
I think that's a really important point about how we not only look at how we can guarantee compliance, but how we can maximise the potential of making change itself. One of the examples that was listed in the explanatory memorandum was of Transcend Packaging; they're a manufacturer of paper straws in Wales, and they've managed to recruit about 170 new members of staff, and are able to grow as a business. That's addressing what we know as a policy contention in Wales around the missing middle of those firms that struggle to grow and stay within Wales, how we can exploit those markets in a way that works for small businesses, that helps to guarantee compliance, that helps to limit the carbon emissions from importing from elsewhere in the world, and how we can deal with that as a Welsh solution and help to grow businesses here that can be global leaders.
I think it's very important that point's made.
Yes. Thank you, both. Delyth, then.
Diolch, Cadeirydd. We've already touched on this about the link between what businesses are expected to do and then what consumers are maybe going to do regardless of that, and trying to make sure that that link is actually stronger. Particularly in relation to littering, we have had evidence already that because of consumer misunderstanding of what different labels actually mean, they may think, 'Oh, well, this says it's biodegradable, so I can just throw this into a field in the same way that I would throw something that does actually rot really very quickly and go into the ground.' Even if the materials that are being used are changing, the littering problem, that social—I don't want to call it a 'social norm'; it's a social aberration. But that's not going to fix it on its own, just because these materials have changed and they're going to be better for the environment, if behaviour doesn't change to link in with that. Are the Welsh Government and our partners doing enough to fortify that link? And I'm aware that this has already been touched on, but is there anything else that you'd like to note on that, please?
David first, then.
I'm encouraged by that contribution, really. I think what we've got to do is to have the maximum awareness-raising exercise to be able to inform customers and the public about why we're doing this and what the end result is. I think it's all about communication, providing the messages are consistent, that businesses can adopt the changes and that time is provided for it. But, going back to my WRAP example, that may only be able to affect a small proportion of the issues that you are trying to address generally about sustainability if we don't actually have much wider awareness among consumers and the public.
I think that stands for other things as well regarding Welsh Government activity; it would be quite useful to have, I think, access into how we can go forward together with this in some sort of way, a communications campaign that could be Government and industry together would be something we'd be very happy to participate in. It's something that we do in other areas. I think that we've got to look at innovative ways of showing the need, rather than prohibition and expecting that to come up with the results.
I'd agree with all of that, so I won't repeat it.
There we are. Okay, Delyth.
Thank you. Thank you both for that. The other area I wanted to touch on: what are your concerns, if any, about the cross-border reality of when this Bill is enacted it's not going to be enacted—? Well, Wales isn't going to be in a silo in this, and there are a number of reasons why there are going to be cross-border complexities. What impact do you think they may have on businesses?
First of all, as we're all aware, Scotland and England, as I've mentioned, have passed similar pieces of legislation, but it's true that the Welsh list is more comprehensive, or there are more items on it than elsewhere. I think the concerns directly around the cross-border trade within the United Kingdom could be alleviated through things like the public information campaign to ensure that there is compliance in Wales. The issue of the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 is clearly something that plays in here. I think any suggestions that proposals are progressed and business is expected to make significant changes to its supply chains through investments of time and funds only for that to be flipped on its head at some point are concerning, but it is reassuring, through the Scottish example, that an exemption was permitted in that case and the narrative from UK Government has been fairly positive on this issue in particular.
I think it's a serious concern, and it's about the hectic day-to-day world of supply into very, very large numbers of businesses is one that isn't easy at the moment for all the obvious reasons. Central buy-in and distribution are not always a perfect art. So, the more the inconsistencies between borders, the more opportunity there is for error or a mistake to be made.
First of all, I'd ask for accommodation of that when these things move forward, because it certainly wouldn't be any attempt to do anything by design, but it's quite possible that it could happen as a result of not changing properly established practices or whatever it may be here. I don't want to come up with examples, really, but when you're dealing with very large numbers of outlets, these sorts of things can happen, and we do need this transitional period for everything to settle and for there to be a reasonable assessment of how this can be maximised for everybody's benefit.
Thanks, Chair. David, I know you keep, understandably, talking about a transitional period, and other colleagues have mentioned a grace period, and I get that, to make sure this beds in properly and we can clear up misunderstandings over a certain period. But the framing of the legislation that we are doing is very, very specific, and I'd like to ask the two of you—. I know that other colleagues will go on to enforcement and so on in a moment, but I want to ask you something really specific. It's whether you're content with the offence, as currently described, under clause 5 of the Bill: the offence of supplying prohibited single-use plastics products in Wales—selling them, distributing them, et cetera. Let's get to the practicalities of this, because, under subsection 6 there:
'In proceedings for an offence...it is a defence for P'—
'to show that P exercised all due diligence and took all reasonable precautions to avoid committing the offence.'
So, let me just put it to you: that's pretty damn clear. If somebody went to their normal cash and carry across the border, came back into Chepstow or whatever, to supply for their party business, or their hospitality business, or their corner shop, something that was clearly within the legislation, within the list, prohibited in Wales, that is not a reasonable defence within it. So, I get what you're saying about transition periods, but let's be clear here: there is an offence being set up and after a certain grace and transition, it will be an offence. I'm asking you: are you content with that? That is clear: if somebody were to use one of these items and wasn't able to show due diligence, it's them that's in the dock over this.
I think we adhere to the law wherever it's applied. That's what we have to do as significant businesses, and we will be able to adapt to that. I'm just asking for there to be some sort of common sense applied, I think, in a transitional arrangement, to make sure that it goes as smoothly as possible and that we're able to make the very most of what we intend to do, for the stock that we've got at the moment to be eked through, but the intention is for change and to apply the change. We adhere to what I would imagine are hundreds of laws, particularly to do with things like insurance and protection of customers, fire risks, and everything else, and so we're not strangers to that idea; it's about making sure that the teething problems that may occur with this are looked after properly and that we get on and deliver for you.
I fully get that, and your commitment, you've repeated it consistently. The query here is that it's not only cross-border issues that would apply this offence, but it's also people who chose to import through online deliveries from elsewhere. There must come a point at which the transition has gone through, the communication has been done, Business Wales has the clarity in place, and you, I, everybody accepts that the law is then the law from that point, and you can't import this stuff into Wales and distribute it and claim ignorance of it. Much as we talk around goodwill towards issues such as sustainability, at the end of the day, we're writing a piece of law here and, at some point, somebody's going to end up in court if they don't get this right. Brett.
I think, on the challenge that you raised, and the Minister's indication to amend the legislation to reflect that clarity around suppliers outside of Wales, through online purchases, supplying individuals or businesses in Wales, that they would have committed an offence, I think our challenge with that is ensuring that any enforcement of that isn't disproportionately affecting those businesses in Wales. There needs to be clarity on whatever mechanisms there will be in addressing that side of things, rather than—
Disproportionately affecting compared to—?
Compared to businesses outside Wales that would be supplying.
Which are not bound by the same legislation.
I think the clarification that the Minister has made was that businesses outside Wales that permit an online sale to a business or an entity within Wales would have committed an offence. So, in that case, what would be the enforcement proceedings? Our concern, as I was saying, was that those suppliers within Wales aren't disproportionately affected in comparison to those that are supplying outside Wales to entities within it.
I'm confused now, because of this issue of disproportionately affected.
In the letter yesterday from the Minister, she clarified that for exemptions at Stage 2, she was going to clarify that online sales—
Does that help with the issue of a disproportionately affected business in Wales, when they're—? Right. I'll go away and have a good look at that.
Okay. For the record, we've had correspondence from the Minister, which refers to this, which, hopefully, will give us some clarity when we've all had an opportunity to look at it. Okay. We've got about 10 minutes left, so we need to make progress now, so I'll come on to Joyce, unless you feel that we've covered—. I suppose we have been talking a lot about grace periods for businesses, haven't we? Shall we come to Jenny, then?
Yes, I think it's covered.
Okay, fine. Just briefly, then, do you think that the sanctions for non-compliance in the Bill are proportionate and clear enough to be fair and comprehensive?
I think that the proposed sanctions seem to be in line with other sanctions elsewhere. I've emphasised throughout this session that it's not about how we can punish those businesses, but how we can help this change happen with them, rather than to them, so, clearly, that's the priority from our perspective. But, from my understanding of the legislation, it seems consistent with the sanctions that are enforceable elsewhere.
Okay. But, clearly, if business A is compliant, and business B is not, business A is going to get fed up if business B just gets away with it. Would you agree with that, David Chapman, that it's got to be done fairly and proportionately?
I'd go back to the point I made just now, I think. We're prepared to adhere to the law, we want to work with you in making that work. I just think we want some leeway in this interim period, if you like, to make all that happen. But, yes, it's going to be another requirement on business; it will have its own costs, we accept that. As you see from our literature, we're not defensive about this, but progressive about this, and we're actually able to, hopefully, lead on this, once we have the clear steer of the final details, and we'll make sure that, hopefully, Wales becomes, in the hospitality industry, a UK leader in these areas. And I do want to quickly talk up the case—it's an English case—of Sue Williams, of Whatley Manor. I've been in meetings of our association in the south-west, where she has been lecturing all of the other people there about work that she's been doing and how they should follow, and that's been happening for years. And there is a momentum within our businesses about being as responsible and as sustainable as they possibly can be. So, this is just a factor within a number of things that we will be happy to embrace, and it's just a matter of making it as easy as possible for implementation, with clarity and with alignment, where possible, but just with communication. Together, we can do that.
And could it not also be seen as an opportunity to save money, given that you have a very difficult business environment at the moment?
It depends. I'm not a specialist on the supply costs and everything else, but I'm sure there will be opportunities where it will be possible to do that. It depends on the transformation that occurs and the different products that are made available as replacement products, and how they are produced and what prices they are, certainly in the short term. But, yes, I can see that being the case, and the more that we're able to go back into renewables and reusables then there have to be some opportunities there. But, I think, the important thing is that it's not consigned to these individual subject matters, that businesses have to absorb a huge amount of different requirements on them right the way across, and it is part of economic sustainability. I really don't want it to be so. We've got to concentrate on the nub of the issue here, but we are very important community employers and community provision. We provide, and, I think, during COVID, the social element that was lost when the hospitality businesses weren't open to local communities was evident. And, so, there's a responsibility all round, I think, to help our businesses to continue to locally employ and put best practices forward for that area. They live in those areas, they work in those areas, they love those areas, and we want to look after those areas, and all of this is a component in it, but it should really be taken as a broader commitment as well.
Okay, thank you. And to conclude our session, James.
Thank you, Chair. I've got some pretty difficult questions, and, if you can probably answer these questions you could probably solve the intergovernmental working of the United Kingdom. Obviously, when we want to change or add items or remove items from the list, that's going to be done by the affirmative procedure here, but it is going to require exemptions from the UK Government because of the UK internal market Act. You touched earlier on the issues between Scotland and England, and that they had come to a procedure on how to do this. What do you think is the best way for us to put a procedure in place to deal with this, so that it doesn't have to go through common frameworks or dispute resolution processes? They take a long time to sort, and what we don't want to do is have businesses stuck in limbo while two Governments argue it out about what's going to be added and what isn't. So, what do you think would be the easiest way to solve this?
I'll let David go first on this.
And if any of you want to write—. I think, Chair, if they want to write in—
We'll let David come in first.
More or less, that is the answer, I think, James. This is a fantastic opportunity, and I'm very grateful to be able to speak to the Members directly. Despite my answers, I'm not the fount of all knowledge, I must say, and we do have a team that we can offer help to you with. I would suggest that we have some sort of regular engagement between now and the introduction of any changes, so that we can actually come up with some help, and also talk about what happens in our other UK regions and nations, and make this work as much as possible.
UKHospitality would be delighted to do that, and we could make this an ongoing conversation that would help to eradicate some of the difficulties that might occur without that conversation after the introduction. I think that that's the answer. It's not only about communication to the supply chain and to our customers; it's also about communication between the political process and the industry, as much as we can.
Thank you, David. Brett.
This won't be an answer, but sort of a re-emphasis of the predicament that this leaves SMEs in—SMES that are, as you'll all know, across constituencies and regions of Wales, dealing with a lot at the moment. Expecting them to make substantial changes and then leaving them in limbo until those exemptions are confirmed—in the Scottish case, which came after the actual enforcement date of that—doesn't seem like a sustainable model for businesses, going forward.
Okay, thank you. Huw and I both sit on the legislation committee, and any suggestions we can put to Government to make these things work smoother the better. Finally, do you think that this Bill is likely to achieve what everybody wants, which is the removal of single-use plastics from our environment?
Well, like I was saying earlier, the legislation is a 20-odd page document. In itself, it won't achieve anything. We'll only achieve what we want to see in reducing the plastics if we bring people and businesses along with us. We've talked about some of the solutions to that challenge, around public information campaigns, how we can look to strengthen the resilience of our supply chains here in Wales, to help bring along those communities. But, like I said, all that work needs to be done before we take the approach of sanctioning businesses for being non-compliant.
I presume that you share that view, David.
Yes. It's about involvement, communication, clarity, alignment. If we have all of those factors, we can influence the change with you, and I'm sure we will. But it's a matter of putting that into a list of all of our activities that need to be done to achieve the goals, and it's also a matter of communicating the need for those changes, and taking on board the contributions of the public and consumers to help effect those changes, as well as legislation. I think that if we are able to embrace that as a system for change, in which we will be more than happy to play our part, then we can really do something in the direction that you are looking to achieve.
Thank you. Huw is going to ask another question now, and we are going to be here for another 10 minutes. [Laughter.]
No, I'm not. I'm going to ask you if you could write to us, because I have had the opportunity now to look at the letter. I am still confused, and I will try and clarify it with the clerk, but if you could write to us on this aspect of the cross-border issues. We have got in the letter that the offence may only be committed on premises in Wales—the Minister wants to clarify that; however, also, that a person who is outside Wales would commit an offence if they supply a prohibited single-use plastic product to a consumer who is in Wales. That, I think, goes to the heart of what you were talking about: proportionality. I'm not clear how that works.
So, I wonder if you could, rather than answer for 10 minutes now, drop us a line on what your understanding is from your discussions with Ministers about what they are trying to achieve and how they can achieve it, and legally how it's enforceable.
And it's certainly something that we'll wish to pursue directly with the Minister as well, in our evidence. On that, then, can I thank you both for joining us this morning? We really appreciate the evidence that you are sharing with us. You will be sent a draft transcript to check for accuracy. I tell everyone this, but it's important that you do check it because once it's on the record, it's on the record. So, with that, thank you to both of you. Members, we can now break and we'll reconvene so that we can restart again at midday. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 11:50 a 12:00.
The meeting adjourned between 11:50 and 12:00.
Croeso cynnes i chi i gyd yn ôl i gyfarfod y pwyllgor. Rŷn ni'n symud ymlaen nawr at ein trydydd panel ni o dystion heddiw, a dwi eisiau estyn croeso i'n panelwyr ni: Dr Richard Caddell, sy'n ddarllenydd yn y gyfraith yn ysgol y gyfraith a gwleidyddiaeth, Canolfan Llywodraethiant Cymru ym Mhrifysgol Caerdydd—croeso; Will Henson, sydd yn rheolwr polisi a materion allanol gyda'r Sefydliad Materion Cymreig—croeso, hefyd; a Megan Thomas, sydd yn swyddog polisi ac ymchwil gydag Anabledd Cymru. Croeso i'r tri ohonoch chi. Mae gennym ni ryw awr o sesiwn, felly dwi'n siŵr y bydd yna gyfle i ni fynd i'r afael â sawl agwedd o'r Bil rŷn ni'n craffu arno fe heddiw.
Mi wnaf i gychwyn, efallai, gyda chwestiwn ynglŷn â'r diffiniadau sy'n cael eu cynnig yn y Bil ar gyfer gwahanol elfennau defnydd untro, single-use, cynnyrch plastig a phlastig ei hunan. Dwi ddim yn gwybod os oes gyda chi unrhyw safbwyntiau rŷch chi eisiau eu tanlinellu i ni o safbwynt a ydy'r diffiniadau yna'n ddigonol neu'n addas.
Welcome back to the meeting of the committee. We move on now to our third panel of witnesses for today, and I'd like to welcome our panelists: Dr Richard Caddell, reader in law at the school of law and politics, Wales Governance Centre, Cardiff University—welcome; Will Henson, policy and external affairs manager with the Institute of Welsh Affairs—welcome also; and Megan Thomas, policy and research officer with Disability Wales. Welcome to the three of you. We have about an hour's session, and so I'm sure we'll have an opportunity to address a number of issues regarding the Bill that we're scrutinising today.
I'll start with a question regarding what's included in the Bill as regards definitions relating to different single-use plastics. I don't know whether you've got any views that you'd like to underline here in terms of whether those definitions are sufficient or suitable.
Richard, do you want to start with the definitions? I was just wondering whether you had a view on a particular definition.
Some thoughts on the definition side of things. Well, in essence, these largely mirror a lot of definitions that are already in standard aspects of legislation on single-use plastics—for instance, the EU directive on this—and we also see a lot of comparable elements of these in other common law jurisdictions. For instance, the recent law in California that's come in in June of this year takes a markedly similar approach. And I think, in many respects, it's a sense of highlighting the plastic products that are most prevalent of a single-use nature that are causing the core difficulties for the environment. I think a lot of legislatures that are undertaking a similar process have done this.
I think a couple of issues have arisen largely out of the experience of the EU in following the terms and the terminology that are in the current Bill at the moment. Firstly, there's the idea of a product that is made either wholly or partly out of plastic, and this has created an awful lot of tensions and a lot of interpretative difficulties about whether or not even a tiny piece of plastic within the product would bring it within the EU definition. The EU then had to make a declaration within its guidelines that there was no de minimis aspect of this, and that any percentage of plastic would bring it within the definition. I think that would be something that could be brought out, maybe, within the explanatory note. I think that seems to be the direction of travel within the wording of the legislation. We're talking about a lining or coating. So, the number of manufacturers, for instance, of things like paper plates, and other products that you don't necessarily associate with being plastic but, because of that film that has a tiny element of plastic within it, it brings them within the definition.
I think the other point, really, to note about definitions—and it's the fault of us lawyers, I suppose—is if you give a definition, we'll find a way around it. And there have been some quite interesting ways in which things have been made multi-use that seem a little perverse, to be quite frank. So, a number of examples, again, that come out of the EU context have been issues such as you buy a loaf of bread from the supermarket—you could technically go down to the bakers, buy yourself a second loaf of bread and put it back in the plastic film and, therefore, it becomes multi-use. Similarly, sweet bags, confectionery, that sort of thing—the individual mints or sweets are wrapped up in cellophane and that sort of thing. That's single-use, but the bag in which they come is technically multi-use, because you could go to the shop, buy yourself a little bagful of sweets and put them back in that. And so, there are things in that that clearly don't replicate consumer behaviour within that. So, I think there are some elements of the definition that, of course, have caused trouble in this. And, of course, the plastic forks, plastic knives—you simply reinforce them, so that they become a plastic fork and a plastic knife, you can take it home and wash it. But, of course, very, very few consumers ever will, and you end up with a problem of plastic litter that is not single-use plastic but it's more resilient plastic, but it doesn't change the underlying behaviour of the consumer.
Okay. Plenty of food for thought there. Megan or Will, did you want to add anything around definitions?
We don't have anything particularly on definitions, no.
I think, just following on from what Richard said, I think we see something similar with carrier bags and the minimum thickness, and that's what we've already seen since the changes, the bag charges were brought in—that, actually, people just trade up to the slightly thicker bags and they tend to be littered and used as a single-use bag anyway. So, I think we need to be very careful about worsening that effect. Because if a bag is going to be thrown in the bin or is going to be littered, it's probably, in some ways, better that it's much, much thinner than a much thicker thing that's going to take even more thousands of years to degrade or be more harmful to wildlife. But, obviously, the policy intention I think is correct in trying to phase out the use of them.
Okay. Diolch yn fawr iawn. Thank you. Joyce.
Good morning, both—no, afternoon now. Do you agree with the proposed list of single-use plastic items to be banned, and do you also agree with the proposed exemptions? And if you have any concerns, would you like to tell us what they are?
Shall we start with Megan?
Yes. In terms of the exemptions, we very much agree with the exemption on plastic straws in particular circumstances. So, plastic straws are often used as a medical device for many disabled people to be able to eat and drink safely. Disposable, bendy plastic straws in particular are very useful, as they have a number of properties that allow them to be safe for disabled people to be able to eat and drink. So, for example, they are very soft, so if you bite down on them, you're unlikely to injure yourself, you're unlikely to cut yourself on the edge. They can be moulded to a particular shape and, for hygienic purposes, the disposable nature of them is very useful for—people have difficulty with washing reusable straws. And they are also very cheap and relatively easily available. So, we're very glad to see that those were put forward as an exemption.
Something that we are concerned about, however, is that, under exemption No. 2, the understanding of what a reasonable belief would constitute on behalf of the person providing plastic straws to a disabled person. So, from what it seems to us in the Bill, this seems to be very much up to the belief or the judgment of the individual providing that plastic straw. That to us is quite concerning, specifically around disabled people whose impairments are hidden, so may not have a very obvious impairment where people would immediately believe that that person is a disabled person. So, it's the sort of thing that we saw during the coronavirus pandemic, with the exemptions for face mask wearing, when we had many reports of disabled people experiencing verbal abuse, experiencing being excluded from the environment around them and excluded from, for example, shops, for people not believing that they were exempt from wearing a face mask. We are concerned that this belief being led, or this being put solely on the individual providing plastic straws, will continue this problem of disabled people not being believed or their medical needs not being taken seriously, as just based on the belief or the prejudices of the individual. We are also concerned about, if those employees in particular feel pressure to be trying to almost catch disabled people out, or to give fewer plastic straws out out of concern of them being—what is the word—punished or having issues given to them.
In terms of the other proposed—. In terms of the other things that are proposed to be banned, something that should be taken into consideration is their use within medical facilities and within care facilities, for example plastic cutlery, disposable cutlery and disposable plates. These are things that are regularly used within healthcare settings, so that's something that should be treated with caution.
But there are no exclusions or exemptions in relation to cutlery or plates at the moment. So, there needs to be—that's what you're saying.