The fight against plastic pollution is an ongoing concern. But what are the UK statistics and how can professionals make a difference?
Currently, the UK is estimated to generate around 2.36 metric tons (mt) of plastic waste per year. Out of this, it’s thought that around 43.8% is recycled (1.03 million mt).1 However, other sources state a lower figure of 32%2 – proving exactly how difficult it is to accurately assess the current level of plastic waste being recycled and the amount entering landfill.
Plus, plastic collected for recycling won’t necessarily be reprocessed. Indeed, plastic recycling in the UK recently came under fire when it was revealed that huge amounts of plastic waste were being sent to illegal facilities abroad.3
We also have to address the elephant in the room – the pandemic. One study suggests that as much as 8.4 million mt of pandemic-associated plastic waste has been generated around the globe since early 2020.4 While we cannot accurately know how much of this waste was created specifically in the UK, it’s still a significant indicator that more need to be done to cut down on plastic waste and ensure that more is recycled and kept away from natural habitats.
How the UK is fighting plastic pollution
It’s not all doom and gloom, however, and the UK has made a number of important steps towards limiting the level of plastic waste being produced. One significant measure was the ban on the use of microbeads – minuscule pieces of plastic found in exfoliating creams, shower gel and other products that would end up being washed directly into the ocean.
Other steps forward have included plastic-free aisles in supermarkets, the ban of single-use plastic items such as straws and earbuds, and a general push for companies to make more eco-conscious choices concerning packaging and the materials used to create products.5 Additionally, our current plastic bag tax has resulted in a highly significant 90% reduction in plastic bag sales.6
Attitudes surrounding plastic waste are also changing. Initiatives to get children and schools involved are now taking place across the country, and plastic pollution is now addressed in the curriculum to ensure that younger generations understand the significance of the issue.7
Are you joining in to reduce plastic use in your practice?
A complicated relationship
Unfortunately, due to infection control necessities and the very nature of dentistry, completely abolishing plastic in the industry isn’t viable at this stage. However, that doesn’t mean that dental professionals can’t explore various ways to cut down on plastic in their workplaces.
1 Statista. Plastic Waste in the UK – Statistics and Facts. Link: https://www.statista.com/topics/4918/plastic-waste-in-the-united-kingdom-uk/#:~:text=Every%20year%20the%20UK%20generates,plastic%20packaging%20waste%20per%20person. [Last accessed March 22].
2 British Plastics Federation. Plastic Recycling. Link: https://www.bpf.co.uk/Sustainability/Plastics_Recycling.aspx#:~:text=Recycling%20rates%20in%20the%20UK,bottles%20a%20year%20%5B2%5D. [Last accessed March 22].
3 The Guardian. Plastic Recycling Is A Myth – What Really Happens To Your Rubbish? Link: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/aug/17/plastic-recycling-myth-what-really-happens-your-rubbish [Last accessed March 22].
4 PNAS. Plastic Waste Release Caused by COVID-19 and its Fate in the Global Ocean. Link:
https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.2111530118 [Last accessed March 22].
5 Global Citizen. 9 Brilliant Ways The UK Is Cracking Down On Plastic Pollution. Link:
https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/uk-tackling-plastic-pollution-waste-plan/ [Last accessed March 22].
6 GOV.UK. Plastic Bag Sales Down 90% Since Introduction of 5p Charge. Link:
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/plastic-bag-sales-down-90-since-introduction-of-5p-charge [Last accessed March 22].
7 GOV.UK. Schools challenged to go single-use plastic free by 2022. Link:
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/schools-challenged-to-go-single-use-plastic-free-by-2022 [Last accessed March 22].