Litter and pollution in the sea Mranaked

Single-use plastics

2 minute read

Our seas are currently facing twin climate and biodiversity crises, partly fuelled by the single-use plastic problem.

The problem

Our Beachwatch data shows thousands of single-use plastic items are found on our UK beaches each year. We must ditch our single-use addiction – we cannot recycle our way out of the current plastics crisis. And we cannot 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

With the shift away from fossil fuel as an energy source, chemical companies are using oil and gas which has been extracted to produce plastic instead and, as a result, producing increased amounts of chemicals. Product design must take into account the carbon, plastic and chemical footprint - particularly 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'.

Our annual Plastic Challenge, which we run every July, helps us understand how much single-use plastic we could avoid, and highlights where action is needed from retailers, manufacturers and politicians.


England has already banned single-use plastic cotton buds, stirrers and straws as of October 2020. However, there are currently no consultations on expanding the Single-use Plastic Directive to go further and 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 them to set targets for reuse because currently they’re not in the Environment Bill.  We’ll therefore continue to lobby the government on its lack of commitment on tackling single-use plastic and 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


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

Scotland has banned the manufacture and sale of microbeads and single-use plastic cotton buds and, as of April 2021, has increased the carrier bag charge to 10p. A similar charge is also being looked at for single-use plastic drinks cups.

Nurdles in hand during GBBC on Sand Bay Natasha Ewins

Credit: Natasha Ewins

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.


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 its persistence and physical and chemical legacy in the natural environment.

Picking up plastic bottle on a beach Triocean

Credit: Triocean via Shutterstock

We need the EU Single-use Plastic Directive to be seen as an absolute minimum on action to tackle plastic in Wales. Reduction targets have to be set, alongside reuse targets to successfully move Wales from a linear to a circular economy.