Single use plastics

Single-use plastics

Single-use or disposable plastic items are designed to be used only once. Some, such as plastic bottles, can be recycled; but not all can be. Find out what plastics you can recycle where you live or search to find out how to dispose of a specific item.

Reduce the amount of single-use plastic you use

  • Carry a refillable water bottle rather than using disposable plastic cups and bottles. Residents in Surrey can refill reusable bottles with water for free at shop that are signed up to the Refill Network. Find your nearest Refill scheme or download the Refill app.
  • Take a reusable cup to the coffee shop. In many places you can get a discount if you use one.
  • Refuse plastic straws. If you want or need to use a straw you can buy reusable metal ones.
  • Use your own reusable cutlery, such as a lightweight camping spork, rather than disposable plastic cutlery.
  • Use up your leftovers or make your own lunch at home and take it with you the next day in a reusable tub. For recipe ideas, visit our leftover recipe page.
  • Remember to take shopping bags with you to avoid buying plastic ones. You can buy bags that fold into a small pouch so you always have one with you, ready for any unplanned impulse buys. Any old plastic bags that you have can be kept and used to recycle old clothes and home textiles or line food waste caddies.

What about compostable or biodegradable plastic?

Plastic that can be composted or biodegrades over time may sound like a better idea, but the UK’s waste facilities aren’t set up to dispose of it in a beneficial way.

For example, it can’t be placed in the following bins:

  • Garden waste bins – this type of plastic is likely to take too long to break down to be turned into compost. As it looks like traditional plastic it would be seen as a contaminate that needed to be removed.
  • Recycling bins – this type of plastic can’t be recycled in the same way as traditional plastic but looks the same. This means it would contaminate the plastics that are sorted to be made into new items, lowering the quality of the plastic.

Although you can use compostable bags to line your food waste caddy, it is better to reuse old shopping bags, bread, cereal or salad bags or plastic bags on a roll such as pedal bin liners (not black bin bags). Compostable bags do not break down in the anaerobic digestion process used to turn food waste into energy so will be removed in the process, as with any other bag.

This type of plastic, if placed into rubbish bins, is also unlikely to reach landfill where it could break down. Most rubbish in Surrey is sent to a plant that transforms it into energy instead as this is better for the environment.

Can single-use plastic be a good thing?

In some situations plastic packaging can protect food to keep it fresher for longer. This avoids the food, and the energy and water that went into producing it, going to waste. For example, a shrink-wrapped cucumber can last five times longer than an unwrapped one.

What are Surrey councils doing about single-use plastics?

A task group has been set up by the Surrey Environment Partnership, made up of Surrey County Council and the 11 district and borough councils. It is working together to find ways to reduce the amount of single-use plastics used in council buildings and to help Surrey residents reduce how much they use. You can read the single-use plastics strategy here.