empty plastic water bottles.
Facts about plastic waste

Plastic Waste Facts and Statistics

The world produces 430 million tonnes of plastic waste every year. This includes everything from empty drinks bottles and carrier bags to old items of furniture and industrial fishing nets. Sadly, irresponsible disposal means lots of plastic ends up in our oceans, rivers, and lakes, which seriously harms the environment.

Plastic pollution is detrimental to marine life, human health, and other wildlife. It can take hundreds of years to break down and release toxins into the ground and water sources. The statistics on plastic waste are shocking and highlight the importance of reducing plastic use, disposing of such waste properly, and improving recycling rates.

The UN estimates that unless positive changes happen plastic pollution could triple by 2060. To understand the current state of things we’ve collated some important stats and facts about plastic waste around the world. Find out more with these plastic waste facts and statistics.

Examples of plastic waste

Plastic is one of the most used materials in our daily lives. Packaging is the primary source of waste for lots of plastic as it’s used for everything from crisp packets and cup noodles to shampoo bottles, ready meals, and toothpaste tubes. It also has an industrial purpose and is found in larger items like furniture.

Examples of plastic waste:

What causes plastic waste?

One of the main causes of plastic waste is packaging. It’s used for all sorts of food and drinks, toiletries, and cosmetics. Once we’ve finished with any such item the bottle, bag, or container gets thrown away. Some plastic packaging is recyclable, but it depends on the type.

Another big cause of plastic waste is the fishing industry. It’s believed that up to 10% of ocean plastic pollution is from dumped fishing equipment. Nets and ropes are made from various types of plastic and unfortunately some irresponsible offshore fishing results in these and other plastic items being dropped in our seas.

Manufacturing, industry, and almost every business also produces plastic waste daily. Plastic packaging is a big source again. Commercial kitchens create lots of plastic waste from packaging for food, drinks, and ingredients. Factories also generate high levels due to plastic offcuts when manufacturing a wide range of items. Reducing plastic waste where possible is vital.

How to reduce plastic waste
seal on the beach next to plastic fishing nets.

Plastic waste statistics

There are lots of staggering statistics on plastic waste from across the world, as we create hundreds of millions of tonnes every year. The average lifespan of plastic products is around ten years, but they can then take upwards of 400 years to break down and decompose.

Many plastic waste statistics focus on the problems with the material. However, there are some more positive facts and stats out there. According to scientists in one report, 80% of plastic pollution could be erased by reducing virgin plastic production, improving waste collection systems, and investing in recyclable plastics.

Here are some key plastic waste statistics:

  • Almost half of all plastic waste (46%) goes to landfill
  • 22% of waste plastic is littered
  • Around 17% of plastic is incinerated
  • Just 15% of plastic gets sent for recycling
  • Producing one tonne of plastic generates 5 tonnes of carbon dioxide
  • Plastics account for 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions
  • Plastic packaging is the reason for most (36%) of plastic production
  • Around three-quarters (73%) of litter on beaches worldwide is plastic
  • Global plastic production has grown from 2.1 million tonnes in 1950 to more than 400 million tonnes today
  • More than 40% of plastic is only used once and then thrown away
  • Producing plastic uses 4% of the world’s total fossil fuel supply

UK plastic waste statistics

Despite improvements to recycling rates and collections, there are still plenty of shocking plastic waste statistics in the UK. The single use plastic ban and charges for carrier bags in supermarkets have helped reduce our reliance on the material. However, we still use millions of tonnes of plastic every year across the country.

These are some of the top UK plastic waste statistics:

  • Five million tonnes of plastic are used annually in the UK
  • Around half of all plastic used across the country is for packaging
  • Sadly, only about a quarter is recycled
  • That means nearly four million tonnes of plastic waste could go to UK landfill sites every year
  • The average Brit creates 76kg of plastic waste each year, which is 20 times more than it was 50 years ago.
  • 370,000 tonnes of plastic bottles are recycled on average each year in the UK
  • About 61% of plastic bottles are collected for recycling – and 75% of PET drink bottles are recycled
  • 7 billion plastic bottles are bought across the UK each year
  • UK homes chuck out 100 billion bits of plastic packaging a year – an average of 66 items per household per week
a bale of squashed plastic bottles.

Which countries produce 
the most plastic waste?

Plastic waste statistics worldwide vary between countries and continents. China now creates the most plastic and plastic waste in the world – more than all EU countries combined. The USA is close behind and also has a low recycling rate for plastic of just 9%, which means lots go to landfill.

Generally, plastic waste statistics by country follow similar patterns to other waste production levels. These are the countries that produce the most plastic waste worldwide:

  • China – 60 million tonnes of plastic waste each year
  • USA – 42 million tonnes
  • Brazil – 11.3 million tonnes
  • India – 9.46 million tonnes
  • Japan – 9 million tonnes
  • Russia – 8.47 million tonnes
  • Indonesia – 7.8 million tonnes
  • Germany – 6.5 million tonnes

Plastic bottle waste statistics

Plastic bottles are one of the most used plastic products in the world. The majority are used for water and other drinks, but plastic bottles are also the packaging of choice for shampoo, condiments, and other products. One of the key facts about plastic bottle waste is that they take hundreds of years to break down – so should be recycled.

As these plastic bottle waste statistics show though, many aren’t disposed of responsibly:

  • 1,500 plastic bottles are thrown away every second worldwide
  • Almost one million plastic drinks bottles are sold every minute around the world
  • Plastic bottles can take around 450 years to decompose
  • In the UK 13,000 tonnes of plastic bottles were recycled in the year 2000 – today more than 390,000 tonnes of plastic bottles are collected for recycling
  • Switching to a reusable bottle can save 94.4 kg of CO2 a year
  • Americans buy about 50 billion plastic water bottles a year in total
squashed clear plastic bottles.

Plastic bags waste statistics

Plastic bags are cheap and convenient, but they cause serious problems for the planet when they’re not recycled. Many countries have banned or introduced measures to reduce the sale and use of plastic bags. However, more can be done to eliminate the issues they cause as these waste statistics about plastic bags show:

  • Around 160,000 plastic bags are used every second
  • One trillion plastic bags are used globally every year – enough to circle the world 4,200 times
  • Sadly, fewer than 1 in 7 plastic bags are recycled
  • About 10% of all plastic carrier bags end up in our oceans
  • It can take up to 1,000 years for a plastic bag to break down in landfill

Plastic packaging waste statistics

Packaging is one of the main uses of plastic worldwide and also one of the biggest causes of plastic waste. Find out more with these plastic packaging waste statistics:

  • 141 million tonnes of plastic packaging are produced across the world every year
  • It’s estimated that 5 million tonnes of plastic packaging enter the consumer market in the UK each year
  • Plastic is the second-most common packaging waste material in the EU, which produces 1 million tonnes annually
  • Around 36% of all plastics produced are used in packaging
  • Sending plastic packaging to landfill and not recycling it costs the UK £78 million a year in landfill costs
  • The average lunch in the UK includes four items in plastic packaging (such as sandwiches, crisps, snacks, and drinks)

Single use plastic waste statistics

The single use plastic ban in the UK is working to reduce the types and amount of disposable plastic products we use. However, there are still many items that only get used once and the ban only applies to certain products in the UK – not worldwide. Many single use plastics aren’t recyclable.

Understand the damage they can cause to the environment with these single use plastic waste statistics:

  • Almost half of all plastic is created for single-use products – such as bottles, coffee cups, and food packaging
  • That means more than 200 million tonnes of single use plastic waste is generated globally each year
  • 98% of single-use plastic products are produced from fossil fuels or virgin feedstock
  • 3 billion plastic straws litter beaches across the world – but only 1% of straws end up in the ocean
  • In New York, residents use 23 billion plastic bags each year
single use plastic coffee cup floating in the ocean.

Household plastic waste statistics

It’s not just businesses that are responsible for the use and waste of plastic the world creates. Consumer and individual choices and behaviour contribute to the production of plastic waste. In our homes, we generate plastic waste in more ways than you might think – from the bag a loaf of bread comes in to throwing away old toys.

Here are some surprising household plastic waste statistics:

  • UK households throw away 100 billion pieces of plastic packaging a year
  • That works out at around 11 million bits of plastic put in household bins every hour
  • The average home in the UK disposes of 66 items of plastic waste per week
  • Around 83% of plastic packaging disposed of by homes is for food and drink packaging
  • More than half of household plastic waste is soft plastics and plastic film – found in crisp packets, bread bags, and toilet roll wrap

Plastic waste in the ocean facts

Sadly, lots of plastic waste makes its way into the ocean where it causes serious harm to marine life. This pollutes the seas and impacts the wider food chain and ecosystem. Discover more with these shocking stats and facts about plastic waste in the ocean:

  • Between eight and 14 million tonnes of plastic waste end up in the ocean every year
  • It’s estimated that 5 million tonnes enter the ocean from the land and 1.75 tonnes are disposed of directly into the sea by the fishing and shipping industries
  • More than five trillion pieces of plastic are in our oceans
  • The equivalent of more than 2,000 waste trucks full of plastic are dumped into oceans, rivers, and lakes daily across the world
  • One in three fish caught for food contain plastic
  • 100,000 marine mammals and turtles and one million sea birds are killed by marine plastic pollution every year
  • It’s estimated that 40% of the ocean’s surface is covered in plastic debris
  • Between 500,000 and one million tonnes of ghost fishing equipment – lost, abandoned, or discarded fishing gear – enters the ocean annually
plastic waste floating in the ocean.

How should I get rid of 
my waste plastic?

Avoiding plastic and reducing how much you use and waste you produce where possible is best to help our planet. At home, you should check the recycling symbol on any plastic product and see if you can put it in your domestic recycling bin. Otherwise, find a local recycling scheme that accepts the plastic type.

Businesses should book commercial waste collection of any kind of plastic waste they produce. At Business Waste we can provide free bins to separate and store your waste plastic and arrange removal on a schedule that suits you. Our zero waste to landfill policy means we ensure responsible disposal.

Get a free quote for commercial plastic waste collection anywhere in the UK today. Call 0800 211 8390 or contact us online and we’ll provide a tailored price based on your needs. One of our friendly team can answer any questions and get you set up today.

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