Plastic has become almost inescapable in the UK, despite the huge amounts of studies and awareness to the damages that plastic has on us and our environment.
In May 2022, UK households were called into action: to report the amount of plastic used in the house, and how much was sent to be recycled. Nearly 100,000 households took part!
Now, the reports are in and questions are finally being answered.
The Big Plastic Count Results Are In
Thanks to the 97,948 households who took part in The Big Plastic Count 2022, it has since been revealed that only 12% of plastic is actually being recycled in the UK.
On average, each household threw away 66 pieces of plastic in one week.
This enabled the shocking estimate that 1.85 billion pieces of plastic packaging are thrown away each week in the UK alone.
The Big Plastic Count also showed that food and drink packaging made up an overwhelming 83% of waste that were generated in the week of the count.
This greatly suggests that supermarket giants are responsible for a significant amount of the packaging waste.
The most commonly counted items were fruit and vegetable packaging (1.02 million pieces) which was closely followed by snacks, packets, and wrappers (1.01 million pieces).
Ultimately, this only illuminates how difficult it is for UK shoppers to avoid plastic packaging – especially on those with disabilities or restricted mobility who depend on pre-prepared food for independence.
What is happening to our plastic waste?
If only 12% of UK plastic is being recycled, what is happening to the remaining 88%?
The majority plastic that is being sent for recycling is either shipped to other countries for them to deal with, or it is burnt (46% of plastic) or buried (25% of plastic).
In fact, 17% of the plastic used in the UK is then shipped overseas.
Just because our waste is shipped to other countries (subsequently negatively impacting both the people and the environment), it creates negative repercussions that everyone around the globe.
Likewise, burying and burning plastic does not get rid of the problem, and in fact creates an enormous impact on the health of ecosystems.
- Learn more about the negative impact of plastic on us and the environment in our explainer on plastic pollution
A closer look at the evidence retrieved from The Big Plastic Count revealed why the recycling systems in the UK are failing.
The majority of plastic packaging waste thrown away is not commonly collected for recycling. Astonishingly 62% of recorded pieces of plastic are either poorly collected or not collected at all by local authorities.
Other plastics are notoriously difficult to recycle and accounted for the majority of pieces that were thrown away.
What is the hardest plastic to recycle?
- Carrier bags
- Bread bags
- Banana bags
- Toilet roll wrappers.
Ultimately, The Big Plastic Count revealed that the UK’s recycled system is broken and that we simply cannot handle the amount of plastic waste being generated.
How can we fix the single use plastic problem?
The Big Plastic Count has proved that households around the UK are playing their part to be as green as possible – and that it is time for the government to do their part.
“The government must act now to reduce single uses plastic and ban all waste exports.”
It is evident that our recycling systems are incapable of handling the plastic waste that is being produced so there are only two logical steps that can be taken to deescalate the growing problem:
- Change and update the UK’s recycling systems
- Reduce the amount of plastic entering our systems in the first place
The Big Plastic Count revealed something that should come as no surprise: the majority of UK household plastic waste comes from food packaging.
From single use packaging that cannot be recycled, meaning that it only continues to pollute our environment and ourselves. This needs to stop.
Supermarkets and other big players need to be held accountable for the amount of plastic waste that is being created.
The government’s long-awaited DRS and the promised new Extended Producer Responsibility requirements have been continually delayed – this needs to be dealt with now.
The Big Plastic Count believe that the UK government should act immediately and:
- Set a target to almost entirely eliminate single-use plastic
- Ban plastic waste exports by no later than 2025
- Implement an all-in Deposit Return Scheme and introduce the Extended Producer Responsibility
- Set an immediate moratorium on new incineration capacity
All of which should help encourage a circular economy, rather than a wasteful one.
What can you do?
You’ve already done the first step: become aware of the immediacy of the issue.
Now, it’s time to make sure that the government also realise the immediacy of our plastic waste issue.
- Share the petition, and this article, with friends and family
- Help raise awareness of the issues of plastic pollution
Want to take your understanding one step further?
- Understand the complex issues around plastic pollution
- Find out where to find some of the most grad forests in the UK or which serene nature reserves to go to
See what you can do to help conservationists with these great apps