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Recycling plastics does not work, says Boris Johnson BBC News

Recycling plastics does not work, says Boris Johnson BBC News

By George Bowden

BBC News

Recycling plastic materials "doesn't work" and "is not the answer" to threats to global oceans and marine wildlife, Boris Johnson has said.

Answering children's questions ahead of the COP26 climate change summit, the prime minister said reusing plastics "doesn't begin to address the problem".

Instead, he said, "we've all got to cut down our use of plastic".

The Recycling Association said the PM had "completely lost the plastic plot".

The association's Simon Ellin told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme Mr Johnson's comments were "very disappointing" and seemed to conflict with government policy.

But some anti-plastic campaigners praised the prime minister's stance and urged him to follow it up with measures to dramatically reduce plastic at source.

Sian Sutherland, co-founder of A Plastic Planet, said: "Less than 10% [of plastic] 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."

During the special event organised by Downing Street, Mr Johnson told an audience of eight to 12-year-olds that rather than relying on recycling, people should reduce their consumption of plastic products.

Tanya Steele, chief executive of the World Wide Fund for Nature, told the event: "We have to reduce, we have to reuse - I do think we need to do a little bit of recycling, PM, and have some system to do so."

But the PM said it was a "mistake" to think society can recycle its way out of the problem, and added: "It doesn't work."

Asked later about Mr Johnson's comments, his official spokesman said the PM continued to encourage recycling - though he said relying on it alone would be a "red herring".

The prime minister's words might have been careless, but they have an element of truth.

Polls consistently show many people feel they're doing their bit to protect the climate if they gather up plastic bottles and take the car up to the recycling point on a Saturday.

But in truth, recycling is a bit of a soft option. It's far less important than many other actions to curb emissions, such as stopping flying, or buying an electric car, or giving up meat. But these actions are harder to do.

And as the PM said, there's a limit to how many times plastic can be recycled.

But having said that, it's far better to recycle a plastic bottle than to throw it away.

Because recycling plastic isn't just helping a little to rein in climate change, it's also keeping waste out of the oceans, conserving energy and saving some of the earth's precious resources.

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