A discarded plastic bottle floating beneath the surface in clear blue water

Experts from the University of Birmingham, together with specialists from across different plastics sectors have collaborated on a series of recommendations which calls on Government to take the initiative on finding solutions to the plastics problem.

Their recommendations are published today [Monday 18 March 2024] in a Policy Commission report, The Sustainable Plastics Policy Commission: Key findings for the UK government, launched at the Houses of Parliament by Commission Chair, Baroness Molly Meacher.

Speaking at the launch, Baroness Meacher said: “Plastics are an important resource that we cannot simply dispense with, but we must address the effects of plastic pollution. Our Government is absolutely key to ensuring that we can retain the value of plastics and extend their life through changes to the making and management of these products.”

Our Government is absolutely key to ensuring that we can retain the value of plastics and extend their life through changes to the making and management of these products.

Baroness Molly Meacher, Chair, Sustainable Plastics Policy Commission

The recommendations contained within the report include revalorising plastic ‘waste’ to support green growth and incentivise the emergence of next generation plastics production and recycling technologies. The report also shows that there is a significant opportunity for the UK to invest in chemical recycling to meet the demand for circular products, generating new job opportunities, and keeping plastic in the economy for longer.

Other recommendations included:

  • Harnessing tax systems to promote sustainable decisions and create a ‘demand’ pull for sustainable options.
  • Setting targets and incentives to reduce waste incineration and landfilling
  • Ensuring closer regulation of compostable and biodegradable plastics, including stronger oversight of marketing claims
  • Encouraging best practices in public sector procurement, including protocols on plastics life cycle assessments.
  • Incentives for waste management bodies to recirculate plastics, fostering the growth of new production and recycling technologies.
  • Investment in robust evidence on the human and environmental harms caused by plastics
  • Establishment of a national sustainable plastics innovation research centre to drive innovation and encourage long-term, ambitious thinking.

Professor Fern Elsdon-Baker, Director of the Institute for STEMM in Culture and Society at the University of Birmingham, said: “Our research shows that plastic pollution is among the most significant concerns to the public. We need our policymakers to reflect that concern in their decision-making and ensure we do not lag behind other EU countries in areas such as taxation on non-recycled, single-use plastics, and in identifying and restricting key hazardous chemicals.”

Andrew Dove, Professor of Sustainable Polymer Chemistry at the University of Birmingham, said: “Our report shows where progress is being made: the UK’s plastic packaging tax, introduced in 2022, for example, targets plastic packaging with less than 30 per cent recycled plastic, and the Government is due to implement an Extended Producer Responsibility scheme later this year. We need to build on this momentum and take advantage of the best examples set by other countries, as well as the research and innovation available across academia and industry.”

Baroness Meacher added: “We must now take steps to implement solutions which enhance our economy, protect our people and environment, and place the UK as leaders in plastics management.”