Schoolchildren have been told by the prime minister that recycling is a “red herring” and “doesn’t work”.
Boris Johnson made the remarks at the Kids Climate press conference at Downing Street on Monday (October 25), less than a week before the beginning of the Cop26 summit in Glasgow to address climate change.
“Recycling isn’t the answer, I’ve got to be honest with you”, Johnson told the children. “You’re not going to like this. It doesn’t begin to address the problem.
“You can only recycle plastic a couple of times, really. What you’ve got to do is stop the production of plastic. Stop the first use of plastic. The recycling thing is a red herring … We’ve all got to cut down on our use of plastic.”
PM ‘completely conflicting with his own government’s policy’
The prime minister’s remarks drew instant disdain from the chief executive of the Recycling Association, Simon Ellin who accused the prime minister of contradicting government policy.
“I think he has completely lost the plastic plot here, if I’m honest,” Ellin told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme.
“We need to reduce, and I would completely agree with him on that, but his own government has just invested in the resources and waste strategy, which is the most ground-breaking recycling legislation and plan that we’ve ever seen, with recycling right at the front of it… So he seems to be completely conflicting with his own government’s policy.”
The PM’s official spokesperson later claimed Johnson was “was setting out that recycling alone is not the answer. We’re taking a wide range of action across society to cut plastic pollution. Simply relying on recycling alone as the prime minister set out would be a red herring, we need to go further and take wider action.”
Johnson had called out Coca-Cola as one of 12 corporations responsible for “producing the overwhelming bulk of the world’s plastics”, while urging business to “find other ways of packaging and selling our stuff”, using seaweed, banana leaves and coconuts instead of plastic.
Johnson ‘very worried’ Cop26 will fail
At the same press conference, Johnson admitted being “very worried” that Cop26 will fail. The crucial gathering of world leaders to find solutions to the climate crisis begins on Sunday (October 31) and though the PM said he thinks an agreement “can be done”, he added: “It’s going to be very, very tough, this summit, and I’m very worried because it might go wrong.
“We might not get the agreements that we need. It’s touch and go, it’s very, very difficult … It’s very far from clear that we’ll get the progress that we need.”
When asked by a child at the Downing Street press conference why political leaders are not treating the climate emergency with the same urgency as Covid, Johnson conceded it was “very fair criticism of the world” and added: “I share your alarm about where we need to be.”
Russia’s president Vladimir Putin confirmed on Monday that he would not be attending the summit, citing the “coronavirus situation” as the reason, while China’s president Xi Jinping is also likely to be absent.