On Saturday 24th March 2018 at 8.30pm, also known as Earth Hour, the World Wildlife Fund launched a report we developed that summarises available data on single use plastic consumption and waste management in the UK, both historic trends and future projections, and considers the UK’s performance relative to other European countries.

The report, A Plastics Future – Plastics Consumption and Waste Management in the UK, highlights that UK consumers are the second biggest users per person of single-use drinks cups, straws, food containers, crisp packets and wet wipes compared with other European countries. It also forecasts that the UK is set to throwaway a third more takeaway drinks cups by 2030, as the overall amount of plastic waste the country produces surges by 20 percent.

The figures on plastic consumption are based on modelling of existing available data and take into factors such as rising GDP and the impact of new European legislation. They show that without urgent new action, the amount of plastic waste produced by the UK will rise from 5.2 million tons this year to 6.3 million in 2030 – an increase of 20 percent in just 12 years. The majority of this waste – 67 percent – is from packaging, a far higher proportion than the rest of the EU.

The report forecasts that by 2030, the UK will use: 33% more cups and lids, 34% more crisp packets and 9% more drinks bottles. Use of a few common items made using single-use plastic is estimated to fall, with cigarette filter waste falling by 50% and the number of cotton buds set to decrease by 69% as alternatives become more widely adopted.

WWF commissioned this research to highlight the need for urgent action to reduce single-use plastic waste, and launched the report during Earth Hour, the world’s largest event in support of the planet, when a record 400 UK landmarks turned off their lights in support of the campaign. WWF also asked the UK public to make a #PromiseForThePlanet, a pledge to make one change in their own lives to reduce their environmental footprint such as refusing plastic cutlery or carrying a reusable coffee cup. The promises have been chosen as examples of small behaviour changes people can make that collectively will have a big impact.

Tanya Steele, CEO of WWF commented:

“We are polluting our world with plastic, suffocating our oceans and overwhelming our wildlife. The amount of plastic which the UK is throwing away is set to rocket by over a million tonnes by 2030 – that’s the equivalent of 87,000 more double decker buses worth of plastic waste each year. We must act now – banning avoidable single use plastic by 2025 – and introducing incentives to help people and businesses make the right choices to reduce, reuse and recycle.  This Earth Hour, millions of people around the UK are sending a powerful message that we must act now on climate change and pollution to save our planet.”

The report also highlights that while plastic waste will rise dramatically if action isn’t taken, recycling is likely to increase more slowly. Currently, only 31% of total plastic waste is recycled, but this is projected to increase 12 percent to 42% by 2030 as a result of lifestyle changes and future policies taking effect. However, the amount of recycled single-used plastic – much of which is difficult to recycle – will rise just 8 percent, from 29 percent to 37 percent over the same period. This takes into account increases in plastic bottle recycling as a result of the new EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive.