Open data dive: Plastic use reduction

Manchester Data Dive

We were pleased to run a Data Dive on 6th July, together with Methods at Manchester. The challenge was:

  • Local to global: The data in plastic, from single use carrier bags to international emissions from plastic manufacture – data strategies for plastic usage reduction.

Dr Victoria Moody, Deputy Director and Director of Impact for the UK Data Service, introduced the theme, highlighting the range of data available, both from the UK Data Service and beyond.

As plastic pollution has become a serious concern in recent years, we were interested in participants looking at both local and global issues related to plastic, this could be anything from single use carrier bags to international emissions from plastic manufacture.

It was fantastic to see such a wide range of people from different sectors get together and explore not only the data that are available, but the ideas that people have on this subject.

Next we had a talk from Duncan Millard, an International Statistics Advisor formerly the Chief Statistician, and the Head of the IEA Energy Data Centre. We were pleased to have Duncan present, as we provide access to International Energy Agency (IEA) data through our platform UKDS.Stat. He spoke about the increasing use of oil for non-energy uses and the wealth of international data relating to plastic manufacture, usage and waste.

Neil and I then provided a brief introduction to the UK Data Service and some of the relevant data we have within and outside of the service.

Richard about to present. Image: Neil Dymond-Green

As already mentioned we host data from the IEA, and we have other datasets of interest such as the OECD Environmental Statistics and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). We also provide access to UK Census data, which can be combined with other datasets to see if there are any patterns between demographics and data related to plastic use.

We encouraged people to look wider than just what we host, as there are lots of interesting and relevant open data available that can be utilised.

Developing and pitching ideas

After this introduction, people started thinking about their ideas. Participants explored a variety of data sources and discussed their thoughts. This was followed by short pitches, and groups forming to refine their ideas further.

Neil facilitating the pitches. Image: Victoria Moody

A huge range of fantastic pitches from the attendees! Image: Neil Dymond-Green

In between groups developing their ideas over the next few hours, we managed to have enough time to eat some delicious pizza.

Hard at work. Image: Neil Dymond-Green

Presenting their ideas

Towards the end of the day groups presented their work:

  • Team Wonky Sankey, developed a Sankey diagram showing where UK plastics originate from, and where it all ends up
  • Team Plastic People created several visualisations exploring UK plastic imports, and the different sectors in the UK
  • Team Single Used Plastics produced a map concerning plastic bag charge data and locations of supermarket chains.


Team Single Used Plastic presenting their idea. Image: Neil Dymond-Green

After much deliberation from our judges, Duncan Millard and Lisa Williams from Methods@Manchester, Team Single Used Plastics were crowned the winners, and with some additional development, we’re looking to turn this map into a 3D visualisation.

It was amazing just how much participants achieved in just a few hours!

Our judges: Duncan Millard and Lisa Williams (Methods@Manchester). Image: Neil Dymond-Green

What people thought of the day

Duncan Millard, International Statistics Advisor stated:

I really enjoyed the event and it was great to be part of it and able to provide some input. I think the mix of skills and background you had from all there really added to the thinking and development of ideas, all of which could be taken on further.

Lisa Williams, Methods@Manchester said:

People who came to the Data Dive were clearly enthused and enjoyed the challenge. Positive comments we received included:

A great day overall and lots of ideas for my own organisation. Thank you.

I thought the day was really good.

You can also follow our Twitter Moment for the day.

Extra data

Duncan has kindly put together a list of other energy related data that some may find useful:


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