OPINION: ‘Plastic pollution is filling our rivers, our seas and our environment, but not our major parties’ manifestos’

Jane Martin, CEO of City to Sea, discusses the lack of pledges regarding single-use plastics throughout all of the major party 2024 manifestos

OPINION: It is now less than three weeks until polling day and parties up and down the country are out canvassing for votes. A busy campaign so far has included battle buses, heated debates and now manifestos, but I’m sure many voters will share my disappointment that we’re more likely to see the party leaders catching up on the events of the day in the local pub than make a serious proposal to lessen our dependence on unnecessary single-use plastics.

The Conservative manifesto runs to a lengthy 80 pages of high-gloss A4. But, amongst pledges on tax, immigration, and National Service the word ‘plastic’ does not feature once. While some would expect nothing less from a party that has failed to tackle the plastic crisis throughout 14 years of government, it is still disappointing to see them step back from previous commitments to introduce a comprehensive DRS system and a ban on plastic waste exports.

There was an expectation that Labour may have taken a firmer stance. In 2019, they also pledged to introduce DRS and put an end to sending our plastic waste overseas. Yet, across the 139 pages of Labour’s 2024 offering, the word plastic is again conspicuously absent. While the Labour party might appear on course for a comfortable majority, when it comes to plastic, we’re sceptical that they’ll deliver the type of change we see emblazoned across the document’s cover.

The country’s smaller parties do offer something more conclusive. The Liberal Democrats aim to follow through with the introduction of DRS, phase out non-recyclable single-use plastics and end plastic waste exports, whereas the Greens aim to increase the scope of bans on the production of single-use plastics in packaging and disposable products such as baby wipes. But, with a Labour super-majority looking like the most likely outcome, the best we might hope for is that these parties can help to shift the narrative and give the plastics crisis the attention it deserves.

It is perplexing why more isn’t being made of single-use plastics by our frontline politicians; not only are these measures sorely needed, but they are also hugely popular amongst the voting public. Recent research carried out amongst UK consumers found that three-quarters agreed it should be a government priority to tackle plastic pollution[1]. Businesses are also successfully trailing reuse and refill schemes, but government intervention is necessary to scale these nationwide.

The rest of the world is already beginning to wake up to the reality of the plastic problem. Whoever wins this election will be tasked with continuing the UK’s engagement with the Global Plastics Treaty and face those countries who are feeling the very worst effects of our continued dependence on plastics.

We know that traditional recycling isn’t working. Only nine per cent of plastic has ever been recycled globally[2]. It’s time UK politicians implement the popular, cost-effective, and hugely necessary policies that take serious action on single-use plastic waste. Earlier this week, we marked World Refill Day by raising awareness of reuse and refill amongst the UK’s political parties, demanding legally binding and time-bound reusable packaging targets to increase the amount of reusable packaging on the market – 30 per cent by 2030 – to finally break the plastic cycle.

However, with little indication from either major party that plastic registers on their legislative agenda, organisations and voters are faced with another four years of bringing the plastic problem to the government’s front door.

[1] City to Sea (2024) Attitudes towards refill and reuse in the UK

[2] UNDP (2023) Why aren’t we recycling more plastic?


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One response to “OPINION: ‘Plastic pollution is filling our rivers, our seas and our environment, but not our major parties’ manifestos’

  1. Unfortunately I suspect that evidence will continue to mount as to the negative impacts on the environment (soil, plants, animals and us). Whilst undoubtedly a highly useful product, a complete rethink is going to be needed as to acceptable applications and whether or not recycling of plastics (given the link to micro plastics etc.) should be undertaken at all. As it may be destruction (EfW) is a less worse option.

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