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British households are throwing away 100 billion pieces of plastic a year

Nearly 100 billion pieces of plastic packaging are thrown away by UK households every year, and just 12 percent recycled in the UK.

Microplastic pollution collected at a Key largo, Florida beach State Park by Ocean Blue Project a nonprofit, on November 15, 2019. Credit - OceanBlueProject (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Microplastic pollution collected at a Key largo, Florida beach State Park by Ocean Blue Project a nonprofit, on November 15, 2019. Credit - OceanBlueProject (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Plastic accumulating in the world’s oceans and on the beaches has become a global crisis. This relates to the continuing expansion in the use of plastic products, poor recycling rates, and poor processing of waste materials; together with inaction of moving away from plastic where possible or reducing overall consumption. With this latter point, over 99 percent of plastic originates from oil and gas, and with the growth of plastic production leading fossil fuel companies are investing tens of billions of dollars in new petrochemical plants and equipment.

Most plastic pollution relates to the inadequate collection and disposal of larger plastic debris (macroplastics); in addition, the leakage of smaller amounts (microplastics) presents a serious concern to Martine life and it impacts upon food chain.

Despite many engaging in recycling, rates are still low throughout the world, although there are variations country-by-country. Some nations heavily promote recycling, but this does not mean in translates to suitably effective action.

One way to assess plastics and recycling is through a survey and one such event was organised by Greenpeace and campaign group Everyday Plastic, called ‘The Big Plastic Count’. This was an exercise in ‘citizen science’.

The event took place in U.K. across May 2022 and the results have now been made available. The most startling finding is the low level of recycling that is typically taking place across homes in U.K. These results show that the average household throws away 66 pieces of plastic in a week.

The findings relate to some 100,000 households participating households. The data can be used to estimate that the U.K. population throws out nearly 100 billion pieces of plastic a year, with only around 12 percent of these being recycled.

In terms of the origin of the material, 83 percent of plastics came from food and drink packaging waste, with the most common items being fruit and vegetable packaging.

“This is a jaw-dropping amount of plastic waste,” Greenpeace UK’s plastics campaigner Chris Thorne told the BBC.

Thorne added: “Pretending we can sort this with recycling is just industry green-wash. We’re creating a hundred billion bits of waste plastic a year, and recycling is hardly making a dent.”

Based on the findings, Greenpeace is calling on the U.K. government to set legally binding targets to almost entirely eliminate single-use plastic, starting with a target of a 50 percent cut in single-use plastic by 2025.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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