Solving the plastic problem

A circular economy for all materials


Plastic pollution is a problem, but it’s critical to ensure solutions do not create new environmental issues in future.

Ironically, plastic was invented to solve an environmental problem in the 19th century (the threat of extinction of elephants, hunted for ivory), but plastic pollution is now a scourge of modern society. The public wants action and governments and businesses are taking it.

But addressing plastic separately from other materials and one product at a time, like bans on plastic straws, treats the symptom instead of the cause, which is throwaway lifestyle. Until this is tackled, we will not solve the problem and we are in danger of creating other potentially serious environmental issues.

As part of our work with our Circular Economy Task Force, we are harnessing the public and political interest in solving plastic pollution to shape the future of UK resource use, for both plastics and other high impact materials.

We are aware that [by switching from plastic to other materials] we may, in some cases, be increasing our carbon footprint.

Supermarket representative, quoted in 'Plastic promises' (January 2020)

How to stop plastic waste getting into the sea

Our  infographic shows that plastic marine litter from the UK could be reduced by nearly two thirds with five simple actions. The single most effective action would be to implement a deposit return scheme, stopping a third of plastic going into the oceans. This is important considering the largest proportion (33 per cent) of plastic litter comes from plastic bottles.

Deposit return schemes are already widely and successfully implemented abroad (nearly 100 per cent of plastic bottles are returned for recycling in Germany). They also maintain high quality plastics for recycling, preventing them from going to landfill, incineration or into the environment.

Tackling throwaway lifestyles

In 2020, with our Circular Economy Task Force (CETF), we produced a number of reports looking how to prevent plastic pollution while avoiding new environmental problems in future.

Influencing the agenda

Our work generated new political momentum to find solutions to plastic pollution and tackle throwaway lifestyles.


We’re grateful to the members of the Circular Economy Task Force for supporting this work.

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