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22 Apr 2024

UK Households Discard 90 Billion Plastic Pieces Annually, Reveals The Big Plastic Count

UK Households Discard 90 Billion Plastic Pieces Annually, Reveals The Big Plastic Count

Research led by Greenpeace UK and Everyday Plastic highlights that UK households are discarding around 90 billion pieces of plastic each year, with only 17% being recycled throughout the country.

The study, supported by the Revolution Plastics Institute at the University of Portsmouth, uncovered that 58% of discarded plastic packaging is incinerated, marking a 12% increase from the previous year.

Dubbed The Big Plastic Count, the initiative took place from March 11-17 and drew participation from almost 225,000 individuals across more than 77,000 households. It also engaged numerous community groups and businesses nationwide, with involvement spanning all 650 parliamentary constituencies. Notably, 50 MPs from various parties, including ministers and shadow ministers, participated alongside 28,000 pupils from over 5,000 school classes.

Findings reveal that these households dispose of approximately 1.7 billion pieces of plastic weekly, averaging 60 pieces per household. At this rate, it would take over 53 years for one person to count each piece at one second per piece.

The most frequently discarded items were snack packaging and fruit and vegetable packaging, totalling around 699,932 and 697,085 pieces respectively.

Despite 58% of the plastic packaging being incinerated, only 17% was recycled domestically. Additionally, 14% was exported, and 11% ended up in landfills. A recent report from Greenpeace International indicated that 74% of the UK public supports reducing plastic production to address pollution.

Greenpeace UK criticises the practice of incinerating plastic, stating it contradicts the government's greenhouse gas emission reduction targets for 2050 and poses health risks, particularly in economically disadvantaged areas.

Both Greenpeace and Everyday Plastic have urged supermarkets and policymakers to adopt reuse and refill schemes, aligning with the public’s preference for sustainable options. They highlighted that 81% of the counted plastic originated from food and drink packaging, primarily from supermarkets.

As part of the UK Plastics Pact, supermarkets have pledged to make all their packaging reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025. However, according to the organisations, progress is significantly lacking.

In response to the alarming data from The Big Plastic Count, Greenpeace UK and Everyday Plastic are advocating for decisive governmental action during the forthcoming Global Plastics Treaty negotiations, aiming for a global reduction in plastic production by at least 70% by 2040. They also call for a ban on all plastic waste exports by 2027 and the cessation of new waste incineration facility approvals. Additionally, they demand the immediate implementation of a comprehensive Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) and Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) standards.

Rudy Schulkind, a political campaigner at Greenpeace UK, emphasised the dire consequences of unchecked plastic production, which disproportionately affects marginalised communities. Dr. Cressida Bowyer, deputy director of the Revolution Plastics Institute, stressed the urgent need for innovative packaging solutions and legislative support to shift from a linear to a more circular plastics economy, thereby significantly reducing plastic production and pollution.


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