Climate crisis: Greenpeace UK and Chris Packham launch Big Plastic Count

Tens of thousands of people across the UK are set to record how much packaging they throw away as part of an effort to provide a national snapshot of the plastic waste problem.

Environmentalist Chris Packham, actress Bonnie Wright and dozens of MPs will be among around 140,000 people participating in the Big Plastic Count, Greenpeace said.

The charity said the data collected will fill what they described as a crucial evidence gap and help show the Government and supermarkets that more must be done to tackle the problem.

The count, a collaboration between Everyday Plastic and Greenpeace UK, will see people recording the different types of plastic packaging waste they throw away and submit their results.

The aim is to generate a national picture of plastic waste to demonstrate the scale of the problem, informing people what happens to their waste when they dispose of it.

Greenpeace said the UK produces more plastic waste per person than any other country except the US, and exports large quantities of plastic waste abroad.

TV presenter Mr Packham branded the UK “one of the worst plastic polluters in the world”.

Bonnie Wright, best known for playing Ginny Weasley in the Harry Potter film series, is taking part in the project. (Picture: PA Wire)

He said: “Our broken recycling system doesn’t work, so instead of dealing with our plastic waste ourselves we send vast quantities of it overseas where it’s out of sight and out of mind for us, but destroying nature and harming people elsewhere.

“The Big Plastic Count is such an exciting project. It will, for the first time, tell ordinary people what happens to their plastic waste after we throw it away and we hope it will force the Government to take action and address the plastic waste crisis.”

Approximately 40 percent of the UK’s plastic waste was exported to Turkey in 2019, according to Greenpeace research.

A 2020 investigation by the Basel Action Network, meanwhile, found that the UK was the worst offender in Europe for illegally exporting toxic electronic waste to developing countries.

Electronic waste – which can include computers, printers and screens – is considered toxic because items usually contain mercury, lead, flame retardants and/or other substances. 

Researchers found that electronic waste – was shipped from the UK to countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania and Ukraine. This practice is technically illegal under EU law.

Chris Thorne, plastics campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said the Big Plastic Count will be “the biggest-ever investigation into the UK’s plastic waste”.

He said: “We’re delighted that so many have signed up, making clear once again that the public is concerned about their plastic waste and want to see genuine action from the Government to turn the tide on our plastics crisis.

The National Wales: Plastic waste dumped in Adana Province, Turkey. (Picture: PA Wire)Plastic waste dumped in Adana Province, Turkey. (Picture: PA Wire)

“That means an immediate end to us dumping our waste on other countries like Turkey and legally-binding targets that actually tackle the plastic problem at source.”

Daniel Webb, of Everyday Plastic, said counting all of his plastic waste for a whole year had helped him to understand his “personal plastic footprint”, saying he was “completely shocked” by it.

He said: “The results from The Big Plastic Count will show us what’s really happening to our plastic waste, at a national scale, and inspire thousands of participants to demand real action to stem the tide of plastic packaging.”

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Greenpeace UK and Everyday Plastic said the results of the survey will be released as soon as they have been processed, with campaigners hoping they can push the Government to reduce single-use plastic by 50% by 2025, ban all plastic waste exports and implement a deposit return scheme (DRS) for recycling and reuse.

Additional reporting: Rebecca Wilks

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