UK coffee cup waste to rise a third by 2030

The UK is set to throw away a third more single-use coffee cups by 2030, according to a new report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Eunomia Research & Consulting, which predicts the UK’s total plastic waste will increase by 20 per cent.

The new report, ‘A plastic future: Plastics consumption and waste management’, was released on Saturday (24 March) to coincide with Earth Hour, when people are encouraged to switch off their lights to raise awareness of climate change. Summarising available data on the UK’s plastic consumption and waste management, the report uses historic trends and future projections to paint a picture of the UK’s potential plastic waste arisings.

Based on data gathered from Eurostat, PlasticsEurope and other national statistical and industry bodies, the report predicts that the UK’s plastic waste generation will increase from an estimated 5.2 million tonnes in 2018 to 6.3 million tonnes by 2030 – a rise of 20 per cent.UK coffee cup waste to rise a third by 2030

The source of this waste in the UK overwhelmingly comes from packaging, with 67 per cent of plastic waste generated in the UK resulting from packaging items, while waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) accounts for 7.3 per cent of plastic waste, and the automotive sector accounts for 4.2 per cent.

The British predilection for convenience food, whether in the form of takeaway meals or pre-packaged supermarket food, has been identified as a reason for the UK’s packaging waste being higher than other EU countries. The rate is also higher than that reported in official statistics, likely due to the under-reporting of waste through extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes.

Currently, only 26 per cent of the UK’s plastic waste is recycled, with 85 per cent of that being plastic packaging – according to the latest available figures from 2014 – while 55 per cent of waste is sent to landfill and 18 per cent is sent to energy recovery.

The plastic waste recycling rate is expected to increase to 42 per cent by 2030, due largely to revisions to the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive, which will introduce a 55 per cent plastic packaging recycling target by 2025, and the Waste Framework Directive, which will put a 10 per cent limit on landfill by 2030 as part of the EU’s Circular Economy Package.

Due to landfill limits, the amount of plastic waste sent to energy recovery is forecast to rise to 39 per cent by 2030, raising concerns over CO² generation. There are also fears from some that demand for burning plastic waste will be locked in if the UK builds new incinerators to deal with plastic that can no longer be offloaded to China, following the Chinese government’s ban on the import of 24 grades of solid waste at the start of the year.

Single-use plastics

The second half of the WWF report is dedicated to single-use plastics, a waste stream that has gained in public prominence in recent months, and was the focal point of the UK government’s long-awaited 25 Year Environment Plan, which committed the UK to eliminating all ‘avoidable’ plastic waste by 2042.

The UK has a particular problem with these disposable items, ranking fifth highest out of all EU Member States for consumption of single-use plastics. It is estimated that this year the UK will use 10.8 billion wet wipes, 16.5 billion pieces of plastic cutlery, 42 billion straws, 44 billion stirrers, 4.1 billion single-use drinks cups and lids and 5.2 billion plastic food containers.

By 2030, the report forecasts that the UK will use 41 per cent more plastic straws, 33 per cent more cups and lids, 34 per cent more crisp packets and nine per cent more drinks bottles, although cigarette filter waste is set to fall by 50 per cent and the amount of cotton buds used will fall by 69 per cent as alternatives become more widely available.

While the report predicts that plastic recycling will increase by 2030, the amount of single-use plastic recycling will only rise by eight per cent, from 29 per cent to 37 per cent.

In order to combat the scourge of single-use plastics, WWF is urging the UK government to implement urgent policies, including the ‘latte levy’ – a charge on disposable coffee cups – recommended by Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), and a deposit return scheme (DRS) for plastic bottles, a consultation for which was launched by Environment Secretary Michael Gove in October 2017.

Furthermore, WWF is asking the UK public to make a #PromiseForThePlanet, a pledge to make one change in their own lives to reduce their environmental footprint such as refusing plastic cutlery or carrying a reusable coffee cup. The promises have been chosen as examples of small behaviour changes people can make that collectively will have a big impact.

Commenting on the report, Tanya Steele, CEO of WWF, said: “We are polluting our world with plastic, suffocating our oceans and overwhelming our wildlife. The amount of plastic which the UK is throwing away is set to rocket by over a million tonnes by 2030 – that’s the equivalent of 87,000 more double decker buses worth of plastic waste each year. We must act now, banning avoidable single-use plastic by 2025 and introducing incentives to help people and businesses make the right choices to reduce, reuse and recycle. This Earth Hour, millions of people around the UK are sending a powerful message that we must act now on climate change and pollution to save our planet.”

You can find the full report, ‘A plastic future: Plastics consumption and waste management in the UK’, on the WWF website.

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