Packaging Waste Facts and Statistics
The global packaging market is valued at more than $1 trillion and is expected to keep on growing. In the UK alone the packaging sector is worth around £47 billion. There’s been a big focus on sustainability and cost reductions across the industry though, as it creates millions of tonnes of waste.
Packaging covers a wide area – from crisp packets to cardboard boxes for online deliveries and huge pallets and plastic wrap for shipping furniture worldwide. The rise of e-commerce has especially seen the demand for packaging increase and change. However, events like the UK’s single-use plastic ban mean action to reduce packaging waste is happening.
Many materials are used for packaging, mainly paper, cardboard, and plastic. Lots of packaging waste facts and stats overlap with facts about these specific waste types. Discover the impact packaging has on our world with these facts and statistics about packaging waste.
Examples of packaging waste
Any materials used to protect goods that are then discarded are examples of packaging waste. It could be something as simple as an empty sweet wrapper or a big wooden box used to ship a new motorbike from one country to another. Some examples of packaging waste are more common than others, such as:
- Crisp packets
- Cardboard delivery boxes
- Plastic wrapping
- Aluminium food cans
- Plastic trays for ready meals
- Glass coffee jars
- Corrugated cardboard
- Tertiary wooden packaging
What causes packaging waste?
Most packaging waste is simply created when opening a product and no longer needing its protective material. This could be a cardboard box used to protect books delivered to your home, plastic bags containing clothes ordered online, or just an empty crisp packet after munching your way through the crunchy contents.
Another cause of packaging waste comes from the manufacturing and logistical processes. Using too much packaging material can generate excess waste, such as wrapping an item in plastic, then putting it in a cardboard box, and then wrapping that with plastic film. More businesses aim to move towards sustainable packaging processes.
Problems with packaging machinery or using old and faulty ones may also lead to damaged packaging, which is then wasted. Poor storage can also create packaging waste. For example, if cardboard boxes are left in a warehouse with a leaky roof and get wet or glass jars fall from a shelf and shatter.
Packaging waste statistics
Facts and statistics about packaging waste vary depending on the material and country where it’s produced. There are few global packaging waste statistics available, but information exists about specific countries, regions, and materials. We’ve pulled together some top-level packaging waste statistics to provide an insight into the sector:
- 40% of plastic waste is from packaging
- The world creates 141 million tonnes of plastic packaging a year
- About 84 million tonnes of packaging waste are created across the EU nations
- Residents within the EU generate an average of 7kg of packaging waste per person
- Paper and cardboard are the main packaging waste materials in the EU (34 million tonnes), followed by plastic (16.1 million tonnes) and glass packaging waste (15.6 million tonnes)
- It’s estimated that the EU recycles 84.2% of its packaging waste
- In the USA, containers and packaging make up a major portion of municipal solid waste (MSW), amounting to 2 million tonnes
- 63% of MSW in the USA is from packaging materials
Packaging waste statistics in the UK
In the UK we dispose of approximately 12 million tonnes of packaging waste every year. This covers everything from chocolate bar wrappers to empty wine bottles and cardboard boxes. The amount of each packaging waste type generated and how much is recycled varies depending on the material.
Find out more with these packaging waste statistics in the UK:
- The UK generates around 11 billion items of packaging waste annually
- Around 2 million tonnes of packaging waste in the UK are plastic packaging waste
- Another 2 million tonnes are from glass packaging waste
- 5 million tonnes are paper and cardboard packaging – the rest is a mix of metal, wood, and other material packaging
- Government figures show that around 72% of glass packaging waste is recycled in the UK
- About 69% of paper and cardboard packaging also gets recycled
- Only 44% of plastic packaging waste is currently recycled in the UK
Food packaging waste statistics
One of the most common types of packaging waste is that used for food and drinks. Much of this is made from plastic and is tricky to recycle as it contains various materials and is often contaminated with food. Manufacturers, shops, and fast-food restaurants are all responsible for creating such waste, as these food packaging waste statistics show:
- Food packaging materials make up almost half of all MSW in the USA – according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
- Food and drink packaging accounts for 83% of plastic packaging waste thrown out by UK households
- Fast food packaging accounts for 88% of the world’s coastline litter
- Just 10 plastic products account for 75% of the rubbish in our oceans – including plastic lids from coffee cups
- Straws, stirrers, and lolly sticks make up 2.5% of the litter in our oceans
Cosmetic packaging waste statistics
The global cosmetics market is huge and worth around $350 billion. It’s also responsible for large levels of packaging waste as everything from lipstick to wipes, and razors come in all sorts of packaging. According to one study, 82% of consumers consider cosmetic products with sustainable packaging more important than ever.
Clean up with these cosmetic packaging waste statistics
- 120 billion units of packaging are produced every year by the global cosmetics industry
- 95% of cosmetic packaging is thrown away
- Packaging accounts for 70% of the industry’s waste
- In the USA alone around 9 billion units of rigid plastic are created annually for the cosmetic industry
- The beauty industry is responsible for about 30% of the plastic waste in the world – including its packaging
E-commerce packaging waste statistics
The rapid growth of the e-commerce industry has had a significant impact on how much packaging is used and wasted across the world. Today, around 19% of retail sales are through e-commerce, which is expected to increase. Each item ordered online is packaged in one way or another to protect it during transportation.
Lots of e-commerce packaging is recyclable but it’s not all disposed of responsibly. The industry already produces incredible amounts of waste as these e-commerce packaging waste statistics show:
- Packaging waste generated by e-commerce is 8 times more than offline purchasing
- Around 942 million kilograms of plastic packaging waste are produced by e-commerce activities worldwide
- China’s e-commerce industry produces the most plastic packaging waste of around 5 million kilograms
- E-commerce in the USA is also responsible for 7 million kilograms of plastic packaging waste
- One study found that 52% of people discard e-commerce packaging material rather than reusing or recycling it
How should I get rid
of packaging waste?
Lots of packaging waste is recyclable at home. Check the material and if it’s accepted in your household recycling bin. Most paper and cardboard are collected by local authorities, as are some types of plastic packaging – just ensure they’re clean and dry. Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRCs) may also accept some packaging waste.
If you run a business you should arrange commercial waste collections of any packaging waste. Use a range of bins to separate the packaging based on its material and then book removal by licensed waste carriers. This ensures the waste is managed safely, legally, and recycled responsibly.
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