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Who is responsible for reducing our plastic waste?

Plastic waste

Last week, China introduced a ban on importing plastic waste and debates kicked off on a proposed ‘latte levy’ to cut coffee cup waste. Guest author, Hannah, joins us here on Which? Convo as she ponders whether it’s time we took a bit more responsibility for our own waste?

Today was my recycling day and I diligently put out our waste. Admittedly, there was more than usual thanks to the Christmas excesses, but as ever, my mind turned to how to consume less plastic as I squashed it all into the green bin.

Waste in the UK

Last week, China introduced its ban on importing plastic waste, meaning the UK can no longer ship its recycling to China. We’ve been sending an incredible 500,000 tonnes of plastic for recycling to China every year – that’s more than a quarter of all our plastics – but now the trade has been stopped.

So, what are we going to with it all? It’s no shock to hear the UK Recycling Association saying that the UK cannot deal with that much waste. And Recoup, an organisation which recycles plastics, says China’s imports ban could lead to stock-piling of plastic waste and incineration and landfill.

And according to a report published on Friday, in the UK we use and throw away around 2.5 billion takeaway coffee cups. Using these non-recyclable coffee cups produces around 30,000 tonnes of waste every year. Some MPs are now calling for 25p ‘latte levy’ on takeaway coffee cups to cut waste.

If you watched Blue Planet II recently it was hard not to be concerned about our passion for plastic, as David Attenborough explained how marine life is being affected. Greenpeace estimates that 12.7 million tonnes of plastic ends up in our oceans each year, killing marine life, threatening ecosystems and contaminating the fish we eat.

Recycling has hit a low point

Last April, I wrote here on Which? Conversation about how few throwaway plastic bottles are made from recycled materials – just 7%, according to a Greenpeace report.

And, the news of China’s importing ban on plastic waste comes at a time when UK recycling rates have flatlined for five years – Keep Britain Tidy says that rates dropped to 44% in 2016. Now that we‘ve lost our ability to recycle much of our plastic in China, the knock-on effect on our recycling rates could be disastrous.

Solving the plastic problem

In November, the Chancellor announced that the government is considering taxing single-use containers, following a four-week consultation on bringing back deposit return schemes for bottles. The idea has been backed by retailers, including Co-op and Iceland.

I like this idea as it puts responsibility on both the retailer and the consumer, plus it’s been proven to work in other countries. In the UK, just 57% of all plastic bottles are collected for recycling, compared with up to 90% in countries that have deposit return schemes.

But I also believe in taking more personal responsibility and this year I’ve made it my resolution to consume less plastic. Here are a few ways that I have started:

  1. 1. Using tubs instead of plastic wrap to store food in the fridge and special ‘bento’ boxes for the children’s packed lunches
  2. 2. I got a Sodastream fizzy water maker for Christmas so I don’t have to buy bottled fizzy water – I would highly recommend this to fizzy water lovers!
  3. 3. No more plastic packets of ready-sliced cheeses – my new cheese slice creates the same thin slices for sandwiches
  4. 4. Buying loose fruit and veg instead of ready-packaged produce in plastic trays – and reusing the small plastic bags from my local fruit and veg shop
  5. 5. Taking a reusable coffee cup to cafés when buying a takeaway coffee.

Have you made any small changes like this to try to reduce your plastic consumption? How much personal responsibility do you think we should take and how much should be placed on the government and industry to make major changes? Do you think a plastic deposit-return scheme could help reduce waste?

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

David Robs says:
23 February 2018

I believe the way to tackle waste is to drastically reduce the amount of packaging and put the emphasis on the packaging producer to recycle the waste.
All manufacturers should increase their product prices but also have a returns policy to recoup the additional cost of the initial purchase.
All returned waste would benefit from the refund (similar to the old Corona Man’s pop bottles – http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/waleshistory/2012/06/story_of_corona_pop.html ) and the waste product returned for the manufacture to reuse/recycle or dispose of.
It would also be much easier to police large manufacturers in their recycling and waste management.

Mark Downing says:
26 February 2018

Which? ought to find a sustainable alternative to the polyethylene wrappers in which it mails out its magazines. Apparently these can be recycled via the carrier bag recycling bins in major supermarkets, but not via kerbside collections. But I’ll bet the vast majority of wrappers just get binned.


Hi Mark, they can be recycled via the carrier bag recycling bins. The Which? editor is committed to looking into alternative packaging for our magazine and as a Which? member you can also view the magazine on the website, under My Account, so if you want to go online-only there is also that option.


Just watched the end of an item on supermarket plastic wrapping on the news.

According to the interviewee, veg is multi-packed because of pressure from the consumer. Suppliers say they can save the supermarket money by not wrapping veg.

I think the interviewee was wrong and the pressure comes from the supermarket to multi-wrap veg so they can sell more of a product. It is also a way for supermarkets to make sure they sell all their veg and not just the sizes consumers want, e.g. potatoes, parsnips, carrots.

If I only want one of a product and can only buy a pack that I am not going to use, I don’t buy it and get something else or do without. If a pack of potatoes or parsnips contains sizes I would not use, I don’t buy them.

Good news of a supermarket in Amsterdam launching the world’s first plastic-free aisle though.


In our daily life, we can collect eps waste and no worries they are totally recyclable and healthy to our environment, PET Bottles Compactor Poseidon Series from GREENMAX
With the help of Poseidon, all you need to do is pulse-on the machine and then throw the PET bottles into the feed bins. Poseidon can do all the rest tasks automatically. The liquids are squeezed out while the bottles are compacted.
After process, 85%-95% of the liquids are extracted from the bottles and they are collected into a tank. Before draining out, they would be treated first in order to avoid water pollution. As for the compacting effect, the bottles’ volume ratio before and after compacting is around 6:1.


I get wood pellets delivered in LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene bags – like builders’ rubble sacks). This is identified as a category 4 plastic.
There’s nowhere at all to recycle it in quantity (I’ve got several years worth – probably about 200kg!).
Local council: nothing. County Council: nothing except incinerate it. No local recycling companies…
We need to pressure the government to insist ALL recyclable plastics ARE actually recyclable! Cat 4 is simple to make into new bags…


Maybe someone like Biffa would buy it if the quantity is sufficient? https://www.biffa.co.uk/about-us/operational-infrastructure/plastic-recycling/plastics-we-buy/
It should be made mandatory for all councils to deal with recyclable plastics. If they cannot process it themselves they should pass it on to those who can.


I am saddened to see this report about artificial grass: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2018/08/artificial-grass-the-best-way-to-a-green-lawn-in-the-drought/

Plastic microbeads have been banned and the public has been made aware of plastics pollution of our oceans thanks to Blue Planet. Which? has focused on the problems created by single-use plastic bottles and plastic food packaging. Despite publicity about the the effect of artificial grass on the environment, neither the article above or the Which? tests on these products mentions the risk to the environment of plastics that can fragment but will not biodegrade.

Here is a link explaining some of the problems: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jul/04/growth-in-artificial-lawns-poses-threat-to-british-wildlife-conservationists-warn

Earlier today I complimented Which? for raising awareness about environmental matters.