Last reviewed 26 October 2021

Boris Johnson’s comments to a group of young children that recycling plastic materials “doesn’t work” has sparked a furious row with the recycling industry.

The Prime Minister was answering questions from an audience of 8 to 12-year-olds at a special event organised by Downing Street ahead of the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow.

When asked about plastic waste he said reusing plastics "doesn't begin to address the problem". Adding, “you can only recycle plastic a couple of times, really. What you've got to do is stop the production of plastic”.

Johnson then went on to berate Coca-Cola for being among 12 big corporations "that are producing the overwhelming bulk of the world's plastics".

In response, Coca-Cola said all its smaller bottles in Great Britain were made from 100% recycled plastic.

A Coca-Cola company spokesman said: “As the world’s biggest beverage company, we have a responsibility to help solve it. We believe circular recycling solutions are imperative in creating a path to keep plastic out of our natural environments for good.”

Tanya Steele, WWF UK's Chief Executive, who appeared alongside Johnson said: “We have to reduce, we have to reuse – I do think we need to do a little bit of recycling, PM, and have some system to do so.”

The Recycling Association said the PM had "completely lost the plastic plot". The association's Simon Ellin told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme yesterday that Mr Johnson's comments were "very disappointing" and seemed to conflict with government policy.

The government’s own Waste Strategy contains five strategic ambitions to double resource productivity and work towards ensuring all plastic packaging placed on the market is recyclable, reusable or compostable and to eliminate avoidable waste of all kinds.

Phil Sutton, Founder of Polytag, a start-up which has invested heavily in technology to enable digital deposit return schemes to increase plastics recycling, told Circular magazine: “The Prime Minister’s comments are strangely timed and conflict with other messages coming from government.” Defra is currently consulting on the roll out of deposit return schemes and extended producer responsibility programmes, and ultimately, are looking for businesses to invest billions to help increase the recycling rate and reduce emissions.

In an attempt to down-play the Prime Minister’s remarks, a Downing Street spokesperson said that his comments did not mean he disagreed with recycling, explaining: “The prime minister was setting out that recycling alone is not the answer. We’re taking a wide range of action across society to cut plastic pollution.”