Pile of assorted plastic materials for recycling
Published date: 7 December 2022

North London residents throw away over 46 million pieces of plastic a week

  • If each piece of plastic was a person, there would be a crowd big enough to sell out Arsenal Football Club’s Emirates Stadium more than 769 times over!*

Over 46 million pieces of plastic are used each week** by residents in north London, research for North London Waste Authority (NLWA) has found. NLWA renews its call for the UK government to take urgent action on the glut of tricky-to-recycle plastics and ban more single use plastics.

NLWA teamed up with Everyday Plastic, one of the founders of the national campaign The Big Plastic Count, to gain a greater understanding of the scale of north London’s plastic packaging waste with north London specific research.

Over eight thousand people from more than 3,000 households across north London were surveyed in May 2022. In just one week, these homes threw away a staggering 191,710 pieces of plastic.

Many items such as milk bottles, tubs, trays, bathroom and cleaning products can be put out for plastic recycling collection in north London and will be recycled and reprocessed in the UK.  However, low value or composite materials like chocolate wrappers and plastic film covering fresh produce are difficult to recycle and accounted for 56% of pieces thrown away by participants. Fruit and veg packaging was the most commonly counted item (17%), closely followed by snack bags, packets and wrappers (14%).

NLWA wants to see these tricky to recycle plastics phased out and alternatives found through innovation and redesign. Following successful bans on plastic straws, stirrers, and plastic-stemmed cotton buds, NLWA wants the government to extend the ban to unnecessary plastic over fruit and vegetables, takeaway polystyrene containers, plastic cutlery and plates.

North London residents can also play a significant role in minimising plastic. NLWA is supporting Everyday Plastic with their campaign to encourage people to ‘choose loose’. This means, where possible, purchasing fresh produce such as fruit and vegetables, not covered in plastic.

If residents choose to take this approach, it will help persuade supermarkets to stock more loose fresh produce at an affordable price.

NLWA Member’s Recycling Working Group Chair, Councillor Adam Harrison said: “Residents are forced to throw away a staggering amount of plastic waste each week, as much of it is flexible plastic. How can bananas in plastic bags still be on supermarket shelves?

“NLWA has been campaigning and undertaking a wide range of initiatives to reduce this blight for many years. However, many residents in north London rely on small ‘local’ branches of the big supermarkets, where it’s incredibly difficult to find loose produce. These companies must get rid of this packaging.

The UK government has the power to ensure that manufacturers are not producing this needless waste and are forced to focus on using more innovative, sustainable alternatives instead.”

The report also highlighted that on a national level only 12% of plastic was estimated to be recycled in the UK, north London is performing significantly better in this regard, with its ambition to ensure that all recyclable plastic is processed and has an end destination in the UK.

NLWA also reiterated its call to the UK Government to implement Extended Producer Responsibility in 2023 as well as end delays to the Deposit Return Scheme and  introduce a 50p charge on coffee cups.

Learn more about plastic recycling in north London.