The Plastic Bottle Problem

We've all used plastic bottles and when getting a meal deal during your lunch break, they can be hard to resist, but that's exactly what we need to start doing. 

The Facts

  • According to 2017 figures, which are likely to be below current levels, approximately 13 billion plastic bottles are used in the UK each year (36 million every day!), of which only 7.7 billion are recycled (21.2 million every day) [1, 4]. 
  • Over 5.3 billion household plastic bottles were not collected to be recycled from UK households (14.5 million every day ) [4].
  • If an average bottle size is 216mm x 65mm diameter, 14.5 million bottles stood upright equates to a total area of 3132 km x 942.5km!
  • There were just over 9,000 tonnes of plastic pots, tubs and trays being collected when collections levels were first reported, and this has now reached nearly 175,000 tonnes - in total there has been nearly 1.2 million tonnes collected [4].
  • Plastic bottles make up a third of all plastic litter found in the sea, and, that if the current trend of marine plastic pollution levels continue, the tonnage of plastic in the sea will outweigh fish by 2050 [1, 2].
  • Plastic bottles make up over 60% of household plastic packaging (milk bottles, toiletries, drinks etc).
  • Plastic bottles make up 26% of total plastic packaging and their use is set to double over the next 20 years, and quadruple to 318 million tonnes by 2050 [1].
  • Plastic bottles are categorised as macro plastic (over 20mm diameter) [1].
  • Plastic in our oceans slowly break down into micro-plastic (under 5mm) [1].
  • Both macro and micro-plastics cause harm to sea life through entanglement and ingestion [1].
  • Ingestion of micro-plastic by sea life can transfer toxins up the food chain and into our food supply [1].
  • The average seafood consumer in the UK will be ingesting about 11,000 plastic particles every year [1].
  • The rising tide of plastic waste in the ocean has been described by UN Oceans Chief as a “planetary crisis” and there is increasing public demand for urgent action in this area [1].
  • Seventy-one percent of people feel uncomfortable asking for a glass of tap water when out and about in licensed restaurants, cafes and bars even though they are legally obliged to provide this service [1].
  • A survey in 2010 found that drinking water facilities were only available in 11% of UK parks. Forty-five Local authorities have the powers but no responsibility to provide drinking water fountains, and regulations only specify that drinking water has to be provided in certain areas [1].
  • The bottled water industry in the UK releases 350,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year [3] contributing to climate change.
  • Plastic bottles have an average decomposition time of 450 years (how long they will last before completely breaking down) [3].
  • The average cost of tap water in the UK is 0.1 pence per litre, compared to 65 pence for one litre of bottled water [3].

How can individuals help?

  • Get a refillable, non-plastic bottle for your water or hot drinks. 
  • Educate others.
  • Keep a reusable water bottle handy in your bag or at work.
  • If you forgot your bottle and want a hot drink, avoid take-away plastic containers - sit in.
  • Check your local council recycling rules and follow them!
  • Politely pressure your local council to install water fountains.
  • Get used to asking for water refills in restaurants, cafes and bars - they are legally obliged if they are licensed to sell alcohol. The more you do this in front of others, the less stigma there will be. You can only be charged if you want to use a glass.
  • If you do use a plastic bottle, deposit it in a return scheme or recycle centre.
  • Switch from liquid soap in plastic bottles to bars of soap, or use refill shops if available.

How can businesses help?

  • Provide alternative packaging.
  • Allow consumers to bring their own reusable cups (without requiring it to be your brand!).
  • Offer a discount on take-away hot drinks when customers provide their own cup.
  • Offer free tap water and advertise it!
  • Add your business to apps like so people can find you.


  1. House of Commons Environmental Audit Comittee, 2017. Plastic Bottles: turning back the plastic tide.
  2. Jambeck, J.R., Geyer, R., Wilcox, C., Siegler, T.R., Perryman, M., Andrady, A. Narayan, R., Law, K.L., 2015. Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean.
  3. Greater London Authority:
  4. RECycling of Used Plastics Limited (RECOUP). UK Household Plastics
    Collection Survey.

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