Efforts to cut the use of carrier bags and straws don't go far enough

Efforts to cut the use of carrier bags, straws and microbeads don’t go far enough in dealing with the root of the plastic pollution problem, a new damning report warns

  • A report by environmental think tank Green Alliance calls for a major change
  • They want the government to work to change the UKs ‘throwaway culture’ 
  • The think tank says replacing plastic with other products doesn’t fix the problem 
  • The government says it is committed to being a leader in tackling plastic waste

Efforts to cut the amount of carrier bags, straws and microbeads used in the UK don’t go far enough in tackling the root of the plastic pollution problem.

A new damning report by the environmental think tank Green Alliance says the government isn’t doing enough to address the UKs ‘throwaway’ habits.

The think tank says bans on things that harm the environment like single use plastic are necessary but substituting them with other materials isn’t a long term solution.

The government says it plans to introduce a tax on plastic packaging and has already imposed a levy on single-use plastic bags. 

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Think tank Green Alliance says the government should work to tackle the wider ‘throwaway culture’ and encourage more reuse

Green Alliance says without reducing the throwaway nature prevalent in the UK we could be storing up other environmental problems for the future.

Overall, the think tank said the ‘plastic-only’ approach is not working, and the whole system of using and managing resources needs a fundamental rethink.

A spokeswoman for the Environment Department (Defra) said the government is committed to tackling plastic pollution and preventing waste.

They plan to do this by ‘pushing up recycling rates and cutting landfill so we leave the environment in a better state than we found it’.

Defra cited the introduction of the plastic bag charge, banning microbeads from use in wash-off cosmetics, and an impending ban on plastic straws as part of its response to tackling plastic pollution.

The plastic bag charge has led to an increase in purchases of ‘bags for life’ which can push up the overall amount of plastic being used, research suggests.

A future system should ensure that all materials, including plastic, are properly valued throughout their lifecycle, the report said.

Libby Peake, head of resource policy at Green Alliance, said: ‘Removing one material from a dysfunctional system still leaves us with a dysfunctional system.

‘Plastic pollution is a particularly visible sign that we don’t properly value the resources we use and shows that environmental harm is hardwired into the throwaway culture.

‘The Government has to get to the root of the problem to change this, rather than only tackling high- profile symptoms in a piecemeal way.’

A top priority should be to reduce the amount of materials used overall, as well as reducing the damage and impacts of different products.

Environmental harms should be systematically considered, to tackle impacts such as forests being cut down for paper or the greenhouse gas emissions of aluminium.

Green Alliance says by not tackling the throwaway culture and instead just replacing plastic with other materials we are ‘shoring up pollution problems’ for the future

The think tank also called for exposure to all hazardous substances prevented as a matter of urgency.

Colin Church, chief executive of the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining and chairman of the Circular Economy Task Force, said we waste resources in the UK.

‘The way we consume and waste resources in the UK is unsustainable, and it’s not just plastic that has an impact,’ he said.

‘What is needed now is an approach that leads the UK to a truly circular economy where all materials are properly valued and any problems they cause are minimised as much as possible.’

Defra says bold work is already under way to move towards a circular economy.

They say this is coming in through ‘our ambitious resources and waste strategy and landmark Environment Bill.

‘We’ve invested over £40 million to tackle plastics and boost recycling and are currently assessing responses to our call for evidence to better understand how innovative new packaging could help reduce the impacts of plastic.’


Every day, millions of us drop a plastic bottle or cardboard container into the recycling bin – and we feel we’re doing our bit for the environment.

But what we may not realise is that most plastic never gets recycled at all, often ending up in landfill or incineration depots instead.

Of 30 billion plastic bottles used by UK households each year, only 57 per cent are currently recycled, with half going to landfill, half go to waste.

Most plastic never gets recycled at all, often ending up in landfill or incineration depots instead. Around 700,000 plastic bottles a day end up as litter

Around 700,000 plastic bottles a day end up as litter.

This is largely due to plastic wrapping around bottles that are non-recyclable. 

Every year, the UK throws away 2.5 billion ‘paper’ cups, amounting to 5,000 cups a minute. 

Shockingly, less than 0.4 per cent of these are recycled.

Most cups are made from cardboard with a thin layer of plastic. 

This has previously posed issues with recycling but can now be removed. 

Five specialist recycling plants in the UK have the capacity to recycle all the cups used on our high-streets.  

Ensuring the paper cups end up in these plants and are not discarded incorrectly is one of the biggest issues facing the recycling of the paper vessels. 

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