Plastic Packaging Statistics

With the world becoming ever more mindful of being more sustainable and contributing to the environment, the use of plastic packaging can be a controversial subject. But how much do we really know about it and why do we need to act? Data taken from shows that;

  • The world produces 141 million tonnes of plastic packaging a year
  • Around a third of all plastic packaging in the global market leaks from collection systems, polluting the environment
  • Plastic production, use and disposal contribute about 1.8 billion tonnes of carbon emissions annually.

Terrifyingly, according to Great Britain's Royal Statistical Society, just 9% of all plastic ever made has been recycled.

More sustainable alternatives certainly have their place in today’s society but plastic packaging still very much has its place and when used correctly and responsibly can actually contribute to sustainable development.

How much plastic packaging is produced in the UK each year

  • 5 million tonnes of plastic is used in the UK every year 1
  • Almost 2.25 million tonnes of this is packaging
  • Plastic packaging in the UK accounts for nearly 70% of our plastic waste, making packaging the primary focus in the UK

How much can be recycled vs how much is recycled?

  • In 2019, 2,472,000 tonnes of plastic packaging in the UK was thrown away 2
  • Of that figure, 1,141,000 tonnes were recycled which equates to 46.2%

As of October 1st 2023, the UK has introduced a single-use plastic ban in an attempt to reduce plastic waste.

What impact has the carrier bag charge had since it was introduced?

  • 3 Since the 5p charge was introduced in supermarkets in 2015, single-use plastic bag usage at the main retailers has dropped by an amazing 97%
  • The number of single-use plastic bags sold by main retailers from 2016 to 2017 was 1.33 billion. From 2020 to 2021, this dropped dramatically to 295 million
  • From 2016-2017 the number of single-use plastic bags sold by the main retailers per person was 38. From 2020 to 2021 it dropped to 9
  • Today, nearly 5,000 stores nationwide have collection points at the front of their stores where people can drop off their plastic bags for recycling

The benefits of using plastic packaging

  • 4 Lightweight plastic packaging can save energy in the transportation of goods. The vehicle will require less fuel, causes fewer emissions and it also reduces the cost for distributors, retailers and consumers. For example, a lorry filled with glass jars would mean that approximately 36% of the load would be packaging. If the same product was packed in plastic pouches, the packaging would amount to approximately 3.56%.
  • Due to the sealability and durability, the shelf life of perishable food can be increased from 5-10 days when plastic packaging is used. This means that food loss in stores can be reduced from 16% to 4%
  • It is estimated that plastic packaging only accounts for 1.5% of oil and gas use
  • Plastic packaging can be recycled 6 or more times before its properties are weakened and have a high caloric value. A mixture of polyethylene and polypropylene products at 45 MJ/kg would have a much greater net caloric value than coal at 25 MJ/kg

Recycling domestic plastic packaging

  • 5 The UK generates around 15 million tonnes of plastic each year in the UK. This includes 15 million ‘single-use’ plastic bottles. The recycling collection of these plastic bottles has increased by over 2,000% since 2001 in the UK
  • Recycled plastic can be used to make clothing. You can make a t-shirt with 5 plastic bottles and an adult fleece with 25 plastic bottles
  • 6 According to the British Plastics Federation, 51% of plastic packaging was recycled in 2020
  • Domestic recycling collections have seen the number of plastic tubs, pots and trays increase from 30% to 75% between 2010 and 2015
  • 7 An estimated 1.2Mt (megatonnes) of the UK’s plastic packaging was recycled in 2020. This number is a fourfold increase from reported levels in the early 2000s

Whilst it is important to mention that many types of plastic packaging including polyethylene are recyclable, many companies are also looking into greener solutions when it comes to packaging their goods. Contact us to find out more about our sustainable packaging.


  1. The House of Commons Library
  2. Materials that were used for packaging in 2019
  3. Results from the research carried out by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
  4. The British Plastics Federations
  5. The UK generates around 5 million tonnes of plastic each year in the UK.
  6. British Plastics Federation
  7. The scale of plastic in the UK

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