Naturalist Chris Packham wears a t-shirt saying "The Big Plastic Count 16-22 May", whilst holding up differnent plastic household items.

Chris Packham is supporting The Big Plastic Count, which aims to understand how much plastic the UK throws away and where it goes © Isabelle Rose Povey / Greenpeace

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Members of the public encouraged to take part in The Big Plastic Count

The UK is one of the biggest producers of plastic waste in the world, coming in second only to the USA.

In a bid to get a better understanding of an individual's plastic consumption, and what will ultimately happen to this waste, members of the public are being encouraged to take part in The Big Plastic Count.

Organised by Greenpeace UK and Everyday Plastic, the count will take place between 16 and 22 May. It is hoped that this will be the largest-ever delve into everyday plastic waste in the UK. The data produced from this campaign will then help to fill in the gaps of how much plastic packaging waste is leaving each household.

Chris Packham is a naturalist and television presenter and is supporting the new campaign by taking part.

'It's ridiculous that we're still swamped with plastic waste when it makes so many of us furious,' says Chris. 'The natural world can't cope. We need to find out what's really happening to plastic that's supposedly recycled.

'I'll be joining The Big Plastic Count and I'd urge you to do it too.'

The problem with plastic

As a light, durable and cheap product, plastic was once hailed as a solution to many of our modern-day problems. But in recent decades these exact same characteristics have been found to make plastic a significant issue for the planet, life, and even our own health.

Exactly as it was designed to be, plastic is incredibly persistent. Rather than breaking down, plastics simply break up into smaller and smaller pieces, known more broadly as microplastics. To date, plastics have been found in pretty much every single environment on Earth, from the depths of the ocean to the tops of mountains.  

An enormous pile of plastic rubbish forms a mound in the foreground, as more plastic streches out into the distance.

The UK throws away more plastic per person than any other nation except the USA ©MOHAMED ABDULRAHEEM/Shutterstock

But despite its ubiquity, there is still a lot we don't know about this material or how it interacts with the animals and plants out in the real world. This is particularly the case with microplastics.

It is currently unknown what impact microplastics might have on animals that consume them, with research only recently starting to look into if and how they leech chemicals, and then subsequently if these can then cross into the bloodstream of organisms.

Every year in the UK, thousands of tons of plastic is used and thrown away. What then happens to this material is varied, with a complex system of companies and brokers meaning that while some of it may be recycled, large amounts of plastic might be burnt or sent abroad.  

'The plastic crisis is out of control,' says Maja Darlington, Greenpeace UK's plastics campaigner. 'And the only system that people have to combat it - recycling - is broken. The vast majority of us try to play our part in tackling the plague of plastic waste but without government policies that actually reduce packaging and improve recycling - rather than burning, burying or bundling it off to pollute other countries - we'll continue to fight a losing battle.'

'It's simply not good enough.'

A view from the bottom of a bin looking up as a child drops an empty milk carton into the bin.

You can help further our understanding of plastic waste by taking part in The Big Plastic Count between 16-22 May © Jack Taylor Gotch / Greenpeace

Counting our waste

In a bid to get a better grip on exactly what and how much plastic is being thrown away by people in the UK, The Big Plastic Count is encouraging members of the public to record every single piece of plastic they use and throw away over one week.

This data will then be analysed to work out the average plastic footprint of someone living in the UK and where this waste is likely to end up. This can then be used to build better ways to tackle this pervasive and ever-growing problem.

Daniel Webb is the founder of Everyday Plastic. For an entire year, Daniel collected every piece of plastic waste he produced, before using it to calculate his personal plastic footprint.

'Having counted my plastic waste for an entire year, I know exactly how powerful this investigation can be in helping to understand the true extent of the plastic problem,' explains Daniel. 'The Big Plastic Count is a simple yet impactful way to discover your household plastic footprint, whilst contributing vital evidence to push the government for long overdue change.'

You can find out more about how to take part in The Big Plastic Count between 16 and 22 May and sign up by visiting the website