A nationwide endeavour to illuminate the UK’s plastic footprint and propel government action on the global plastics crisis gets underway.

From Devon to Dundee, participants from all 650 parliamentary constituencies are set to take part in The Big Plastic Count, a major initiative aiming to shed light on the scale of plastic waste generated in the UK. With registration now open, more than 30,000 individuals, including 3,800 school classes and 2,300 teachers, are gearing up for the week-long event scheduled from March 11–17, 2024.

The second edition of The Big Plastic Count is a collaboration between Greenpeace UK and the non-profit organisation Everyday Plastic. Participants from various sectors, including households, schools, community groups and businesses, are invited to join the largest plastic investigation of its kind.

Supported by organisations such as the University of Portsmouth, Tearfund, The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, and Surfers Against Sewage, the initiative aims to provide valuable data on plastic packaging waste in the UK. The statistics generated will be used to confront UK ministers with the gravity of the plastic waste problem, potentially influencing the upcoming Global Plastics Treaty talks in Ottawa, Canada, from April 23 to April 29.

Laura Burley, Project Lead for The Big Plastic Count at Greenpeace UK, emphasised the campaign’s potential impact on government action, stating, “The Big Plastic Count 2024 could be the tipping point for UK government action on plastic”.

The findings from the previous campaign in 2022 revealed alarming statistics about plastic waste in the UK. Nearly two billion pieces of plastic packaging are discarded weekly by households, with only 12% being recycled. The majority is either burned, shipped abroad, or left to languish in landfills. 

Food and drink packaging waste accounted for 83% of the recorded plastic, with fruit and vegetable packaging being the most common item.

A hand holds the plastic wrapping of a mature cheddar cheese in front of piles of smouldering plastic waste.

Food and drink packaging waste accounts for 83% of recorded plastic (The Big Plastic Count 2024 // Greenpeace UK).

Daniel Webb, founder and director of Everyday Plastic, stressed the importance of The Big Plastic Count in understanding the plastic problem. “The Big Plastic Count is a simple yet impactful way to discover your household plastic footprint whilst contributing vital evidence to pressure our government to lead the way at the Global Plastics Treaty talks,” he said.

Despite the public outcry and the success of the previous campaign, the UK government’s response has fallen short of expectations. Greenpeace is calling for more substantial measures, including a 75% reduction in plastic production by 2040, a ban on all plastic waste exports by 2027, and the immediate implementation of an all-in deposit return scheme and extended producer responsibility requirements for recycling and reuse.

Prominent figures, including wildlife TV presenter Chris Packham, are endorsing the campaign and urging the public to participate. The initiative has garnered support from schools, with students eager to contribute to a solution for the global plastic problem.

“The natural world can’t cope with all our plastic rubbish. We’ve been calling for action on plastic for years, but the government hasn’t listened,” Packham said.

“That’s why this year, The Big Plastic Count is gathering even more evidence to push for plastic action in the UK and also globally, in a new UN Global Plastics Treaty focused on reducing plastic production. I’ve signed up for The Big Plastic Count. Will you sign up, too?”

Registration is now open for The Big Plastic Count 2024, with participants encouraged to sign up and contribute to the fight against plastic pollution: The Big Plastic Count 2024 Sign-Up.