Press review: ‘Recycling trashed by Boris’

Comments made by the prime minister, Boris Johnson, about plastics recycling have sent the media into a frenzy just days before the UK hosts the COP26 global climate summit.

Metro splashes Boris Johnson's comments across its frontpage

Yesterday (25 October), Mr Johnson told an audience of children at No.10 that recycling “doesn’t work” and it would be a “huge mistake” to think it was the answer to plastic pollution (see story).

He suggested recycling was a “red herring”, and that the country should concentrate on stopping the production of plastics.

Mr Johnson’s comments made the frontpage of Metro under the headline “Recycling trashed by Boris”. The paper suggests the prime minister, who “frequently trumpets his green credentials”, had “trashed his own eco polices”.

Metro notes that with “diligent” households already sorting 45% of the waste for recycling, some were asking “if they were wasting their time”.

The paper also quoted a tweet from Dr Iain McLellan, an environmental scientist at the University of West Scotland, who said: “No. No. No, no, no. This is not the message the prime minister should be spreading. Yes, we need to reduce our plastic use, but saying recycling doesn’t work…?”

Mr Johnson’s comments receive a double-page spread and an editorial comment in the Daily Mail.

In its news coverage, the paper says the prime minister had been “slammed by the industry”, with No.10’s official spokesperson having to “encourage the public to continue recycling”.

Recycling in general

The Daily Mail and several of the other papers initially fail to mention that the comments were made about plastics in particular and not recycling in general.

The Daily Mail devotes a double-page spread to Mr Johnson’s remarks

This has also been the case in other media. This morning, the BBC Radio London host Vanessa Feltz announced that part of her programme would be discussing Boris Johnson’s view that “recycling doesn’t work”.

Like Metro, the Daily Mail repeats comments made by Dr Simon Ellin, chief executive of the Recycling Association, to the BBC. Mr Ellin told the state broadcaster that Mr Johnson had “lost the plastic plot”, with the prime minister’s own government having invested in the resources and waste strategy – “the most groundbreaking recycling legislation and plan we’ve ever seen”.

In its editorial opinion piece, the Daily Mail calls on Mr Johnson to “get serious” about single-use plastics and stop the “tomfoolery”.

Though it concedes there is “truth” in calling for a cut in the use of plastics in the first place, the paper asks: “Isn’t he making the perfect the enemy of the good? To deny that recycling has any place in cleaning up the plant is surely self-defeating.”

‘Recycling is a red herring’

Mr Johnson’s comments also feature on the frontpage of The Daily Telegraph, which focuses on the prime minister’s suggestion that too much emphasis is placed on the benefits of reprocessing, instead of reducing manufacturing.

Mr Johnson’s comments also appear on the frontpage of The Daily Telegraph

The paper claims Mr Johnson’s remarks “divided campaigners” and also refers to Dr Ellin’s comments to the BBC.

However, The Daily Telegraph also quotes Sian Sutherland, co-founder of campaign group A Plastic Planet. It claims she said the idea of recycling was used to “justify overproduction” of plastic and sustain an “industrial addiction” to it, while only 10% of plastic is actually reprocessed in the UK.

Climate change

In The Guardian, Mr Johnson’s remarks feature as part of a wider article assessing whether COP26 in Glasgow will be a success.

The Guardian focuses on Mr Johnson’s suggestion that plastic recycling is a “red herring”

Having noted that Mr Johnson said it was “touch and go” whether Britain would broker deals adequate enough to curb irreversible climate change at COP26, the paper suggests the prime minister claimed that encouraging people to recycle more “isn’t the answer”.

The Guardian goes on to say that Mr Johnson “named and shamed” Coca-Cola as one of 12 corporations “producing the overwhelming bulk of the world’s plastic”.


The i newspaper takes the same angle, quoting Mr Johnson describing COP26 as “perhaps the most important summit this country has had in our lifetimes”.

As other papers also reported, i suggests Tanya Steele, the chief executive of the World Wide Fund for Nature UK who joined Mr Johnson at the press conference, disagreed with the prime minister and said plastics recycling should still form part of the solution.

The paper notes Mr Johnson “interrupted her” to emphasise his belief that recycling “doesn’t work”.

Marine life

The Daily Mirror leads on Mr Johnson’s comments suggesting that recycling plastic “will not help protect our oceans and marine life within them”.

It too quotes Dr Ellin’s comments to the BBC and draws attention to the proximity of COP26 summit.


One response to “Press review: ‘Recycling trashed by Boris’

  1. I am dumb-founded by these comments by the PM. Sure, using less plastic is higher up the hierarchy, but discouraging recycling by calling it a red-herring is dreadful, especially to an audience of influenceable school children.

    Who writes his scripts? They are becoming as bad as those that came from the 45th incumbent.

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