Household plastic use increased during lockdown, says survey

The use of plastic has increased in households across the UK during the country’s lockdown, according to a survey carried out by community interest company Everyday Plastic.

Launched in April 2020, the Everyday Plastic survey encouraged just under 500 participants to collect their plastic waste for a week and record what they used. Their collections culminated in 23,000 pieces of waste, two-thirds of which was plastic from food and drinks products.

The survey found that households threw out an average of 128 items of plastic during lockdown, up from 99 items in surveys conducted pre-lockdown. If the average was scaled up to all UK households it would result in 3.6 billion pieces of plastic waste being chucked out each week.

The results of Everyday Plastic’s survey also found that 56 per cent of all plastic collected was made up of soft, flexible plastic film – which is rarely recycled in the UK.

Daniel Webb, the scheme’s founder, reported that just 37 per cent of the plastic waste collected in the survey were considered recyclable by councils, and just five per cent of the waste collected as part of the survey would be recycled in the UK.

Using the results, Everyday Plastic generated a plastic footprint for each household, through which families could identify easy changes to make to reduce plastic waste. The Everyday Plastic Survey will now be running as a nationwide campaign in 2021

Webb added: “The outcome of the Everyday Plastic Survey supports assumptions that domestic plastic waste increased under lockdown conditions, particularly fruit and veg packaging, snack wrappers, parcel bags and PPE.”

“The Everyday Plastic Survey is designed to fast-track our awareness and understanding, which in turn leads to more responsible consumer choices. We believe that this encourages – or ultimately obliges – businesses and governments to improve their practice and policy.”

Plastic lockdown worries

There has been a widespread increase in plastic use and waste reported during this period.

While local authorities have been reporting an increase in waste generated due to severe disruptions in waste collection services, government figures have suggested an uptake of single-use plastics during the pandemic, largely due to hygiene concerns.

The onset of the pandemic has raised many questions surrounding plastic waste, some of which have cast doubt on the future of reusables.

On this particular issue, experts were quick to respond to concerns, with a group of scientists and medical professionals confirming in a statement in June that reusables are still safe to use.

However, it was found in a recent poll that 85 per cent of British respondents are concerned about the increased usage of plastic packaging during the pandemic, with the majority expressing a desire to see more compostable food packaging.

More recently still, it was revealed that 94 per cent of Amazon customers want plastic-free options for packaging as anxiety surrounding plastic pollution increases. Meanwhile, new studies call attention to the continued dangers of ocean plastic, the levels of which could triple by 2040 if urgent action is not taken.

Consumption of plastic is not spread evenly across all products, however, as a poll by YouGov showed a 45 per cent fall in purchases of bottled water among people working remotely, on furlough or those made redundant during lockdown.

The results of the survey can be found on Everyday Plastic’s website here.