Skip to content
Northern Powerhouse European Union

Plastics in the spotlight

With MPs set to probe the impact of disposable plastics on the environment, many leading companies are beginning to introduce takeback measures for plastic waste or seek sustainable alternatives.

With MPs set to probe the impact of disposable plastics on the environment, many leading companies are beginning to introduce takeback measures for plastic waste or seek sustainable alternatives.

Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has launched an inquiry into the damage caused specifically by disposable drinks packaging, focusing on plastic bottles and coffee cups. 

The inquiry will explore what actions are being undertaken by industry and government to reduce waste and what new measures could be put in place.

The announcement comes after increasing attention on plastic pollution worldwide – with recent research estimating that there could be more plastics than fish in the ocean by 2050.

UK debate

Less than a quarter of the 2.2 million tonnes of plastic used in the UK in 2014 was recycled.

Although consumer behaviour is a key barrier to progress, industry has also come under fire for not doing enough to improve the situation

In January, waste firm SUEZ called for packaging producers to be taxed on a sliding scale according to the amount of recyclable and non-recyclable materials they use in their products.

MPs are now looking at future options.

Mary Creagh MP, chair of the EAC, said: “Our throwaway society has given use a tide of litter on our beaches, dead seabirds and fish, and plastic in our food. Our inquiry will be taking a serious look at solutions like the use of different materials, behaviour change, better recycling and bottle deposit return schemes.

Industry leaders

Companies starting to take action include Coca-Cola, which has announced that it is in favour of working with the Scottish government to set up a bottle deposit return scheme, a measure it had previously resisted. As part of the scheme, consumers will pay a small surcharge on a drinks bottle or can, which is repaid when the empty packaging is returned to a collection point.

Meanwhile, food companies Danone and Nestle Group have teamed up to develop and commercialise 100 per cent bio-based plastic bottles, incorporating biomass materials such as sawdust, wood chips, rice hulls, straw and agricultural residue. 

The joint project aims to bring 95 per cent bio-based bottles onto the food and drinks market as early as 2020.

Coca-Cola, Amcor, Danone, MARS, and Unilever are also among the major companies that have backed an action plan to increase the global recycling of plastic packaging by five times the current rate.