Plastic Recycling in the UK

A reality check on the plastic crisis – how our recycled plastic waste weighs up to famous landmarks

The UK recycled over half a million tonnes of plastic waste during 2017 - 2018. 602,493 tonnes is a lot of plastic recycling, and when we say a lot – we mean it. In fact, the total amount of plastic sent to be recycled in the UK was the equivalent to 47,600 double-decker buses roaming around our country’s roads.

However, what is notable is the progress that our nation is continuing to strive for to make a positive environmental impact on the plastic crisis.

Two women picking up recycling outside

By becoming more eco aware about plastic recycling, our recycling habits have helped to reduce over 600,000 tonnes of plastic in our oceans, beaches and rivers in the last year alone. This plastic contribution has helped the UK to meet a household waste recycling rate of 43.2% in 2018, a 9% increase since 2008 (34.5%), and a staggering 32% more than in 2000 (11.2%).We were interested in finding out how much plastic is recycled across the UK to show the positive difference that your recycling efforts are making to the plastic crisis. To find out we’ve taken some of our beloved UK landmarks and compared their weight to the weight of plastic items recycled regionally during 2017 – 2018, so you can make like for like comparisons with your own eyes and see why plastic recycling is so important.

Drawing of the Blackpool tower


The North of England – in this case encompassing the North West and North East - sent over 81,000 tonnes of plastic waste to be recycled between April 2017 – March 2018. To put this into perspective we are talking 24 Blackpool Towers popping up over the North West coastline, and a whopping 212 Angels of North watching down over the North Eastern hills.Add Yorkshire and Humber, and the East and West Midlands into the mix, and the scale of plastic sent to be recycled during April 2017 – March 2018 is unimaginable. Totalling at 220,646 tonnes, it equates to 37% of the total amount of plastic sent to recycling across the whole of the UK.With an EU target for the UK to recycle at least 50% of its household waste by 2020, there is no doubt that understanding how to recycle your plastic is more important than ever before. To continue making a positive environmental impact read up on how to recycle in your local area.

Drawing of the Shard in London


London produced enough plastic recycling during April 2017 – March 2018 to rebuild The Shard five times over. If we get down to the nitty gritty, the 63,969 tonnes of plastic that Londoners sent off to be reused or recycled equates to 5,000 double decker buses, or enough to rebuild Wembley Stadium – twice. Something that the River Thames and neighbouring wildlife will thank us for.

By cross comparing with the rest of the UK, London contributed 11% to the UK’s plastic recycling efforts during 2017 – 2018, coming in second to their Eastern neighbours who contributed to the largest regional segment of 13%. This includes counties such as Essex, Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.

Across London there are many initiatives, such as Plastic Free City, already in place to show you how to recycle at home and reduce your reliance on single-use plastics to continue fighting the plastic crisis.

Drawing of the Wales Millenium Centre in Cardiff


The Severn Bridge is one of the largest landmarks in Wales, weighing a total of 25,000 tonnes, it is seen as the main crossing point from England into Wales. Its enormity is unforgiving so it would be difficult to comprehend that the amount of plastic sent to be recycled in Wales during 2017 - 2018 could compare to this, right?

Think again. The amount of plastic waste sent to be recycled between April 2017 and March 2018, weighs 175% more than the Seven Bridge, that’s enough to rebuild the bridge almost twice. Or the Wales Millennium Centre six times larger than it currently stands in Cardiff Bay.

At 43,877 tonnes, Wales contributed to 7% of the total amount of plastic recycling across the UK. Wales is also one of the few European countries that is already meeting the EU target for household waste recycling, exceeding the 50% target in 2018.

The recycling rate in Wales is 57.6%, 12% higher than the recycling rate in England. Pair this with 2019’s Circular Economy Fund, and there’s no doubt Wales is the super warrior in the UK’s fight against plastic waste.

Drawing of Emirates Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth


The South East and South West sent over 116,333 tonnes of plastic to be recycled between 2017 - 2018. That’s 19% of the total amount of plastic waste sent to be recycled across the UK, and 5% more than the North of England.

To put this in perspective, the 67,810 tonnes of plastic that the South East sent to be recycled would rebuild the British Airways i360 15 times over. Not one for anyone with a fear of heights, but this plastic tower would dominate Brighton’s skyline, standing 2576 metres high, engulfing the 162 metres that it stands at now.

During 2017 – 2018, the 67,810 tonnes sent from the South East would also rebuild the Emirates Spinnaker Tower almost 2.5 times in Portsmouth. While in the South West, the 48,522 tonnes of plastic sent to be recycled in this region alone is the equivalent of 143 Stonehenge structures littering the idyllic landscape of the West.

With a scale so large, there’s no doubt of the difference that these recycling habits have made to clear plastic waste across this region and remove plastic items from the landscape and neighbouring coastlines. To continue fighting against the plastic crisis in your area, read up on how to reuse plastic packaging items here.

Drawing of The Falkirk Wheel in Scotland


The amount of plastic sent to be recycled in Scotland during 2017 would rebuild The Forth Bridge. Contributing to 9% of the total amount of plastic recycled in the UK, 54,294 tonnes is a lot of potential plastic waste.

The successful efforts to recycle plastic items between January 2017 – December 2017, could rebuild the Falkirk Wheel 30 times larger than it currently is, or is the equivalent of 90 additional versions of The Kelpies structures popping up across Grangemouth.

Due to the increase in recycling habits across Scotland, 2017 was the first year that the amount of waste recycled, 1.12 million tonnes, was larger than the 1.11 million tonnes of waste that was sent to landfill. Reflecting an increased household waste recycling rate from 32.5% in 2010 to 43.4% in 2017.

With the 2020 EU target just around the corner, it is evident that there’s more that we can do to make an impact. One way that you can recycle better is to be confident in what you can recycle at home, and where you can recycle your unwanted items in your local area.

Drawing of Albert Memorial Clock in Belfast


Northern Ireland sent enough plastic to be recycled between April 2017 and March 2018 to rebuild the Albert Memorial Clock in Belfast 13 times. This treasured landmark weighs over 2,000 tonnes but is dwarfed by the 26,033 tonnes of plastic that was recycled across the region.

Compared to the rest of the major regions, Northern Ireland contributed to just 4% of the total amount of plastic recycling in the UK, alongside the North East of England who also contributed 4%.

This may seem like a small percentage, but when we consider that the recycling rate in Northern Ireland has increased almost 10% since 2010, from 37.8% to 46.3% in 2017, we can see the region's significant efforts to make a positive difference with their plastic waste. This is particularly outstanding in comparison to the recycling rates in England, which have only increased 4% during this same time period.

There is still more that we can do to drive social change and make a positive environmental impact to our planet, such as understanding more about plastic recycling or participating in a return, recycle and repeat scheme - because who knows what we could achieve together?

*Landmark and recycled plastic comparisons were calculated by dividing the weight in tonnes of plastic recycled regionally by the weight in tonnes of the man-made landmark.

We used data available from to provide us with the amount of plastic sent to be recycled for every council in the England, Northern Ireland and Wales during April 2017 – March 2018, and the amount of plastic sent to be recycled for every council in Scotland between January 2017 – December 2017.

Other sources include: Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Statista.