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The plastics industry is very active in helping to understand and reduce litter. It works with a variety of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and charities to educate and change behaviour. These initiatives need to be complemented by government enforcement of anti-litter legislation.

Below is a list of work being undertaken by the plastics industry in the UK. There are hundreds of projects the industry is involved in across the world. You can find out more about global action at


Tackling marine litter: an Upstream Battle


The British Plastics Federation are pleased to be a supporting partner of Upstream battle a new campaign launched this week. Upstream Battle is Keep Scotland Beautiful’s ambitious new campaign to change behaviour and prevent marine litter at source. It’s run in partnership with RECOUP.

Focused on the entire length of the River Clyde and its tributaries, the campaign will raise awareness, gather evidence and inspire action. Connecting communities, individuals, schools, and the private and public sectors, everyone has a part to play in keeping the Clyde clean and protecting our seas.

Launched in response to the huge public and political concern around marine litter, the campaign will bring the issue upstream to the communities who have the power to make a difference. With 80% of litter in the sea starting life on land, the campaign will help people to understand how litter gets into the marine environment in the first place and how they can prevent it from getting there in future.

To get involved click here



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UK’s biggest collaborative push to improve recycling on-the-go launches


#LeedsByExample campaign backed by industry giants has ambition of nationwide roll-out


The British Plastics Federation together with Alupro, Asda, Association of Convenience Stores, Ball Beverage Packaging Europe, Bunzl, Coca-Cola GB, Costa, Co-op, Crown Packaging, Danone, Ecosurety, Highland Spring, Innocent, Klöckner Pentaplast (kp), Lucozade Ribena Suntory, Marks and Spencer, McDonald’s, Morrisons, PepsiCo, Pret, Starbucks and Shell are supporting a new innovative on the go trial hosted by the charity Hubbub. The trial will run for six months and commences with a launch in Leeds on October 9th 2018.


On the go recycling poses one of the biggest challenges for the packaging industry, with 85% of all packaging used on the go placed in general waste bins or worse littered.  Studies have shown that recycling rates for packaging used on the go only reach low single figures and recycling bins where provided are often highly contaminated with general waste and for this reason action is needed.

Only 42% of local authorities provide recycling for packaging used on the go and the trial will be used to highlight the need to use recycling bins while at the same time encouraging the general public not to contaminate recycling bins with general non-recyclable waste.

The initiative will also be used to trial a new OPRL app to help identify the nearest recycling points to make it easier for the general public to recycle. At the same time, it will provide extra recycling bins in Leeds city centre to ensure as much waste gets collected and recycled as possible. The project will involve recycling points located on the streets, in shopping centres, transport hubs and offices.

You can follow the trial at #LeedsByExample

For further information click here



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For Fish's Sake #FFSLDN

To prevent litter entering our marine environment, the UK plastics industry has supported an innovative behaviour change campaign from Hubbub. For Fish's Sake launched in May 2017 and focuses on the River Thames, London. The campaign aims to help people understand the connection between littering on the land and pollution in our waterways in a playful creative way. It also works to build a sense of community around the Thames and reduce the desire to litter. For Fish's Sake's interventions include ballot rubbish bins, grate art and a cabinet of curiosities. The aim is to create a replicable model for other waterways and expand nationally.

Learn more about  For Fish’s Sake 

View the creative interventions

Ballot bin for litter asking people to vote with litter - best side of the river? north or south?
Children doing science experiment, busen burners, beaker, protective glasses pipette

CSI: Litter Challenge: The plastics industry worked with the Marine Conservation Society on CSI: Litter Challenge. This was a project working with years 5-8 to teach them about why litter occurs and the impact it has. It also helped the children to see the value plastic has. Part of the project was for the students to develop their own litter campaign. The winning school developed a campaign aimed at secondary schools that encourages the students to use litter bins and recycle by using rewards. This campaign is now being developed and promoted to other secondary schools.

Marine Litter Action Network

The UK plastics industry and the MCS created the Marine Litter Action Network (MLAN), which the industry helped to fund. MLAN brings together people from a variety of organisations (NGOs, academics, decision makers) to take coordinated action on marine litter.

Two scuba divers swimming through water over coral
Packaging design changes

Designing out — where possible — components that may pose risks because of shape, form or colour can help reduce litter and aid recycling. One example is dispensing with parts that can become easily detached while the product is in use.  

Sometimes it is suggested that biodegradable materials could be a solution to plastic in the ocean. This seems unlikely with the current materials available, as these materials require specific circumstances to biodegrade, such as very high temperatures or UV light exposure, which are not met in the oceans. The UN also cautioned that using these materials may actually increase littering as consumers would assume that because these materials would breakdown over time it was acceptable to litter them.

Source: UNEP (2015) Biodegradable Plastics and Marine Litter. Misconceptions, concerns and impacts on marine environments. United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Nairobi.

Notebook, pen, phone, desk, keyboard
Items pulled out of The Thames Lodon - rollerskate, old toys, bike lock, phone, tootbrush, water pistol

#NeatStreets is another anti-littering campaign supported by the plastics industry which took place first in Villiers Street, London and then was rolled out to several other cities across the UK. The  project used innovative methods of behaviour change to challenge and change littering behaviour. Run by Hubbub, #NeatStreets drew on developing a sense of community and using targeted, evidence-based infrastructure such as interactive bins and cigarette ballot bins.

The cigarette ballot bin was designed specifically with engaging questions and two receptacles labelled with  different answers  to allow  smokers to 'vote with their butt'. These customisable bins have been replicated internationally and proven to cut cigarette litter by up to 46%.

#NeatStreets resulted in a 26% reduction of all litter in Villiers St and similar reductions in other cities and produced resources for other local communities to carry out similar projects.

Hubbub is now running workshops to teach local authorities how to deliver creative and impactful anti-litter campaigns. 100% of attendees have registered interest in running #NeatStreets locally.

Learn more about #NeatStreets

Image of ballot bin and items removed from the Thames courtesy of Hubbub and Photographer Lucy Young

Innovations in recycling

Part of preventing and removing litter from our environment involves having somewhere for it to go where it will make a valuable contribution to society. This can be done in several ways.

Mechanical recycling

Plastics can be recovered and recycled into a variety of items including:

  • Durable goods for our homes and businesses

  • Insulation to keep our homes dry and warm

  • Agricultural products to improve farming yields

  • Lightweight transport to reduce fuel consumption

Plastic packaging has no place in landfill nor in the environment and at present 45% of plastic packaging undergoes mechanical recycling in the UK.

The video below explains how plastic is recycled. 


Chemical recycling

It is not always economically or environmentally appropriate to mechanically recycle plastic. In some cases, chemical recycling may be the most appropriate option. Chemical recycling involves breaking plastic down into its constituent parts. The development of these technologies could soon mean that virtually all plastic can be recycled cost effectively.

Such technologies break down plastic into the fuel, wax or the building blocks of new plastic products. These technologies are becoming more and more compact and soon we may be able to be put a shipping container on a small island and recycle the plastic collected there. They can even handle plastic that has been removed from the ocean.

These technologies are under development — they need the support of government and investors to progress.

Learn more


Energy from Waste

If it is not economically sustainable to recycle something then it is always possible to recover the energy content through energy recovery. This is particularly true for plastics, as the calorific value of plastic packaging is significantly higher than coal.

Blue pieces of plastic chopped up for recycling
Winners Of Government Plastic Innovation Funding Announced

Dissolving seaweed sauce sachets and technology inspired by a suckerfish to remove plastics from rivers are among 11 innovative projects to win the backing of a £4m government fund to clean up the environment.

The competition is supported by the £20m plastic Research and Innovation Fund which was set up to build upon global leadership to fight plastic waste. 

Among the winners are Skipping Rocks Lab in London, whose state-of-the-art facility is working on a scheme which could make the sight of single-use condiment sachets on takeaway counters a thing of the past by replacing plastic packaging with seaweed. The material, which has successfully been used as an alternative to the plastic water bottle, biodegrades as fast as a piece of fruit and is cheaper than plastic.

Other successful companies to win government funding include:

  • Ichthion: Filters out plastic clogging up the UK’s waterways with a boat-mounted vacuum which mimics the way remora fish feed
  • Axion: Recycles plastics like car bumpers and motorcycle helmets, currently sent to landfill, and turns them into plastic pellets for moulding into new products such as bins or cables
  • Polymateria: Makes biodegradable plastic which lets you put packaging straight into the compost with your food waste.

Too find out more please click here.

Seaweed Strand
Plastic Polluted Ocean
Beach in Cornwall
Body scrub with microbeads smeared
Discontinuing the use of microbeads in wash off products

Microbeads in cosmetic products are being phased out from 2018 following a government consultation.


The plastics industry supported the desire to eliminate their use, where possible, because water treatment plants currently cannot remove these effectively and prevent them finding their way into the oceans.

Operation Clean Sweep®

Operation Clean Sweep® is an industry-led initiative to reduce plastic pellet loss to the environment. In the UK, it is run by the British Plastics Federation. Operation Clean Sweep® is designed to raise awareness of the issues caused by pellets/flakes/powders in the environment and also to provide best practice to companies to ensure they have the right systems in place to contain and clean up any pellets/flakes/powders which are spilt.


There are now over 90 companies signed up to Operation Clean Sweep. These members are from across the plastics industry and represent over 180 sites across the UK. These companies represent 44% of the tonnage of material processed in the UK.

The BPF has been working with the United States' Plastics Industry Association and PlasticsEurope, which run Operation Clean Sweep in their respective regions. This has allowed the sharing of resources and ideas about how to engage companies.

The BPF has also been working with Fidra and Fauna & Flora International, which are both engaged in preventing plastic pellets entering the marine environment. Both these NGOs are working to raise awareness and engage with companies to encourage them to sign up.

Some research has found that pellet concentration in some areas is actually decreasing despite a rise in plastic production, as this excerpt from PlasticsEurope Operation Clean Sweep® Report 2017 explains:

'Dutch scientist Jan van Franeker has been monitoring plastic particles in the gut contents of northern fulmars found along the Dutch coastline since the 1980s. A joint publication by Van Franeker and Law reported that pellet concentrations in the North Atlantic Ocean Gyre and in the guts of the northern fulmar have decreased by about 75 percent since the 1980s. Plastics production volume more than doubled from around 25 to 58 million tonnes in Europe during the same period. The downward trends in the quantity of plastics found in the gyre and in the gut contents of northern fulmars are most likely the result of a combination of increased consumer awareness, actions by industry and policy initiatives. However, industrial plastics are still found in rivers, on beaches, in the sea and in the bodies of animals around the world, and continued effort is needed in order to achieve “zero pellet loss”.'

Franeker, J. A. van, Law, K. L. (2015) Seabirds, gyres and global trends in plastic pollution. Environmental Pollution 203, 89-96.

Peak District National Park United Kingdom
Litter Strategy for England

The plastics industry was an enthusiastic contributor to the first ever Litter Strategy for England. The Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) Strategy recognises the importance of behaviour change, education and infrastructure and enforcement. It also proposes setting up several working groups to take the issue forward.

Read the litter strategy

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