Research DS Smith reveals average annual waste produced by Brits

May 14, 2020
Research DS Smith reveals average annual waste produced by Brits

Quick summary:

  • Over 100 single-use coffee cups and nearly 250 plastic bottles used per capita annually in the UK
  •  83% of British admit to being confused about what can be recycled
  • An estimated 30% of recyclable items end up in general waste

The average British person will use 109 single-use coffee cups, 242 plastic bottles, and 251 cans annually, according to new research.

209 crisp packets, 241 yoghurt pots, 378 snack wrappers, and 317 plastic trays found in biscuit packets or fruit punnets are estimated to be thrown away per head in the UK too.

According to the research, commissioned by the packaging company, DS Smith, plastic waste is not all about food, however. In total, the UK throws away 520 million bottles of shampoo every year and a similar number of tubes of toothpaste. Bottles from cleaning products total 468 million annually across the country too.

The UK produces 4.9 million tonnes of plastic waste annually, according to the UK government’s figures, with plastic packaging making up two thirds of that total. However, the World Wildlife Fund estimates that only 31% of plastic waste is recycled.

A Lack of Clarity

According to the DS Smith study, which polled 2,000 adults across the UK, this could be because 83% of people are not sure which items can and cannot be recycled. This uncertainty is leading to an estimated 30% of recyclable items being disposed of with non-recyclable waste.

Almost half (44%) of respondents admitted to putting items in general waste if they were unsure whether it could be recycled. A further 56% reported throwing items in non-recyclable waste despite knowing they were recyclable.

The majority of people who took part in the survey (56%) said that recycling information on packaging was unclear, with 32% saying that there was no clear recycling label.

The Economic Cost

Regardless of where responsibility for this lies, the research estimated that the potential cost of such confusion to the UK economy is as high as £95 million a year – as recyclable material that could otherwise have re-entered the economy is incinerated or placed in landfill.

DS Smith estimates that, as a result of uncertainty regarding recycling, 2.6 million tonnes of recyclable materials are going to landfill annually.

As a result, the cost is not only economic. According to the US charity, Ocean Conservancy, 8 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean every year. 

With the Coronavirus pandemic affecting much of the world, it is feared that these numbers may rise ever further, as plastic use appears to be on the increase due to concerns surrounding hygiene.

Photo by Jasmin Sessler on Unsplash