Government urged to act as UK throws away 1.7 billion pieces of plastic per week

  • 58% of our plastic waste is incinerated – a 12% increase from 2022
  • Action needed as plastic crisis is “out of control”
  • More than 100,000 people took part in The Big Plastic Count 2024

The UK government has been urged to cut plastic production by at least two-thirds in the next two decades after a Greenpeace survey found that Britons are throwing away an estimated 1.7 billion pieces of plastic per week, equating to 90 billion pieces of plastic per year.

Rude Schulkind, political campaigner, Greenpeace UK, claimed the plastic crisis was “out of control” and said the UK must push for a global agreement to secure “a legally binding target to radically reduce plastic pollution,” and cut plastic production “by at least 75% by 2024.”

The Big Plastic Count 2024, which Greenpeace ran with Everyday Plastic, showed that the UK tops the global chart for plastic waste per person, and that 58% of the country incinerates 58% of its plastic waste, a 12% increase from 2022.  

UK households are throwing away an estimated 1.7 billion pieces of plastic a week

Source: The Big Plastic Count, Greenpeace UK and Everyday Plastic

“The plastics crisis is out of control, with production set to triple by 2050 if the industry has its way,” Schulkind said. 

“The worst affected are the marginalised communities and People of Colour who are more likely to live near incineration sites or to be harmed by the waste we dump in Global South countries.” 

All plastic waste that is incinerated is done so in the UK and can release more carbon dioxide per tonne than burning coal, the survey concluded. 

Incinerating plastic goes against the UK government’s own commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, with 18 new incinerators being built in the UK, from Glasgow to the Isle of Wight. 

Just 17% of plastic waste is recycled, while 14% is exported and 11% is sent to landfill. 

58% of our plastic waste is incinerated, only 17% is recycled

Source: The Big Plastic Count, Greenpeace UK and Everyday Plastic

The UK’s current recycling system is unable to cope with the amount of plastic we produce and still, vast quantities still can’t be recycled – despite manufacturers trying to change this.  

In response to growing concerns, governments have commenced United Nations (UN) negotiations for a ‘Global Plastics Treaty’, which will set a global target to reduce plastic. 

This follows the 2023 UN treaty, The Global Oceans Treaty, which lays out the potential to protect 30% of our oceans by 2030. 

Schulkind said Greenpeace would use the evidence from The Big Plastic Count to confront ministers with the scale of the plastic waste problem and the public’s concern and demand for solutions. 

Additionally, she said there was a “once in a generation opportunity” to secure a global agreement on cutting plastic pollution, but it required governments to take action.  

Most recently, Suntory Beverage & Food GB&I – owners of Lucozade and Ribena – announced its plans to introduce tethered caps to its products to make them easier to recycle and reduce plastic waste entering landfill, while Coca-Cola Europacific Partners did the same in 2022. 

Written by:
Tamara Birch, senior writer, The Eco Experts
Tamara has written about environmental topics for more than four years. This includes advising small business owners on cost-effective ways, like solar panels and energy-efficient products to help them become more sustainable. 
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