Circular Economy: Leftover Paint — [Mr Graham Brady in the Chair]

Alan Brown Scottish National Party, Kilmarnock and Loudoun 2:46 pm, 15th November 2016

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Brady—I never thought I would be saying it is a pleasure to speak in a debate about paint so early in my parliamentary career. I thank Angela Smith for introducing the debate and for being an able substitute for our colleague, Mr Sheerman.

What we are discussing is a very simple concept, but given the statistics that the hon. Lady outlined, it is clear that action is needed. The fact that only 2% of leftover paint is recycled and reused at the moment is startling, especially given that we have a drive towards recycling in general and that people are more aware of the issue in a wider context. As she outlined, disposal to landfill results in £20.6 million of extra costs to taxpayers, although that comes through at local level.

Another issue is the widely adopted waste management strategy of the non-acceptance of liquid paint at recycling and waste disposal centres, which runs the risk that people may dump paint, although it does not give them an excuse to do so. I always get really irritated when the public complain that dumping has happened and blame it on the local council. It is not councils’ fault, but they can sometimes allow bad behaviour to happen. As the hon. Lady outlined, people may hide paint disposal in black bags in their general refuse, which defeats the purpose of disposal. Another risk is that people seem to think that sinks, drains and toilets are a fantastic disposal mechanism. They think that liquid paint can go down there, but unfortunately it still goes into the waste disposal system. It either goes through the sewage treatment works or, worse, there is a risk that it enters the river system, which presents another hidden risk of pollution.

We need to ensure that people recycle more and buy less. We need to work with retailers, because they actually encourage us to buy more. Many of the paints and coatings at DIY shops are three for two, so our human instincts kick in and we say, “Well, I’ll just buy the extra tin to get a saving, and if I’ve got any left over I’ll keep it for the future.” We have to educate the wider public and retailers.

I double-checked the waste management strategy at the local authority where I used to be a councillor, and it has fantastic recycling rates, but it confirmed to me that it is unfortunately now in the same position as many other local authorities and does not accept liquid paint. It had a tie-up with a charitable organisation, RePaint Scotland, which folded locally due to a lack of funding, so now there is no way to recycle paint. So my local authority, too, only takes paint to landfill, once dried out or filled with sand to continue the drying-out process. We need to consider how to support such charities. We are paying for paint to go to landfill anyway, so it would be much better to support the charities instead. In the long run, they can also make a difference by supporting other community organisations, vulnerable tenants, or people in new tenancies, and giving them pride in their homes.

Without wanting to allude to typical jokes about Scotsmen, I have an instinct for recycling and reuse. Last year, I was in the States with my in-laws—I was staying there because my wife is American—and they were selling a property, which had a basement full of leftover things, including years of leftover paint. However, we cleaned out the basement and actually used a lot of the paint to paint it, brightening it up, which made a huge difference and made the house sellable. That was my instinct: not to dispose of the paint, but to reuse it.

I discovered something else with the remnants of the leftover paint. As has been outlined, we were not able to dispose of liquid paint in waste disposal, so we had to dry it out. I can tell the House that sometimes drying out paint is not an easy job, believe it or not. It was really warm in the States, we had the paint tins sitting out open and we spent days literally watching paint dry—I had to get that pun in. So we can see how, if people without patience want to dispose of paint quickly, the risk is that they will choose the wrong behaviours.

I also want to touch on the wider circular economy. We buy into the principle of it, and I will mention a couple of things that the Scottish Government are doing for the wider circular economy. They are starting to lead the way, and I hope that the UK Government will follow suit. Earlier this year, the Scottish Government published “Making Things Last”, a strategy to do with developing a circular economy strategy for Scotland. They also launched a £70 million circular economy fund, which is aimed at stimulating innovation, productivity and investment.

At the time, David Palmer-Jones, the chief executive of Suez Environnement’s UK recycling and recovery business, suggested that the UK Government should take

“a leaf out of the Scottish administration’s book”, by incorporating circular economy principles into business, energy and industrial policy, and I hope we will hear something from the Minister on that. I also agree with the proposed challenge to achieve 5% of Government contracts using recycled paint—I am interested to hear about that as well. I again commend the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge for introducing the debate.