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Plastic waste in the UK - Statistics & Facts

Since the discovery of polypropylene and with the manufacturing of plastics for packaging purposes taking off in the 1950s, the production of plastic has reached roughly 9.2 billion metric tons worldwide. Of this amount, approximately five billion metric tons has ended up as waste.

Each year, plastic packaging waste generation in the UK amounts to approximately 2.2 million metric tons. In 2018, household plastic packaging consumption in the UK totaled more than 1.5 million metric tons. Of this amount, approximately 600,000 metric tons was from generated from plastic bottles. In this same year, the volume of plastic bottles collected for recycling increased slightly to 371,000 metric tons. The collection rate for plastic bottles was highest in Wales in 2018 was 72 percent. Wales has the highest collection rate for all household plastics packaging across the UK at 45 percent. In comparison, the collection rate in England was just 36 percent.

Overall, the recycling rate of plastic packaging in the UK has been steadily rising and reached 46 percent in 2017. Ambitious, but realistic, targets have been set to increasing the recycling rate of plastic packaging to 50 percent by 2025, and 55 percent by 2030.

Worldwide, the UK is one of the leading exporters of plastic waste. Prior to 2018, it was sending up to 500,000 metric tons of plastic to China ever year for recycling. However, in 2018 China introduced a ban on foreign waste, putting pressure on the UK’s waste industry. With China no longer accepting waste the UK had to look elsewhere, and in 2018 Malaysia became the UK’s main plastic waste export destination. According to a survey conducted in 2019, 85 percent of respondents believed the UK should deal with its own plastic waste, rather than exporting it to foreign nations.

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Plastic waste in the UK

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Consumption and generation

Plastic waste collection

Recycling and exports

Plastic pollution

Public opinions

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