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Interesting recycling facts

Recycling rates are increasing in the UK, but so is our population. To fulfil demand, we are producing more goods and using more natural resources than ever before, but despite our best efforts, we are still throwing too many things away.

To help us get a better understanding of recycling in the UK today, we have put together some of the most astonishing recycling facts to highlight just how much we are throwing away, and what we need to do if we are to preserve the planet and its natural resources for future generations.

 
  • British households create over 26m tonnes of waste each year, which is equivalent to the weight of around 260 large cruise ships
  • the average person in the UK throws away around 400kg of waste each year which is seven times their body weight
  • of the 26m tonnes of waste produced in the UK only 12m tonnes are recycled, which gives us an average recycling rate of 45%
  • we recycle around 44% of our waste in England but some of our neighbours are doing better with Wales recycling 57% of its waste and Northern Ireland recycling 46%. Scotland falls slightly behind us as they only recycle 43% of household waste
  • Germany, Austria, and South Korea remain world-leaders when it comes to recycling household waste as they recycle 60 – 70%
 
  • recycling everything you could in your kitchen recycling bins could power a TV for six months
  • it takes a hundred buckets of water to create just one loaf of bread and six buckets of water to grow one potato
  • 80% of the things we throw away could be recycled
  • cars can be recycled, with up to 80% of the vehicle being reused
  • more than 15% of the money we spend on products pays for packaging – most of which ends up in the dustbin
  • each year in the UK over 600 million household batteries are sent to landfill. That’s the same weight as 3,666 Tyrannosaurus Rex’s.
  • in the UK alone about 1 million tonnes of textiles are discarded every year. More information can be found on the Ethical fashion forum
  • one litre of recycled cooking oil can generate enough energy to make 240 cups of tea. More information can be found on the Living Fuels website
  • over 70 billion litres of products are sold in Tetra Pak cartons every year
 
  • it is estimated that we throw away over 600m batteries in the UK each year
  • each year in the UK we go through over 1.2 million tonnes of electrical waste
  • only 27% of batteries are recycled in the UK
  • it takes fifty times more energy to make a battery than the finished product produces
  • in the UK we dispose of around 80 million fluorescent tubes each year, but if we were able to recycle those tubes, we could reuse up to 4 tonnes of mercury – a natural resource
  • Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) is the fastest growing waste stream in the UK
  • according to the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), 25% of our WEEE waste could be repaired and re-used
  • most of the two million TV sets discarded each year get thrown away despite being accepted at many recycling centres across the country
  • an average TV contains 6% metal and 50% glass
  • a cooker contains 89% metal and 6% glass
 
  • recycling a single aluminium can will save enough energy to power a TV for up to three hours or an iPod for up to twenty hours
  • each year the average UK household will use around 380 drinks can, 182 foil trays, 144 metres of household foil and 27 aerosols
  • it takes 95% less energy to recycle aluminium cans than it does to make new ones
  • of the 24 million tonnes of aluminium produced annually in the UK, 51,000 tonnes ends up as packaging for food and drinks
  • 90% of all drinks cans in the UK are made from aluminium and if we recycled them all we would need 14 million fewer dustbins
  • each can you place in a recycling bin can be back on the shelf within 60 days
  • the average UK household uses over 600 aluminium cans each year which as a whole is around 16.2 billion cans
  • it takes the same amount of energy to make one new aluminium can as it does to recycle 20
  • aluminium can be recycled numerous time without loss of quality
  • 75% of the aluminium ever made is still in production today
  • steel cans are 100% recyclable too as they can be recycled into steel cans, bicycles, car parts and other everyday products
  • over 80 million aluminium and steel cans are sent to UK landfills every day
  • aluminium cans are worth up to 20 times more than other packaging materials. Estimates suggest that at any one time there are over £30 million worth of cans waiting to be collected and recycled
  • if UK consumers were to line up the number of cans they use each year the line would reach the moon and back
  • if all the aluminium drinks cans recycled in the UK were laid end to end they could orbit the earth 30 times
  • recycling just one tonne of aluminium saves up to 9 tonnes of CO2 emissions
  • Brazil recycles more than 98% of its aluminium while Japan recycles just over 82%, but it is Finland and Germany who are world-leaders as they recycle an incredible 99% of their aluminium waste
 
  • worldwide, 4 billion trees are cut down every year for paper which is one per cent of the Amazon Rainforest every single year
  • it takes 24 trees to make one tonne of paper
  • in the UK we use over 12.5 million tonnes of paper each year and that equates to a forest the size of Wales
  • we recycle around 80% of paper in the UK
  • if every person in the UK recycled just 10% more paper we would save approximately 5 million trees each year
  • by recycling just one tonne of paper we can save 17 trees and 4000 KW of energy which is enough to power a house for a year and it will also save 380 gallons of oil, 7000 gallons of water and around 3 cubic metres of landfill space
  • it takes around 5 litres of water to make just one sheet of A4 paper
  • it takes one tree to make 230 average sized newspapers/magazines
  • it takes just 6 days to turn old newspapers, books and magazines into new ones
  • 90% of Sunday newspapers are thrown away in Britain which is the equivalent to half a million trees
  • by recycling your daily newspaper you can save your own body weight in paper in just one year
  • if we did not recycle any newspapers in the UK we would need to chop down 300 million trees a year just to read the daily news
  • it takes 70% less energy to recycle paper than it does to make it from raw materials
  • recycling paper creates 73% less air pollution than making new paper from raw materials
  • we could fill 103,000 double-decker buses with the amount of wastepaper sent to landfills each year
  • every Christmas it is estimated that we throw away over 108 million rolls of wrapping paper in the UK which is enough to cover over 11,000 football pitches
  • the average family in the UK throws away 6 trees worth of paper every year
  • paper and card account for 1/5 of all waste produced in the UK
 
  • it takes up to 500 years for plastic to fully decompose
  • we make and use 20 times more plastic today than we did 50 years ago
  • plastic consumption grows by around 4% each year in Western Europe which means that within 20 years we will have doubled our current plastic use
  • every year we throw away enough plastic to circle the world 5 times
  • most UK households throw away at least 40kg of plastic each year which is enough to make 10 recycling bins
  • nationwide we use 7.7 billion plastic bottles per year which is an average of 117 bottles per person per year
  • despite a ‘War on Plastic’ we recycle just 45% of plastics in the UK
  • 8 million tonnes of the world’s plastics end up in our oceans each year, creating a garbage patch three times the size of France
  • plastics from items such as carrier bags and bottles that end up in our oceans kill around 1,000,000 sea creatures every year
  • plastic rubbish in the British countryside kills thousands of land animals every year
  • we generate around 5 million tonnes of plastic each year in the UK and that includes 15 million ‘single use’ plastic bottles per day
  • it takes one tonne of plastic to make 20,000 plastic bottles
  • recycled plastic can be used to make clothing. You can make a t-shirt with 5 plastic bottles and an adults fleece jacket with just 25 plastic bottles
  • it takes one tonne of plastic to make 120,000 plastic carrier bags
  • we use 13 billion carrier bags in the UK each year
  • the majority of plastic shopping bags are only used once and take up to 100 years to decompose
  • you could drive a car 11 metres on the oil it takes to make 1 plastic bag
  • in 2015 the UK introduced a ‘5p carrier bag tax’ to reduce our plastic bag consumption and it worked. We now use around 83% fewer single-use bags than we did in 2014
  • recycling a single plastic bottle will save enough energy to power a lightbulb for three hours or more
  • recycling five plastic bottles creates enough insulating fibre to fill a ski jacket
 
  • recycling a single glass bottle will save enough energy to power a laptop for half an hour
  • it takes a tonne of glass to make around 4000 bottles or jars
  • the average UK household uses 500 glass bottles and jars every year
  • glass is 100% recyclable and can be reused over and over again without losing quality
  • the UK recycles around 50% of its glass
  • more than 28 billion glass bottles and jars are not recycled every year which is the equivalent to the Empire State Building filling up every 3 weeks
  • milk bottles are used an average of 13 times before being recycled in the UK
  • it takes less energy to recycle glass than it does to make new glass from raw materials
  • the glass recycling level in the UK saves enough energy to launch 10 space shuttle missions
  • every tonne of glass recycled saves 246 kg of CO2 emissions
  • clear glass bottles contain around 25% recycled glass, whereas green bottles contain as much as 90% recycled glass
  • the UK has more than 50,000 bottle banks and each bank is capable of holding 3,000 bottles
  • 5 out of every 6 glass bottles are thrown away
  • our largest glass furnaces produce more a million glass bottles every day
  • a tonne of recycled glass saves over a tonne of natural resources
  • the energy saved from recycling one glass bottle could operate a 100-watt light bulb for four hours
  • it only takes 30 days for the glass you put in your green recycling box to be turned into new bottles and jars
 
  • the average UK household throws away 20% of all food purchased
  • it is estimated that over 8 million people in the UK are struggling to afford to eat, yet UK households throw away around 7 million tonnes food every year. This equates to around £700 per household in food waste – an annual utility bill
  • of the 7 million tonnes thrown away, 250,000 tonnes is perfectly edible and could be used to make up to 650 million meals for those in need
  • the average person throws away 74kg of food waste each year which is the weight of over 1000 banana skins
  • at least 50% of food waste could be composted
  • waste cooking oil is one of the most common causes of water pollution
  • 1 litre of used cooking oil can pollute up to 1 million litres of water drinking water
  • we throw away 1.4 million untouched bananas, 3 million unopened yoghurts, 600,000 whole uncooked eggs every day, 2 million untouched sausages and 20 million slices of bread every day – in the UK
  • we can cut our CO2 emissions and reduce our carbon footprint by up to 25% by simply recycling or composting our food waste
  • we could feed over a billion hungry people with less than a quarter of the food wasted in the UK, the United States and Europe
  • it is estimated that we waste more than 30% of all food produced globally
  • we use 25% of the worlds fresh water supply to grow food that we will send to the landfill
  • UK households create 7m tonnes of food waste each year which is equivalent to a kilo of food for every person on the plant. This equates to £7.5 billion pounds worth of food waste
  • it is believed that 50% of all food waste is still edible and could be ‘recycled’ through food banks, charities and making animal feed
  • in the UK lots of us have already changed our habits and are using more of the food we buy, we are now saving £3.2 billion a year compared to 2007
  • we are also saving 5 millon tonnes of CO2 which is like taking 2.2 million cars off the road
 

Composting is an inexpensive, natural process that transforms your kitchen and garden waste into a valuable and nutrient food for your garden.

    • it is estimated that in Britain we spend £290 million a year only on carrots
    • you can make the most of your peelings by adding them to your compost bin
    • around 43% of us owns a pet and the bedding from vegetarian pets such as rabbits and hamsters can be composted
    • if we composted all the suitable food waste produced by UK households we could avoid the equivalent of 2 million tonnes of CO2 every year

More information can be found on the Recyle Now website.

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