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Did you know… 98% of single-use plastic still comes from fossil fuels?

17th July 2023

Last year Plastic Free July participants from around the world collectively reduced waste by 2.6 million tonnes and the global movement hopes to make an even bigger difference this month with their ideas and solutions to reduce plastic waste. It comes as the Plastic Waste Makers Index 2023 recently revealed that 98% of single-use plastic still comes directly from fossil fuels and the Minderoo Foundation highlights that despite rising awareness there is more single-use plastic waste than ever before.

At CPRE we want to reduce waste, including harmful plastics and other single-use packaging, not only to enhance and protect our natural spaces but also because of the impact on the climate. After many years of litter-picking and campaigning we called for a comprehensive deposit return system for all drinks containers and back in March 2018 the government announced that a deposit return system would be set up in the UK. If you aren’t familiar with the concept, a deposit return system is a simple way of incentivising the recycling of drinks containers. The aim is to try and avoid them becoming litter in our green spaces and countryside as well as the other obvious benefits for our planet as a whole. 

After discussing over the years with several different governments, the announcement was a huge cause for celebration for everyone at CPRE, but even though we are five years down the line, the new scheme is not yet in place. Latest updates from the government say that the deposit return scheme covering England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, will be introduced in 2025

The deposit return scheme and other measures to reduce single-use plastic cannot come soon enough. The Plastic Waste Makers Index 2023 has shown that single-use plastic increased across the world from 133 million tonnes in 2019 to 139 million tonnes in 2021 – that’s an increase of 6 million tonnes and the equivalent of almost one kilo of single-use plastic per person on the planet!

Recycling isn’t growing quickly enough

Shockingly the Index also revealed 98% of single-use plastic still comes directly from fossil fuels which shows that recycling is not growing quickly enough to keep up with the current demand for single-use plastic. The report by the Minderoo Foundation found that the increase in primary single-use plastics derived directly from fossil fuels was 15 times greater than those derived from recycled materials. Whilst the deposit return scheme would be a huge advantage for increasing the recycling in the UK there is still lots of single-use plastic that is created which cannot be recycled at all. The single-use plastic industry has a huge impact on our climate. The report found that the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions from single-use plastics in 2021 were equivalent to the emissions of the whole of the United Kingdom.

The Minderoo Foundation focuses on eliminating the damage to humans and our planet that plastics can cause. They work with industry, scientists, financiers, governments, and others to develop practical solutions and drive the change needed to protect our planet for the future. Organisations and initiatives to reduce single-use plastics might feel like a small part of the puzzle but it is through small changes that we have a lasting impact for future generations.

small steps big difference plastic free july

How can I help?

Plastic Free July says that “Small steps are the small changes that people everywhere are making that stop their use of single-use plastic. This can be avoiding bottled soft drinks and bottled water; refusing pre-packaged produce; choosing reusable coffee cups; and sharing the Plastic Free July challenge with family and friends.”

“Whatever the alternative, every step we take this July can make a big difference. Other people notice and are inspired to join in. Plus it shows businesses and governments they need to step up too! What’s your step?”

Three things you can do today to reduce single-use plastic


  1. Take the Pesky Plastics Quiz to help track trends, discover for yourself all the plastics in your weekly shop, and set your household up to measure your success at becoming plastic-free for July and beyond. 
  2. Download the Action Picker.pdf to choose where to start reducing the single-use plastic in your household. It’s a great way to work out which changes you can make easily and also tells you the impact your change will have.
  3. Share your plastic-free journey, goals, and advice with your friends and family, encourage others to do the same, and tell us how you are making changes via our social channels too! 

What else?

Until the deposit return system is a reality we know that single-use plastic such as drink containers often wind up as litter in our countryside and green spaces. Throughout the last few years, our volunteers have collected hundreds of bags of litter and we know that only a fraction of drinks containers are recycled at the moment. Litter left in our countryside, streets, parks, and rivers isn’t just an eyesore – it can be extremely harmful to wildlife and nature, and it costs taxpayers millions of pounds in clean-up costs every year. So what can you do to help?

  • Speak up in support of the deposit return system and consider writing to your MP
  • Donate to CPRE or become a member of Surrey CPRE to be part of the change needed to protect our countryside and the world at large. 
  • Volunteer to pick litter at an arranged event or organise one yourself if you have friends or family who also care about the Surrey countryside.
plastic bottles crushed into a cube