The problem of plastic waste in UK homes

This week Everyday Plastic & Greenpeace team up for the Big Plastic Count (16-22 May). The campaign is easy to take part in. Simply count all the pieces of plastic waste you throw away at home during the week long period. 

By reporting back to Big Plastic Count, you can help the campaign to push for change. You’ll also get your own personal footprint calculated. 

Schools and community groups can sign up too. They’ll receive free educational resources to help students and communities to understand the impact of plastic on the environment. 

Sign up here: 

Everyday plastic

Everyday Plastic was founded by Daniel Webb. In 2016 when he moved to Margate, he was disgusted by the amount of plastic he saw on the beach. He ran an experiment to keep every piece of plastic he used for an entire year (2017). The result was 22 bags of plastic waste, which Daniel & his research team then measured and categorised. 

Daniel collaborated with Dr Julie Schneider on a science research report called “What We Throw Away and Where it Goes” in 2018. He started being asked to talk about his research. The first nationwide Everyday Plastic survey, with over 400 households taking part, happened in 2019/2020. Everyday Plastic has now teamed up with Greenpeace for the Big Plastic Count. 

How much plastic is in UK homes

During his experiment Daniel threw away 4,490 pieces of plastic. If we multiply that waste by every person in the UK, it would amount to 295 billion pieces of plastic thrown away by UK residents every year.  4,177 or 93% of the plastic was single use plastic. 47% of the waste was low grade plastic film which is not recyclable. 70% of the plastic in the experiment could not be recycled. This ends up in landfill. 

The length of time plastic takes to decompose in landfill depends on conditions at the site. The NorthEast Illinois Council provided a few estimates. Plastic bags can take up to 20 years to decompose. Plastic bottles can take up to 450 years to decompose. 

In the UK it is estimated that 5 million tonnes (or 5 billion kilos) of plastic waste is produced each year and half of that is packaging (UK Government). 

Plastic recycling at home

What can the individual person do to help?  In 2021, Greenpeace explored what happens to plastic that is recycled by UK residents. They found that thousands of tonnes of plastic just gets incinerated, not recycled. Of the plastic that did get recycled, well over half of it was sent abroad. 

So should we even bother to recycle?  Yes, says Greenpeace. Recycling is good. But there is a much bigger problem. It is the production of more and more plastic. Unrecyclable plastic.

“The problem isn’t that people aren’t recycling enough. The problem is that there is still far too much throwaway plastic being produced” – Greenpeace

The Plastic Packaging Tax took effect on 1 April 2022. It was introduced by the UK Government to encourage the recycling of plastic. The tax applies to any plastic packaging that is not made up of at least 30% recycled plastic. This might increase plastic recycling but it won’t decrease production. 

Greenpeace are calling for a 50% reduction in single use plastic production by 2025, which they estimate would remove the need to export plastic waste for recycling. It would also reduce the amount of plastic sent for incineration and to landfill.  You can sign the petition to ban single plastics here

Annette Clubley

Annette is a keen wildlife conservationist, mindful of sustainability and our impact on the environment. Outside of work, family is her focus and she loves teaching the next generation to enjoy the outdoors.