UK needs urgent action on plastic bottle waste, says new report by committee of MPs

Richard Harrington By: Richard Harrington
Date posted: 22 December 2017

MCS welcomes today’s report by the Environmental Audit Committee, which calls for a UK-wide bottle deposit return system and other measures to reduce the number of plastic bottles being used, wasted and getting into the environment.

Plastic bottles
© Patrick Joel / Marine Conservation Society

Plastic drinks bottles, along with caps, lids and other plastic on-the-go drink and food waste items, consistently feature in the top ten of litter types strewn on UK beaches, and account for up to 20% of all rubbish found in Marine Conservation Society beach cleans and surveys.

Dr Laura Foster, MCS Head of Clean Seas, says “We wholeheartedly support the findings of the Committee. UK consumers use 13 billion plastic bottles each year. These are generally used just once and thrown away - a deposit return system, coupled with increasing access to free drinking water, and an effective system to discourage waste and encourage good packaging designs, would reduce this growing plastic tide.”

The Marine Conservation Society says that support for a deposit return system is high. 73% of the British public, questioned in a YouGov poll for MCS, support the introduction of deposit return systems across the UK for single-use drinks bottles (plastic and glass) and cans. That’s almost 3 out of 4 people, with most support coming from those aged over 45 years.

The report says that the UK’s rate of recycling for plastic bottles has stalled for the past five years, while bottle consumption has risen, and that the UK urgently needs to stop bottles being littered or landfilled. The Committee, made up of MPs, is calling on the Government to introduce a Deposit Return Scheme for plastic drinks bottles with the aim of boosting the recycling rate to 90%.

MCS says the system needs to operate across the United Kingdom in one harmonised system, with Scottish Government already committed to a timescale in implementing a deposit return system.

As well as recommending a bottle deposit return system, the Environmental Audit Committee report, ‘Plastic Bottles: Turning Back the Plastic Tide’, calls on the Government to:

The Marine Conservation Society backs all of the recommendations in the report, and has long demanded attention be given to supply chain and product design so that items are designed to be repaired, reused and then, at end-of-life, easily recycled. MCS has also called for a minimum recycled content in plastic products, and a producer responsibility system where the producers and consumers pay the full costs of the collection and disposal of products.

At present, taxpayers bear the brunt - around 90% - of costs to deal with waste plastic. Manufacturers and suppliers only contribute 10% of the cost of disposal and recycling. Dr Laura Foster says, “We must see producers’ contribution to waste disposal represent the full cost of the disposal, and incentivise good design to ensure ease of recyclability”.

On water fountains, in a survey conducted by Yougov and commissioned by MCS, over half of all respondents said they would be likely to make use of water refill stations at shopping centres (54%) and outdoor recreation spaces (53%), closely followed by train and bus stations (48%), supermarkets (47%), cafes/restaurants (46%) and service stations (43%) if they were available.

MCS is calling for a wide programme of action on plastics for Government and industry, detailed at

Note: All figures referring to YouGov surveys are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2137 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 7th-8th August 2017. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18).

MCS is currently calling on UK governments to put a charge on single-use plastic throwaway items and demanding that big fast food chains stop giving out millions of plastic cups, stirrers, straws and cutlery but instead replace them with reusable or fully compostable alternatives.

Actions you can take

  1. Download the Great British Beach Clean Report 2019
  2. Learn about Deposit Return Systems
  3. Survey showing public support
  4. Join the Plastic Challenge
  5. Report your #wildbottlesighting using our form
  6. See our map of reported bottle sightings
  7. Help stop the plastic tide
  8. Take your own reusable bottle out and about

Did you know?…

It’s estimated that one rubbish truck load of plastic litter enters the ocean every minute

Plastic has been found in the stomachs of almost all marine species including fish, birds, whales, dolphins, seals and turtles

To date, our beach cleans have removed over 11 million pieces of litter