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Plastic Recycling in England - Statistics 2020

Plastic Recycling in England - Statistics 2020

The government estimates that approximately 5 million tonnes of plastic is used each year in the UK alone. That’s the equivalent weight of around 1 million African elephants. So just how much of this plastic waste gets recycled? And is your local council providing you with adequate resources to recycle your single use plastics?




In this article we take a look at the most recent Plastic Recycling Statistics of 2020 in order to provide you with the latest facts and figures surrounding single use plastic recycling

What Does Your Local Authority Say About Recycling Plastic?

If you go to your local authority or council’s website, you’ll be able to see which items can and can’t be recycled. However, this advice differs depending on the area you’re in. You could even have different recycling rules than someone who only lives around the corner from you.

But why is this? How is it possible for one council to be able to recycle specific items and not others?

To find out, we collated all of the information on plastic recycling from councils across England. In doing this, we found the following plastic recycling statistics:

  • Only 11% of councils and local authorities in England allow you to recycle plastic carrier bags and soft plastic plant pots at the kerbside (in a recycling bin). The vast majority (89%) instruct you to simply dispose of these plastic items in your general waste bin.
  • 1 in every 10 local councils and authorities across England say that yoghurt pots and plastic punnets (such as fruit punnets) cannot be recycled, even though the majority of other councils say they can be.
  • 8% of local authorities and councils across the country don’t encourage residents to recycle their plastic drinks bottle tops, even though they’re made from recyclable materials.

Given these discrepancies, it’s no surprise that nearly a third of Brits think their local council’s communication on recycling is poor.


Asking Google for Help on Plastic Recycling

It can be so difficult to know all of the do’s and don'ts surrounding how to recycle single use plastics. If the packaging labels on our products tell us one thing and the local council tells us another, then what should we do for the best?

Well, like with most problems we have, it turns out that many of us have been turning to Google for the answer. The following statistics show the average search volumes surrounding plastic recycling in the UK.


  • Approximately 1,300 searches a month are made in the UK for the term ‘What can be recycled?’
  • A further 1,800 searches are also made each month for the term ‘Plastic alternatives’, suggesting that people are starting to think about using more sustainable products to help the environment.
  • Since January less year, the average search volume for the term ‘Recycling plastic’ has decreased.


How Big is the Issue of Recycling Single Use Plastics?

Almost all plastics can be recycled, but recent figures show that only 9% of plastics ever made are in fact recycled. So why is this?

Recycling statistics can only tell us so much, so to find out more we spoke to Dr Rachael Rothman, the Academic Lead for Sustainability and Associate Director of the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures at Sheffield University.

‘Local authorities across England give very different advice to their residents in terms of what can and cannot be recycled, specifically with regards to single use plastics. Do you think that local councils should do more to make sure that these materials are being recycled?’

“Yes, but so should producers, retailers and everyone else involved in the supply chain. Recycling tends to cause a lot of confusion amongst the public. In one area, we’re told that certain types of plastics can be recycled and in another we’re told to put them in our general waste bins. This confusion can unfortunately reduce peoples’ willingness and motivation to recycle. What’s more, it can also cause problems when it comes to recycling instructions on product labels as there isn't a consistent message.”

“If local authorities were all doing the same thing, it would help people to do the right thing.”

“This is something that WRAP (The Waste and Resources Action Programme) have been working on. They aim to introduce consistent municipal recycling collections with a vision of significantly increasing recycling rates across the country.”

‘Do you think it would be worth the additional time and costs involved?’


“It’s not just time and money that needs to be considered here. It’s the amount of energy and environmental impact, too. The onus isn’t just on the local authorities, this change is also reliant on consumer behaviour and producer responsibility. The childhood saying ‘reduce reuse recycle’ really is critical. If there was less reliance on single use plastics in the first place, we wouldn't need to use as much energy to dispose of these items.

It’s important to conduct life cycle analyses to ask the question "is it better to recycle this product or not?”, and the answer is not always clear cut. There's a real onus on the producers and on councils to make sure that if you have the option to recycle an item that it does actually get recycled.

Take a milk bottle for example. Around 30% of the plastic from a milk bottle can be used again to make the same thing, meaning this is a ‘closed loop’ process. These processes are extremely beneficial to the environment as they mean that we’re relying less on what we call virgin (or natural) materials as well as reducing pollution and plastic sent to landfills.”

Are there any types of plastics that can’t be recycled?


“Most plastics can be recycled. However, it’s not that simple. There are some types of plastics that are extremely difficult to recycle. Crisp packets for instance have multiple layers of different types of plastic. This makes them extremely difficult to recycle as the layers must first be separated into different plastic parts.

It can be really tough to encourage manufacturers to use more sustainable packaging when it comes to products like crisps. Even though the current packaging is problematic for the environment, it also ensures that the packaging remains lightweight, flexible and keeps the contents fresher for longer. If large scale producers such as these found new ways of creating packaging with smaller material sets, this would enable us to recycle more single use plastics, thereby reducing carbon footprint.”


What Happens to Plastic Waste That’s Not Recycled?


Back in 2015 a team of researchers conducted a detailed analysis to discover the fate of all mass-produced plastics that had ever been manufactured worldwide.

The study found that of the 6,300 metric tonnes of plastic waste that had been produced, only 9% of it was recycled. 12% of the plastic waste was incinerated and a staggering 79% ended up either in landfills or the natural environment.

We hope this article has provided you with all of the most important statistics on plastic recycling in England in 2020.