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This new report Everyday Plastic: what we throw away and where it goes rigorously examines Webb’s annual consumption of plastic. It uncovers a wide range of brand new statistics, from the amount of food packaging used in a year to how much of Webb’s plastic waste is exported to other countries.
One of the key aims was to authentically calculate the recyclability of his plastic waste. Daniel Webb said: “Recycling is our way of doing good, right? While recycling allows us to obliviously get rid of our plastic waste, it far from gets rid of the problem. Illustrated by the fact that only 4% of my plastic waste would actually be recycled, it outs plastic recycling in the UK as a poorly funded system that needs significant investment and improvement. There is a major gap between our expectations and reality. Essentially, we not are being told the truth about recycling”.
Webb’s experiment caught the attention of earth scientist, Dr Julie Schneider, who catalogued, analysed and weighed his collection of plastic, comparing results to publicly available data. Dr Julie Schneider said: “Daniel’s project was a unique opportunity to finally replace vague assumptions with concrete numbers. For instance, we wanted to know how much of our everyday plastic waste is actually recyclable. Plastic bottles can be properly recycled, but what about the plastic film that wraps our vegetables, pasta and sweets? All the plastic packaging stamped with the ‘not currently recycled’ logo? It turns out that 70% of Daniel’s plastic waste is not currently recyclable! This is an issue that needs to be addressed urgently.”
Webb and Schneider’s report follows separate research by the National Audit Office that earlier in the year revealed stark statistics about the reliance on export in the plastic recycling in the UK.2 It also follows news reports last week that revealed fraud and exploitation in the recycling industry.
Dr Julie Schneider said: “I wish everybody could have seen the room where we unpacked one year’s worth of Daniel’s plastic waste. In a massive warehouse in Margate, the floor was completely covered with thousands of plastic pots, trays, bags, films, lids and other everyday items. Everyone that entered the room had the same reaction: ‘Wow, that’s just one person’s plastic waste’.”
Webb says that “This has been a very personal and exploratory journey and it’s amazing how my mindset and grasp of the issue has changed. We can’t just rely on recycling to fix plastic pollution. Most importantly, we need to produce and use much less plastic. Our fast-moving disposable society means that we are using more single-use things than ever, so we need to rethink how we consume.”
The report has been released with the support of Surfers Against Sewage, the UK’s leading plastic pollution charity, and designed by agency Leap as part of their people and planet ‘design for change’ initiative. Hugo Tagholm, CEO at Surfers Against Sewage said "The Everyday Plastic report not only exposes the sheer diversity and volume of single-use plastic we all have to navigate daily, but as alarmingly, the inadequacy of current recycling systems, which only return a paltry amount of material back to shop shelves. Reducing the use of pointless plastics is a priority - there is just too much plastic currently being made. Then, all plastics that remain should be fully accounted for, captured and reprocessed by manufacturers. The future health of people and planet depend on drastically curbing plastic emissions."
With such a sizeable inventory of plastic waste, Webb said that “if I’d have given up plastic bottles, coffee cups, straws, stirrers, cutlery, carrier bags and swapped shower gel for soap, I would’ve thrown away 316 fewer items in 2017. If only half the UK population did the same thing, we could prevent 10 billion pieces from entering the waste system. So don’t ever let anyone tell you that individuals can’t make a difference!”
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Surfers Against Sewage
Surfers Against Sewage is a national marine conservation and campaigning charity that inspires, unites and empowers communities to take action to protect oceans, beaches, waves and wildlife. Surfers Against Sewage has the support of thousands of members across the UK. Together, they speak out for the protection of the coastal environment – your oceans, waves and beaches.
Leap is an eco-design studio housing a hub of talented creatives and associates who use their specialised skills in design, branding and web as tools for positive change for people, planet and profit. As well as changing the world through design, Leap takes pride in a carbon-neutral hosting service created with care to green up the web one website at a time.
The dark reality of the UK plastic waste
Thousands of tons of UK plastic dumped across world - Sky News, January 2018.
UK plastics recycling industry under investigation for fraud and corruption - the Guardian, October 2018.
More on why recycling isn’t enough
Recycling is not enough - GAIA and Zero Waste Europe, January 2018.
The damages of the throwaway culture
The Story of Stuff - 20-minute film by the Story of Stuff, 2007.
A Crisis of Convenience: The corporations behind the plastics pollution pandemic - Greenpeace International, October 2018.
About sufficiency or the ‘economics of enough’
Sufficiency: Moving beyond the gospel of eco-efficiency’- Friends of the Earth Europe, March 2018.
The problems with ‘Bioplastics’
Why “Bioplastics” won’t solve plastic pollution - Rethink Plastic Alliance, 2018.
Unpacking non-conventional plastics - Environmental Investigation Agency, 2018.
Link between food packaging and food waste
Unwrapped: how throwaway plastic is failing to solve Europe’s food waste problem - Friends of the Earth Europe and Zero Waste Europe for the Rethink Plastic Alliance, April 2018.
Link between plastic and fossil fuel
How Fracking Supports the Plastic Industry - Food and Water Watch, February 2017.
Link with climate change
Zero Waste Circular Economy. A Systemic Game-Changer to Climate Change - the Heinrich Böll Foundation, 2018.