UK '˜throws away 295bn pieces of plastic a year'

People in the UK throw away around 295 billion pieces of plastic every year, much of which is single-use and cannot be recycled, a report suggests.

Everyday Plastic of Daniel Webb, who stored all the plastic waste he threw in the bin for a year, collecting up a total of 4,490 individual pieces of plastic. Picture: Ollie Harrop/Everyday Plastic/PA Wire

Campaigner Daniel Webb has revealed the extent of the plastic waste an individual gets through in the UK, and how little of it is recycled in this country.

For a year Mr Webb, who lives in Margate, Kent, stored all the plastic waste he threw in the bin, collecting up a total of 4,490 individual pieces of plastic.

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Some 93 per cent of the plastic he used in a year was single-use packaging, and two-thirds was used to package, wrap and consume food, the Everyday Plastic report by Mr Webb and researcher Dr Julie Schneider shows.

Some 70 per cent was not currently recyclable, the report estimates.

Based on national collection rates of recyclable material, only 10 per cent of the plastic he got through in a year would be recycled, with just 4 per cent recycled at UK recycling facilities and the rest exported.

The remaining plastic waste would be sent to landfill or burned.

With Mr Webb’s plastic consumption close to average levels, the report says that nationwide the UK is likely to be throwing away 295 billion pieces of plastic every year.

Mr Webb raised concerns that plastic recycling in the UK was a “poorly funded system” which needs significant investment and improvement.

He said: “We can’t just rely on recycling to fix plastic pollution.

“Most importantly, we need to produce and use much less plastic.

“Our fast-moving disposable society means that we are using more single-use things than ever, so we need to rethink how we consume.”

Dr Schneider added: “Plastic bottles can be properly recycled, but what about the plastic film that wraps our vegetables, pasta and sweets? All the plastic packaging stamped with the ‘not currently recycled’ logo?

“It turns out that 70 per cent of Daniel’s plastic waste is not currently recyclable. This is an issue that needs to be addressed urgently.”

It was announced yesterday that companies which account for a fifth of the world’s plastic packaging are among organisations which have signed up to global efforts to tackle plastic waste.

Mars, L’Oreal, Unilever and Coca Cola, producers such as Novamont and waste management firm Veolia are among more than 250 organisations which have joined up to the global commitment to end plastic waste at source.

Targets under the commitment include eliminating problematic or unnecessary plastic packaging and making the shift away from single-use items.

There will also be a focus on innovation to ensure 100% of plastic packaging can be easily and safely reused, recycled or composted by 2025, and will aim to significantly increase the amount of plastic reused or recycled into new packaging or products.

The global commitment is led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in collaboration with UN Environment, and backed by environmental charity WWF, governments including the UK and Scotland, universities, financial institutions and campaign groups.