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The Big Plastic Count: UK Households Throw Away an Estimated 1.7 Billion Pieces of Plastic Weekly

The Big Plastic Count, organised by Greenpeace UK and Everyday Plastic, is a national survey that took place on 11th-17th March 2024, presenting a unique opportunity for residents across the UK to gather vital evidence about the extent of the UK’s plastic waste generation.

Each household were asked to note down every piece of plastic waste they generate for the week, and through the active participation of nearly 225,000 individuals, including students, households, and various community entities, a comprehensive understanding of our plastic generation has emerged.

Key Findings

1.7 billion
UK households throw away an estimated 1.7 billion pieces of plastic weekly (60 pieces per household per week), equivalent to 90 billion a year. 1.7 billion pieces of plastic would take one person 53 years and 7 months to count at one second per piece.

Over half (58%) of the pieces of plastic packaging thrown away are being incinerated – up 12% from 46% in 2022.

17% of plastic waste was recycled in the UK, 14% was exported and 11% was sent to landfill.

Snack packaging (699,932 pieces) and fruit and veg packaging (697,085 pieces) emerged as the most commonly counted plastic items.

A key finding from the study is the estimation that UK households discard approximately 1.7 billion pieces of plastic each week, translating to a substantial 90 billion pieces annually. This data shows the significant role of plastic packaging in our daily lives, with snack packaging and fruit and vegetable packaging emerging as the most commonly counted items.

One notable trend highlighted by the Big Plastic Count is the increase in plastic incineration, with over half of the plastic packaging thrown away being directed towards this method of disposal (58%). Additionally, the study found that only 17% of plastic waste is recycled domestically, emphasising the importance of investing in UK recycling infrastructure and practices (currently achieved through the PRN system and through the PRN element of the EPR system).

Furthermore, the findings shed light on the global context, revealing that the UK ranks among the top countries in per capita plastic waste generation, coming in at second place and trailing behind the US only. The findings demonstrate the need for shared responsibility between nations in addressing the challenges posed by plastic pollution and the importance of collaborative efforts on an international scale.

Plastic Waste Production per Capita per Country in 2016

Looking ahead, the upcoming Global Plastics Treaty Negotiations present an opportunity for nations to come together and commit to meaningful action to combat plastic pollution. As representatives meet to discuss strategies and agreements, the insights from the Big Plastic Count serve as valuable data points to inform policy decisions and initiatives aimed at reducing plastic waste.

In conclusion, the findings of the UK’s Big Plastic Count 2024 provide valuable insights into our nation’s plastic consumption and disposal habits. By acknowledging these findings and working towards collective solutions, we can move towards a more sustainable future for our planet and future generations.

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