Crushed plastic bottles

Disappointment at UK Government inaction to tackle root causes of plastic pollution

A report published today by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA) criticises the UK Government for not placing enough emphasis on reducing single-use plastic food and drink packaging.

It states that prevention is the most important way to reduce waste and greater effort needs to be put into this: “A fundamental shift away from all single-use food and drink packaging, plastic or otherwise, is vital for the future protection of the environment.”

It further notes “it is disappointing that comparatively little emphasis has been placed … on reducing plastic waste [by the Government].”

The report, Plastic Food and Drink Packaging, recognises that recycling is not enough, despite this being the main focus of industry and Government initiatives to date, and states it is “shocking that [the Government] does not know how much plastic packaging is placed on market in the UK, nor how much is really recycled.”

Plastic Food and Drink Packaging also warns against a simple substitution of one single-use material for another, noting that “all food and drink packaging materials, whether plastic or another material, has an environmental impact”. This includes non-conventional plastics such as compostable packaging, which the report does not support a general increase in use.

A shift towards reusable and refillable packaging ranges will be critical for achieving an absolute reduction in packaging waste and the report welcomes the trials and ‘zero waste’ initiatives seen to date. It notes, however, that “these changes are unlikely to enable a revolution in the way most consumers shop unless they are widely available” and encourages greater emphasis to be given to scaling up these solutions.

Our expert campaigners fed into EFRA’s review of the Government’s approach through submitting a written response and giving evidence at a Select Committee hearing, which is quoted throughout the report.

Ocean Campaigner Juliet Phillips, who spoke at the hearing, said: “To date, far too little Government attention has been given to addressing the root causes of the pollution crisis by challenging our unsustainable single-use society.

“EIA urges the Government to take note of the report’s findings through introducing a strategy to catalyse a wholesale transition away from wasteful and unnecessary single-use packaging, and towards reusable and refillable solutions.”

Last year, we released the report Checking Out on Plastics, assessing plastic use and waste in the UK supermarket sector. A sequel to the report is due to be released later this year, assessing progress made over the last 12 months and forward-looking commitments.