Scale of Britain's plastic pollution problem revealed

About 100 billion pieces of plastic packaging are estimated to be thrown away by UK households every year

PLYMOUTH, ENGLAND - AUGUST 08:  Volunteers collect plastic rubbish and waste washed up on the beach besides the University of Plymouth's Marine Station as they take part in a awareness-raising event organised by the all-female eXXpedition crew who are preparing to sail around Britain to highlight plastic in the oceans on August 8, 2017 in Plymouth, England. In a pioneering sailing expedition, starting and finishing at the University of Plymouth's Marine Station, a diverse group of women will collect water samples to measure for micro-plastics and other toxic chemicals, as well as hold events in the various ports that they sail to including Cardiff, Belfast, Arran, Stornaway, Edinburgh, London and Plymouth.  (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
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Most plastic in the UK is not recycled, adding to the concerning extent of global plastic pollution, research has shown.

Only 29 per cent of the estimated 100 billion items of plastic waste produced by households a year are recycled and environmental group Greenpeace has demanded a cap on plastic production.

In the UK, activists have generally been successful in raising the issue of recycling to a receptive public, but efforts are still falling short. Greenpeace said government action is the best way to tackle the problem.

“This is a jaw-dropping amount of plastic waste and should give ministers pause for thought,” said Greenpeace plastics campaigner Chris Thorne.

“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.”

About 100 billion pieces of plastic packaging are estimated to be thrown away by UK households every year, Greenpeace found.

The organisation worked with the Big Plastic Count campaign and Everyday Plastic to track how much plastic is recycled annually.

For one week in May, about 100,000 households — 250,000 people — across the UK counted their plastic packaging waste and sent their results to Greenpeace and Everyday Plastic as part of The Big Plastic Count.

Figures show that, on average, each household threw away 66 pieces of plastic packaging in a week, which amounts to an estimated 3,432 pieces when applied over a year.

Of the plastic items recorded, 83 per cent was from food and drink packaging waste, with the most common item being produce packaging.

The extrapolated data suggest UK homes produce 96.6 billion pieces of plastic packaging waste a year, with only 12 per cent being recycled in the UK.

A large part of the UK’s household plastic waste (17 per cent) is shipped overseas while 12 per cent is recycled at home. Almost half (46 per cent) of the UK’s household plastic waste is incinerated while 25 per cent is buried in landfill.

“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,” Mr Thorne said.

“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.”

Updated: July 12, 2022, 6:52 AM
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