Single use plastics are everywhere and we are all used to seeing, using and disposing of them in our everyday lives. But the journey of single use plastics – where they come from, how they are used, and where they go – represents a significant concern for all of us. In the UK, it has been estimated that five million tonnes of plastic is used annually and nearly half of this is in the form of packaging.

While single use plastics might have some benefits, they present us with considerably more challenges. Taking thousands of years to decompose, single use plastics are increasingly being found in places that they should not be – with implications for the health of our environments and all those who live in them.

The Plastics Circular Economy represents a different model for the lifecycle of plastics and has been increasingly used by different stakeholders to frame their ambitions for the future of plastics in our society. Through changes in our relationship with plastics, reducing our consumption, and reusing and recycling as much as possible, the Circular model aims to keep all plastic items in the economy, extracting their value and keeping them out of our environment.

Crucially, the success of the Plastics Circular Economy relies on all of us – all those who consume and dispose of single use plastics – to play our part. But this is easier said than done and the ways in which we interact with plastics, both in and out of the home, is exceedingly complex. In 2019/2020, it was estimated that more than 500,000 tonnes of household recycling was rejected at the point of sorting.


Rethinking Ethical Consumerism is a team of interdisciplinary researchers who are passionate about the problem of single use plastics. Working with institutions and the public, we create and implement innovative research ideas that explore and understand how people think about, and use, single use plastics in their everyday lives. In doing so, we identify the drivers of sustainable change surrounding the consumption of single use plastics, understanding the complexity of everyday practices that are integral to the success of the Plastics Circular Economy.

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Interview with BBC Radio Essex

Following our event with the ESRC Festival of Social Science, Danielle spoke with Rob Jelly, from BBC Sounds, regarding all things plastic. You can listen to the interview here from around 8 minutes in. Thanks…

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