Single-use plastic litter rife in UK

Written by: Maddie Ballard | Published:
Between April and December 2019, volunteers logged 64,913 pieces of litter in the Plastic Patrol app

Single-use litter is widespread across the UK and made up of 83% plastic, a new report reveals.

The report, from the first year of a five-year study by not-for-profit Plastic Patrol, presents an analysis of litter data recorded by volunteers across the country over a nine-month period.

Between 5 April and 31 December 2019, volunteers logged 64,913 pieces of litter in the Plastic Patrol app.

The most commonly found type of litter was plastic packaging (21%) followed by plastic fragments larger than 2.5cm (10%).

Cigarette butts (9%), fishing net, rope, and pieces (5%), and polystyrene (6%) also featured in the top ten.

Additionally, 6% of the litter was made up of plastic bags, 85% of which were unbranded – characteristic of those handed out by SMEs, such as independent grocery stores, currently exempt from the 5p plastic bag charge.

Drinks cans, plastic bottles, and glass bottles – all highly recyclable items – comprised 20% of the total litter found, leading Plastic Patrol to suggest that current recycling infrastructure and incentives are inadequate.

A total of 1065 brands were recorded by volunteers among the litter, with Coca-Cola, Cadbury, Walkers, Mars, and Tesco emerging as the top five polluting brands.

The report recommends the UK government implement a reformed waste producer responsibility alongside a transparent regulatory framework, an ‘all-in’ deposit return scheme including all single-use materials and container types and sizes, and a nationwide plastic bag ban.

These recently reintroduced Environment Bill includes proposals for extended producer responsibility and deposit return schemes, and planned charges for specific single-use plastic items – but “the devil will be in the detail as to how they are implemented,” said Lizzie Carr, founder of Plastic Patrol.

She added: “These results, obtained across the UK over nine months, serve as a crucial wake-up call to us all.

“It is clear that now is the time for government, industry, and individuals to step up our ambitions and act accordingly to tackle the single-use little crisis, which continues despite increasing awareness.

“This five-year series of reports by Plastic Patrol will be essential for assessing the adequacy of policy interventions and industry’s sustainability commitments in an important decade for environmental protection.”

Plastic Patrol aims to collect and record one million pieces of litter through the Plastic Patrol app in 2020.

Individuals can download the app on android or iOS and record any litter they find to contribute to the target.

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