Half of plastic bottles used in Britain are never recycled

plastic beach litter
CC BY 2.0 Bo Eide

This amounts to a staggering 16 million plastic bottles daily, ending up in landfills or making their way to the ocean.

There are 35.8 million plastic bottles used daily in Britain, but only 19.8 million are recycled. That leaves a shocking 16 million plastic bottles that never reach the recycling bin every single day. Users toss their bottles in the trash, perhaps because they don’t want to carry it around any longer, or because they don’t understand it’s recyclable. Either way, it’s a serious problem.

Campaign group Recycle Now reports: “If a year’s worth of the UK’s unrecycled plastic bottles were placed end to end, they’d reach around the world 31 times, covering just over 780,000 miles.” Recycle Now estimates that the number of plastic bottles evading recycling between now and the end of 2020 could reach 29 billion. Since the majority of plastic litter ends up in the oceans, this would have dire repercussions on marine health, which is already suffering greatly. It puts tremendous pressure on landfills, too, which are not designed to hold that much plastic, nor will it break down for at least 500 years.

The Marine Conservation Society reported in 2015 that plastic beach litter was at its highest point ever – a 35 percent increase from the year before – with a horrifying 3,298 items picked up per kilometer cleaned, including 100 plastic bottles.

“If a year’s worth of the UK’s unrecycled plastic bottles were placed end to end, they’d reach around the world 31 times, covering just over 780,000 miles.”

A big part of the problem is people’s misunderstanding of what’s recyclable and what’s not. Alice Harlock of Recycle Now addresses this confusion:

“Householders are often unsure if items are recyclable, especially from the bathroom, bedroom and living room. An easy way to tell is, if an item is plastic and bottle-shaped, it’s recyclable. We need to challenge ourselves when it comes to what we could be recycling. Every plastic bottle counts. If you’re having a shower and using up the last of the shampoo – don’t just think replace, think recycle.”

Bottles that contain bleach, liquid hand soap, shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer, etc. are recyclable. Keep lids screwed on after rinsing. Only bottles that contain strong chemicals like antifreeze should not be recycled.

In addition to recycling whenever possible, people should strive to minimize use of plastic bottles. By refusing to buy them whenever possible, there is less to recycle and less overall waste. Alternatives do exist, such as tap water that’s safe to drink in most parts of the United States, Canada, and Europe. Replace chemical cleaners with baking soda in cardboard and vinegar in glass jars. Soap in bar-form is just as effective as liquid. Forward-thinking companies like Ethique sell moisturizers, facial washes, shaving creams, and exfoliants in plastic-free, bar form – proof that there is a better, greener way of doing things.

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