‘Piecemeal policies' failing to tackle plastic pollution, government told

Warning that packaging system could remain 'dysfunctional' even without use of plastic

Photo: PA

By Eleanor Langford

10 Mar 2020

The government is failing to tackle the causes of plastic pollution by focusing on “piecemeal policies”, a green policy think tank has claimed.

A new report by the Green Alliance criticises ministers for failing to tackle the root causes of the UK’s “throwaway habit” and instead focusing on pushing companies to switch materials.

It comes as the environment bill – which sets out the UKs environmental policy post-Brexit – enters the committee stage in parliament on Tuesday.


Measures set out in the bill include a ban on exporting plastic waste to foreign countries, charges on the use of plastic and improved recycling facilities.

Legislation to ban plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds also entered Parliament last week, and departments have developed their own plans to reduce plastic waste.

But the report warns that banning single-use plastics could lead to more companies substituting plastic with other materials - such as paper straws or wooden cutlery - instead of reducing the amount of waste produced.

It also highlights that paper or compostable packaging creates further issues, as many materials are treated with chemicals to improve water resistance or durability.

Poor systems also mean the compostable packaging can be ineffective.

The report recommended the government focuses on the impact of all resources used, rather than just plastic.

And it urges ministers to focus on improving the sustainability and recyclability of common materials such as glass, paper and aluminium.

Other recommendations include an urgent review of food contact materials, better recycling infrastructure and new systems to make reusable products more appealing to customers.

The Green Alliance also argues that the scope of the government's proposed tax on plastic packaging should be expanded, while also suggesting a tax on the use of non-recycled materials.

Libby Peake, the report's co-author, 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.”

Meanwhile, Colin Church, chair of the think tank's Circular Economy Task Force, said: “The way we consume and waste resources in the UK is unsustainable, and it’s not just plastic that has an impact.

“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.”

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