PM sparks debate on recycling merits

The Prime Minister has triggered a row over the merits of recycling after declaring that it “doesn’t work”.

The Recycling Association described Boris Johnson’s comments as “very disappointing”, however campaign group A Plastic Planet applauded the Prime Minister for his stance and urged him to “follow it up with measures which will dramatically reduce [plastic] at source”.

Johnson told a Downing Street reception for school children ahead of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow that “recycling isn’t the answer”, adding “it doesn’t begin to address the problem. You can only recycle plastic a couple of times. What you’ve got to do is stop the production of plastic”.

Simon Ellin, chief executive of the Recycling Association, told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme: "It’s very disappointing. I think he has completely lost the plastic plot here, if I’m honest. We need to reduce and I would completely agree with him on that, but his own government has just invested in the resources and waste strategy, which is the most ground-breaking recycling legislation and plan that we’ve ever seen, with recycling right at the front of it. So he seems to be completely conflicting with his own government’s policy.”

The Prime Minister’s stance drew praise from campaigners, however. “We have been swallowing the myth about recycling plastic for decades and it is time to wake up to the fact there are no recycling fairies,” said Sian Sutherland, A Plastic Planet co-founder.

“Less than 10% is actually recycled in the UK. Despite being touted by industry as a solution to the problem, all it has done is justify overproduction and created an industrial addiction to this indestructible, toxic material,” Sutherland added.

Investment in recycling remains a key plank of the government’s overarching waste and resources strategy, including plans for a deposit return scheme and consistency in waste and recycling collections.

However, reduction of plastic use is also an objective. In its waste prevention programme for England, published in March, the government said it intends to build on new restrictions on the supply of plastic straws, cotton buds and drink stirrers by consulting on potential bans on other single-use plastic items.

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