Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Anita Rani explore the issue of single-use plastic in the UK

The first part of War on Plastic reveals how supermarkets encourage single-use plastic, the problem of plastic water bottles, and the environmental and health impact of plastic we export for recycling. In so doing it shocks the viewer into thinking about the state of single-use plastic in the UK.


More than a third of single-use plastic comes from UK supermarkets and, rather than encouraging shoppers to use less, they actively encourage us to use more. This is through charging more for loose items than items wrapped in plastic. Anita exposes how Tesco charge a staggering 42 per cent more and Sainsbury’s a hefty 19 per cent more. This finding shows how we are priced out of reducing our plastic usage should we wish to do so, and residents in a Bristol street used in the series emphasise that we want to.

Hugh champions tap water and reusable water bottles. He dons a disguise and offers tap water as bottled water called Tapineau to the unsuspecting general public. He finds that those who try it cannot tell the difference between it and bottled water. UK consumers go through eight billion plastic water bottles a year and this is increasing by 7 per cent a year.

Hugh shows you can eliminate such usage by carrying a reusable water bottle and refiling it when you are out, but he finds some staff are reluctant to do so when he visits several petrol stations.

What is really shocking is watching Hugh’s trip to Malaysia. He shows what happens to the plastic we export there for recycling. And far from the plastic being recycled, it is dumped illegally producing huge piles of plastic waste or illegally burnt.

Hugh goes to a dumpsite and shows that this illegal waste is from the UK by dramatically holding up tattered bright orange Sainsbury’s bags and plastic tubs and pots from well-known brands. It’s like look here it is – what are we going to do about it.

Council recycling bags are amongst this waste. You think you are recycling plastic but our councils are actually just shoving the problem of recycling onto developing countries who cannot hope to recycle it. The waste contaminates water courses.

A lot of this waste is burnt not at incinerators but illegally at burn sites in the open near where people live. Hugh visits a family home where a young girl suffers from a cough, severe eye irritation and severe nose bleeds caused by the acrid smoke that open burning produces. Hugh’s distress after seeing this is real. You certainly empathise with how he feels.

The first part of this three-part series certainly shows that us, as consumers can do little to change our behaviour until supermarkets and others, change their behaviour. We can only praise both Hugh and Anita for opening our eyes to the issue of single-use plastics in the UK and I for one will watch the rest of the series to see how they take their campaign forward.

- You can catch up on BBC iPlayer.