WORKPLACE head office has just taken part in The Big Plastic Count, the UK’s biggest investigation into plastic waste.
Here’s what we found really happens to our plastic waste:
♻️18% is recycled 🌍 26% is sent abroad 🔥 36% is burnt ⛰️20% is sent to landfill
In one week we used 4 pieces of plastic. Over the year that's the equivalent to 208 pieces. 100% of our plastic waste was from food & drink packaging. Most plastic packaging is single-use – designed to be used once and then thrown away. For a lot of people plastic packaging from food & drink will be highest. If supermarkets reduced the amount of fruit and vegetable wrapping, it would significantly cut plastic waste.
75% of our plastic was hard plastic. Hard plastic is a lot easier to recycle than soft plastic. Whilst hard plastic is more recyclable, there are many items that cannot be recycled such as black plastic, polystyrene chips and toothpaste tubes.
25% of our plastic was soft plastic. Less than 1 in 10 local councils in the UK collect soft plastic, like plastic bags and wrappers. Do you know if yours collects it?
So what happens to our plastic packaging waste?
18% is recycled in the UK - Plastic waste that is sorted and reprocessed in the UK then turned into new materials.
26% is exported - The UK sends tonnes of rubbish to other countries every day - often to countries in the Global South. Investigations have shown much of it ends up being dumped or burned.
20% is landfilled - When plastic is buried in the ground at a landfill, it releases harmful gases into the atmosphere, while wind and rain carry microplastics into surrounding areas.
36% is incinerated - Burning or incinerating plastic releases carbon, toxins and pollutants into the air, presenting numerous health risks for local communities and contributing to climate change.
It’s pretty fascinating to learn about our own plastic footprint, but it’s important to remember that the point of The Big Plastic Count is not about individual action.
Currently, too much single plastic is being produced without reusable alternatives that suit everyone's needs. We need governments, supermarkets and companies to take action to reduce the amount of plastic that’s being produced in the first place.
The team over at the Big Plastic Count are going to spend the next few weeks crunching all the data that’s coming in - will be back in touch in mid July, to let our know the overall national picture of what's happening to our plastic, and a plan of action for how together we can push for ambitious change.
In the meantime, if you want more information on how we as individuals can reduce our own plastic use, they've teamed up with City to Sea to create a handbook with tips on how you can reduce, reuse and refill!