100 Latest Plastic Pollution Statistics & Facts for the UK (2024)

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Written by: - Garden Design Expert

Walk along a prominent street in many British towns and cities, and you may come across a discarded plastic bottle or a wrapper. What do the UK plastic pollution statistics & facts reveal about the situation?

UK Plastic Pollution Statistics & Facts

  1. The UK generates approximately 98.66 kilograms of plastic waste per capita annually. (Statista)
  2. The UK produces 2.5 million tonnes of plastic packaging waste annually. (Statista)
  3. The Big Plastic Count counted over 6.4 million pieces of plastic packaging wrapping brought by 250,000 people across the UK in seven days. (Greenpeace)
  4. 100% of animals washed up on British shores had plastic in their stomachs. (Keep Britain Tidy)
  5. A 10% reduction in consumer plastic packaging is equivalent to taking 150,000 cars off the road. (WRAP)
  6. The UK has a recycling rate of 44.2% for plastic packaging waste. (Statista)
  7. Approximately 4.9 million metric tonnes of plastic are introduced to the market annually in the UK. (Statista)
  8. Roughly 75% of the new plastic on the market becomes waste. (Statista)
  9. The plastic bag tax introduced in 2015 led to a 90% reduction in plastic bag sales. (UK Government)
  10. Before the bag charge in 2014, we used 140 plastic bags a year, but in 2018 an average person uses just 10 per year. (UK Government)
  11. If retailers reduced their plastic packaging by 50% in the UK by 2025, 25% of consumer packaging would need to be reusable. (Greenpeace)
  12. Research in 2017 found a 10% increase in plastic pollution on Britain’s beaches. (MSC)
  13. 5% of plastic waste found on beaches comes from sewage-related waste, including items that could be recycled, such as wet wipes. (MCS)
  14. 20% of the waste on British beaches was from on-the-go food and drink packaging. (MSC)
  15. In April 2020, the UK Government introduced a plastic packaging tax to combat plastic pollution. (The UK Government)

Regional Plastic Pollution Statistics

  1. Wales generates an estimated 400,000 tonnes of plastic waste. (Wrap Cymru)
  2. 67% of this is packaging waste. (Wrap Cymru)
  3. Wales has the second highest recycling rate in the world but only recycles 33% of household plastic. (Wrap Cymru)
  4. On average, beaches in Wales have 29 drink containers on every 100 metres. (MCS)
  5. More than 90% of plastic in Scottish seas comes from Scottish littering on land. (Marine Scotland Science)
  6. Littering in Scotland puts approximately 1,000 tonnes of macroplastic into Scottish seas annually. (Marine Scotland Science)
  7. Around 250 tonnes of microplastics enter the Scottish seas annually. (Marine Scotland Science)
  8. Scotland uses an estimated 300 million plastic straws, 276 million pieces of plastic cutlery and 50 million plastic plates each year. (The Scottish Government)
  9. Beach cleans can remove between 5% and 20% of the total plastic from Scottish seas. (Marine Scotland Science)
  10. Over 1.3 million single-use plastic cups and 3 million single-use plastic food containers are thrown away in Northern Ireland every week. (The NI Government)
  11. 71% of all litter in Northern Ireland contains plastic. (Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful)
  12. In 2019, studies found an average of 508 pieces of trash per 100 metres of beaches in Northern Ireland. (Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful)
  13. A person uses 18 single-use plastic plates and 37 single-use plastic items of cutlery annually in England. (The UK Government)
  14. One study found London’s air to have higher levels of microplastics than Dongguan in China or Paris in France. (King’s College London)
  15. 92% of the fibrous microplastics found in London were from the sear down of plastic textiles. (King’s College London)

Plastic Items

  1. The most common type of plastic packaging waste thrown out by households came from fruit and vegetables, with 1.02 million pieces of fruit and vegetable plastic packaging being thrown away in 2022. (Statista)
  2. The second most common packaging item is snack bags, packets and wraps, accounting for 1.01. million items. (Statista)
  3. The UK generates 637,000 metric tonnes of plastic bottle waste. (Statista)
  4. The UK recycles 75% of PET drink bottles. (RECOUP)
  5. 61% of all plastic bottles are recycled. (RECOUP)
  6. We use an average of 117 plastic bottles annually. (Recyclingbins.co.uk)
  7. On average, households generate 13.65 kilograms of plastic bottle waste annually. (RECOUP)
  8. Five plastic bottles can be turned into a t-shirt. (Recyclingbins.co.uk)
  9. The UK uses approximately 8 billion cotton buds which often contain plastic. (Condor Ferries)
  10. UK households throw away around 66 items of plastic packaging per week. (Statista)
  11. One billion black plastic food trays are sent to a landfill in the UK annually. (Plastor)
  12. The most common litter found on UK beaches are plastic and polystyrene pieces. (Statista)
  13. The average number of plastic packets collected per 100 metres of UK beaches is 26. (Statista)
  14. You can drive a car for 11 metres on the oil it takes to create a plastic bag. (Recyclingbins.co.uk)
  15. 83% of people believe paper bags are better than plastic bags for the environment. (YouGov)
  16. Brits only use plastic bags on average for 12 minutes. (Global Citizen)
  17. Plastic food wrappers, cotton bud sticks, plastic bottles and bottle lids were the most common items floating in the Thames between 2015 and 2018. (Thames21)
  18. Plastic wet wipe products are the most common item on the tidal Thames. (Thames21)
  19. There has been a 46% reduction in problematic and unnecessary plastic items since 2018. (WRAP)
  20. The UK restricted the use of plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds in April 2020. (UK Government)

The Big Plastic Polluters

  1. The top 10 UK supermarkets increased their plastic footprints by 1.2% between 2017 and 2019. (Greenpeace)
  2. Branded pollution is behind 65% of the UK’s plastic waste. (Surfers Against Sewage)
  3. Out of big brands, Coca-Cola is the biggest culprit behind the UK’s plastic pollution generating 16% of all UK’s plastic waste. (Surfers Against Sewage)
  4. From the top food and drink brands causing plastic packaging waste McDonald’s, Cadbury and Walkers are the main culprits. (Surfers Against Sewage)
  5. 48% of the unbranded pollution is made up of bottles and cigarette butts. (Surfers Against Sewage)
  6. The UK Plastics Pact members account for two-thirds of all consumer packaging used in the UK. (WRAP)
  7. The plastic manufacturing sector in the UK produced roughly 2.4 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions in 2020. (Statista)

Attitudes towards Plastic Pollution

  1. 92% of UK adults say plastic pollution is a concern. (Statista)
  2. 78% of adults said they’d taken steps to reduce single-use plastic use. (Statista)
  3. 74% feel anxious, frustrated or hopeless when thinking about the plastic waste their shopping creates. (Statista)
  4. 73% think plastic pollution in the UK is bad or worse than before, with 38% of people saying the COVID-19 pandemic has made it worse. (Statista)
  5. However, another survey found that 34% didn’t think their use of single-use plastic changed during the pandemic, 28% thought it had gone up, and 22% said it had reduced. (YouGov)
  6. 81% of adults want the UK Government to make refillable products easier to buy. (Statista)
  7. 62% of UK adults support stopping plastic waste exports. (Statista)
  8. 75% of adults don’t know what happens to recycled plastic after disposing of it. (YouGov)
  9. 63% of people would rather buy a cucumber unwrapped, with 21% preferring those wrapped in plastic. (YouGov)

Plastic Pollution Trade

  1. The UK’s plastic waste exports amount to 0.47 metric tonnes. (Statista)
  2. UK exports 0.27 million tonnes of polyethene (PE) waste, which makes it the most exported type of plastic. (Statista)
  3. The majority of the UK’s plastic waste goes to Turkey, with 26% of the total shipped to the country. (Statista)
  4. Most plastic waste used to be shipped to China, but the Chinese Government banned waste exports in 2018. (Statista)
  5. UK’s plastic exports to the Netherlands increased by 62% in 2021. (UK Trade Info)
  6. UK’s annual plastic exports peaked at 860,000 metric tonnes in 2011. (Statista)
  7. INTERPOL investigations have found that 2,600 tonnes of UK waste were sent to an illegal dump in Poland. (INTERPOL)

Plastic Recycling

  1. The total recovered or recycled plastic packaging waste in the UK is 1.1 metric tonnes. (Statista)
  2. UK households collected 0.58 metric tonnes of plastic packaging for recycling. (Statista)
  3. 2021’s household recycling rate decreased from 2020, when it reached an all-time high of 47.2%. (Statista)
  4. Around 46% of our plastic waste is incinerated, 19% is exported, and 17 goes straight to landfills. (BPF)
  5. Recycling uses only 12% of the energy you need to make new plastic. (Plastor)
  6. One recycled plastic bottle can save enough energy to power a 60-watt lightbulb for 3 hours. (GlobePackaging)
  7. 53% of the waste collected was processed in the UK, while the rest was sent abroad. (Statista)
  8. The collection rate of plastic bottles in the UK is 61%. (Statista)
  9. 82 metric tonnes of plastic packaging end up in landfill sites or incinerated for energy recovery. (Statista0
  10. The UK has 16 plastic recycling facilities that handle packaging waste. (RECOUP)
  11. The utilisation rate of the UK’s plastic recycling facilities is 52%, meaning they could take more. (RECOUP)
  12. One tonne of recycled plastic saves 3,114 litres of oil. (Plastor)
  13. With just a tonne of recycled plastic, you could create 20,786 megajoules of electricity. (Plastor)
  14. Collecting, cleaning, recycling and re-manufacturing plastic can take just one month. (Plastor)

Global Plastic Pollution

  1. Approximately 8 million pieces of plastic pollution end up in the ocean every day. (OSPAR)
  2. Plastics make up 80% of all marine debris studied. (IUCN)
  3. 100,000 marine mammals and turtles are killed by marine plastic pollution annually. (UK Government)
  4. Plastic has caught 1 in 3 marine animals. (Condor Ferries)
  5. Forecasts predict plastic production to grow by 60% by 2030 and treble by 2050. (Center for International Environmental Law)
  6. The US is the largest producer of plastic waste, followed by the UK. (The Guardian)
  7. China produces the most single-use plastics in the world. (Statista)
  8. 50% of the plastic produced annually is single-use plastic, with only 9% being recycled. (Condor Ferries)
  9. Plastic has even been found as deep as 11 kilometres, contaminating the Earth’s most remote places. (Condor Ferries)
  10. 60% of our clothing materials are plastic, and your typical clothes wash produces around 700,000 microplastic fibres. (Condor Ferries)
  11. An average person eats 70,000 microplastics annually, which amounts to approximately 100 bits of microplastic per meal. (Environmental Pollution)
  12. If we recycled all of the world’s plastic, it would save 30-150 millioned tonnes of CO2 annually. (BFP)
  13. Plastic can take up to 500 years to fully decompose. (Recyclingbins.co.uk)

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