Recycled & Reusable Plastic IS The Material Of The Future
- by Gary Briscoe
Over the last few years no other material has been under the spotlight more than plastic. After it was unfairly singled out by eco warriors as the source of all pollution in our rivers, oceans and countryside, it has been scrutinized by scientists, castigated by consumers and alternatives widely researched by retailers.
In spite of the adverse publicity and stigma surrounding plastics it still remains a big part of our lives and is widely used in all aspects of society and people are now accepting that plastics are a part of our future as long as 'closed loop' reuse and recycling is achievable. This latest blog explains some of the different terms relating to plastics and how recycling the material is growing in the UK and is enhancing our environmental blueprint.
SINGLE USE PLASTICS
The UK Government banned single-use plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds in England in 2020 and has recently announced that single-use plastic plates, cutlery, balloon sticks and expanded and extruded polystyrene cups will all be phased out in October 2023
Whilst the ban on these products seems a good idea, the reality is that it will only be successfully implemented if there are alternatives. Take cutlery for instance, one of the most popular alternatives is wood but wood comes from trees so this will increased the amount of trees that need to be cut down and add to the already large-scale removal of trees from forests (or other lands) for the facilitation of human activities. This is already a serious environmental concern since it can result in the loss of biodiversity, damage to natural habitats, disturbances in the water cycle, and soil erosion.
BIODEGRADABLE & COMPOSTABLE PLASTICS
Another alternative to single use plastics are biodegradable and compostable plastics which can made from biobased sources like seaweed, sugar beets, or other plants instead of fossil fuels.
The label biodegradable can however be misleading because we assume this means we can toss it on our garden heap and it will vanish naturally but more often than not, it means that it can only be composed industrially. Bioplastics can actually take years to decompose and if bioplastics were to end up in the ocean, they would break down into tiny pieces similarly to traditional plastics.(source savemoneycutcarbon.com).
The label 'compostable' is also misleading. Compostable plastics are not intended for recycling and can contaminate and disrupt the recycling stream if intermixed with plastics that are non-compostable. Compostable plastics are also very expensive and add further to production costs.
Leaders throughout the world are committed to increasing the amount of plastic recycling and clearly recognise the benefits of having a material that is capable of being reused and recycled many times over without the need for new resources
- Provides a sustainable source of raw materials to the industry
- Greatly reduces the environmental (especially the CO2) impact of plastic-rich products
- Minimises the amount of plastic being sent to the UK’s landfill sites
- Avoids the consumption of the Earth’s oil stocks
- Consumes less energy than producing new, virgin polymers
- Embeds the right values and behaviour to reduce human impact on the environment
If all plastic were recycled it would save 30 - 150 million tons of Co2 each year which is equivalent to closing between 8 and 40 coal-fired power plants globally (source British Plastics Foundation)
Under the United Kingdom's resources and waste strategy, England needs to recycle 50 percent of plastic packaging by 2025, with the target increasing to 55 percent by 2030. Current figure show we are recycling about 44-45% of plastic waste with the Government also introducing a plastic tax for any companies involved in the production of plastic that have less than 30% recycled material in their products.
HOW DO WE RECYCLE MORE?
The UK is working on stronger incentives for better design of plastic goods to ensure easy recycling and reuse as well as investment in waste collection infrastructure and ensuring that different types of plastic are properly separated at source.
There are also requirements from retailers for the inclusion of product labels or embossing showing the type of material and its recycled content to help create consumer-driven demand for recycled plastics. Consumers are still confused over what plastics can be recycled so clear symbols and messages will help them to understand this. There may well be deposit schemes introduced for certain products so customer get refunds for recycling and larger companies such as Pepsi are investing millions to proactively get the message over.
Across the UK, as part of local authorities waste management, nearly all councils provide plastics recycling collection. This plastic is then 'post-consumer' plastic packaging waste, and is supplied to the recycling sector. The amount which is collected and recycled has increased each year for at least the last twenty-five years.
Once the plastic is collected and sent to a recycling centre, it is typically separated into different polymer types, which are then separately shredded (and impurities like paper are removed), then melted back into polymer pellets. These pellets are then sold on to be used in new products.
Recycling and other recovery processing routes help reduce environmental impacts, as well as save costs, across the construction, manufacturing and retail sectors in particular.
The UK Plastics industry is a global leader operating at the cutting edge of technology has an annual sales turnover of over £27 billion and employs approximately 162,000. It is clear that with values of recycled materials increasing that there is an incentive for further investment into the continued growth of plastics recycling in the UK.
CLOSED LOOP RECYCLING
As more plastic is recovered and recycled, it provides increasing amounts of raw material for the recycling sector, which can be used for 'closed loop' recycling. Closed loop recycling means a product is recycled into another, almost identical product. A simple example of this is recycling a PET drink bottle into a new PET drink bottle.
Caterline is a good example of how a Company involved in the manufacture of plastic catering disposables has adapted to the concerns and issues of its customers and Government directives to ensure its products conform and exceed their requirements.
Having originally manufactured their products from PVC plastic the Company changed its whole production facility over to pet which was perceived to be more environmentally friendly. Over the years, they have worked with suppliers to gradually increase the amount of recycled material in their products and also ensure that there is reuse & recycle embossed logo on the packs and labels and boxes containing recycling information are clear and visible.
Their innovative sandwich platter range has been made from rigid material so that it is not only sturdy enough to hold the weight of a considerable buffet but also can be washed and reused many times over before it is ready to be recycled.
With increasing understanding and investment into recycling the closed loop plastic recycling targets can be achieved