Plastic pollution on a beach

Plastic problem: why we need government action

Plastic is almost inescapable. Asking people to avoid plastic just isn’t realistic unless we get tough on the companies producing it.
  Published:  11 Apr 2019    |      Last updated:  05 Sep 2022    |      3 minute read

Plastic pollution is suffocating the planet. Nowhere is immune.

It’s been found in the highest mountains and deepest oceans. We’ve even discovered tiny plastic waste in Britain's most iconic and remote rivers, lakes and reservoirs – including the seemingly crystal-clear waters of the Lake District.

Who is affected by plastic pollution?

Scientists have found plastic in air, drinking water, seafood and human stools. As well as the health concerns, wildlife can become entangled in it or end up ingesting it.

Plastic hangs around in the environment for at least hundreds of years. It doesn’t disappear, it just breaks down into tiny pieces that continue to pollute our lives.

Underwater image of plastic pollution in the ocean
Plastic pollution in the ocean
Credit: istock

And one study has now revealed that plastics degrading in our oceans are releasing methane – a potent greenhouse gas.

Avoiding it is more difficult than it sounds. It’s in so many of the everyday things we buy. In a lot of cases it’s hidden from plain sight, lurking in everything from teabags and beer caps, to clothes and cosmetics.

Solving the plastic problem

We can all do our bit to reduce the plastic we use. But with the amount of plastic produced set to grow by 40% over the next decade, our individual efforts will never be enough to solve the problem. We need government action.

The government has made some encouraging pledges to act on things like cotton buds and straws. But to tackle all the many sources of plastic pollution, we need legislation that commits the government to phasing it out.

We're not suggesting an outright ban on plastics. Some plastics are essential or hard to replace – getting rid of them could lead to worse social and environmental outcomes.

Equally, as the coronavirus has shown us, personal protective equipment made from plastic can play a huge role in protecting our healthcare professionals and saving lives. But we must not allow unnecessary single-use plastics, like single-use coffee cups, to become the norm.

Part of the process will involve identifying essential plastics and eradicating all the rest.

Examples of everyday plastic waste in our lives including disposable coffee cups and food packaging
Plastic has become an inescapable part of modern-day life.
Credit: Friends of the Earth


The Plastic Pollution Bill

Together with our partners in the Women’s Institute, Surfers Against Sewage, Keep Britain Tidy, Tearfund and many others, we're pushing a piece of legislation called the Plastic Pollution Bill. 

The bill is based on the Climate Change Act, won with the help of our supporters, and it commits this and future governments to stopping the flow of plastic into our waterways and oceans. It outlines the best way not just to set targets for the government, but offers guidance on how to meet those targets. The bill calls for a phase out of plastic pollution where possible and encourages "reduce and reuse" as an alternative to our throw-away economy. 

Support for the bill

Members of Parliament from across the political spectrum back our call for legislation, with many of them putting pressure on the government and championing the bill to help it on its way to becoming law. Over 20 MPs came on board after meeting up with one of our local groups.

David Lammy, MP for Tottenham, holding a banner up with Quentin Given, Tottenham and Wood Green Friends of the Earth. The banner declares David's support for a plastics law to phase out non-essential plastics
David Lammy, MP for Tottenham, and Quentin Given of Tottenham and Wood Green Friends of the Earth
Credit: Friends of the Earth

Our MP champions include Alastair Carmichael MP who tabled the Plastic Pollution Bill, and eight co-sponsors from across the main parties: Ben Lake, Caroline Lucas, Chris Loder, Geraint Davies, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Matthew Offord, Stephen Timms and Wera Hobhouse. 

A wide range of Non-Governmental Organisations also support the bill:

Companies Abel & ColeAlex Monroe, House of HackneyKeepCupNeal’s Yard, and Toast Ale have pledged their support, as have the Mayors of Greater Manchester and Hackney, Hindu Council UK, and the Muslim Council of Britain

Securing a new plastics law

The Environment Bill currently passing through Parliament is a key opportunity for the UK government to introduce a new law that will tackle the plastics crisis.

Legally-binding targets for cutting plastic pollution must be set before it’s too late. That's why we've joined up with a diverse coalition of businesses and organisations to write a letter asking the prime minister to do just that. Read the joint letter and find out who supports our call.