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Plastic waste in the UK - statistics & facts

Since the manufacturing of plastics took off in the 1950s, the global production of plastic materials has surpassed more than nine billion metric tons. More than half of this plastic has ended up as waste. With so much waste produced each year, plastics have become an environmental issue worldwide. In the United Kingdom, an estimated 4.9 million metric tons of plastics are placed on the market each year, of which three-quarters become waste. As such, the UK is a major contributor to the plastic waste problem.

Plastic waste management in the UK

Every year the UK generates more than two million metric tons of plastic packaging waste. This equates to roughly 36 kilograms of plastic packaging waste per person. The quantity of plastic packaging waste collected per UK household averaged 20.12 kilograms in 2019.
Collection rates vary as many local authorities cannot collect certain plastic products. Currently, the share of UK local authorities collecting plastic bottles for recycling stands at 100 percent, while 84 percent of authorities collect plastic pots and trays, and just 14 percent collect plastic film. The recycling rate of plastic packaging waste in the UK currently stands at 43.8 percent. However, due to inadequate recycling facilities and infrastructure, household plastic packaging that is collected for recycling is often shipped abroad. In 2020, UK exports of plastic waste totaled 0.54 million metric tons, with the majority sent to Turkey.

The war on plastics

Increased media attention has caused a backlash against plastics due to the environmental damage they cause. According to a 2021 survey, 92 percent of UK adults were concerned about plastic pollution. Although policies such as the single-use plastic carrier bag fee have helped lower waste, many believe more can be done to tackle the issue. In a bid to encourage recycling and tackle the plastic waste problem, the UK government has announced a plastic packaging tax that will take effect in April 2022. This will tax plastic packaging that doesn’t meet a minimum threshold of at least 30% recycled content 200 British pounds per metric ton. The introduction of a plastic bottle deposit return scheme was also announced in 2018, but this will not fully come into effect until 2024 at the earliest.

Interesting statistics

In the following 5 chapters, you will quickly find the 25 most important statistics relating to "Plastic waste in the UK".

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