UK homes binning 100 billion pieces of plastic a year, survey finds

‘Pretending we can sort this with recycling is just industry greenwash,’ said Greenpeace UK plastics campaigner Chris Thorne

Joanna Whitehead
Tuesday 12 July 2022 09:06 BST
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UK households throw away nearly 100 billion pieces of plastic each year, according to a landmark survey by Greenpeace and Everyday Plastic.

The startling new data revealing the scale of plastic waste also shows that just 12 per cent of the single-use packaging used in homes is sent for recycling in the UK.

The two environmental charities launched The Big Plastic Count — one of the largest voluntary research projects into the scale of plastic waste — with nearly 250,000 people from almost 100,000 UK households counting every piece of disposable packaging they used over the course of seven days during May.

Participating households were found to throw away an average of 66 pieces of packaging every week.

An analysis of the figures found that the largest proportion of plastic waste came from food and drink packaging (83 per cent), with the most common item recorded being fruit and vegetable packaging, followed by snack bags, packets and wrappers.

If scaled up across every home in the UK, it suggests Britons are throwing out 96.6 billion pieces of disposable plastic a year, the two charities said.

Plastic waste at a landfill site

The study also found that around 46 per cent of discarded plastic is incinerated, while 25 per cent is dumped in landfill.

Only 12 per cent will be recycled in UK facilities, the survey found, with a further 17 per cent shipped abroad for processing.

Greenpeace and Everyday Plastic are now calling on the government to set legally binding targets to cut single-use plastics by at least 50 per cent by 2025.

They want to see disposable plastics almost entirely eliminated in future, a ban on plastic waste exports, a deposit return scheme on drinks containers, and a moratorium on new incineration capacity.

While the UK government publishes data on the weight of plastic waste being produced by UK households, it does not collect data on the number of plastic items being thrown away.

The new data shared by the two charities is, therefore, said to provide a powerful new insight into the scale of the plastic waste problem.

Daniel Webb, founder of Everyday Plastic, described the Big Plastic Count as “an incredible piece of citizen science”.

“This is a big moment in the fight against plastic waste,” he said.

“These new figures lay bare the responsibility of the government, big brands and supermarkets to tackle this crisis, and they must rise to the challenge right now — there is no time to waste.”

Almost 100,000 households took part in the Big Plastic Count

Greenpeace UK plastics campaigner Chris Thorne called on the Government to “turn off the plastic tap”.

“This is a jaw-dropping amount of plastic waste and should give ministers pause for thought,” he said. “Pretending we can sort this with recycling is just industry greenwash.”

He added: “We’re creating a hundred billion bits of waste plastic a year, and recycling is hardly making a dent. What else do the Government need to know before they act?”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said: “We are going further to tackle single-use plastics through our landmark Environment Act.

“We have restricted the supply of plastic straws and cotton buds, banned the supply of plastic drinks stirrers and are finalising proposals to introduce a deposit return scheme which would capture plastic bottles.

“Packaging producers will be expected to cover the cost of recycling and disposing of their packaging through the introduction of extended producer responsibility, and this year we introduced a world-leading plastic tax to help tackle plastic waste.”

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