/ Food & Drink

Do we need to rethink our reliance on plastic?

plastic bottles

Did you know that less than 10% of plastic bottles are made with recycled materials? Doesn’t seem like much, does it…

Recently, The Guardian reported that a survey of five of the six biggest soft drinks firms found just 7% of throwaway plastic bottles are made from recycled materials.

To put that figure into context, it equates to more than two million tonnes of throwaway plastic soft drinks bottles every year. What’s more, Greenpeace, which conducted the research, says that if figures from Coca-Cola were included, the numbers would be much higher.

Single-use plastic

There’s a growing lobby for companies to move away from single-use plastic and embrace reusable packaging and make sure the rest is made from 100% recycled content.

And with that shockingly high percentage of drinks bottles that are made from single-use plastic, I can see why.

With an increase in the volume of recycling, and more advanced technology to do so, should using recycled materials in this kind of mass production be a prerequisite?

What makes this even more pressing is the growing concern around plastic making its way in to the fish and seafood we eat.

Last summer, Plymouth University released a report stating that plastic was found in a third of UK-caught fish, including cod, haddock, mackerel and shellfish. While a recent study by Ghent University in Belgium calculated that shellfish lovers are eating up to 11,000 plastic fragments in their seafood each year.

According to experts, we only absorb fewer than 1% of these fragments, but they still accumulate in our body over time – and we’re yet to find out exactly what impact this is having on our health.

Cleaning up this plastic mess

So what do we do about this?

Maybe there needs to be clearer information on packaging to show what proportion contains recycled materials, too. Not only would this make the companies’ practices more transparent, it would also enable those of us who want to shop more ethically to do so.

When it comes to improving recycling, while plastic bag charging has squeezed people’s wallets, progress reports show that it’s encouraging behaviour change – so should a similar tactic be tried here?

So, do you think more could be done to clean up our plastics usage? What do you think is the solution here?

This is a guest contribution by Hannah Jolliffe, a freelance writer. All views expressed here are Hannah’s own and not necessarily those shared by Which?.


I don’t buy bottled water because I would rather have tap water and I’m not wasting plastic. When I go walking I take a plastic bottle filled with tap water. It must have been filled a hundred times.

My fridge is kept as cold as possible without freezing and a 2 litre container of milk lasts about a week, but that’s 50 plastic bottles binned each year.

Sadly, I have at least a hundred ‘fresh’ soup containers – each about 35g of polypropylene, which is non-biodegradable. Some have been used in the garage for storing screws, nails, etc and others stacked and waiting to find a use. I always used to make my own soups, but have become lazy in the past year. I must go back to making my own soups and storing the surplus in the in the freezer. I have some suitable containers.

Thanks for raising this important environmental issue, Hannah. It is well established that plastic microparticles are a serious problem for aquatic animals. Maybe when we learn of the dangers to humans we might become less addicted to use of disposable plastics.

Winn says:
17 April 2017

is there a reason why people don’t use metal flasks which keep a liquid at the temperature at which it was poured into the flask?


Money-Winn -aka-profit. cheaper to produce , I actually maintained conveyor belts and plastic extrusion plant in one factory that produced plastic objects , not so easy to do when its metal .


I use stainless steel vacuum flasks if I want to take milk or water [or other drinks] out with me. They are not that expensive and are lighter and easier to clean than traditional vacuum flasks.


Admirable efforts all round @wavechange. I consider myself to be extremely green-conscious but my eco-endeavours pale in comparison. I now bring my reusable, metal WaterAid flask I bought at Glastonbury a couple of years ago into work with me everyday to dissuade myself grabbing a plastic cup every morning.

I would love to be able to make my own soups and other meals that would normally use a lot of packaging. It’s just a shame that all of the ingredients for these big meals normally come wrapped in a lot of packaging themselves.

Philippa says:
22 April 2017

I do make my own soups especially in the winter and since the large plastic pots that ready-made soups come in usually take two portions and recipes usually make four I have recently been reusing a pot to put the remainder in and often freeze it allowing us extra time to eat it in.
Some of the pots have peel off labels. You get to know which soups you are going to be bothered to make. The easiest store-cupboard one I think is with a chopped onion, carrot and stick of celery softened in a little oil with a tsp of ground cumin and tsp ground coriander. Add half a cup of red lentils and about 1 litre stock made from cube or powder and cook for about 20 min. Add more water if necessary.

I now always use a slow cooker to put the carcase in to make stock when we have had a roast chicken. This stock can then be frozen for soup when anyone has a cold (proven to help) or used in fried rice using leftover meat. We always manage at least three meals from a roast chicken. Too much meat left over then freeze some – don’t just keep on eating it until you are sick of the sight of it!

We are lucky that we can recycle all our plastic pots and tubs although we prefer to dramatically reduce the number we use. It is the plastic film that we find irritating. A lot of this can be taken to the larger supermarkets to recycle with the carrier bags – and it says this on the packaging but has NEVER EVER said this on the carrier bag recycling banks! Also not enough of the supermarket packaging film is marked up like this. “Check local recycling” is exasperating and we need to call on the supermarkets not only to update their packaging but to make it recyclable. If it doesn’ t get there it doesn’t but at least there is the option.

mervyn mc kay says:
18 June 2017

would everyone look at the bigger picture we are destroying the planet/ we are creating materials that will eventually suffocate the planet all the man made fibres and chemical clothing will suffocate the earth killing all life on this beautifull earth already there are billions of tons of this product poisioning our sea just for clothes that and bags to carry these material on to our land/our rivers and our seas .

Graham says:
17 April 2017

Whilst I agree that cutting down on use of plastic and using more recycled plastics would be an all round good idea – surely the original research is a little misleading – “7% of throwaway plastic bottles are made from recycled materials” – but of the 100% of bottles made, how many are then recycled into other products?

The plastic continents growing in all the major bodies of water suggest much much much more can be done, but all Greenpeace have really done is point of that soft drink bottles are not made from recycled material.


I always keep a supply of long-life milk in case I run out of fresh and I am not well enough to visit the local store, which is sold in cardboard con