Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, yr Amgylchedd a Seilwaith
Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee29/09/2022
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Delyth Jewell MS|
|Huw Irranca-Davies MS|
|Janet Finch-Saunders MS|
|Joyce Watson MS|
|Ken Skates MS||Dirprwyo ar ran Jenny Rathbone|
|Substitute for Jenny Rathbone|
|Llyr Gruffydd MS||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Craig Mitchell||Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru|
|Welsh Local Government Association|
|Gian Marco Currado||Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Judith Parry||Safonau Masnach Cymru|
|Trading Standards Wales|
|Julie James MS||Y Gweinidog Newid Hinsawdd|
|Minister for Climate Change|
|Matt Davies||Ffederasiwn Plastigau Prydain|
|British Plastics Federation|
|Natalia Lewis-Maselino||Ffederasiwn Plastigau Prydain|
|British Plastics Federation|
|Nick Howard||Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Richard Clark||Llywodraeth Cymru|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Andrea Storer||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Elizabeth Wilkinson||Ail Glerc|
|Marc Wyn Jones||Clerc|
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 drwy gynhadledd fideo.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:31.
The committee met by video-conference.
The meeting began at 09:31.
Bore da a chroeso i chi i gyd i Bwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, yr Amgylchedd a Seilwaith Senedd Cymru. Croeso i'r Aelodau. Rŷn ni wedi derbyn ymddiheuriad gan Jenny Rathbone, sydd ddim gyda ni bore yma, ond mi fydd Ken Skates yn dirprwyo ar ei rhan hi am ran o'r cyfarfod yn nes ymlaen. Mae hwn, wrth gwrs, fel arfer yn gyfarfod dwyieithog, ac mae yna gyfieithu ar y pryd ar gael o'r Gymraeg i'r Saesneg. Mae angen i fi atgoffa Aelodau hefyd bod dim angen i ni weithredu ein meicroffonau; mi fydd y technegwyr yn gwneud hynny ar ein rhan ni. A gaf i ofyn, felly, cyn cychwyn, a oes gan unrhyw Aelodau unrhyw fuddiannau i'w datgan? Nac oes; iawn. Diolch yn fawr iawn. Ac mi wnaf i hefyd egluro y bydd Delyth Jewell, a bod yna bod yna broblemau technegol yn golygu nad ydw i'n gallu aros yn rhan o'r cyfarfod, mae Delyth Jewell wedi cytuno i fod yn Gadeirydd dros dro petai angen hynny.
Good morning and welcome to you all to the Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee at the Senedd. Welcome to Members. We have received an apology from Jenny Rathbone, who isn't with us this morning, but Ken Skates will be substituting on her behalf for part of the meeting later on. Of course, as usual, this meeting is bilingual, and simultaneous translation is available from Welsh to English. I need to remind Members as well that we don't need to operate the microphones; our technicians will do so on our behalf. May I ask before we start if any Members have declarations of interest? No, fine, thank you very much. And I'll also explain that Delyth Jewell will step in as temporary Chair if technical difficulties mean that I cannot remain for the meeting, and Delyth has agreed to Chair the meeting temporarily.
Iawn, yr ail eitem ar yr agenda, felly, yw i nodi papurau o gyfarfod 22 Medi. Mi wnes i fethu gwneud hynny yn y cyfarfod wythnos diwethaf, felly mae'n ofynnol i ni i wneud hynny, ac mi wnaf i eich cyfeirio chi at y papurau 6.1 i 6.11 o bapurau yr wythnos diwethaf, a gofyn os ydych chi'n hapus i nodi'r rheini. Ie, pawb yn hapus. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
The second item on the agenda is to note papers from the meeting of 22 September. I didn't do so in last week's meeting and it's a requirement that we do so, so I'll refer you to papers 6.1 to 6.11 in the papers from last week, and ask if you're content to note those. Yes, everybody's content. Thank you very much.
Ymlaen â ni felly at y sesiwn dystiolaeth ddiweddaraf yn y gwaith rŷn ni'n ei wneud yn edrych ar y Bil Drafft Diogelu'r Amgylchedd (Cynhyrchion Plastig Untro) (Cymru). Dwi'n estyn croeso cynnes i Matt Davies, sy'n bennaeth materion cyhoeddus a materion amgylcheddol gyda Ffederasiwn Plastigau Prydain; a chroeso cynnes hefyd i Natalia Lewis-Maselino, sy'n swyddog gweithredol materion diwydiannol, plastigau a phecynnau hyblyg, gyda Ffederasiwn Plastigau Prydain. Croeso cynnes i'r ddau ohonoch chi.
Awn ni'n syth i gwestiynau os ydy hynny'n iawn, ac mi wnaf i gychwyn drwy ofyn a ydych chi'n cytuno â'r diffiniadau sydd yn cael eu hamlinellu yn y Bil. Yn amlwg, mae yna ddiffiniadau o ddefnydd untro, mae yna ddiffiniad o beth yw cynnyrch plastig, ac yn wir o blastig ei hun. Oes gennych chi farn ynglŷn â'r modd mae'r Bil yn dehongli'r tri peth yna? Pwy sydd eisiau mynd yn gyntaf? Matt.
So, on we go, therefore, to the latest evidence session in the work that we're doing in looking at the Environmental Protection (Single-use Plastic Products) (Wales) Bill. I extend a very warm welcome to Matt Davies, head of public and environmental affairs, British Plastics Federation; and a very warm welcome too to Natalia Lewis-Maselino, who is industrial issues executive, plastics and flexible packaging, with the British Plastics Federation. A very warm welcome to both of you.
We'll go straight into questions if that's okay, and I'll start by asking you whether you agree with the proposed definitions in the Bill. Clearly, there are definitions regarding single use, there is a definition of what plastic products are, and indeed what plastic is itself. So, I'm just wondering if you have a view on the way the Bill interprets those three things. Who wants to go first? Matt.
I'm happy to pick that question up and go first. Thank you for having us, obviously, to this session. The definitions in there appear aligned with other legislation in this space, for example, the legislation we've seen in Scotland, England and within the European Union as well. So, they do make sense in terms of definition of plastics and single use.
And do you share that view, Natalia? Yes, okay. One-word answers are good, actually. That's fine. Very, very acceptable. Okay, because interestingly, Natural Resources Wales suggested that the definition for Wales should align with the plastic packaging tax regulations. Is that something that you are aware of or feel strongly about?
Yes, it's something we're aware of. I know that there is a difference there, but we agree with the definition there, but like I said, there is other legislation in the UK. We obviously represent companies that operate across the devolved nations, so as long as there's regulatory alignment in the definitions, then that suffices.
Yes, okay. Thank you. So, could you tell us a bit about your views on the inclusion of oxo-degradable products in the draft Bill? Clearly, we've heard some evidence about potential unintended consequences, particularly around compostable plastic. Is that a concern that you share? Maybe Natalia can go first on this one.
I will let Matt Davies take the lead on this one, if you don't mind.
Okay, fine. Yes, no problem at all. Matt.
It's a good question, and it's something we have a position on. As the British Plastics Federation, we represent the entire supply chain, so everything from raw material manufacturers of traditional polymers, of compostables, through to converters, who make compostable products from compostables, and recyclers as well. And that's a key point, because in terms of the inclusion of oxos, as with other polymers that degrade or may have pro-degradants or are designed to degrade, usually in controlled conditions, there is a potential, if they do end up in the waste stream, to contaminate the mechanical recycling stream, and that is a concern. So, we're aware of bans in the European Union on oxos, we're aware that England are minded to introduce a separate consultation on it as well. So, it's something that we acknowledge as being included in here, and we understand the alignment with the European Union in terms of their single-use plastics directive.
Okay, there we are, that's clear enough. Thank you. We'll move on, then, to Janet.
Thank you. Good morning. In your evidence, you've highlighted,
'that the UK-wide Environment Bill sets out measures for all single use materials'.
Do you think that the Bill should be focused on single-use plastics or do you think that it should be broadened to include all single-use items?
That's a good point, and thank you for raising that question, because what we want to see—. I know that, when you talk about waste reduction, reductions in littering, it's important to ensure that unintended consequences aren't merely substitution for a different material, but the same format. So, with some of these items, with some of the restrictions that will come in on plastic specifically, you may just see that item continuing to be used, but with a different material. That then brings into question some of the other environmental impacts, like the carbon impact, for example, and when you look at the entire life-cycle assessment, how other materials may perform. A lot of businesses that may be utilising these products, these formats, may have net-zero ambitions, for example, carbon reductions measures, and this may set them back. I think, really, what we want to look at there is working more holistically with legislation, but also in terms of the materials being looked at, and I think the environment Bill case in point does that with its mention of single-use materials, as opposed to just plastics, because it's looking more holistically at the environment and looking at the formats of whether it's packaging or other single-use products and whether they're actually necessary. Are there reuse models available, as opposed to looking at a singular material that, although the intentions may be to reduce waste, may not, in fact, actually do that?
Yes. Does Natalia agree?
I do absolutely agree. I think, yes, we should look holistically at these products, and as Matt said, looking at LCAs and looking at carbon emissions as well. So, yes, I absolutely agree.
Thank you. And then, the items listed in the Bill go beyond those listed in the EU single-use plastics directive. Are you confident that enough is being done to ensure that the items that will replace each single-use plastic item that is being banned are not going to result in the horrible outcome of continued littering and other adverse socio-environmental impacts? The reason I ask this is when the plastic carrier bag charge came in, you could go and buy a 5p bag and you knew that the money was going to charity, blah, blah, blah; a lot of supermarkets now have got rid of those, and now you can pay up to 20p for a bag that's quite substantial. We're now seeing in our hedgerows these thicker, less easy to—what do you call it—disintegrate within our environment. So, we've moved, we've actually encouraged, I believe, over the years of having the 5p plastic carrier bag charge, all we've done is pushed it up to a thicker product being sold now by the supermarkets for 20p. So, with that in mind, are you concerned about how we'll replace the single-use plastic items that we're looking to ban?
Yes, absolutely, that's a concern we share as well. Again, a case in point, as you just highlighted specifically with carrier bags, the increased thickness of bags that are now on the market hasn't necessarily led to less plastic in that format being placed on the market, and we are aware of that, although the number of bags, the volume, has gone down. Again, this comes back to the importance of getting legislation right in the first place to ensure that the intended outcomes, the aims, are met. We share that concern with the carrier bag inclusion in here in the sense of, 'What are the alternatives? Is it incentivising reuse, for example, and reusable bags, as opposed to another single-use format, which may not be plastic, but is still an item that is not designed to escape the waste stream and to be littered?'
I think you're absolutely right in terms of encouraging behavioural changes; it's a key thing that the industry supports in terms of encouraging the reduction in litter, whether it's campaigns to raise awareness on the recyclability of certain items. Case in point with carrier bags, in a lot of supermarkets, you can take them back. We're seeing with other flexible plastics that more and more items are able to be taken back to store. We've got consistent collections, albeit in England only at the moment, coming in 2027, and that's a real opportunity to collect flexibles as well at kerbside. I know, obviously, Wales, in terms of the devolved nations, has a particularly high recycling rate in terms of plastics recycling.
I would agree.
But, measures that would support reduction in littering and behavioural change would be supported over, potentially, like you said, the unintended consequences of another single-use format—no change in behaviour, therefore, the items being littered simply change in their appearance.
Yes, and I think it will take some time for consumers to understand the benefits of recycling plastics and not wasting any material. It took a while for us to all adopt this 5p carrier bag charge, but now, when we go out shopping, we do remember to take our shopping bags with us. So, it will take some time, and I agree that it's all to do with the right kind of education for consumers to understand the impact that it will have on the environment and the benefit for all of us.
Yes. We don't always remember to take the shopping plastic bags with us, but maybe that's down to—
Yes, I'm guilty of that.
So, that's a change again, I suppose, isn't it? Okay, thank you for that. Can I just pick up on—? There's a list in the Bill of products to be banned, but next to that there's a list of certain exemptions. I'm just wondering whether you had any particular view about the proposed exemptions in the Bill and whether there are other areas that maybe should or even shouldn't be exempt.
Yes. In terms of the exemptions, again, we've had a look and I think it makes sense. I think it's something that we highlighted in our submission. There may be medical settings where you require some of these items; there may be professional settings where you might require other items, for example, balloon sticks for weather balloons. In fact, that's one I know that is omitted; that would be one that we'd want to highlight in terms of weather balloons. But, certainly, exemptions where there are medical settings would be supported. I know that in Scotland, they've looked at manufacture as well as supply of items. Again, to ensure that there are the opportunities to supply these items where they may be needed in a professional capacity, I think it's important to ensure that manufacture can at least continue. Albeit, I'm aware that the manufacture of some of these items is probably quite limited within Wales.
Yes. And actually, not to go off on a tangent, but the Scottish legislation is different, isn't it, because that actually bans manufacture, whereas in Wales the focus in on supply. So, would you have a view on that, then? Clearly, you would, I'd imagine.
Yes. We wouldn't support restrictions on manufacture. Some of these items in question, the markets for them are smaller than they were, so there may not be as big an appetite or necessity for manufacture. However, there are, as I highlighted, items where there may be a medical or professional setting where they might be required, and it would be a shame to restrict Welsh businesses from the opportunity to manufacture and supply those items, compared to other devolved nations or other nations within Europe.
Okay. Thank you very much for that. Joyce.
You've more or less answered it, but just another chance, if you want to add anything more about the clarity in the Bill about the types of products that are going to be banned. Are you happy with that?
Yes. As I mentioned earlier, the products listed, they do very much align, and we are aware of other legislation within the EU and within the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. So, they do make sense, they are clear in terms of the items listed, in terms of the items in scope, and the exemptions seem clear as well. Like I said, I would highlight as well balloon sticks used in a professional capacity, but otherwise, yes, I think it all makes sense.
Thank you. Delyth.
Diolch. Bore da. Thank you, both, very much for being with us. You've answered one of the points already, but I wonder—. One of the tensions that keeps coming up when we are taking evidence on this is making sure—. What steps can be taken to make sure that businesses feel that they are part of this journey, rather than it being something that is just being imposed on them—that it's something that they feel that they can, maybe, see this as a way or an opportunity for innovation instead? Do you think that the Welsh Government could be specifying what the acceptable alternatives could or should be? Do you think that there's more of a space available that should be filled by trying to encourage that innovation, rather than just saying what they shouldn't be doing?
To answer the first part in terms of consulting businesses and bringing them along, consultations are obviously a key opportunity for us and businesses to input, and I know that there's been some stakeholder outreach as well in terms of the officials looking into this, and we support that. I don't know the full extent of it, so I would support—. Sometimes, with legislation, when there is a big change, particularly for the downstream users of these items, workshops can help in addition to consultations, you know, giving businesses an opportunity to feed input in, but also to understand what the ideas and what the directions are from yourselves.
I think, in terms of the Welsh Government, and offering what the alternatives are, again, I think it's a difficult job when you look at the LCAs and you look at the potential for substitution, as opposed to reduction. And this goes back to the earlier message of, 'Well, should we actually be looking at the behaviour? Should we actually, in certain items or certain cases, be looking into the reuse?' I know that it's something actually going on now in the European Union, funnily enough, with their packaging and packaging waste directive reforms, looking at where they can mandate reusables, for example, as opposed to just looking at a single material and restricting it from that single-use format.
That's interesting. Thank you, Matt. Natalia, is there anything that you'd like to add to that?
Yes. I think, similar to consumers, businesses would need time to change, they'd need time to switch over, they'd need time to invest in new machines, in new programmes and things like that, so consulting with businesses beforehand would be beneficial for them, in that sense. But, yes, I fully agree with Matt's view there.
No, that's a good point, Natalia. I think that transition period also gives businesses that time to find the alternatives as well, and find what's the best alternative in terms of what they need for their business and what meets their own sustainability goals as well.
Thank you, both. And just quickly on that, do you get any sense from the industry that this could be seen as an opportunity? Are there any international examples of similar or comparable changes being brought in where, actually, this has led to a real drive in innovation, not necessarily on—. It doesn't have to be exactly the same, but just something where it was handled really well, so the business community really felt, 'Oh, gosh, actually, let's just come up with something exciting.'
It's a good question. I don't have one to hand—
It's possibly a blanket question—yes, sorry.
I don't have a specific one to hand, but what I will say, speaking more broadly about industry, is that it comes down to carrot and stick. Industry is always looking to innovate. The plastics industry—it's been a challenge, but a positive one—has been in the spotlight, essentially, for a while in terms of its environmental credentials, in terms of how packaging waste is handled, managed, mitigated in terms of its escape from waste channels, and what we do with the plastics that we benefit from. And I think, as a result, you see the industry, on the one hand, the carrot side, with voluntary measures, increase their levels of recycled content, increase their levels of recycling across the devolved nations, across the UK.
You've seen them redesign packaging for better recyclability. Ourselves and RECOUP, for example, a waste charity in the plastic recycling centre, put together a recyclability by design guide. And then, I guess, there's the stick side, which is the legislation and regulations, which is, again, enabling change and forcing companies to look at what they do and what they supply to the market. And, undoubtedly, it has led to innovations. I know it's early days, but there's the plastics packaging tax in the UK, looking at mandating recycled content. We've got separate views on that, in the sense of looking at a singular issue, as we've described already, in terms of just looking at recycled content and not more holistically about recyclability, reuse and things like that.
But, we are seeing innovations in products there where they are increasing the levels of recycled content and looking at how they can change a design to incorporate more of it in all of the components within a piece of packaging so that they're not liable for the tax. Essentially, I don't have a specific example, but it does typically effect change, and I think, undoubtedly, businesses will respond to this and try to innovate the products that they need for the market.
Thank you, Matt. Natalia, I'm not going to ask you for a specific example, because I realised as Matt was speaking that it was not a fair thing to ask, but is there anything that you'd like to add to what Matt was saying?
Yes, in agreement with Matt; a lot of companies are now attempting to use recycled content in their products—in film, in plastic bottles, in sprays. We're asking a lot of our members to send us examples so that we can share this through our channels and show that innovation is the way forward. Businesses are making an effort now because of this plastic packaging tax. So, it is possible and it is the way forward.
Thank you, Delyth. Huw.
Thanks, Chair. Good morning, both. This Bill has been quite interesting, because we've been waiting for it for quite some time. There are reasons behind that; part of it was looking to see what the UK would do and so on, and Ministers have explained, you know, 'We're not going to rush at this; we're going to take our time and do it properly'. So, my question to you is: what has the quality of engagement been over this slightly delayed process? Has that meant that you've had a better quality of engagement with the Welsh Government and that you've been able to express your concerns very clearly to them? If so, has that been reflected in what has now been brought forward in these proposals?
Thank you for the question. I appreciate that there's been a delay. I think the first consultation, if I'm not mistaken, was due in towards the end of October 2020. Obviously—undoubtedly—there was a lot going on that year and the year after, in terms of the pandemic. So, that affected things and it delayed it. I would say that we've had an opportunity to consult; we've had discussions with Welsh officials as well, which have been welcomed by our side.
I think due to that delay and that gap in between, maybe the most recent period felt a bit more rushed on our side, and I think we maybe would've appreciated a bit more time, partly because it's also a difficult time for businesses—2022 has been pretty challenging on various other fronts, in terms of businesses, in terms of recruitment, in terms of materials supply, rising costs, the energy crisis et cetera.
So, time is always welcomed by us and by other members in the industry so that they also have the time to put forward their views to you, because at the end of the day that's the key thing that industry wants: it just wants that opportunity to put forward its views and show you the working and reasoning behind why we have the positions that we do.
So, in that case, Matt, do you think that the views of not just the sector as a whole but individual businesses have been reflected in the deliberations of the Welsh Government in what you currently see in the proposals? Obviously, it's never going to be a total package that will satisfy every single player on the field, but, broadly speaking, have the Welsh Government taken on any concerns that have been raised?
It's difficult for me to talk about what other stakeholders may have inputted, but I think, in terms of us and the broad view of the plastics industry, the Bill seems to be aligned with other legislation as well, and I think that's a key thing for us. Like I said, we have businesses that operate across Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England, as well as the EU, which was and still is the largest trading partner for the UK plastics industry, so it's important there.
In terms of some of the views and concerns, there are some omissions. We talk more generally about this Bill in terms of looking at plastics in isolation, as opposed to looking at the formats of the materials and what's actually being supplied. So, I can't comment entirely to say, 'Oh, all of these views are in there', or, 'These specific views have been omitted', but it does align with other legislation and it does seem to make sense, and we have had the opportunities to consult as well.
That’s brilliant; we’re not picking up any huge warning signals there that have been bypassed, or that there are significant concerns that have been overlooked. And again, this is part of the process now for us to get into some of the detail on this. Let me pick up on one of those, because the Bill is the Bill, and if and when it becomes law, that’s one stage in it, but then linked to that, of course, is the awareness-raising work and the information for business and the supply chain, and so on. So, what discussions have you had with Welsh Government on that, about advice and guidance for businesses, timescales, and who takes responsibility for getting this information out to businesses as well?
It’s not something that we’ve had in-depth discussions on, to be honest with you, with the Welsh Government yet. But it’s something that we would welcome the opportunity to do. And like I said, and as Natalia highlighted earlier, it's giving businesses, particularly the downstream users of the products, the transition period necessary, whether it’s to utilise other stuff—. Obviously, these are single-use items, these aren’t long-life products, so they may not be in stock as long as, let’s say, a construction product that’s going on a building for decades. But giving businesses the time to utilise stock, to look for alternatives, to put measures in place, for those manufacturing to potentially change their manufacturing practices if needed as well—we would appreciate a transition period for that. In terms of awareness raising, we would point to other measures in other devolved nations and maybe look to what they’re doing, but it’s not a discussion we’ve had yet. So, it’s something we’d welcome being able to liaise on.
That’s helpful for us to flag with Ministers as well—that the door is open from your perspective to engage on that. One other thing, and you touched on it a little bit earlier on, is the wider issue of consumer behaviour, not just in respect of single-use plastics, but wider issues of littering, reuse, recycling and so on. Particularly in terms of littering, we heard from other people giving evidence that they think there’s a need for a much stronger, possibly Welsh Government-led, campaign, perhaps involving wider partnerships. What are your thoughts on this? What are your thoughts on the role of the Welsh Government in that, and also the industry within that consumer behaviour driving change?
We would absolutely support that. We support any form of campaign to raise awareness and provide information to the public, to the consumers, about how they can change their habits, how we can reduce littering. Because at the end of the day, that is material escaping the waste stream. When we talk specifically about plastic packaging, for example, there are a lot of formats that are readily recycled. There are a lot of even single-use formats that are readily recycled, and are of value to waste management companies and to recyclers. They want that material, they want it to be captured. Anytime that escapes the waste stream, not only is it a loss for the environment, but it’s a loss in terms of the circularity of the plastics sector, the plastics economy. It’s a loss of an opportunity to reduce the amount of virgin material going into a product as well, in terms of readding that recycled content back into products. So, we would welcome that, and industry would support that as well—something potentially led by the Welsh Government, even—to raise awareness, and do a campaign on littering, essentially, to try and effect change there.
Matt—sorry, Chair—do you think enough is being done on that at the moment, both by Government and industry and other partners? You said there you’d be interested in that, in supporting a Welsh Government-led initiative. Are we doing enough now? And if we move to this, does it mean that, of necessity, we have to ramp it up significantly? Delyth mentioned early on—I think it was Delyth that mentioned it; it could have been Janet, sorry—the fact that when we introduced the carrier bag levy and so on, it had a massive effect on single-use carrier bags, but we’re now into people dispensing with bags for life in the roadside verges, and so on. How do you think we’re doing now on that awareness raising and consumer behaviour challenge?
On the point on the carrier bags and consumers, if you talk to behavioural scientists, they’d probably say that once you put a levy or a charge on something, it does effect change in people. So maybe, even if they weren’t aware, they were when they essentially got to the till, and it probably effected some change. But in terms of litter campaigns and raising awareness, absolutely—there’s always more that can be done. Industry is doing its part, and again, talking more across the United Kingdom, RECOUP do a lot with their Pledge2Recycle campaigns, we support various campaigns. We're currently part of a project on the River Mersey. We were recently part of a project down in Kent—again, headed up by RECOUP—looking into raising awareness of recycling in order to combat littering. But, more can always be done. Efforts do at times feel a big fragmented; they're ad hoc and periodic around various areas. I think something more joined-up industry would support, because it gives the opportunity to cast the net even wider with a singular campaign, which is always welcome.
Thanks very much.
Diolch yn fawr. Thank you. Janet.
Do you agree with the current list of proposed exemptions, and do you agree with me that consideration needs to be given to providing an exemption—I'm back on to my carrier bags—for the sale of compostable carrier bags in Wales? And are there any other exemptions we should be considering? My reason for that question is I've been calling for quite some time that we should not be flushing wet wipes down toilets with plastic in them. Companies have tried putting instructions on things, but if you've ever been to a sewage works—. To be fair, Dŵr Cymru get a lot of flak from us for blockages and things, but nine times out of 10 whenever I've gone along to a problem, it's because of these awful single-use plastic wet wipes. So, should they not be part of the ban?
It's a good question. I know it's something that I think England consulted on earlier this year. I think it's important to consult industry. Something we said earlier this year—and I'll say it again here—is that, again, we've got to look at the actual product and the format. I think it was Water UK that actually highlighted that not just plastic wet wipes but other material wet wipes also are not necessarily suitable to be flushed down the toilet. As a matrix material, when you add mud, sediment and things, it can cause blockages. It can cause sediment from riverbeds and things, and silt, to be stored and not travel in its normal course through a river. And so, I do understand the concern there with wet wipes, but again, like I said, I would look holistically at the product format in terms of a consultation on that.
In terms of carrier bags and compostables, for my clarity, do you mean compostable carrier bags that would perform the same function as a single-use carrier bag, not necessarily like food caddy liners?
Okay. Again, I think, for us, it's important to consider the recycling stream—the waste sector. That is a sector where it's established, it's growing. Like I said, there's more and more plastics packaging being recycled. Capacity is growing in the UK. For the first time last year, we recycled—. Sorry, not for the first time, but for the first time in a while, we recycled more plastic packaging on UK shores than we did abroad, because we are reliant on capacity abroad for our recycling as well. It is growing. And so, it's important to ensure that that industry is protected in terms of contamination. There are uses for compostable bags, but, again, it's important to consider how are they being disposed of by the consumer, what's the likelihood of them entering the recycling stream and potentially contaminating some of that recyclate and damaging that sector. That would be the consideration I'd put forward to this session—that it's important to consider what are the unintended consequences on other waste sectors.
The mention of wet wipes there is useful, because we've had evidence from Kimberly-Clark that they're developing a plastic-free wet wipe, which will potentially be produced in north-east Wales. That brings me on, really, to the question about whether there's anything in particular in these proposals, as set out in the Bill, that you think will impact the Welsh plastics industry specifically or directly.
Like I said, in terms of wet wipes, we would just welcome an opportunity to consult on that and to provide views. Obviously, I can't comment specifically on other people's products, and I don't have the data right now to say what is the length of breakdown or the likelihood of it breaking up.
No, but more generally I was just thinking that's just one example of how this Bill could have a direct impact on industry in Wales in terms of the plastic sector. I'm just thinking if there's anything else that stands out in the Bill that is maybe cause for concern in terms of the industry here.
Again, looking at how the regulation and the legislation aligns with other pieces of legislation, and, again, like I said, bearing in mind that we typically have companies in Wales and outside of Wales that will be active across the UK in terms of their supply, in terms of, potentially, even their manufacture as well, we can't see anything in there particularly that's different to the other pieces of legislation in England, in Scotland, and so we imagine that they may be able to deal with this okay. I'm talking generally there, because I'm not aware of, in terms of these products, what specifically is manufactured within Wales. I think there is some bag manufacture that goes on within Wales. I'm aware of a window manufacturer as well, and equipment supply, but I'm aware that manufacture in Wales in terms of some of these products is probably a lot more limited and so the impact may be not too severe on them.
Okay. And what about potential cross-border issues, then, relating to the ban? Is there anything there that you feel may be an issue or may need to be mitigated?
Again, like I said, it aligns well. And that's just something that's always of benefit for industry. What's been very difficult, just even more broadly on sustainability in the plastics industry, is, irrespective of this single use Bill aligning with other single use Bills, there are other forms of environmental legislation, not least the tax, extended producer responsibility reforms that will be coming in, and it's just—. What's difficult for industry is when the timings are different. That creates regulatory disparity between some of the nations. When the actual items in scope and things like that, and the format of the restrictions, are different, again, that creates disparity, and so we appreciate that, actually, this is fairly aligned and therefore that's helpful for business.
Yes, and that actually chimes with the evidence we had from the Federation of Small Businesses last week in terms of maybe this is one part of the jigsaw, isn't it, this Bill, and this proposed ban. And of course, if a ban is introduced this year, and then you roll out something around extended producer responsibility in 12 months' time, then obviously businesses have to adapt constantly, as opposed to maybe seeing what's coming down the line and being ready for it as a whole, if you like, as opposed to—
But there we are. Okay, we hear that message loud and clear. Over to Joyce, then.
It's been interesting, but there will be another stage to all of this. There'll be adding or removing items from the banned list of single-use plastic products, and if you want to share your views, if you have any views, on what would be the ideal process to add or remove items from those lists.
I think, for us, in order to ensure that there's adequate engagement for industry, both those manufacturing and supplying the potential products that might fall into scope, and those utilising and consuming the products that might fall into scope, we would welcome an opportunity to consult on that. In terms of the format, obviously, we're pretty well versed in terms of the typical consultation format. But, again, workshops, opportunities to meet, sessions with officials within Government, that's always welcome, so industry has an opportunity to put forward points to try and ensure that the unintended consequences are ironed out. Because, like we said, typically, what you'll always find from industry is that we support the aims of various bits of environmental legislation; we're not just here to say, 'Actually, no, we don't like this. We don't want it.' It's a case that we always support the aims to make the environment better, to reduce the impact of certain products, to increase the circularity of our industry. But, sometimes, what we do find within legislation is there are potential unintended consequences, potential gaps, that could lead to adverse effects on the environment, therefore, we welcome the opportunity to consult.
Okay. Natalia, have you got anything to add?
Yes. I agree with Matt: an opportunity to consult would be very beneficial for businesses, if they could give examples of ways that it would affect them, and I think having more time to consult would be beneficial as well.
Okay. So, we know obviously this is a very rapidly developing area of technology, isn't it? There are always new innovations and new products coming online. I'm just wondering whether there's a risk that, in compensating for a ban, that alternative products that'll also cause environmental damage might end up being used in their place. I know we touched on this earlier, but one of the proposals in the Bill, of course, is to have post-implementation review plans, or a process of post-implementation reviews. Are you confident that what's being proposed might be able to then pick up on those and address those issues?
We would hope so. Of course, we welcome a review. I think it's important to look at that. I know that—obviously, it's something we've highlighted today—substitution as opposed to reduction in waste, is very much a possibility. Of course, industry would welcome the opportunity to get it right before the implementation, and perhaps look more holistically, but I appreciate that this is a specific set of items in this Bill, aligned with other pieces of legislation, and it's not exactly setting precedent here. So, yes, a review absolutely would be welcomed, and it should—. Depending on the scope of that review, it should be able to pick up on those issues and see what has happened to litter, what has happened to recycling rates—the items that are coming in, are they being recycled, what is the recycling rate, and the impact of those on the environment as well.
Yes. Okay. So, I suppose, finally, the six-million-dollar question is that there's a clear policy intent here in terms of the Government. Do you believe that the Bill actually delivers on that policy intent?
Sorry, could you just repeat that?
Yes. I was just wondering—. It is quite a big question, really, but the Government does have a clear policy intent in terms of why it's bringing this Bill forward, and, taken as a whole, do you believe that the Bill as proposed actually meets that and addresses that policy intent?
Yes. Like I said—and Natalia has highlighted as well—in terms of waste reduction, there is a potential that we might see a change in waste, as opposed to a reduction. If it's that singular aim of reducing plastics waste in these formats, then you probably will see that, because obviously the items will be restricted. But this comes back to—. Like I said, I think the plastics industry—. We've all seen how plastic items can be a detriment to the environment should they escape the waste stream, and there's been a collective effort, I think, from consumers, Government, non-governmental organisations and industry as well—voluntary measures, legislation—to make the industry a better industry in terms of its recycling rates, its use of recycled content, its reduction in the use of virgin materials in some of these product formats, particularly these consumer-facing products like packaging and like single-use items.
In terms of the aims, like I said, for us, in terms of looking at waste and looking at the environment in Wales, we would support measures that look more holistically across the material sectors, because, also, at the end of the day, businesses have to make a choice. If they're supplying other products—. For example, some of the items in the Bill aid the consumption of other products, things like straws and stirrers and things like that, and some of the packaging formats. So, businesses will still have a choice in terms of, 'What am I supplying?', 'What am I going to house it in?', or, 'What, essentially, utensils will I deliver for that product to be consumed?' We want to ensure that we give businesses the best opportunity to make the best environmental choice. That's not me necessarily saying that it's always going to be plastic in every category, but it's not necessarily saying that, by restricting the plastic option, they're going to improve the environment. There is an opportunity that, actually, they still could provide a format of something that has a higher carbon footprint, that still isn't being recycled, either due to contamination or due to littering, and then that, potentially, has an adverse effect on the environment.
Excellent. Okay. Those are points that we can raise directly with the Minister when she joins us later on this morning. Huw isn't sure whether he wants to come in on something. Go on then, Huw. Go on.
Matt, this may be a little bit unfair, but, whilst you're on, I'll take the opportunity to ask you, because you've got a UK-wide perspective as well. As I mentioned before, this has been a long time coming, and, if we delayed it for another 12 or 24 months, it might take a different shape again, but we are here now; it's progressing. But, at the same time, of course, there are UK proposals coming forward around things such as retained EU law proposals, wider deregulatory approaches and so on. One of the things we'll be looking at, and another committee, the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee, will be looking at, is issues of competence in this Bill and so on, and testing those, but is there anything from your UK-wide perspective at the moment, that helicopter perspective, that should in any way concern us when we look at the policy of this, where any other policy interventions in other parts of the UK could warp, derail, affect what we're seeing in front of us now, or are you content, from what you're hearing from your discussions on a UK basis, that we've got here can just proceed and we don't need to worry about that stuff happening anywhere else?
I think what I'd say with that UK-wide perspective is even us as industry, even—. For all of you here, as a takeaway, the BPF is ready to always highlight and flag other pieces of legislation for you to consider, just to make sure that you've captured everything. I think there are various other bits of legislation, like we've said, that are looking holistically at items. I would at least say it's worth considering what are the impacts of extended producer responsibility reforms that are going to come in, and that's looking at the recyclability specifically of packaging. So, it won't affect all of the items in this list, but some of them will be affected. It speaks to the necessity of the inclusion of some items—you look at some of the expanded polystyrene containers and things like that—versus when is EPR coming in, and how do the two affect each other. There is obviously the plastics packaging tax in terms of the recycled content. There are opportunities to utilise recycled content in some of these formats. Are the substituted alternatives able to incorporate recycled content, for example, if they're another material format? It isn't me necessarily speaking specifically on some of the items, but just that it's key to look across and see some of these items. Deposit-return schemes is another that we haven't highlighted, although all of the items in here wouldn't really be affected by that legislation, because, again, that's looking at a specific type of packaging, consumer bottles.
There are measures—. I know they're England-only, and, like I said, Wales has a particularly high recycling rate compared to the other devolved nations, but, in England, they are looking at the collection kerbside of flexible films and flexible plastic products. Again, that feeds into and that ties up with—albeit it's coming in after, which is a bit of an issue, but it feeds into and ties up with extended producer responsibility, because, when you look at the recyclability of items, the ability for them to be collected at scale obviously increases their recyclability, and also increases circularity, because it means you're capturing more material to potentially put back into circulation.
But I think otherwise—. Those would be the bits of legislation I would flag and highlight and say it's worth considering, but, like I said, this is a Bill that—. We've seen the EU single-use plastics directive; we've obviously seen your consultation, the subsequent Scottish one; England sort of in two parts with their consultations as well, and it seems pretty well aligned.
That's brilliant. Thanks.
Excellent. Thank you. Well, I think that brings us to the end of our questioning. Can I thank you both for being with us this morning? You will be sent a copy of the draft transcript, just to check for accuracy, and, of course, as I mentioned, we will have the Minister before us later on this morning, so I'm sure we can pass some of the points and the issues that you raised directly to her in our scrutiny of the Bill. So, thank you very much, both.
Can I just let Members know that we'll break now for a short period? We are in a position to reconvene and start our next evidence session a little bit earlier. So, we'll look to go live again at 10:30, so maybe Members could reconvene just a moment or two before then. So, with that, I'll adjourn the meeting. We'll go into private session, and then we'll reconvene at 10:30. Diolch.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:18 ac 10:32.
The meeting adjourned between 10:18 and 10:32.
Croeso nôl i gyfarfod Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, Amgylchedd a Seilwaith y Senedd. Rŷn ni'n parhau, wrth gwrs, gyda'r gwaith o graffu y Bil Diogelu'r Amgylchedd (Cynhyrchion Plastig Untro) (Cymru), ac rŷn ni am glywed gan gynrychiolwyr nesaf o lywodraeth leol. Felly, croeso cynnes i Judith Parry, sy'n gadeirydd Safonau Masnach Cymru a rheolwr gwasanaeth cofrestru a safonau masnach gyda Chyngor Bwrdeistref Sirol Rhondda Cynon Taf—croeso atom ni. A hefyd Craig Mitchell, sy'n bennaeth cymorth gwastraff gyda Chymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru. Croeso mawr i'r ddau ohonoch chi.
Awn ni yn syth i mewn i gwestiynau, ac fe wnaf i gychwyn drwy ofyn, os caf i, os ŷch chi'n cytuno gyda'r rhestr sydd yn y Bil o eitemau plastig defnydd untro sydd am gael eu gwahardd, ac a oes gennych chi unrhyw awgrymiadau, efallai, o bethau na ddylai fod ar y rhestr, neu, yn wir, bethau eraill y dylid eu hychwanegu. Judith, ydych chi eisiau mynd gyntaf?
Welcome back to this meeting of the Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure Committee at the Senedd. We're continuing with the work on the Environmental Protection (Single-use Plastic Products) (Wales) Bill, and we are going to hear from representatives of local government. So, a very warm welcome to Judith Parry, who is the chair of Trading Standards Wales, and trading standards and registrar service manager with Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council—welcome. And also Craig Mitchell, who is head of waste support with the Welsh Local Government Association. A very warm welcome to both of you.
We'll go straight into questions and I'll start perhaps by asking whether you agree with the proposed list of single-use plastic items to be banned in the Bill, and whether you have any suggested exclusions or inclusions to the list. Judith, would you like to go first?
If you wouldn't mind, is Craig able to start on that one, please?
No problem at all—yes. And when we do ask questions, you're not both obliged to answer all of our questions; it's always whoever is most relevant or most keen to answer.
Thank you very much.
I'm not sure I'm most keen, but anyway. Thank you, Chair. In terms of discussions with local authorities, we haven't had any additional items identified. Clearly, there has been a discussion about wet wipes, and there has been a discussion at the committee about that. Clearly, their use in a health and social care setting means that that's probably a more complicated issue. In terms of comment from authorities, I think the alignment with the wider EU package and potentially within the UK is seen as a positive, because clearly, in terms of communication and enforcement, that helps clarify the situation.
There are some other comments that authorities have made, which is that this list in itself does produce an opportunity to engage with the public around behaviour change and around the climate change emergency issue. And therefore, given the range of products, that may give us a chance to engage with different sectors of communities, so that's been highlighted as an issue. Again, I think, as other witnesses have said, it's a very crowded landscape in terms of policy at the moment, in relation to this issue—so, we've got the plastics tax, we've got extended producer responsibility and deposit-return schemes. Also in Wales, next year, we've got the non-domestic regulations, which will make a significant change for businesses and the public sector in terms of how commercial waste is collected. We've got initiatives in Wales around plastic film, and I know your last witness did talk about the view to try to bring that into the EPR in 2027. There's a discussion in Wales about whether we can bring that in earlier, and 2024 has been mentioned in relation to that. So, that's another key change with all of this. And we also have the emissions trading scheme, a possible extension towards energy from waste. So, I mention all of these because they do all have an impact upon the behaviours of businesses, of the public sector, of the waste industry, and also in terms of people's behaviour change. So, understanding the full range of those different interventions I think is quite important in terms of understanding the proposition here and how that sits, which I think does play to the fact that authorities are content at this stage that that list is appropriate.
The other thing that I did want to mention was that, obviously, with extended producer responsibility in Wales, litter is part of that; it's not in England. And to enable that to be part of EPR, there will be quite a lot of work in trying to understand the composition of litter, and I think that will be very useful in the future in terms of any review of this legislation, any potential other items to be included. For example, at the moment, disposable vapes are an issue that authorities are highlighting with us very strongly, though that's a particular issue. So I think what would be really useful is if Welsh Government were able to publish criteria for the consideration of future items or delisting items. And I think that that will send a very strong signal, both to the industry but also to the sector, in terms of the type of thing that might be captured by this. And I think that that would be very useful, Chair. Thank you.
Thank you. There's a lot there, actually. I know some of those areas we will be coming back to in greater detail. So, just sticking with the proposed list, then, for a minute, no glaring omissions and no major red flags as you see it, albeit it's all part of a bigger picture. Of course, there's a corresponding list of exemptions as well within those areas that are being banned. A similar question, really, in respect of that: is there anything there that is cause for concern or anything that really should be excluded that isn't, or vice versa?
I think, in terms—[Interruption.] Sorry, Judith—go on.
Yes, Judith to start.
The only thing I was going to mention on the exemptions—sorry for cutting across you, Craig, there—is that, when I initially read the exemptions, I found them a little bit complicated to get my head around because, for example, the one with cups has got a double negative in it. So, you've got that cups aren't allowed if they're made from single-use plastic products, if it's a single-use plastic product, but then the exemption is if they're not made from extruded polystyrene. When I first read it, I read it as only polystyrene cups were permitted. So, it does create a little bit of thinking about. However, I cannot really see how you could word it in a different way to have it fit nicely into a table, but I just wanted to flag that up. If there was going to be any guidance offered for enforcers and for businesses, it might be useful to clarify that in relation to, I think it was cups and food containers as well that had a similar almost double negative with it. So, for some clarity, really, rather than any issue with the exemption itself.
Yes. One little word has very far-reaching consequences in legislation. You're right; that's an excellent point, actually. It's one that we probably will raise directly later on with the Minister. Craig, you wanted to say something.
No, just some general points that I know the committee are well aware of: the fact that local authorities' view is that exemptions should be kept to an absolute minimum, but clearly they do need to be there. I think the issue is in terms of enforcement. The difficulty is—and I think a previous witness said this—that not all the reasons for requiring these items are readily apparent. So, what's the onus on the person supplying the item who potentially could be fined in terms of validating the real use for it? And I think that's a nuance in how that's done and, again, as Judith says, guidance on those sorts of matters would be very welcome.
Yes, and that echoes, certainly, points that have been made previously specifically on that, and I think it is a very valid issue to raise. Thank you so much. Okay, we'll move on to Janet, then.
Thank you. Yes. You've identified the potential for retailers to substitute single-use plastics by using other materials that are equally damaging to the environment, but not covered by the ban. Should the Bill be expanded so that all single-use materials are banned?
Who wants to address that one first? Craig.
Yes, if I come in on that. I think, yes, absolutely, this is an issue that needs to kept under review in the review process, but I think at this stage, there would be a reticence about banning all single-use materials, partly because some of those would be covered by other legislative processes: so extended producer responsibility, for example, in terms of plastic bottles.
And also, I think we would just want to reassure ourselves that there were not unintended consequences of, I think the example given was where more sturdy material was used to replace something that was considered single-use so that it could be portrayed as multiple-use material, but in effect, the actual use of it didn't actually change. And I think the example that the committee have considered is obviously single-use plastic bags and the fact that people have changed their behaviour to use bags for life, but the actual use of them hasn't changed. So, I think that would be the only concern that we would have—that there weren't any unintended consequences.
And then, my second question. I'm really concerned—this is not the first piece of legislation, in fact, many pieces of legislation in the 11 years I've been in the Senedd put a lot of the responsibility for making the legislation work on to local authorities. Caerphilly County Borough Council have hit the nail well and truly on the head. We know our planning—. There are delays in house building because of delays with planning departments. Those regulatory bodies and the enforcement departments within our local authorities just do not have the capacity now to be undertaking the responsibilities that are placed on them ordinarily, let alone all this new legislation; the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013—that tends to place a huge emphasis and responsibility on local authorities. So, this is just yet another Bill, where, technically, you're going to be the ones picking up the pieces of this. What representations have been made to the Welsh Government in terms of resource? How are you going to address the capacity levels with shortage of staff in these really crucial departments? I'm an ex-cabinet member for a regulatory department and I know from 2004 how busy those departments are and that's without a lot of the legislation that's gone through since then. How on earth are you going to cope with this in terms of resources and extra capacity so that the Welsh Government are not just drafting law that can't be enforced?
It is of concern. As you'll probably be aware, since 2010, regulatory budgets have been cut by 53 per cent. Over the last five years, there's been a lot more legislation coming down the road, which has been directed towards local authorities and the environmental type of legislation is only going to increase, we anticipate. We do have concerns. We also note that the Bill states that a local authority may investigate, rather than making it a duty and that could well mean that authorities will then choose not to enforce this legislation.
We've recently had two pieces of legislation that have come out of Welsh Government that spring to mind, which is the minimum unit pricing and also the single-use carrier bags legislation. And for both of those, there was an amount of funding being given to local authorities to carry out advisory and enforcement visits. So, that certainly meant that all premises liable within Wales had an inspection—a first-off inspection. And with the single-use carrier bag regulations, that became almost self-enforcing, but I think that was because the customers understood where the change was, and once the customer became used to taking their own bags out or whatever, it didn't become a regulatory burden, per se, for local authorities. With this, this is a little bit different—as well as the enforcement aspect, there are going to be a lot more issues in respect of, if we do find any problems, how we can respond to those.
I note that section 1(3) states that the presumption is that an item is a single-use plastic product that's not permitted unless it's proven otherwise, so that's trying to place the onus on the business to show that it can be used. However, the local authority does not have the ability to identify whether that is a piece of plastic product so defined under section 1, and we would like to have that information before we started looking at taking formal action. Because although we advise through the caution that you have to bring forward at that point any evidence you wish to rely on, it's not unusual for nothing to be given at that time, and when we turn up in court, for a statement or a certificate to be given that proves that that is actually an exempt product. So, authorities will also be very cautious about taking action unless they have clear analytical evidence that that product is a product that should be banned, and a lot of local authorities no longer have sampling budgets to be able to do that analysis. So, that also is a concern in addition to the general costs of enforcement. Even if officers or local authorities only decided to do reactive enforcement, it's a concern about how far we could go with that. Some authorities could go without reactive enforcement with current budgetary constraints.
With that in mind, would you agree with me that we as a committee—and indeed the Senedd Members per se—really need to be pressing Welsh Government that if they're going to bring legislation out, somehow, by hook or by crook, they have to give those resources, however they do it? It could be via some kind of hypothecated grant, or indeed better settlements for local authorities. Certainly up here in north Wales, I'd like to see my local authority have a better settlement. But at the end of the day, everything costs money. I'm aware that particular departments are really, really overstretched, and there's a tendency that when we ask Welsh Government how are they going to address this, it's then put firmly back into their hands: 'Well, it's the local authorities; how they spend their budgets is up to them.' But how do you keep capturing and being able to deal with the amounts of legislation coming your way? How would you address this particular issue? What should we be saying to Welsh Government Ministers?
At this point, I'm not particularly sure, but we're happy to get involved in any discussions further down the line that might resolve something and help us to come to some sort of arrangement whereby we can enforce this properly. Because we do identify it; it is an important piece of legislation. All the environmental legislation is becoming of greater importance. But it is a concern when we see legislation that only has a 'may enforce'. We are aware there are going to be local authorities that see that as a choice not to enforce because of their dwindling resources. But we're more than happy to work with the WLGA and the Welsh Government to see how we can resolve that.
Fabulous. Thank you.
I'm aware that capacity was one of the areas that we were hoping to cover later on. I'm not sure, Huw, if there was anything you wanted to add at this point, or have we covered it sufficiently?
I think you've mainly covered it, so I might skirt over this when I come to it later on.
That's fine. Thank you very much. We move on, then, to Joyce.
Good morning. I note that you've raised some concerns about plastic alternatives having maybe a potential impact on anaerobic digestion plants if they're disposed of with food waste. Do you want to expand on that?
If I take that one, Chair. I think this originally came up because there was a movement around plastic-free communities across Wales. Incredibly positive as that was, clearly if you remove the plastic, you have to find an alternative, and I think some of the alternatives that were used were biodegradable cutlery, for example. I know the committee have had a discussion around the definition of 'biodegradable'. The feedback that we were getting was that people felt that they could dispose of these items in the food waste, because that all went to be composted, didn't it? So, I think that really plays to the heart of the communication and engagement around this issue, to make sure that people trying to do the right thing don't end up doing the wrong thing and causing problems. Because, obviously, those items, when they go through the AD plants, do not break down and actually come out as a contaminant, again, as one of your last witnesses mentioned. So, that would be a concern for us.
I think the other issue is around people's engagement, because some people are quite sceptical about recycling and its value and does it actually get recycled, so any incidents or stories where people are trying to do the right thing and it gets publicised that, actually, that was a problem, I think, cause us all a problem in terms of people's engagement with the wider waste system and the circular economy. So, I think that's the concern for us, and if there was any potential in terms of the guidance for Welsh Government to identify where the potential suitable alternatives are, then that would be really useful to the industry in terms of knowing where they should be progressing towards. So, that's the key point there.
I guess the other issue to make is that, clearly, in Wales we've gone down the AD route in terms of food waste. That's not the case across the UK. These alternative items could well be legitimately used elsewhere and put in the food waste, so, again, that probably plays to a further discussion we're likely to have around the issues across the border and the public understanding around all of that.
Thank you very much. Delyth.
Diolch, Gadeirydd. Good morning to you both. The Bill as currently drafted only covers the supply of these products and not the manufacture of them, and lots of stakeholders have raised with us the fact that in Scotland the manufacture of products is covered in some of the provisions. What would your view be on that gap, if I can call it a gap, or possibly missed opportunity? I'm now asking you a leading question. What are your views on that? Feel free to ignore the fact that I said 'missed opportunity'; you're welcome to disagree with that.
Who wants to take the lead? Craig.
If I start, perhaps, I think the issue raised with us by authorities is clearly where there are manufacturers in Wales, we don't want to disproportionately disadvantage them in the short term. There is a consensus that this is the direction of travel, to move away from these items, so I think we're keen to see support, whether that's through Business Wales or through some other mechanism, to ensure that those businesses are able to transition to other products. You don't need me to mention that under the well-being Act, Wales has a global responsibility. So, I don't think it's appropriate that we're manufacturing these items and then exporting them around the world to cause harm elsewhere, but the concern was that there needs to be, perhaps, a transition and support for any manufacturers in Wales to allow them to move away from these products. Whether that's a specific time-limited sunset clause to be added to the Bill, or whether that's a separate process, that's a matter to be debated.
We agree with that. We believe, at the moment, that whilst, as Craig says, we don't want these products in the world at all, while there is a genuine reason for some countries to still be using them, because they haven't banned them, we could see it as being detrimental to local businesses and anti-competitive if we banned them from manufacturing them if there were other businesses still manufacturing and supplying in other parts of the UK.
Thank you, both, for that. That's certainly something that I think as a committee we're going to be pursuing more and going after. The second question I had was: Judith, you were talking earlier and persuasively about the need for clarity in the legislation, and I wanted to ask you both about your views on the complexity of the provisions in the Bill about carrier bags. I don't have the wording to hand, sorry, but the wording is incredibly technical. Is that a concern for the two of you?
Any time we see complexity, it does make us shudder a little bit, because we know that certainly we have to get to grips with it, but, more challenging, businesses have to get to grips with it. It was a concern when we saw the single-use carrier bags, and we went through a lot of discussion, prior to the implementation, about how we could support businesses to identify what was, what wasn't compliant, and also identify any offences being committed ourselves. It was made much easier because, like I alluded to earlier, it kind of became self-enforcing. All the businesses complied very quickly, consumers weren't overly demanding, they understood what they needed to do. I think that is almost the key to some of this legislation: working with consumers as well to inform them of the changes. So, even if you might have a piece of legislation that looks quite complex in definition, if we can focus in on advice and guidance to those involved, then hopefully we don't need to go down the route of getting our measurements out, and our micrometres, and working out depth and thickness. Certainly, the fact that the draft Bill follows the single-use carrier bag regulations is something we would look for. We wouldn't want there to be any changes from one to the other, because that, then, causes problems. So, as long as we've got definitions that remain consistent, where those products appear, over subsequent regulations or subsequent Acts, then that is what we're looking for, and we'll just come to the challenges of anything else.
Thank you, Judith. Craig, was there anything you wanted to add?
I know, in terms of extended producer responsibility, and the definitions there, that there's been quite a debate about whether you create perverse incentives to change behaviour. So, if you include a certain size of bottle, then do people then buy the next larger bottle and then cause problems with that? I guess that would be just more of a general observation, really.
That's pertinent. Thank you. Judith.
Can I come back in with something there? Sorry to cut across you. I don't whether this is the right place to bring it in. I've been listening to the other sessions and there's been a lot of discussion about if a retailer said, 'You could reuse this item that we're giving you here.' I just wanted to draw attention to 1(3), and it actually says:
'"Single-use", in relation to a plastic product, means a product that is not designed or manufactured to be used'.
So, what you're doing there is you're putting the onus onto the manufacturer to say how he intends that to be used. That would possibly create a bit of a challenge for enforcement, or definition, or how to even prove it. We have seen it with things like the Toys (Safety) Regulations 2011. It's not unusual to see, but with this it might not be as simple as a retailer saying, 'Here's your plastic cup and feel free to reuse it', if the Bill itself, and the Act, pushes back to, 'Well, how was it sold to you by the manufacturer?' Because we know there are some plastic products that—. You go out and buy a bottle of water and people might think, 'I can carry on topping up that bottle of water', but, at some point, the plastic leaches out into it, and it's not really intended for that use.
So, that is something that I picked up from the reading—that the intention pushes back to the manufacturer. And bearing in mind that manufacturer may not be in Wales, may not be in the UK, how do we, when we're engaging with the retailer to say, 'Well, you're saying that the customer can reuse it'—how do you know, under something like the Materials and Articles in Contact with Food (England) Regulations 2012, that that can actually safely be reused, and what was the intention of the manufacturer? So, I don't know whether there needs to be a little bit of a discussion about that point and how that might impact.
I think Craig wants to come in on this point as well.
Just a small point again with extended producer responsibility. One of the aims of that scheme is to have better clarity around labelling, so that people understand what they can and can't do with items. It could be that that issue of single use or otherwise could be captured within that process. It's certainly something that I think we'd need to consider.
Thank you, both, for that. So much of what you were saying there, and what you were saying earlier as well, seems to come under this gap, or the nebulous area, between what is being provided for in the wording of the Bill, and then there's this gap, and this in between, and then what actually happens. It's just making sure that this is controlled as much as possible to make sure that, actually, the consequences of that are what we want them to be, not just because consumers will sometimes do things that are completely unpredictable—that's the challenge, isn't it? Okay; thank you, both.
Thank you, Delyth. Huw—there we are.
Thank you, Chair; I've unmuted. Good morning, both; thanks for your evidence so far. The issues of capacity in trading standards and local government have been well covered by Janet, and we know the squeeze on local government and trading standards. I guess the observation would be that when you've had a decade and more of squeeze across the UK on public services, this is what happens: you hollow out those behind-the-scenes services. But, can I ask you just for clarity on what you were saying there? If this Bill does go forward, well intentioned as it is, are you saying that you do not have the capacity and the resource currently to either enforce or to provide advice and information as well for the public and for businesses?
Because of the cuts that have been made since 2010, local authorities are already in a position where they're looking at all of the legislation that they have a duty to enforce, and they're prioritising based on where the legislation says, 'You must enforce'. Everything that says, 'You must enforce', will obviously get a higher priority than something that says, 'You may enforce'.
That does also link into local authority plans. So, we would anticipate that most local authority plans have got quite an environmental agenda written into them. Whereas some will get a higher intention of enforcement within some authorities than others, we're aware that with existing local authority enforcement duties some are not being carried out in local authorities simply because they have not got the capacity to do so. Every new piece of legislation does also come in with more challenges about, 'If we choose to enforce this one, what, then, are we going to step away from?'
The run-up to the introduction of any legislation is key. We've had really good support from the Welsh Government and WLGA previously in respect of guidance going out, social media messaging and campaigns, and that very much does help. With respect to advice and guidance to businesses from local authorities, again, proactive advice is something that was cut from a lot of local authorities around about 2015 because of costs.
A lot of authorities will only give proactive advice and guidance on a cost-recovery basis or a primary authority basis, and this is why we would welcome any support. For example, if there were some electronic messaging, then local authorities could quite easily send that out to premises that are going to be liable, and that's not going to be as much of an onus on local authorities as if you were asking us to go out to visit individual premises.
A bigger discussion, I think, is needed on this, because when the minimum unit pricing regulations were brought in fairly recently, it was easy to identify how many premises were going to be liable because they had to be licensed. So, we could quite easily say, 'This is the number of premises', and then we could assess that against capacity and come back via WLGA as to whether local authorities had the capacity to do any work in that area.
With this, there's no specific code on our management information systems to target the actual premises that we'd be looking at here, although, off the top of our heads, we could probably work out which ones we would need to target more than others. But, we would need to be able to drill down into those numbers before we could come back and work with the Welsh Government and WLGA to advise on the number of premises we see as being liable and what challenges there may be to get around there. We could also discuss, then, the views of local authorities as to whether or not they see that they can enforce this legislation. But, I would be lying if I said, 'Yes, we will enforce'; it's going to be challenging across local authorities.
That is really informative—thank you for that—particularly on the advice and information, and the engagement that you might need to have with the Welsh Government. But, on the enforcement, you've come back a couple of times to the use of the word 'may', rather than 'should' or 'must'; we're all familiar with that as legislators, the importance of those words. I'm trying to read between the lines here a little bit, Judith. Is the fact that 'may' is in there a reflection of the discussions that you had with Welsh Government Ministers? You might not want to say this, but is it a compromise of necessity because Welsh Ministers have been told, 'Frankly, on top of everything else we've got, we may not be able to enforce this. We may not choose to do this, prioritising it amongst local issues. If you put "should" in there, Minister, you're going to have to write a cheque'?
I haven't been party to those discussions, but I did raise it with WLGA when I first saw the Bill. It was one of the first things that popped out to me, that with a 'may' in there that is going to send a signal to local authorities, so I raised that with colleagues in WLGA. I'm not sure if they were subject to discussion with the Government about the drafting.
I think we probably, in general terms, are not aware of what specific conversation we had about this particular aspect. I know that, increasingly, certain aspects of legislation become permissive, because you may want to reflect on different local circumstance. We would say that's reacting to particular need in an area. I know other people would characterise that as a postcode lottery. However, this is a critical point in the Bill, and as I say, I'm not aware of what discussions we had in advance that referred to that matter.
Thank you, both. We may want to return to this as a committee. Could I just ask you on that broad point just to reflect to the committee your feelings on the quality of engagement that you've had, and the quantum of engagement you've had with the Welsh Government, and whether your concerns have been, indeed, reflected in the draft proposals in front of us? From what I'm picking up from you, there has been extensive engagement.
If I pick that up first, Chair, I think that there has been in general terms, in terms of the aims of this legislation and the direction and what it's intended to do. I think there's a recognition in those discussions with the Welsh Government that there will be far more technical and detailed discussions necessary. Following a recent meeting with the Welsh Government, I think a questionnaire was going out to authorities to test some of these issues and their capacity, and so on and so forth. So, I think there will be those detailed discussions going forward.
Thank you very much. Thanks, Chair.
Lovely. Thank you. We have just over 15 minutes left, so there are just a few more areas of questioning that we'd like to cover. Craig, you touched earlier on about one particular cross-border issue, potentially, in relation to anaerobic digestion. Is there anything else you think that needs to be thought a bit about or even mitigated in terms of potential issues?
I think probably Judith will have thoughts on this, but the general principle we will make is that we've talked a lot about guidance and support and information, and there are a range of different avenues and different players in this area. Keep Wales Tidy is an obvious one; we have Wales Recycles. There are various opportunities to use those avenues, such as Business Wales, and I think really what we want to see is a clearer communication and engagement strategy come forward that identifies the role of these different partners, their potential to influence different segments of communities and businesses, and to spell out how that could operate. Because clearly, enforcement is not quite a failure of the system, but it's the last resort. What we want to do is for people to understand what's required, and act accordingly. But I don't know if Judith has specific enforcement concerns.
Yes, if I can come in there, please. Obviously, local authorities have got experience in enforcing legal requirements that end up with traders who cross borders, and this is more prevalent now. It's simpler where legislation across borders is the same, and I can see from earlier discussions that there are some nuances that are slightly different between the Welsh legislation and England, so that will prove a little bit of a challenge. I was thinking specifically in relation to large events that may be held within Wales where you'll have businesses coming across the border. They may be food festivals with food carts and that sort of thing that might traditionally have teas and coffees in polystyrene cups or food within polystyrene containers. So, it's how do we ensure that those traders are aware of what the requirements are in Wales, and that sort of thing.
Going the other way around, if I have a trader within my local authority who attends events, but only attends events outside of my local authority, again, I'm not sure—. In the way the Bill has been written, there doesn't seem to be a routine power of inspection. Section 9(1) talks about a power of entry: an authorised officer of a local authority may enter premises at any reasonable time—this is what we're used to seeing—if they have reasonable grounds for believing that an offence has been committed. But then, if we look at section 13, which is our power of inspection, that alludes back to section 9; it says an authorised officer may enter premises under or by virtue of section 9, 10 or 11, and all of those relate back to there being reasonable cause.
If, for example, I wanted to inspect a trader because they are registered within my area, even though they don't actually trade within my area—there's never going to be an offence of supplying a consumer within my area, but I might want to inspect them to see whether or not they're holding any supplies that they may supply to a consumer when they're going to these events—I'm not going to be able to know that unless I go in to make an appointment to visit that trader and have a look at what containers he is using. However, it seems like I can't do that unless I've got reasonable cause to suspect there's been an offence committed. I would recommend maybe flagging that up to have a legal assessment on that, because we, again, run the risk of taking any action if there is any offence, and having a solicitor run through anything that is a little bit unclear there. So, that is a concern.
It works lovely if I'm talking about a trader in my area, a consumer in my area or a supply or potential supply to a consumer in my area, but I don't think the way that sections 9 and 13 have been written specifically has what we call 'routine inspection' available to us, where we're going in just to see what is there, have that discussion and provide that advice. It seems to hark back to this 'reasonable cause to believe'.
Thank you. Point well made. Janet.
Just going back, sorry, to capacity and resourcing, do you think that there should be some consideration given in the Bill that includes provision for the Welsh Government to be legally responsible for funding the enforcement officers at each local authority, so that, actually, the cost of implementing this legislation becomes a problem for the Welsh Government, and not you?
Very briefly, because we have discussed this a little bit. But directly on that point, Judith or Craig.
I think I'm going to say that that's probably a matter for further discussion, obviously, within the WLGA. It's not a matter that I would like to give a view on, but I'll certainly note it.
Okay. And then, my final point: grace periods for businesses. Do you think there should be a grace period? What do you think is a reasonable time for a grace period for businesses so that they can put all their plans in place, and to get their heads around this?
I would suggest that it would be worth considering stocks of products normally held by businesses, but also the ability for them to source alternatives. If there's a short implementation time, you might all of a sudden find everyone contacting the same supplier of alternatives who can't roll out that amount of alternative product in a short period of time. So, really key to this, I think, is not just an implementation time, but earlier communication so that businesses can start thinking about using up their supply of products; if they're running low, buying in an alternative product quite early. We always do suggest that there is that sufficient run-in time to allow the businesses to carry on trading effectively whilst changing over to a product that is more environmentally sustainable and falls outside of this Bill.
Thank you very much.
Thank you. What about the sanctions, then, that are in the Bill for non-compliance? Are they proportionate? Do you have any views or concerns about those in particular?
They do align with other Acts and regulations, so we have no specific comment on those.
There we are. Okay. Thank you. Joyce.
We talked about adding or removing items from the list. I want to ask if you think the process for doing that is ideal.
Chair, if I pick that up, I think the feedback we've had from authorities is there's obviously a balance to be struck between the need to speedily respond to problems as they emerge but also have proper accountability, consultation and democratic scrutiny. So, I think the feeling was that what is proposed is probably appropriate. The issue raised was—and I think I referred to it earlier—whether there could be any guidance given about criteria for why items would be considered for listing or delisting, and that would, in effect, give people a pre warning that, if you are going to bring this item to the market, there is a good possibility that it could fall within the purview of this legislation and that it would likely be looked at. So, I don't know how practical or pragmatic that would be, but that would be very useful, because it would frontload the process so that everybody would be aware that this could be a problematic item and therefore it shouldn't come as a shock that Welsh Government would consider it for listing.
And finally, we'll have a post-implementation review, and you've already talked about alternative plastic technology or other technologies perhaps causing environmental damage. You've talked about food waste as an example. So, are you happy that there is a system of post-implementation review and with the way that it's prescribed in the Bill?
I think we are happy. I think it's necessary and has to be there. I think the key issue for us is—again, I mentioned at the outset—the range of other legislation and processes that are happening in this area, so there may be a need to refine what this element does within that wider mix. Longer term, as WLGA were keen to see the EPR principle extended to other areas beyond packaging, we think that because that provides funding for the system and how it operates, it provides a clear market signal to manufacturers about what is appropriate and what isn't. That may be a better way, longer term, of dealing with some of these items. But I think, in the short term, clearly, with the climate emergency, this is entirely appropriate but should be subject to the review, and we're content with that review process.
Excellent. There we are. Well, I think we have actually covered all bases, haven't we, unless there's anything else that Members wish to raise? No. There we are. Okay, well, can I thank you both for your attendance and for the evidence that you've given us this morning? I tell everybody that you will be sent a copy of the transcript to check for accuracy, which is important, because it is a matter of public record. With that, thank you so much, and I'm sure a number of the points that you've raised with us will be reflected in our next session, soon to start, with the Minister. It's a valuable contribution to our deliberation on the Bill, so thank you, both.
The meeting will now break until 11:30, when we will reconvene for the ministerial scrutiny session on this Bill, but can I just ask Members to stay here for a moment before disappearing, just so that we can discuss one or two matters before that? So, we'll pause the broadcast and go into private session for a moment, reconvening at 11:30. Diolch.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 11:19 ac 11:32.
The meeting adjourned between 11:19 and 11:32.
Croeso nôl i Bwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, yr Amgylchedd a Seilwaith Senedd Cymru. Rŷn ni wedi dod at y sesiwn dystiolaeth olaf sydd gennym ni fel rhan o'r gwaith rŷn ni'n gwneud ar Fil Diogelu'r Amgylchedd (Cynhyrchion Plastig Untro) (Cymru). Yn unol â'r arfer, wrth gwrs, pan fyddwn ni'n dod i'r sesiwn olaf, rŷn ni'n gwahodd y Gweinidog perthnasol i ymuno â ni, ac mae'n dda gen i gyflwyno Julie James, y Gweinidog Newid Hinsawdd. Croeso cynnes. Mae'n dda eich gweld chi nôl. Dwi'n deall bod gennych chi dri phwyllgor heddiw, felly tipyn o ddiwrnod, ond mae gennym ni awr gyda chi o'ch amser, felly edrychwn ni ymlaen i fynd i'r afael ag ambell bwnc mewn perthynas â'r Bil yma. Ond, yn ymuno â'r Gweinidog, wrth gwrs, mae rhai o'i swyddogion hi, sef Nick Howard, sy'n uwch-gyfreithiwr yn y Llywodraeth, Gian Marco Currado, sy'n gyfarwyddwr amgylchedd a pholisi morol gyda'r Llywodraeth, a Richard Clark hefyd, pennaeth ansawdd yr amgylchedd lleol, o Lywodraeth Cymru. Croeso i bob un ohonoch chi.
Mi awn ni'n syth i gwestiynau, os ydy hynny'n iawn. Os caf i ofyn i chi, Weinidog, mae rhai o'r rhanddeiliaid rŷn ni wedi bod yn trafod y Bil yma gyda nhw wedi mynegi gofid ynglŷn â'r diffiniad presennol o 'ddefnydd untro', 'single use', a dweud ei fod e'n agored i gael ei ddehongli a bod yna rhyw fath o loopholes posib yn sgil y diffiniad rŷch chi'n dewis ei ddefnyddio a fyddai'n caniatáu i bobl efallai osgoi rhai o'r cyfyngiadau sy'n dod yn y Bil. Sut fyddech chi'n ymateb i hynny?
Welcome back to the Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee at the Senedd. We have now reached the final evidence session as part of the work that we're doing on the Environmental Protection (Single-use Plastic Products) (Wales) Bill, and, as usual when we come to the final session, we invite the Minister to join us. I'm pleased to introduce Julie James, the Minister for Climate Change. A very warm welcome to you. It's great to see you back. I understand that you have three committees today, so quite a day, but we have an hour of your time today and we look forward to addressing some subjects in relation to this Bill. Joining the Minister are some of her officials, namely Nick Howard, who is a senior Government lawyer, Gian Marco Currado, who is director of environment and marine with Welsh Government, and Richard Clark also, head of local environment quality with the Welsh Government. Welcome to you all.
We'll go straight to questions, if that's okay. Minister, some of the stakeholders that we've been discussing this Bill with have raised concerns regarding the current definition of 'single use' and say that it's open to interpretation, providing possible loopholes as a result of the definition that you wish to use that would allow people, perhaps, to circumvent some of the restrictions in the Bill. How would you respond to that?
Diolch, Gadeirydd. It's very nice to be with you this morning. So, we think the practical effect of the definitions that we've used is exactly the same, but the drafting isn't identical as we've sought to clarify the text or to remove wording we considered unnecessary in accordance with our normal drafting practices. As you know, we like to make Welsh law as accessible as possible and as straightforward as possible.
In respect of whether a product is made of plastic, on the strict comparison of the text, it could be said that the wording of the directive, which is
'something wholly or partly made of plastic',
is wider than the deliberately longer and more descriptive wording that we've used in the Bill,
'something which any of the main structural components are wholly or partly made from plastic or has a lining or coating made wholly or partly from plastic.'
But we don't think, in practice, in the real world, that there's much of a difference between the two. We think ours is a little clearer, that's all. We will be putting comprehensive guidance out to help businesses, consumers and local authorities understand the various legal definitions in the Bill. We'll develop that collaboratively and we'll undertake it in advance of the legislation coming into effect so that everybody is very clear. And we'll also work with all our stakeholders on communications relating to the Bill, which will include information to help clarify the products.
I don't know if you want me to immediately address, Chair, the issue about the loophole we're familiar with. So, it's commonplace in Bills for 'open to interpretation'. It's often a trade-off between ease of understanding and absolute certainty. We understand that the point that's been made to use is about multipack products—so, the text is being interpreted in such a way as to conclude that a pack of say 50 forks is not a single-use fork but a 50-uses thing. We don't think that's a sensible interpretation at all. We don't think the courts would go with that as a sensible interpretation, but we're very happy to consider the matter ahead of Stage 2, and, if the committee feels strongly about it, I'm more than happy to discuss what you think we should look at instead. But our lawyers—and I'm happy to bring Nick in at this point—are pretty sure that the courts wouldn't interpret a pack of 50 as being not single use.
Nick. There we are.
Yes, we think that if a court would accept that a single-use plastic fork is caught by the offence, it would be an odd interpretation to arrive at to say that a pack of 50 wouldn't be caught. As the Minister said, I think it's always a tension with legislation—do you try and define everything to the nth degree, or do you leave some things open to sensible interpretation? We think that that's a sensible interpretation the court would arrive at.
I think the other thing just to mention here is section 5(8)of the Bill. I think where there's a genuine dispute about whether an item is a single-use plastic product, there is provision for that; there's scope for the defendant to raise evidence of that to make it a triable issue. But, I think, in the pack of 50 example, we would expect the courts to take the same sensible interpretation that we have done.
Okay. Just more specifically, a point that was raised in the very last session that we had just before our break this morning, was again under the definition of 'single use', and the wording here says,
'means a product that is not designed or manufactured to be used...more than once'
et cetera. How would local authorities, if they were enforcing, know whether it was designed or manufactured for that purpose?
Go on, Nick.
I think, in some cases it will be self-evident, but I think there is provision for us to work with local authorities, enforcement authorities, to provide guidance, and I would imagine that would include that sort of issue.
Okay. Fine. We might come on to other issues around enforcement later on. I'm just interested, as well, to understand what the plans are in terms of awareness raising, because, clearly, there's a big piece of work that somebody has to do to make sure that businesses and, I suppose, the wider public as well understand what this means. Is this something that you're already planning? And the other point made to us as well was about the need for a potential grace period for some of those businesses to understand, obviously, that there is a transition that needs to happen.
So, we've been signalling our policy intent about single-use products for quite a long time. I think you'd have had to have been living in a bit of a cave in Wales not to understand that this was coming. So, we're not intending to give a grace period for businesses because we've engaged extensively, and, seriously, who doesn't know that we're planning to do this? There will be a six-month standstill period to support a transition across, though, but we are recommending loudly all groups affected take appropriate steps now, because we anticipate that the Bill will have support right through the Senedd process, and that it will be the law shortly. So, don't be gambling on thinking that it's not going to happen.
It does engage the World Trade Organization's treaty on technical barriers to trade, and that requires the six-month standstill period following the passing of the Bill and Royal Assent. That's to allow foreign operators to adapt products to the new requirements, and, in the meantime, we'll continue to work with business manufacturers, all the public sector groups and communities, protected characteristic groups, to develop comprehensive guidance, as Nick has just said, to support the Bill. We'll be putting out guidance that says what we consider the right interpretation to be, what we think is caught and how we think it should be interpreted by local trading standards to help businesses adapt to the Bill. And we've done an extensive round of this already, so we've taken account of the feedback provided in relation to supporting the need for protected characteristic groups. So, we have exemptions, as the committee will be aware, in the Bill for medical products of various sorts, or assisted products of various sorts, and we've gone out of our way really to understand individual requirements and feedback, so that those exemptions are incorporated in order to be able to assist that. The committee will have seen that.
And we've also just learnt from our previous experience, like the carrier bag charge, that compliance improves once people are familiar with the law and adapt to it, so they get used to the idea that they can't—. You know, we've all got used to it, haven't we? I never go anywhere without my bag in my pocket and neither does anyone else in Wales, so you just get used to the changes, and we are expecting that that kind of social norming, if you like, will happen pretty rapidly once the Bill has gone in and the manufacturers are used to it. So, there will be a beginning phase, won't there, where things are tested, and then there will be much wider compliance and understanding.
Okay, thank you very much. Delyth.
Diolch, Cadeirydd. Minister, it's lovely to see you. I hope that you're feeling better, although I know that you've now got a cold, so I hope that you get over the cold quickly as well.
This reaches on immediately from what you were just talking about with the Chair. Could you explain, please, the reasoning for why you have included carrier bags and oxo-degradable products in the Bill, because it wasn't in the original consultation? And as well as that—and this leads on too from what you were just saying—a number of stakeholders have pointed out to us that the provisions around carrier bags are very complicated, and in terms of the guidance, are those concerns about the complicated nature of that? Is that something that is going to be covered in guidance, taking on board the fact that carrier bag provisions are something that are not a new novelty in Wales? That's a tautology, but you know what I mean.
Yes, I know what you mean. Thanks very much, Delyth. We've included it because there was overwhelming support for the inclusion in the consultation, and a lot of respondents wanted us to include many more products as well. So, on that basis, as a result of the consultation, we've included the two additional products, so that's single-use carrier bags and lids. We've engaged with stakeholders, including targeted evidence gathering and engagement sessions with industry and retail representative prior to introducing the Bill, to make sure that everybody is aware and that we're covering off the most common ones.
The carrier bags one is an interesting one, isn't it, because we have all got used to carrying a bag, but actually people have also got used to the idea that they have to pay for them. So, we now think that there's another step that we need to go, which is just to get rid of them altogether, really, and eliminate our reliance on those single-use bags. Reusable bags are obviously widely available. The ban just helps people take more responsibility and move away from behaviours with that wider culture.
There are more things, just anecdotally, on this. I was talking about this just on a personal basis. I recently had some groceries delivered. I have a big thing that says 'no bags' but all the cold things came double-wrapped in a plastic bag—I mean, why? So, I'm afraid I made the poor delivery person wait while I unpacked them from the plastic bags to take them back. But it's that kind of habit stuff. There is no conceivable way that that bag made that cold product any colder over the short journey to my home. So, it's those kinds of habitual things that we just really need to get rid of to stop people thinking in that way. And it was widely, widely commented on by people, so that's why that's included. Lots of supermarkets are phasing that out, and we just want to give the last impetus to the ones that haven't. So, that's on that one.
Oxo-degradable plastics were included in the initial consultation, and we specifically asked a question on whether that type of plastic should be banned. The consultation acknowledged that our original research had got limited information on that, and we sought further views and evidence. So, we intend to bring that ban in by the end of the Senedd term, but it is a complex area still being researched, and we'd be very interested to see what evidence the committee comes up with on that as well.
Thank you, Minister. My bugbear on this, comparable with—. It's not the cold foods—well, that is also a bugbear—but it's when the fresh fruit and fresh vegetables have plastic around them, especially fruit. Why? Anyway—sorry. Diolch, Gadeirydd.
There we are. No, you're more than welcome to vent off if it helps.
On that point, actually, just to say that we have been widely helping people access the research that shows a very different outcome from the widely accepted one. I had a very good meeting with WRAP earlier this week, in which we were discussing that, for example, often, a cucumber comes wrapped in plastic. And the widely held view is that that somehow extends its shelf life, but actually there is a lot of academic to show that it does no such thing. So, we just need to get that information out there and mainstream that kind of behaviour into the supermarkets, and some of them have been faster than others to come along that journey.
And it's always really difficult to get the plastic off the cucumber. [Inaudible.] I will mute myself— sorry.
Okay. Let's move on to Janet, then. Janet.
[Inaudible.]—Minister. Welsh Water and Wales Environment Link have expressed disappointment that wet wipes containing plastics are not included in the draft Bill. Minister, I'm expressing my disappointment that these are not included. You know that, on the floor of the Senedd, I've raised it many times, that our water companies are really struggling. Many Members decry the water companies for pollution, but whenever I've gone around to the sewage works locally, they're desperate for our water companies to not keep having these things flushed down the toilet. So, why are wet wipes not included?
Yes, I agree, Janet. I'm really committed to getting wet wipes onto this list. One of the really good things about the way that this legislation is framed is that it gives us the opportunity to add further products in the future. And I thought it was a very important part of futureproofing the Bill to make sure that we had that provision in there so that we can add products as more environmental efficiency information becomes available and as more alternative products come onto the market so that we can add in additional things.
The big issue with wet wipes, I'm afraid, is the labelling. So, currently, plastic content in wet wipes is not required by law. So, it's actually not possible to tell at the point of consumption whether your wet wipe has or hasn't got plastic in it. Product labelling is not devolved to Wales, so we'll be working with the UK Government to try to get them to get the product labelled. And in fact, actually, wider than wet wipes, I think all packaging should be labelled to tell you whether it's got plastic in it. One of my particular bugbears is tea bags, actually. Some tea bags that look very compostable have got plastic in them, for no good reason whatsoever, as far as I can see. So, we're looking at all future options for that. We'll work with our own manufacturers here. You'll know that we have wet wipe manufacturers in north Wales, Janet. We'll be working with them to make sure that they take the plastic out in advance of us actually banning it. But the biggest thing of all is that it was basically unenforceable because you can't tell at the point of consumption whether the thing has or hasn't got plastic in it. So, we'll need to work on that.
We're going to gather evidence on how robust wet wipes marked as plastic free or biodegradable actually are. This is completely anecdotal, Chair, and I apologise to my officials for it, but I recently put a so-called biodegradable wet wipe on my compost heap at home and I have to tell you that, two years later, it is entirely still intact inside the compost heap. So, I'm not quite sure on what basis it's biodegradable, but after two years on my very hot compost heap, it's still entirely a wet wipe. So, I think there are some robust things, Janet, that we need to do to get that labelling right and to test the actual stuff that's already set out on the labelling. As Huw quite rightly said, and this isn't a thing for this particular Bill, but the whole issue about whether—. Some wet wipes say that they're flushable; there's no such thing as a flushable wet wipe. So, there's an issue with the labelling that we'll take up with the UK Government and hopefully they'll be on the same page as us in terms of forcing behaviour change with that labelling.
Thank you, Minister. Just going back, Chair, previously today we were asking, when you say, 'Ah, but going forward, we can do this', how difficult, or how easy, is it going to be to add things, and what's the mechanism for you to do that?
We will have the ability to add things to the list of banned items that's in the Bill. To some extent, Janet, we're in the hands of your committee about how easy that is, because what procedure we use to add them in will be very much part of the recommendations I'm sure you'll make to us. We could do that by the negative procedure, or we could do it by the superaffirmative [correction: affirmative] procedure. So, it will be interesting to see what view the committee takes. But for us it will be around the evidential base for understanding the harm that that particular single-use plastic product does, its effect on the environment and the availability of substitute products in the market, so the ability of the market to swap to a different useable product. The things we've banned outright on the face of the Bill all have many other products available in the market. You don't need to use a plastic for, for example; many other products are available. It's about that balance, isn't it, and to make sure that we've got the medical exemptions fully understood as well. But there's a long, long list of things—I'm sure that the committee will have a long, long list of things as well—that we are actively exploring in terms of what can be added in next.
Great. I'm glad you've covered off the medical exemptions, because I know that some medical people who produce them are very concerned, and the amount that is used is very important. But will you also be considering amendments to the Bill so that, rather than focusing just on single-use plastic only, it encompasses other single-use items?
No. This is about plastics, this Bill, at the moment. I'll be interested in what the committee has to say about that, because the whole point about this is that we're attempting to prohibit both the littering and the environmental damage of single-use plastic products. There's a lot of evidence about the problem with plastics in the environment—the way they biodegrade, what happens to the microplastics at the other end. So, to include non-plastic items, Janet, we'd have to have a similar evidence base for what that looked like. You might have single-use forks made of bamboo, for example. Well, I wouldn't want to see those banned because they biodegrade perfectly happily and, actually, there's a real social need for single-use items of that sort and there's a perfectly good set of green jobs and manufacturing that go alongside some of those products. So, we'd want to look very carefully at it. So, you have to bear in mind what the purpose of the Bill is—so, the purpose of the Bill is to prevent the environmental damage and to prevent the littering that happens with these products.
And I am right in my own mind, Chair—polystyrene, I hate that more than plastic, I must admit, and that takes a lot for me to say because I hate plastic, but polystyrene is going to be included in this, isn't it?
Yes. Polystyrene is a form of plastic anyway, so—.
Okay, thank you. Delyth.
Diolch. Yes, on the point you were making, Minister, about the wet wipe on your compost heap, I think it was in a previous evidence session where—forgive me, I can't remember who it was—someone pointed out to the committee that almost anything could be claimed to be biodegradable, it's just under the right circumstances—over, say, hundreds of years, then, yes of course, almost anything would be biodegradable. So, the devil of the detail in terms of how that's actually nailed down—we would agree with you, I'm sure, that that's going to be really important.
Thinking about definitions, some stakeholders have raised concerns about the way that 'oxo-degradable' is defined at the moment, because it could end up inadvertently capturing oxo-biodegradable products, like compostable bags. What would your response be to those concerns that have been raised, please?
I think they're right to be concerned, if we're honest. This is a very complicated area and there are lots of different opinions about what constitutes 'oxo-degradable' and so on. So, there's a lot of research going on; there's no settled scientific conclusion at the moment. That's why the ban on oxo-degradable plastics is later—it's by the end of the Senedd term. We absolutely recognise that it's a really complicated area. We want to carefully consider any evidence that comes out of your committee deliberations on it and we'll be looking at some of the scientific evidence. We can update the Schedule. The regulation power in the Bill allows us to update the Schedule of banned or restricted products and it includes exemptions. So, we can exempt things from it as well. So, if there was an issue about compostable bin liners, for example, we could specifically exclude them if we wanted to.
We're also trying to get a circular economy going. So, if you think about some of the wider policy aims of this, we're also trying to get the 'reduce, reuse' thing going, aren't we? So, compostable carrier bags can still only be used once as a carrier bag, so they're a single-use product. And we don't want them in the conventional recycling streams actually—they're a bit of a nuisance. So, we'd much rather shift people on to multi-use products and things that are designed for a long life, rather than these convenience things that look like they're okay, but actually, as you say, can prove to be quite resilient in terms of a breakdown period. So, we're looking very carefully at the evidence around that and looking at the practices around it as well, to see what the alternatives in the market are.
Okay. I think that's gratifying to hear that there will certainly be willingness from the Government to look again at that. So, thank you.
Okay, we'll move on to Joyce, then.
I'd like, Minister—. Have I been unmuted?
Yes, we can hear you.
I'd like, Minister, if you would explain what the Welsh Government has done in the way of outlining the life-cycle analysis and the studies behind that when they've arrived at these particular goods being banned.
Certainly, Joyce. So, I'm going to start this explanation and then I'm going to hand over to one of my officials to give you a much more detailed one. Basically, we've used the European Commission's 'Life Cycle Inventories of Single Use Plastic Products and their Alternatives' report, and the most recent review of life-cycle analysis by the United Nations. But we've got some issues with that around underestimating the benefit of reusable products, as we've just been discussing, and no account is taken of the small amount of water needed to wash them, and the commission's report recognises that. We found reusable tableware consistently outperforming single-use tableware in all the studies they reviewed and all environmental impact categories except water, as you'd imagine, because you have to wash reusable things, of course. They also found that reusable takeaway food containers outperform single-use plastic ones and, where single-use is required, paper is much better than plastic. These are all very common-sense things backed up by the scientific findings, aren't they? Also according to the UN report, reusable cups came out better than single-use polystyrene ones, especially if the energy used for washing up is made with a high proportion of renewable energy. So, again, it's this issue about whether washing something and the effort that goes into washing up uses up more of the planet's resources than manufacturing the single-use. And I think it's pretty common sense that it's come out the way you'd expect it to. So, we're working collaboratively with stakeholders to develop that advice and guidance, and I'm sure one of my officials can tell you more about exactly how we're doing that.
Gian Marco, probably, is it?
Thank you very much, Minister. Yes, absolutely, as you say, I think we've relied heavily on the work that was done by the EU and the UN. I think, just picking up on a comment that the Minister made earlier, this fits into our broad approach in relation to the circular economy. What we want is products to stay in use for longer. Actually, there's quite a lot of work here that we're doing with stakeholders, including working with the likes of WRAP, to develop guidance, and, really, tools to help people look at products in a different way, to look at products as things that actually have multiple uses that can stay in circulation for longer and, really, just to think about these not as single-use products that you can just throw away, but as things that have a longer lifetime. So, that's, really, how we're looking at it, and we're trying to get the right communication tools around how this saves money as well as protects the environment. So, there's an awful lot that is relevant, particular in the current economic context.
You've clearly done some work about identifying acceptable alternatives, and we'd like to hear a little more about that. But one issue around the alternatives that was raised this morning by the WLGA was the fear that they may find themselves getting into the anaerobic digesters for food waste.
We've looked a lot at alternatives—so, compostable paper straws, cardboard balloon sticks, paper plates, wooden cutlery, bamboo cotton buds—and all of those have been widely available in the market for a very, very long time. There are lots of other alternatives on the market as well, so the transition is a wise option for lots of businesses, and, actually, loads of businesses already don't sell single-use products, and you'll particularly notice that plastic straws have largely disappeared and people have replaced them with the paper ones.
So, I'm good on that, but we're working very hard to make sure that the alternatives do compost well into our anaerobic digesters. We wouldn't want you to fill your food waste with two thirds paper straws, but one or two of them would be fine. We're going to work separately with businesses on business recycling—this isn't part of this particular scrutiny session—and you'll know we're working on a business recycling initiative, and on the extended producer responsibility for packaging, Joyce. So, what we're trying to do is remove some of the most harmful things from the whole ecosystem anyway.
This isn't the only Bill in this space; we're doing a lot of other things on the circular economy and on the recycling/reuse hierarchy, and then, not for this Senedd, unfortunately, because we haven't got the time, I think one of the things that we should probably all be looking at is whether the Senedd should pass a right-to-repair Bill so that when you make white goods products and so on, you don't make them sealed units and people can repair them and keep them in use longer. That's the logical extension of where we're going with this suite of legislation.
So, for this particular Bill, we're moving away from the single-use culture, we're looking to make sure that people use items that have multiple uses in preference to substitute single-use items. On the straws front, for example, you can get perfectly lovely steel straws that go in dishwashers or are pretty easy to just wash under a hot tap, and you can carry that around with you. I've been doing it for ages. They even come with a bendy bit in the middle. So, there are lots of multiple-use items out there, and we just need to change our culture, don't we, so that that's what we're doing.
The other one that I've spoken to a lot of schoolchildren about is, currently, if you go to a sporting occasion, you'll be given one of those horrible single-use, crushable cups that are actually quite hard to hold to put your beer in, if that's your choice of beverage. But there are lots and lots and lots of really reusable products that you can put marketing on the outside of, so you can have your club's logo or whatever. Exactly—the Chair is showing us one. What people do is, basically, you buy it once and then you get a discount on your drink for reusing it, and the club or venue gets marketing out of it. What's not to like? So, that's just a cultural change, isn't it? We just need to encourage that cultural change.