Britain’s recycling statistics

Reduce, reuse, recycle.


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In the UK only, households throw away 23.1 million of metric tonnes of waste per year, making it 403 kilos per person. After seeing the oceans get destroyed with plastic waste, killing and damaging animals living in our waters, the interest to recycle is high. In 2017/2018, we recycled 46.2% of all the plastic waste, more than twice as much as the target (22.5%). This positive effect has stopped several fast food chains to offer plastic straws as well as started innovative ideas on how to stop using as much plastic.
The waste that we produce can have a massive strain on natural resources and requires an astonishing level of energy and power to deal with. As well as buying sustainable clothes, shopping locally and using renewable energy, we also need to learn how to deal with our waste in the most environmentally friendly way possible.

Quick facts

  • The total household waste volume in England in 2017/2018 was 23.1 million metric tonnes.
  • The average household waste volume is 403kg per person.
  • The public sector expenditure on waste management in 2018/2019 was £8.32 billion.

Recycling trends

Residual household waste refers to the volume of waste which is not recycled per household. The volume of residual household waste has decreased gradually over time. In 2017/2018 it was almost half (52%) the volume that it was in 2000/2001.

Year Residual household waste
2000/01 1,046kg
2001/02 1,042kg
2002/03 1,024kg
2003/04 962kg
2004/05 911kg
2005/06 845kg
2006/07 798kg
2007/08 735kg
2008/09 669kg
2009/10 625kg
2010/11 598kg
2011/12 568kg
2012/13 551kg
2013/14 555kg
2014/15 558kg
2015/16 564kg
2016/17 557kg
2017/18 544kg

Recycling rates by material

There is an EU target for the UK to recycle at least 50% of household waste by 2020. This target is divided into smaller targets for each waste material in the UK. The UK’s recycling rate for each material compared to the EU target rate is displayed in the chart below. In 2017, the UK successfully exceeded all the EU targets.

Material Recycling rate
Metal 71.3%
Paper and cardboard 79%
Glass 67.6%
Plastic 46.2%
Wood 31.4%

Plastic recycling statistics

Plastic can be found in most modern products. With that in mind, the amount of plastic thrown away each year is enough to circle the earth four times over. Considering it takes only 12% of the energy required to produce plastic to recycle it, there’s no reason for us not to separate our rubbish items and deliver them to dedicated recycling points.

  • The most common type of litter collected on a UK beach is plastic/polystyrene pieces. Plastic is 4 times more common than the next biggest type of litter, glass.
  • In 2018, 81% of people reported that they believed the oceans would be full of plastic in 50 years time.
  • 84% of respondents aged 55+ supported the ban of disposable coffee cups.

Sources of plastic waste

Packaging products are the biggest contributor to plastic waste. Almost 7 in 10 plastic waste items (67%) come from packaging. This is unsurprising given our huge dependence on plastic both in production and to protect items. 7.3% comes from WEEE (Waste electrical and electronic equipment) and 4.2% from our cars.

Sector Percentage of total plastic waste
Packaging 67%
WEEE 7.3%
Automotive 4.2%
Construction and Demolition 3.5%
Agriculture 3.1%
Non packaging household 2.3%
Fishing/aquaculture 0.1%
Other 12%

Which types of plastic products are most used in the UK?

The consumption numbers for different products that use single-use plastics in 2018 are shown below. Cigarette filters are the biggest contributor to the number of single-use plastics, with 45.8 billion consumed in 2018. Stirrers and straws also both had significant numbers, both exceeding 40 billion.

Type of plastic item Number used
Cigarette filters 45.8bn
Stirrers 44.1bn
Straws 42bn
Cutlery 16.5bn
Cotton buds 13.2bn
Wet wipes 10.8bn
Drinks bottles 10.1bn
Crisp packets 8.3bn
Sweet wrappers 6bn
Food containers 5.2bn
Sanitary towels 4.1bn
Drinks cups and lids 4.1bn

Deposit schemes as a solution

It’s not only plastic and paper that can be recycled. The majority of our household items and clothing can be given a second lease of life. Below we show how many people would consider a deposit scheme set up for different types of household items.
Household item Share of respondents
Glass botles 54%
Plastic bottles 53%
Batteries 43%
Aluminium cans 40%
Mobile phones 35%
Small electrical items 33%
Coffee cups 32%
Light bulbs 31%
Disposable plastic bags 30%
Blac plastic food trays 29%
Juice cartons 27%
Crisp packets 22%
Magazines 21%
Straws 19%
Wet wipes 16%
Cotton buds 14%

Glass and plastic bottles are the two most popular types of deposit schemes, having over half of all respondents agree that they might use them. Smaller household items still containing plastic are less likely to be dropped at a deposit location. It’s lucky then that the involvement of the local authority has increased in the past two decades.

3.46 times

more waste was recycled by the local authority in 2017/2018 than in 2000/2001.


Office for National Statistics
Marine Conservation Society

Click here for more research. For all media enquiries, please contact:

Matt Mckenna
UK communications manager
T: +44 20 8191 8806

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