PM says ‘recycling doesn’t work’ – reaction blog

The Prime Minister’s strong remarks from 25 October that plastic recycling “doesn’t work” have been broadly criticised by the waste and recycling sector. 

Boris Johnson made the comments in a press conference on 25 October (Picture: PM's Office)

At a press conference for schoolchildren on climate change on 25 October, Mr Johnson said relying on plastic recycling to solve the issue of pollution would be a “huge mistake”, and that instead the focus should be on waste reduction (see letsrecycle.com story). As reactions come in, we will keep this page updated.

‘Crucial’ to promote consumer confidence in recycling, RECOUP says

Plastics recycling charity RECOUP said in response to Mr Johnson’s comments that it was “crucial” to promote consumer confidence on the contribution of plastics recycling in reducing the environmental impact of packaging.

Stuart Foster is RECOUP’s CEO

Recoup said that with the government introducing a tax on packaging that does not contain 30% recycled content,, the prime minister’s comments would result in an “even bigger challenge” to collect sufficient plastics from households to recycle to fulfill demand. The tax is heavily reliant on the citizen doing the “right thing” and recycling, RECOUP said.

Stuart Foster, RECOUP’s CEO, added: “Much has already been achieved to improve recycling capture in the UK and the industry continues to invest in infrastructure and recycling capabilities in the UK.

“Plastics has an important role to play in our everyday lives from food packaging to medical services and healthcare. We are keen to work with government, and other organisations to find the right solutions.

“Recycling, is and will continue to be, a part of the jigsaw as we seek to optimise resources and reduce carbon emissions to tackle climate change.”

‘Recycling does work’, says Marcus Gover

The chief executive of resources charity WRAP, which is part-funded by government to promote recycling has said that “recycling does work” in response to Boris Johnson’s comments that plastic recycling “doesn’t work”.

Dr Marcus Gover (picture: Parliament TV)

Marcus Gover, CEO WRAP “Recycling does work and is a critical part of tackling climate change. It takes 75% less energy to produce a plastic bottle made from recycled content compared to new plastic. The prime minister is right that we need to do more with less. That applies to single use packaging as much as anything else.”

Dr Gover added: “Of course we must be careful that there are no unforeseen consequences and that reducing packaging does not cause more damage to the planet, through more food waste for example. Making sure that the packaging we need is recyclable does make a big difference. Recycling packaging in the UK helps to limit climate change, reduce pollution and create jobs. It’s good for people, planet and pocket.”

BPF says recyclers can be proud of their role

British Plastics Federation director general, Philip Law didn’t directly comment on Boris Johnson’s words but did says that the industry includes recyclers who should be “proud of their role” in delivering a low carbon economy.

The BPF also obliquely noted that its Recycling Roadmap “was endorsed by a government minister earlier this year”.

Philip Law, BPF director general

Mr Law said: “The plastics industry will continue working with the government for the good of the environment and it is hugely important that plastic waste is managed better globally. Improving recycling within the UK is part of the government’s strategy for dealing with plastic waste and recycling plastic reduces carbon emissions and keeps valuable material in functional use.

“The British Plastics Federation (BPF) would like the government to invest in future-proofing the UK’s recycling infrastructure so more plastic can be recycled within the UK by 2030. This will create jobs, reduce the use of fossil fuels, make the circular economy a reality and enable the government to meet its own aim of eliminating avoidable plastic waste by 2042.

“Substituting plastic with other materials is often not the best thing for the environment and failing to follow the science could impact the nation’s health, the standard of our healthcare, the government’s ability to meet its net zero targets and increase food waste.”

The plastics industry employs 180,000 people, including recyclers, who should be proud of the vital role they play in delivering an innovative, low carbon, modern economy.

Coca-Cola points to ‘steady progress’

A spokesperson at the Coca-Cola Company said: “The world has a packaging problem. As the world’s biggest beverage company, we have a responsibility to help solve it. We believe circular recycling solutions are imperative in creating a path to keep plastic out of our natural environments for good.

Coca-Cola also says its plastic bottles smaller than 500ml are made from 100% recycled plastic in GB

“We don’t want to see any of our packaging end up where it shouldn’t which is why we aim to collect and recycle a bottle or can — regardless of where it comes from — for every one we sell by 2030 globally. That was the driving force to establish our World Without Waste goals in 2018.

“Though we have much more to do, we are making steady progress against these goals. Bottles made with 100% recycled plastic are now available in around 30 markets around the world and this is continually growing. In fact, in Great Britain, all our consumer packaging is 100% recyclable, and all our bottles that are 500ml or smaller are made from 100% recycled plastic. We will not stop until we meet the goals we’ve put forward so that we grow our business the right way.”

‘Conflicting messages’, says Polytag founder

Phil Sutton is a veteran of the plastic recycling world and founder of Polytag, a start-up which has invested in technology to enable digital deposit return schemes to increase plastics recycling.

He commented: “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.”

Phil Sutton of Polytag: ‘The Prime Minister’s comments are strangely timed’

Mr Sutton continued: “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.”

And he emphasised that recycling can help achieve carbon targets. “We need to invest in increasing the recycling rate and technologies that enable kerbside deposit return schemes are one way of achieving this. 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.”

‘Five years of comms work undone’

The chief executive of the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC), Lee Marshall, took to Twitter to say the remarks had undone five years of work by local authority communication teams.

Meanwhile, Rick Hindley, the executive director of the coffee pod recycling scheme PodBack, also said on Twitter that the comments from the Prime Minister were “misleading”.

He praised Simon Ellin, the Recycling Association chief executive, for saying the PM had “lost the plastic plot” and that he was sending out a “negative message”.

Taylor ‘disappointed’ by PM’s comments

Carole Taylor, chair of LARAC, said the comments were disappointing, adding that while recycling alone would not bring about the level of climate change needed, it was something everyone could do to help.

Carole Taylor is LARAC chair

She said: “Given that councils provide services for households to easily recycle their plastics at the kerbside it is disappointing to hear the PM’s comments.

“We know that recycling alone will not bring about the level of climate change needed, but it is something we can all do and that all households can do more regularly that will make a contribution to the battle against climate change.

“Local authorities work extremely hard to encourage residents to recycle more and comments like these can undo all that hard work in an instant. We know how keen people are to recycle their plastics and that they would like to recycle more of them if possible.”

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