What a Waste!

One Brown Planet recently interviewed several families of varying sizes from around the world about their food shopping habits. We also asked if they would collect all the disposable plastic that they use in a single week and send in a photo.

The results were quite suprising!

We kept the rules simple. Don’t change any shopping habits at all and collect all the plastic packaging and waste that you would normally throw away or recycle after use. We hoped to be able to highlight just how much disposable packaging we use, without even realising it.

So, 7 days of breakfast, lunch, dinner and everything in-between. Lie it all down flat and take a photo. That’s it!

Now, before we get to the photos, there are a few things to point out. First, to keep things simple (and less smelly) we didn’t ask for food waste or other organic waste, ie. paper, trimmings, aluminium, glass etc…. For now, we will assume that this is being recycled efficiently, composted or otherwise decomposed naturally without killing wildlife or harming the environment, even though we know this isn’t true 😉  [1]

As for the plastic waste, even though this may have ended up in the recycle bin, it is important that we all understand that recycling is not an effective means of disposal [2]

OK, so to the results.

Note 1: A standard tennis court (260m²) was used as size comparison.

Note 2: Final measurements were estimated by me and therefore not subject to any challenge

Note 3: No takeaway food was included in these collections. These were considered outside of the scope of the project.


Family 1 – The Wang-burn Family from Taiwan

  1. Do you consider yourself environmentally aware (Scale 1-10, 10 being David Attenborough, 1 being Donald Trump)?
    • 9
  2. Were you surprised by the amount you throw away every week after photographing it?
    • Yes, even though we try really hard, it still keeps building up.
  3. Are you aware that less than 50% of all the plastic we recycle ends up as landfill or is incinerated? And that a substantial amount escapes refuse collection and ends up in the Oceans and other natural habitats?
    • Yes, of course I wrote this blog 😉
  4. Do you think you will make any changes in the future?
    • Yes – I try all the time to reduce the amount of plastic we use and seeing these results will encourage me to try even harder
  5. What kind of changes will you make?
    • Living in Taiwan it is difficult to avoid certain plastics like toilet paper which is all wrapped in plastic. Sometimes it is not possible to completely eliminate plastic. However, this is not an excuse and I will probably consider more homemade products where possible to reduce my waste further.
  6. Do you think you will tell other people about the issues we face with plastic pollution

20161123 - family_waste_pdf_blackwang-2.jpg


Family 2 – The Armstrong Family from Australia

  1. Do you consider yourself environmentally aware (Scale 1-10, 10 being David Attenborough, 1 being Donald Trump)?
    • 4
  2. Were you surprised by the amount you throw away every week after photographing it?
    • Yes!
  3. Are you aware that less than 50% of all the plastic we recycle ends up as landfill or is incinerated? And that a substantial amount escapes refuse collection and ends up in the Oceans and other natural habitats?
    • No
  4. Do you think you will make any changes in the future?
    • Yes
  5. What kind of changes will you make?
    • Will start to use reusable shopping bags. Stop putting fruits and veggies in plastic bags and limit takeaway food in plastic boxes and bags.
  6. Do you think you will tell other people about the issues we face with plastic pollution
    • Yes, I would definitely.

20161123 - family_waste_pdf_armstrong-2.jpg


Family 3 – The Wang family from Australia

  1. Do you consider yourself environmentally aware (Scale 1-10, 10 being David Attenborough, 1 being Donald Trump)?
    • 5
  2. Were you surprised by the amount you throw away every week after photographing it?
    • Very!
  3. Are you aware that less than 50% of all the plastic we recycle ends up as landfill or is incinerated? And that a substantial amount escapes refuse collection and ends up in the Oceans and other natural habitats?
    • No, I wasn’t 
  4. Do you think you will make any changes in the future?
    • Yes – now more aware of how much plastic we use and trying to use less.
  5. What kind of changes will you make?
    • Thinking more carefully about purchasing plastic items, remembering to take reusable bottles etc when going out and hmmm mmm probably need more ideas – will have to check out the blog!!
  6. Do you think you will tell other people about the issues we face with plastic pollution
    • Yes.

20161123 - family_waste_pdf_wang-2.jpg


Family 4 – The Wilson family from the UK

  1. Do you consider yourself environmentally aware (Scale 1-10, 10 being David Attenborough, 1 being Donald Trump)?
    • 8.
  2. Were you surprised by the amount you throw away every week after photographing it?
    • Not really surprised as most of our recycled waste is visible in the bins so it forces us to look at it every week.
  3. Are you aware that less than 50% of all the plastic we recycle ends up as landfill or is incinerated? And that a substantial amount escapes refuse collection and end’s up in the Oceans and other natural habitats?
    • No, I thought it all gets recycled. 
  4. Do you think you will make any changes in the future?
    • We have already made big changes as to how we manage our waste, using our own shopping bags for example.
  5. What kind of changes will you make?
    • I will start to look out for paper packaging where possible. Will look for loose products without pre-packaging. I would like to go back to the local butchers and grocers for loose products without packaging. I will start to buy washing up liquid powder in place of liquid as this comes in a cardboard. Also buying bars of soap in place of bottles. 
  6. Do you think you will tell other people about the issues we face with plastic pollution

20161123 - family_waste_pdf_wilsons-2.jpg


Family 5 – The Murphy family from the UK

  1. Do you consider yourself environmentally aware (Scale 1-10, 10 being David Attenborough, 1 being Donald Trump)?
    • We would rate ourselves as an 7 as we are fully aware of the issues going on in the environment. We are a large family and eat as healthy as we can, lots of fruit and vegetables and I cook dinner every evening so the family can sit together. To cook a meal from scratch it requires lots of different ingredients and they all require different types of packaging. 
  2. Were you surprised by the amount you throw away every week after photographing it?
    • I never realised and understand why there is so much packaging on so many items. Some things have 2 types of plastic around them, for example, a punnet of grapes comes in a plastic tub and then wrapped in plastic bag. The trouble is the supermarkets do not encourage less packaging, although they say they reduce packaging that usually means reduced size of the item and therefore I’d need to buy 2 packs. All fruit and vegetables come pre-packaged. Meat comes double wrapped from the butchers. Deli items come double wrapped. (Double wrapped is plastic sheet around the item and then a plastic bag.)  
  3. Are you aware that less than 50% of all the plastic we recycle ends up as landfill or is incinerated? And that a substantial amount escapes refuse collection and end’s up in the Oceans and other natural habitats?
    • No
  4. Do you think you will make any changes in the future?
    • Yes, of course
  5. What kind of changes do you can make?
    • I am trying to change our shopping habits, things like buying larger amounts of products we use often, using reusable shopping bags, getting fruit and vegetables without bags. 
  6. Do you think you will tell other people about the issues we face with plastic pollution
    • Yes, my children sort the recycling every few days into the appropriate bins as I feel they should understand from an early age about doing what they can to help the environment. 

20161123 - family_waste_pdf_murpheys-2.jpg


Family 6 – The Blackburn family from the UK

  1. Do you consider yourself environmentally aware (Scale 1-10, 10 being David Attenborough, 1 being Donald Trump)?
    • 4
  2. Were you surprised by the amount you throw away every week after photographing it?
    • Yes!
  3. Are you aware that less than 50% of all the plastic we recycle ends up as landfill or is incinerated? And that a substantial amount escapes refuse collection and ends up in the Oceans and other natural habitats?
    • Yes, as am constantly shocked when checking if things can be put in recycling and it states no
  4. Do you think you will make any changes in the future?
    • Yes!
  5. What kind of changes do you can make?
    • I will use reusable bags, and make more effort to try and get loose fruit n veg without plastic bags.
  6. Do you think you will tell other people about the issues we face with plastic pollution
    • Yes, have already shared the link to one brown planet

20161123 - family_waste_pdf_blackburns-2.jpg


And now the numbers.

The lowest per person waste per year was 16.5m² and the highest was 103m². This is a huge difference and shows what is possible just by being more aware of what you are throwing away every week

  1. Now imagine if the whole world (7.5 billion people) was to throw away this amount of plastic, how much we would have to dispose of?
    • By surface area it would be between 475 million and 3 billion tennis courts!!
    • Or cover an area the size of Greece (130,000 km²) up to the size of Turkey (783,000 km²).
  2. What about if we arranged all the garbage out in a straight line 1m wide, then what?
    • It would stretch around the world somewhere between 3,000 and 19,000 times.
    • Or even reach all the way past the planet Jupiter, which is 550 million km away.

Unfortunately, there is more….much more!

  1. Remember that we only counted plastic waste. Plastic waste accounts for less than 50% of all domestic waste. So after including food scraps, paper, cans and other pieces of trash we would need to double the numbers above to reach our total domestic waste.
  2. And finally, we must not forget all the  industrial, commercial, medical, agricultural, municipal and other process waste. All of this waste, when combined is more than 10x the amount of domestic waste and it must be included because it is us, the consumers, that use the products they make.

Humans today are responsible for more than 4 million tons of waste every day or 1.5 billion tons a year source: World Bank. This number is set to triple by 2100 if we don’t do anything to stop it. 

I was totally surprised by how much an average family throws away every week. We must not believe that recycling is the answer to the problem of waste, it just isn’t.

Remember that this is our future and our planet, no-one is going to save it but us. There are so many things we can all do to help reduce this incredible toll on the planet and we can start today. Please share this story and continue to do everything you can to reduce your impact on the planet.

#plasticpollution #reducewaste #breakfreefromplastic #sustainableliving


1. Unfortunately, organic waste alone accounts for over 50% of all household waste and is a serious drain on the municipal garbage collection resource. Decomposing organic wastes in a landfill emit only methane which is x10 worse than CO2. Still, this blog is about plastic waste so let’s leave this issue for another day.

2. There are many issues with recycling which we need to be aware of. It is simply not the solution to dealing with waste that we think it is. Recycling plastic is expensive and time consuming for the collection facilities. In fact, most of it still ends up in landfill or incinerators due to bad …….


2 thoughts on “What a Waste!

  1. […] or get eaten by the ocean, so every time you litter, thinking no one will notice, think again. Look ... onebrownplanet.com/plastic-pollution-my-future
  2. Emma Reply

    It’s a bit of an eye-opener seeing all of the accumulated rubbish!!

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