Environment

100 billion pieces of plastic packaging are thrown away every year in the UK

A survey of household plastic use has revealed the "jaw-dropping" scale of plastic waste in the UK, with just 12 per cent recycled in the country.

Plastic bottles

Food and drink packaging made up the majority of waste.

Almost 100 billion pieces of plastic are being thrown away by UK households every year, according to the largest ever survey of plastic waste.

The survey, known as “The Big Plastic Count”, also revealed just 12 per cent of plastic packaging is likely to be recycled in Britain, underlining the scale of the country’s plastic waste problem. 

Daniel Webb, founder of Everyday Plastic, said the figures laid bare “the responsibility of the government, big brands and supermarkets to tackle this crisis”, adding they “must rise to the challenge right now – there is no time to waste”.

The Big Plastic Count, organised by Everyday Plastic in collaboration with Greenpeace, asked households to count their plastic packaging waste for one week in May.

The results were sent to the two charities and organised into a database. 

Just under 100,000 households took part in 2022, counting 6,437,813 pieces of plastic packaging items in total.

This amounted to an average of 66 pieces of packaging being thrown away by each household each week. Taken over a year, this is 3,432 pieces per household.

If the results are taken as the average for all households across Britain, Everyday Plastic and Greenpeace calculated the UK throws away 1.85 billion pieces of plastic packaging a week – or 96.6 billion annually. 

According to the results, food and drink packaging made up the vast majority (83 per cent) of the waste thrown away. 

The study also looked at recycling rates, finding that only 12 per cent of the plastic thrown away is likely to be recycled at reprocessing facilities in the UK, with more waste (17 per cent) shipped overseas instead.

Almost half (46 per cent) of the UK’s household plastic waste is being incinerated whilst the remaining 25 per cent is buried in landfill.

Everyday Plastic, Greenpeace and other environmental organisations have now called on the government to set legally binding targets to almost entirely eliminate single-use plastic, starting with a target of a 50 per cent cut in single-use plastic by 2025. 

Alternatives should be “affordable, reusable and accessible, including to those with disabilities”, Everyday Plastic said.

Webb said: “This is a big moment in the fight against plastic waste. 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.”

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Greenpeace UK plastics campaigner Chris Thorne added: “This is a jaw-dropping amount of plastic waste and should give ministers pause for thought. Just 12 per cent of all this plastic is likely to actually end up being recycled in the UK, despite the public’s alarm about the issue and efforts to recycle. 

“The rest becomes pollution, whether through landfilling, incineration or export to countries all around the world, gradually contaminating everything – our water, our food, even the air we breathe.

“The only solution is to turn off the plastic tap, through the government introducing a legally binding target for a 50 per cent reduction in single-use plastic by 2025. Pretending we can sort this with recycling is just industry greenwash. 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?”

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