UK – UK households throw away nearly 100bn pieces of plastic packaging a year, recycling only 12% of single-use plastic, according to a survey by Greenpeace.

Greenpeace asked households to count their plastic waste for one week in May. Nearly 250,000 people from almost 100,000 households took part and sent their results to Greenpeace and fellow NGO Everyday Plastic.

By far the largest proportion of plastic waste was from food and drink packaging – 83% – with the most common item being fruit and vegetable packaging.

While the UK government publishes data on the weight of plastic waste being collected from households, there are no official figures about the number of plastic items being thrown away.

The research, known as the Big Plastic Count, is being seen as providing a significant insight into the scale of single-use plastic packaging waste.

The Big Plastic Count found that 97,948 households across the UK counted 6,437,813 pieces of plastic packaging waste.

On average, each household threw away 66 pieces of plastic packaging in one week, which amounts to an estimated 3,432 pieces when applied over a year.

Assuming the weekly average is typical of every household in the UK, the researchers said it could be reasonably estimated that households throw away 1.85bn pieces of plastic packaging a week, equating to 96.6bn pieces a year in the UK alone.

A landmark study in 2019 found that the proliferation of single-use plastic around the world is accelerating the climate emergency and needs to be urgently halted.

Nearly all plastic is made from fossil fuels, the research by the Center for International Environmental Law found, and plastic contributes to greenhouse gas emissions at every stage of its lifecycle, from its production to its refining and the way it is managed as a waste product.

“This is a jaw-dropping amount of plastic waste and should give ministers pause for thought,” said Chris Thorne, plastics campaigner at Greenpeace UK.

“Just 12% of all this plastic is likely to end up being recycled in the UK, despite the public’s alarm about the issue and efforts to recycle.

“The rest becomes pollution, whether through landfilling, incineration or export to countries all around the world, gradually contaminating everything – our water, our food, even the air we breathe.”

In an aim to mitigate plastic waste pollution, NGOs within UK are calling on the government to set legally binding targets to almost eliminate single-use plastic entirely, starting with a target of a 50% cut in single-use plastic by 2025.

They want a ban on plastic waste exports by 2025, initially starting with an immediate ban on all exports to non-OECD member countries and mixed plastic waste to OECD member countries.

In addition, they are also calling for the immediate creation of a deposit return scheme.

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