Here’s a suggestion: Boris Johnson. He should be cautious about talking rubbish. Or he could end up destroying his own policies and causing anger among the British people.

This was what happened this week. The Prime Minister stated, during a discussion regarding plastic waste, that recycling he ‘doesn’t work’.

His insensitive comments will anger millions upon millions of Britons, who diligently sort and place out their garbage for reprocessing. His Government, like many before it, has told them that recycling benefits the environment.

It also undermined a number of policies that successive Conservative governments have implemented to combat plastic waste after a sustained campaign by this newspaper.

Here's a suggestion for Boris Johnson. He should be wary of talking rubbish. Or he may end up trashing his own policies and infuriating the British people. That's what happened this week, when the Prime Minister announced, during a discussion on plastic waste, that recycling 'doesn't work'

Here’s a suggestion: Boris Johnson. He should be cautious about talking rubbish. Or he could end up destroying his own policies and causing anger among the British people. This is exactly what happened this week when the Prime Minister declared, during a discussion about plastic waste, that recycling “doesn’t work”. 

And such words only increase confusion and disillusionment with the public’s previous mixed Government messaging.

Mr Johnson made the gaffe at Monday’s Downing Street press conference for children. Olivia Devaney, a Northern Irish woman, told Johnson that she made sure to drink from a reusable water bottle and that her family used plastic-free toothbrushes.

She asked, “What can we do to reduce plastic use in business and people?”


He retorted, “Recycling isn’t the solution,” and banged the table to emphasize his point. ‘I have to be honest with myself; you’re going to hate this. It doesn’t address the problem. Plastic can only really be recycled a few times.

Stop the production of plastic. Stop using plastic. The recycling argument is a ruse. . . We all have to reduce our use of plastic.

World Wide Fund For Nature UK chief executive Tanya Steele — who was fielding questions with Boris —responded: ‘I do think we need to do a little bit of recycling, PM,’ but he just doubled down.

He insisted that ‘it doesn’t work’. “I don’t want to be doctrinaire on this, but if people think they can just recycling their way out, we’ll be making a huge wrong.

Simon Ellin, chief executive officer of the Recycling Association, later stated that Johnson had ‘completely lost’ the plastic plot, while No. 10 had to insist that the PM was still encouraging people to recycle.

Mr Johnson's cavalier comments will have angered millions of Britons who dutifully sort and put out their garbage for reprocessing because his Government, and many before it, have told them that recycling benefits the planet. Above: Boris Johnson alongside WWF UK's Tanya Steele at Downing Street yesterday

Millions of Britons will be offended by Mr Johnson’s abrasive comments. They have been diligent in sorting and putting out their garbage for recycling since his Government and many others before it told them that recycling is good for the planet. Above: Boris Johnson and Tanya Steele, WWF UK, at Downing Street yesterday

The former climate skeptic, who is now bidding to become our greenest premier, is correct in some ways. It is better to not produce plastic than to have it recycled: The Mail has long stated that we need to reduce its use.

Johnson’s absolutism is closer than most environmentalists to activists like Insulate Britain. It is bound to alienate people.

The British household recycles at an average of 87 percent, with 91 percent of adults saying that this should increase.

Not only that, they know that in parts of the country they can be fined up to £1,000 merely for putting their rubbish for recycling in the wrong bin.

Many will remember that the PM dismissed their efforts and remind them that they were exhorted not too long ago to buy diesel cars as they were more environmentally-friendly, only to find the opposite.

Johnson’s reckless intervention on these matters will not improve his Government’s credibility. He is also wrong.

Plastics will not disappear overnight, at least for a while. They are too common and too useful.

Their use has soared twenty-fold over the last 50 years and we now produce over 380 million tons — weighing more than the entire human population of the world — every year.

Many of the resulting trash pollutes the beaches, countryside and towns around the world. 

Every minute of every day, the equivalent to a truckload reaches oceans, where it kills at most 100,000 mammals and a quarter of a million birds annually.

Recycled plastic has been less than a tenth, and less than one hundredth of all plastics ever produced.

Britain produces more than any other country, producing more than five millions tonnes annually. 

Enough to fill Wembley Stadium six-times. It is estimated that 17% of the waste ends up in landfills, and 46% goes into incineration. Ministers say that the rest can be recycled. This is garbage.


In fact more than half of what remains, some 19 per cent, is exported overseas, ostensibly to be recycled, but — scandalously — often to be dumped, polluting land and waterways and endangering health. 

Only 18% of the UK’s waste is actually recycled.

Worse, the National Audit Office has reported the total amount of packaging recycled in Britain ‘remained steady’ for 16 years between 2002 and 2018 — while the amount exported soared sixfold.

We don’t even use all 16 of the plastic recycling facilities. They can handle 440,000 tons of waste, but only 230,000 tonnes. 

Yes, we need to wean ourselves off plastic, but the reality is that we desperately need to recycle more, not — as Mr Johnson suggests — less.

He is right that recycling is not an option. Plastic, unlike other recyclables is degraded in the process and there isn’t enough demand for the final product.

We must focus on cutting single-use plastic in half by 2025 — something supermarkets such as Aldi and Sainsbury’s have already undertaken.

It is evident that there is support, with more than 85 percent of Britons requesting that retailers reduce packaging.

The Mail has long pressed for such a sensible and balanced approach. 

It started by fighting plastic bags. The Government introduced a 5p charge six years ago (since increased to 10p for carriers in England), and the number has dropped to billions of pounds per year.


The Government banned plastic straws, straws and cotton buds as the Mail campaign continued.

Ministers also proposed a tax to plastic packaging and a scheme that would deposit plastic bottles and other drink containers (though this was postponed until at least 2024).

In contrast, the amount of plastic waste that goes to landfill has fallen by half while the amount that is recycled more than doubles. 

Mr Ellin, a confused member of the Recycling Association, pointed out that Boris Johnson’s Government has produced ‘the best ground-breaking legislation and plan we’ve ever witnessed, with recycling right in the forefront of it’.

This makes the Prime Minister’s outburst of anger this week even more bizarre, if not completely untypical. 

He must guard his tongue. This will be even more crucial at the COP26 summit on climate change, which opens this weekend.

It is difficult to reach a complex agreement between nearly 200 countries. It requires great diplomacy and tact. According to him, such an agreement is now ‘touch and gone’.

The 2009 Copenhagen climate summit was largely a failure because the Danish prime minister was not well prepared, didn’t understand its complicated (and often sclerotic!) procedures, and had little diplomatic skill. 

He was eventually humiliated when he had to get up and leave the chair before a satisfactory, patched-up conclusion could even be reached.

If Mr Johnson doesn’t want history to repeat itself he must learn some tact — and, above all — avoid launching into one of his dazzling, often counter-productive rhetorical turns.