Litter and pollution in the sea Mranaked

Single-use plastics

2 minute read

Our seas are facing climate and biodiversity crises, partly fuelled by the single-use plastic problem. We've got to switch to using more sustainable products, and UK governments need to do more to bring in legislation that bans single-use plastic being produced.

The problem

Our Beachwatch data shows thousands of single-use plastic items are found on our UK beaches each year. We've got to ditch our single-use addiction – we can't recycle our way out of the current plastics crisis, and we can't replace plastic with another single-use material.


litter items found per 100m of beach surveyed at last year's Great British Beach Clean



of beach cleans last year found face masks and PPE



drop in plastic bags found on UK beaches since 5p charge introduced

Litter on a beach AfriramPOE

Credit: AfriramPOE via Shutterstock

Plastic products themselves aren't the only part of the problem. With the shift away from fossil fuel as an energy source, chemical companies are switching to extracted oil and gas to produce plastic. This switch is producing increased amounts of chemicals which often end up polluting our ocean. Product design needs to take into account the carbon, plastic and chemical footprint - particularly when it comes to the use of ‘forever chemicals’.

We want all UK nations to go further than the EU Single-Use Plastics Directive. We want a ban on plastic wet wipes and cigarette filters, and correct labelling of products - including biodegradability and other 'green claims'.

What's happening in England

Bans in place

In October 2020, England banned single-use plastic cotton buds, stirrers and straws.

Bans being discussed

In early 2022, there was a consultation to look at banning single-use plastic plates, cutlery, balloon sticks and polystyrene food and drink containers. There was also a call for evidence on wet wipes, tobacco filters, plastic cups and sachets. Our response to these can be read on our publications page.

As of autumn 2022, we're still waiting for a response to the consultation and call for evidence.

Circular economy

There are currently no consultations to help England move towards a circular economy. While there are some voluntary pacts by industry to reduce single-use plastic (across the UK), there has to be governmental commitment to reduce single-use plastic.

Plastic bags in the ocean Rich Carey

Credit: Rich Carey via Shutterstock

We’re calling for the government to set targets for reuse, because they're not currently included in the Environment Bill. We’ll continue to lobby the government on its lack of commitment to tackling single-use plastic, and will try to move England to a society with reuse at its heart.


could equip two volunteers to survey rubbish on our beaches, influencing government policy on marine litter

What's happening in Scotland

Bans in place

Scotland has banned the manufacture and sale of microbeads and single-use plastic cotton buds and in April 2021, increased the plastic carrier bag charge to 10p. From 1st June 2022, Scotland implemented a ban on some of the most problematic single-use plastics.

Bans being discussed

The Scottish Government has committed to meet, or go further than, the Single-Use Plastic (SUP) Directive. We’ll be holding them to this.

Nurdles in hand during GBBC on Sand Bay Natasha Ewins

Credit: Natasha Ewins

Circular economy

We’re calling for a Circular Economy Bill to bring ‘reuse and refill’ into the heart of creating a circular economy for Scotland. As part of that, we’d like to see mandatory labelling on products containing plastic so consumers can make informed choices. We also want to see the upcoming PAS standard on pre-production pellets/nurdles (more info here) to be made a legal requirement.

What's happening in Wales

Bans being discussed

We’re asking the Welsh Government to go beyond its Autumn 2020 consultation on the banning of certain single-use plastic items. We’re asking for further restrictions and limitations be put on the use of plastic, due to the physical and chemical pollution is causes in the environment.

Picking up plastic bottle on a beach Triocean

Credit: Triocean via Shutterstock

Circular economy

We need the EU Single-use Plastic Directive to be seen as the absolute minimum action that can be taken to tackle plastic pollution in Wales. We're calling for reduction and reuse targets to be set to successfully move Wales to a circular economy.