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Zero Waste Facts & Statistics

Environmental awareness has been a hot topic around the world (though some would argue not enough), which has led many to take measures against their consumption and waste habits.

Even an unsympathetic person could tell you that statistics and predictions about our environment look bleak unless awareness and action is taken against.

On a positive note, many people started taking steps to reducing their environmental footprint in a variety of ways. One of which is the zero waste movement. More and more people have adopted the zero waste lifestyle in to combat the effects of pollution and whilst there is a growing number of people making positive changes, there is still a number waste generation facts and figures that do not paint a good light on our consumer habits.

So to spread awareness of our progress and where there is work to be done, we have compiled a list of the statistics and figures about the world’s waste habits, to compare how close we are to becoming a circular economy.

Without further ado, here’s a roundup of the jaw-dropping stats about zero waste.

Zero Waste Headline Stats

  • As of 2017, only 15% of Americans know what being zero waste means.
  • In 2019, only 29% of French consumers bought loose foods to avoid plastic packaging.
  • If Europeans swapped to reusable water bottles, 6,741 tons of plastic bottle waste would be prevented each year.

Sources: Statista, Statisa, Earth watch

UK Zero Waste Stats

The UK has made several steps to becoming less reliant on plastic waste, including the plastic bag charge and the ban on plastic microbeads. Some surveys show that this has resonated with UK consumers, who are inclined to shop more ethically, but there are still of lot worrying facts to show that there is still work to be done to become a less wasteful country.

  • In 2020, households in England created 22.6 million tonnes of waste, which is equivalent to 399 kg per person. source
  • The average person in the UK uses 150 plastic water bottles a year. (source)
  • Less than half (44%) of household waste in England was recycled in 2020 source
  • A 2018 survey found that only 36% of respondents owned and regularly used a reusable water bottle. (source)
  • 81% of people want the UK government to make refillable products easier to be more widely available and easier to buy (source)
  • 78% of UK adults have taken steps to reduce their use of single-use plastics (source)
  • Despite the introduction of a plastic bag charge in the UK in 2014, retailers still handed out over 1 billion plastic bags in 2018 to 2019.

sources: Gov.uk, Gov.uk, Statista, Statista, Parliament.uk

Most Common Plastic Waste In Europe’s rivers and streams

The most commonly found plastic litter in Europe’s waterways are plastic bottles, which includes water bottles, shampoo containers, and household cleaners. The Earth Watch Institute recommends that swapping your plastic bottles for refillable ones is one of the best ways to remove plastic litter from the environment.

RankPlastic TypePercent Found
1Plastic Bottles14%
2Food Wrappers12%
3Cigarette Butts9%
4Food Takeaway Containers6%
5Cotton Buds5%
6Takeaway Cups4%
7Sanitary Items3%
8Smoking-Related Packaging2%
9Plastic Cutlery & Straws1%
10Plastic Bags1%
source: Earthwatch

The Countries With The Worst & Best Waste Habits

Many countries are focusing more efforts on good waste management practises to avoid sending as much litter to landfill and recycle more, and many countries have work to do to improve their waste habits.

Countries that produce the most waste, recycling and landfill per person

Best Waste Habits

  • South Korea is the highest recycling rate in the world at 60.8%
  • Germany recycles the largest amount of waste per person (302 kg)

Worst Waste Habits

  • Denmark produces the highest amount of waste per person at 845 kg
  • New Zealand puts the highest amount of waste in landfill per person (727 kg)
  • Turkey has the largest amount of illegally dumped waste per person (176 kg)
  • Of all the countries in the EU, Ireland produces the most plastic waste person at 60 kg

Sources: Sensoneo, Eurostat

Special Mention References

I’ve looked through a lot of different data sources for this round-up and many studies and data points were head and shoulders above all for providing supplementary links and extra context about how they have found their data. So for your benefit, in case you’d like to do some further reading yourself, here are some of the best sources:

  • Every few years, countries release data about their waste management figures, and waste management solution provider Sensoneo provides a yearly ranking of the world’s largest waste producers.
  • The Earth Institute’s Plastic Rivers report is a brilliant analysis of the most commonly littered plastic items across Europe’s rivers and streams, and gives insights into the most effective ways consumers can combat their use of plastics.