PM claims that plastic recycling ‘doesn’t work’

The Prime Minister has said plastics recycling “doesn’t work” and it would be a “huge mistake” to think it’s the answer to plastic pollution.

Boris Johnson made the remarks in a joint press conference with Tanya Steele, chief executive of the WWF, on 25 October (Picture: Prime Minister's office)

Boris Johnson was speaking at an event organised by Downing Street, where he fielded questions on the environment from children.

In response to a question on how he plans to make sure people are using less plastic, Mr Johnson said: “The issue with plastics is that recycling isn’t the answer, I’ve to be honest with you.

“Recycling doesn’t begin to address the problem. You can only recycle plastic a couple of times. What we have got to do is stop the production of plastics, stop the first use, the recycling thing is a red herring….We all have to cut down on our use of plastic, that’s the only answer.”

The Prime Minister was speaking with co-host, Tanya Steele, chief executive of the WWF, who attempted to defend recycling. She said: “We’ve got to find a way to reduce, reuse and do a bit of recycling. I do think we need some recycling, Prime Minister, and have a system in place to do so.”

Interjecting, Mr Johnson said: “It doesn’t work. If people think we can recycle our way out of the problem, we’d be making a huge mistake. We need to reduce the amount of plastic, we need far less and we need to restore the balance of nature.”

Below you can hear the Prime Minister’s remarks during the press conference.

Negative message

In response to the Prime Minister’s remarks, Simon Ellin, chief executive of the Recycling Association, told letsrecycle.com that the Prime Minister had “lost the plastic plot” and that he was sending out a “negative message”.

He said: “What I object to was that Boris has said that recycling doesn’t work and is not the answer.

“I agree we have got to produce less. But, to go on to a programme with schoolchildren and say the answer is not his own Resources & Waste Strategy, which is ground breaking and ambitious and has recycling underpinning it, is a terrible negative message to the public.”

Mr Ellin said that government was intending producers to spend £2.4 billion a year and that industry would be very concerned at the comments.

He added: “My biggest concern is the negative language used on a public forum with schoolchildren which is absolutely the wrong message to be giving out. We know we’ve got to improve, minimise waste and produce less, but plastic is a useful type of packaging in many ways and we know we have to handle it well going forward.”

‘Wider action’

Clarifying the Primer Minister’s remarks, his official spokesman said: “Yes, the Prime Minister was setting out that recycling alone is not the answer.

“We’re taking a wide range of action across society to cut plastic pollution.

“Simply relying on recycling alone as the Prime Minister set out would be a red herring, we need to go further and take wider action.”

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