Plastic recycling crisis as first council plans to tell households to bin plastic


Published on The Telegraph website on the 18th October 2018
Story by Katie Morley, Consumer Affairs Editor


The first council in the UK has said it is planning to tell residents to stop recycling mixed plastic, sparking fears that years of progress on reducing black bag waste is on the verge of going into reverse.

It comes as the Environment Agency is understood to be investigating the plastics recycling industry over claims that millions of tonnes of plastic is never actually recycled, meaning consumers may have been wasting time separating plastic waste.

Plastic recycling waste has been building up in the UK since China stopped importing it last year, with the situation now so bad that councils have now started cutting plastic recycling services.

Swindon has said it wants households to put mixed plastic items, such as yogurt pots and plastic trays, in the bin with regular waste.

Instead of recycling it is proposing to incinerate it along with other household rubbish. The Environment Agency is said to be investigating claims that plastic meant for recycling is being left to leak into rivers and oceans.

The problem has led to Basingstoke Borough Council taking the decision yesterday to close all 29 of its mixed plastic “bring banks”.

And in Southampton, plastic left over in the bins will be removed in the next two weeks and incinerated to generate energy for the National Grid.

Geoff Quayle, sales director of Printwaste Recycling and Shredding which provides 19 banks to Southampton City Council and 29 to Basingstoke and Dean as well as other local authorities, said the company has already stockpiled around 40 tonnes of plastic since July.

In numbers | Plastic in the sea

300 million – tons of plastic produced globally each year

12 per cent – amount of plastic which is recycled

Five trillion – pieces of microplastic in ocean, with one rubbish truck load added each minute

11,000 – pieces of microplastic ingested by humans each year from seafood

780,000 – microplastics humans will ingest by the end of the century if trends continue

8.5 billion – plastic bags used in English supermarkets annually before 5p charge

6 billion – estimated bags removed from circulation annually at last count, an 80 per cent reduction.

12 minutes – useful lifespan of average plastic bag


Historically contractors had processed used plastic before selling it on to buyers who would recycle it into a new product. However they are now finding it impossible to find buyers to do this.

Mary Creagh, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee of MPs, warned that asking people to stop recycling could cause years of recycling progress to be undone.

She said: “Recycling rates have flatlined over the past three years but the Government ignored these early warning signs that progress was stalling and households were confused. Instead they sat and twiddled thumbs. Once people lose their good habits it’s very hard to get them back.”

The revelations will put the Environment Minister, Micheal Gove, under further pressure to use a recycling review expected to be published in the coming weeks to radically overhaul the system.   

Julian Kirby, plastics campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “We can’t burn our way out of the plastic pollution crisis.

“Incinerators belch polluting, poisonous fumes and ash into the atmosphere. “The ultimate solution is to avoid the use of unnecessary plastics in the first place. This is why we’re campaigning for legislation to end the use of all but the most essential plastics.”

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