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Average UK household has the equivalent of a small car's worth of plastic at home, study shows 


Average UK household contains a small car’s worth of plastic including food packaging, textiles and white goods — but only four per cent is recycled, study shows

  • Experts from Exeter created a tool to asses the ‘invisible’ plastic in our homes
  • In 2018, the team found that each UK resident had around 1,043 lbs of plastic
  • This is equivalent to around 2,504 lbs of plastic per individual British household
  • Looking at the South West, the team found that only 4 per cent of this is recycled

The average UK household contains a small car’s worth of plastic including food packaging, textiles and white goods — but only four per cent is recycled.

Researchers from the University of Exeter’s Business School created a tool to estimate just how much ‘invisible’ plastic can be found in British homes.

The tool also considered the plastic that enters households in the form of products and packaging and leaves as waste on an annual basis, alongside recycling rates.

The team found that, in 2018, each UK resident had an average of around 1,043 lbs (473 kg) of plastic in their home — equivalent to 2,504 lbs (1,136 kg) per household.

Of this, the majority of plastic was found in white goods, vehicles, textiles and building products such as windows.

In their case study of the South West of the country, the team found that only 4 per cent of all household plastics are recycled.

The researcher also found that the average Briton produces around 154 lbs (70 kg) of plastic waste each year — a third of which comes via soft drinks and dairy products.

The average UK household contains a small car's worth of plastic including textiles, white goods and food packaging (pictured) — but only four per cent is recycled, a study found

The average UK household contains a small car’s worth of plastic including textiles, white goods and food packaging (pictured) — but only four per cent is recycled, a study found

‘A good, quantitative understanding of household stocks and the flows of plastics in and out of the home is the basis to designing a better future circular economy for plastics,’ said University of Exeter engineer Xiaoyu Yan.

‘Public concerns and calls for action have often advocated plastic-free futures or avoidance and reduction in items such as plastic bags.’

‘But while these are hugely important they can disguise many other sources and uses of plastics that pervade everyday life, such as household white goods, vehicles, textiles and building products such as windows.’

‘Our recycling figures look striking because most of the focus is on packaging as far as plastics are concerned. But our estimates include all plastic waste in everything, such as buildings, vehicle, electronics and textiles,’ Dr Yan added.

‘People tend not to realise there are actually a lot of plastics in these other things too!’

To calculate the plastic footprint of the average British household, Dr Yan and colleagues combined national statistics and surveys, industry reports, academic research and proprietary information.  

Researchers from the University of Exeter's Business School created a tool to estimate just how much 'invisible' plastic can be found in British homes. The tool also considered the plastic that enters households in the form of products and packaging and leaves as waste annually

Researchers from the University of Exeter’s Business School created a tool to estimate just how much ‘invisible’ plastic can be found in British homes. The tool also considered the plastic that enters households in the form of products and packaging and leaves as waste annually

‘Plastic consumption in the UK is forecast to increase 50 per cent by 2030,’ said Exeter Centre for the Circular Economy co-director Peter Hopkinson.

‘Reducing our plastic consumption will require major investments, networks for change involving all stakeholders and transformation in future system design.’ 

The full findings of the study were presented at the Creative Circular Economy Approaches to Eliminate Plastics Waste Conference, which was held virtually from June 8–9. 

HOW MUCH RECYCLING ENDS UP IN LANDFILL?

Every day, millions of us drop a plastic bottle or cardboard container into the recycling bin – and we feel we’re doing our bit for the environment.

But what we may not realise is that most plastic never gets recycled at all, often ending up in landfill or incineration depots instead.

Of 30 billion plastic bottles used by UK households each year, only 57 per cent are currently recycled, with half going to landfill, half go to waste.

Most plastic never gets recycled at all, often ending up in landfill or incineration depots instead. Supermarkets are packed to the gills with plastic so I did my weekly shops at a farmers' market - something that may seem old-fashioned to ‘millenials’

Most plastic never gets recycled at all, often ending up in landfill or incineration depots instead. Around 700,000 plastic bottles a day end up as litter

Around 700,000 plastic bottles a day end up as litter.

This is largely due to plastic wrapping around bottles that are non-recyclable. 

Every year, the UK throws away 2.5 billion ‘paper’ cups, amounting to 5,000 cups a minute. 

Shockingly, less than 0.4 per cent of these are recycled.

Most cups are made from cardboard with a thin layer of plastic. 

This has previously posed issues with recycling but can now be removed. 

Five specialist recycling plants in the UK have the capacity to recycle all the cups used on our high-streets.  

Ensuring the paper cups end up in these plants and are not discarded incorrectly is one of the biggest issues facing the recycling of the paper vessels. 



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