Pile of waste and rubbish in landfill

What can I do to reduce waste?

What do we waste and why is it a problem?

Waste is everywhere:

  • We waste natural resources – digging up, using and burning more than we need.
  • We waste the products we make – supermarkets leave unwanted food to rot in fields.
  • We even waste our waste – sending stuff to landfill that could be reused, recycled or composted.

This isn't just an inefficient use of our resources. When waste decays it gives off climate-changing emissions, and can pollute soils and waters. 

We've got a waste problem. The good news is that we can tackle it through prevention, reuse and recycling.

Recycling symbol made of trees

Waste: the facts

2.5 billion
disposable coffee cups are binned each year in the UK alone
of plastic bottles are recycled globally
One third
of all food produced across the globe is lost or wasted
1 truck
full of plastic is dumped in the sea every minute
1 billion
black plastic food trays go to landfill every year in the UK

How to cut waste at work

You can cut waste at work, as well as at home. Try these 4 easy tips:

  • Only print when absolutely necessary, and use both sides of the paper. Start a paper recycling scheme at work – contact Paper Round for info.
  • Reduce waste and energy consumption in the workplace – contact Global Action Plan.
  • Don't throw away old computers. Sell them on eBay, donate them via Donate A PC or organisations like Little Lives, or recycle them.
  • Could your company's waste be used as craft resources for schools and youth groups? Find out if there’s a Scrapstore near you through ReusefulUK.
Recycling bins in a line in an office

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What's the problem with landfill?

In the UK, we send over 15 million tonnes of rubbish from our homes to landfill every year. That's the equivalent in weight of burying over 100,000 adult blue whales.

Filling our land with rubbish is ugly. And it also causes significant problems for our environment.

Landfill sites generate climate-changing greenhouse gases when biodegradable materials break down. Electronic and building waste often contain toxic substances like mercury, arsenic, and solvents. Combined with 'leachate' – a toxic liquid formed when all types of waste break down – these waste products pollute our soils and groundwater.


A digger moves through a pile of rubbish at a landfill site

Is there a problem with plastic?

Your computer and TV contain it. Your cleaning products and food packaging do too. Plastic. 

Most of it is made from non-renewable fossil fuels. Fracking company Ineos uses shale gas to manufacture plastic milk bottles.

Where does all this plastic go? Most plastic isn't recycled. A lot of it ends up in landfill where it can reportedly take up to 1,000 years to decompose.

The rest is dropped as litter, and usually ends up in our waterways. In fact a truck load of plastic a minute ends up in our oceans. By 2050 it's estimated there will be more plastic than fish in the sea.

Fish and other sea life can get tangled in plastic products or mistake them for food.

Discarded green plastic bottle on a beach

Is incineration OK?

Friends of the Earth opposes incineration because it:

  • Contributes to climate breakdown and is an inefficient way of generating energy.
  • Destroys valuable materials that could be recycled into new products. Recycling avoids having to make products from virgin materials.
  • Doesn't provide an incentive for reducing waste. Contracts for incinerators are long, requiring waste for 20 years.

If you're worried about proposals for an  incinerator where you live, check if your local Friends of the Earth group is involved in a campaign against it. 

UKWIN (UK Without Incineration) is a network of anti-incineration groups. See if there is a campaign group in your area on UK WIN's website. There's also an interactive map of current and proposed incinerators.

Friends of the Earth Household recycling for all action at parliament

We've been fighting waste for a long time

In 1971 Friends of the Earth returned thousands of empty bottles to the London HQ of Cadbury Schweppes. Our first-ever campaign action was a response to Schweppes announcing an end to returnable, re-usable bottles.

We went on to draft the 2003 House Waste and Recycling Act. Together with our supporters we pushed it through Parliament. Our campaign led to doorstep recycling across the UK.

Friends of the Earth Household recycling for all action at parliament