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

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Each UK household is throwing away an average of 66 items of plastic per week, the Big Plastic Count fount (Ollie Horrop/Everyday Plastic)
Each UK household is throwing away an average of 66 items of plastic per week, the Big Plastic Count fount (Ollie Horrop/Everyday Plastic)

UK households collectively throw away almost 100 billion pieces of plastic every year, according to a recent survey.

The Big Plastic Count saw nearly 100,000 households across the country count every piece of disposable packaging they used over the course of a week in May.

The project was launched by environmental charities Greenpeace and Everyday Plastic.

Participating homes, representing around a quarter of a million people, threw away an average of 66 pieces of packaging every week – 83% of which was food and drinks packaging.

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

The most common item was fruit and veg packaging, the survey found, followed by snack bags, packets and wrappers.

Fruit and veg wrapping was the most commonly thrown away plastic (Angela Glienicke/Greenpeace)
Fruit and veg wrapping was the most commonly thrown away plastic (Angela Glienicke/Greenpeace)

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

They want to see disposable plastics almost entirely eliminated in future.

The two charities say it is the first time plastic waste has been measured in individual pieces, as Government figures are measured by weight.

Around 46% of discarded plastic is incinerated, and the remaining 25% is dumped in landfill, the Big Plastic Count found.

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

Almost 100,000 households took part in the Big Plastic Count (Ollie Horrop/ PA)
Almost 100,000 households took part in the Big Plastic Count (Ollie Horrop/ PA)

A 2020 study published in the US journal Science Advances found the UK produces the second-largest amount of plastic waste per capita in the world, second only to the US.

Greenpeace criticised the Government’s claim back in 2020 that 46% of domestic waste plastic is recycled.

It said plastic shipped abroad is being included in Government statistics as “recycled” when much of it is illegally dumped or burned in developing countries.

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.”

This is a jaw-dropping amount of plastic waste and should give ministers pause for thought

Greenpeace UK plastics campaigner Chris Thorne

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?”

As well as steep cuts in single-use plastic, Greenpeace and Everyday Plastic want to see a ban on plastic waste exports, a deposit return scheme on drinks containers, and a moratorium on new incineration capacity.

According to trade association Plastics Europe, the world economy produces more than 350 million tonnes of plastic each year – more than the total mass of all mammals on Earth.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 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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