The UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s recent comments that plastic recycling ‘doesn’t work’ have been criticised as ‘strangely timed’ and conflicting with other messages coming from government.
During a special event organised by Downing Street, Mr Johnson told an audience of eight to 12-year-olds that rather than relying on recycling, people should reduce their consumption of plastic products.
Answering children’s questions ahead of the COP26 climate change summit, the Prime Minister said reusing plastics “doesn’t begin to address the problem”. Instead, he said, “we’ve all got to cut down our use of plastic”.
The Recycling Association’s Simon Ellin told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme Mr Johnson’s comments were “very disappointing” and seemed to conflict with government policy. He said the PM had “completely lost the plastic plot”.
The Prime Minister’s comments are strangely timed and conflict with other messages coming from government.
Phil Sutton, veteran of the plastic recycling world and Founder of Polytag, a start-up which has invested heavily in technology to enable digital deposit return schemes to increase plastics recycling, said: “The Prime Minister’s comments are strangely timed and conflict with other messages coming from government.
“Defra is currently consulting on the roll out of deposit return schemes and extended producer responsibility programmes, and ultimately they are looking for businesses to invest billions to help increase the recycling rate and reduce emissions.
“Plastics have a vital role to play in the protection of products, especially food and drink items. While it is important to switch to more sustainable materials, it will not be possible to eradicate plastic completely. Recycling decreases the need to extract “virgin” resources from forests, oil reserves and mines, to make products and packaging.
“This means less energy is consumed to manufacture and transport products and their packaging. The recycling rate in the UK has plateaued over the last few years, but remains high and an effective way of reducing GHG emissions.”
CEO of the Local Authority Recycling Association Committee (LARAC) took to Twitter, stating that the work of hundreds of local authority communications officers have now been put back five years.
Just like that, the work of hundreds of local authority comms officers is put back five year!
— Lee Marshall (@RecyclerLee) October 25, 2021
Some anti-plastic campaigners, however, praised the Mr Johnson’s statement and urged him to follow it up with measures to ‘dramatically reduce plastic at source’.
Sian Sutherland, co-founder of A Plastic Planet, said: “Less than 10% [of plastic] is actually recycled in the UK.
“Despite being touted by industry as a solution to the problem, all it has done is justify overproduction and created an industrial addiction to this indestructible, toxic material.”
Despite being touted by industry as a solution to the problem, all it has done is justify overproduction and created an industrial addiction to this indestructible, toxic material
Polytag’s Mr Sutton said investment was needed in order to increase the recycling rate. He said technologies that enable kerbside deposit return schemes are one way of achieving this.
He said: “Working with the Welsh government, who are pioneers when it comes to recycling, we have shown that households are highly engaged in kerbside recycling, with a 97% engagement rate during a trial in North Wales.
“Recycling can absolutely help the UK achieve its carbon targets, but we need the government to back innovation and support businesses, rather than make inaccurate claims about the effectiveness of recycling.”