A PROMINENT food industry figure has been criticised after he hit out at Oxfordshire’s councils over their plastic recycling policies.

Martin Kersh, executive director of the Foodservice Packaging Association, claimed that county householders were being denied opportunities to recycle coffee cups and that some recycling was unnecessarily sent overseas.

He said: “The UK now has the capacity to recycle every coffee cup on the market. Residents in other local authorities are able to dispose of coffee cups in their domestic recycling bin and many other councils also offer bring banks for residents to recycle.

“Unfortunately, Oxfordshire councils do not participate in this scheme because of the contracts made by councils which mean beverage cartons may be sent overseas when, together with cups, they could be recycled in the UK.

“There is no reason why collection facilities cannot be offered to offices throughout Oxfordshire.”

Mr Kersh, representing a body which describes itself as defending the "interests of distributors, manufacturers and operators [of] disposable, single-use foodservice packaging", added that negative focus on packaging could "threaten the future" of independent establishments.

He continued: “Packaging enables Oxford’s thriving on-the-go culture. Not every resident is able to carry a reusable mug or their own containers. Much coffee is purchased as an impulse and research shows a charge on cups or a restriction results in a 10 per cent reduction in coffee sales and so will threaten independent coffee shops and takeaways.

“Facilities to recycle cups are growing rapidly and there is no reason whatsoever why a coffee cup used in Oxfordshire should enter our oceans.”

His comments provoked a strong reaction from eco activists.

Prominent anti-plastic campaigner Hazel Dawe said: “Avoiding the use of plastic is always better than recycling it. Using your own cup for coffee is the best option.

"In the rare cases where this is not possible it would be far better if cafés used compostable cups or true paper cups without plastic linings.

“Oxfordshire councils are right not to collaborate with a scheme which will encourage plastic use.”

“Only 17 per cent of our plastic waste is currently recycled so we have far from ‘excellent’ waste management in the UK. Passing our responsibility on is disingenuous and immoral.”

A county council spokesman noted that neither the county nor district councils were responsible for commercial (office) waste.

The county's five district councils are so-called waste collection authorities, responsible for collecting and transporting domestic recyclable waste.

Writing about about plastic disposal, Oxford environmental journalist George Monbiot wrote: “The right question is ‘How should we live?’ But systemic thinking is an endangered species.

“The problems we face are structural: a political system captured by commercial interests, and an economic system that seeks endless growth.

"Of course we should try to minimise our own impacts, but we cannot confront these forces merely by ‘taking responsibility’ for what we consume.”