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Launch of the UK Plastic Packaging Plan: Why we care
According to Policy Connect, 47% of couples in the UK argue about what to put in which recycling bin. As pointed out in Westminster on 11th February, when the Plastic Packaging Plan was officially launched, this means we really care about recycling. It also means the nation is confused about the best way to make it happen, which was one of the major focuses of the report. With calls for unified rules on recyclable plastics across all local authorities, we might hope for a little more clarity in the future.
What we are facing
The scale of the problem is frightening. All water samples collected and tested around the world, including the polar ice caps, contain plastics. So too do all the stomachs of marine animals around every part of the UK according to researchers. The chances are that 95% of humans do as well. This is all due to humanity producing roughly its own body weight in plastics every year. Between 2010-17, the UK exported 4.15m tonnes of plastic packaging instead of recycling it ourselves, which is enough to fill Wembley Stadium up 26 times over. 2017 waste exports produced the equivalent CO2 emissions as that of 45,000 cars.
However, good news is on the horizon. Businesses, academics and members of Parliament gave speeches at the launch event outlining some of what is being done to combat the problem. Tighter, more effective legislation is on the way. So too is advanced research into plastics recycling, which will allow the processing of mixed plastics and plastics that are “contaminated” by other materials like food. Researchers are also looking at ways of reclaiming more plastics already in the eco-system and finding more degradable options for the future.
Adrian Griffiths of Recycling Technologies explained that the chemical processes that his company has developed makes 90% of household plastic waste recyclable. Instead of melting down the materials, they are turned back into oil and fed back into the plastics making process at refineries. A council in Scotland is now looking to install the technology for household waste.
The UK government is funding academic research projects into longer term plastics design solutions. Ecotoxicologist Professor Tamara Galloway of Exeter University, who spoke at the report launch, has spent years researching the damage that plastics cause to the eco-system. She is now co-lead of the £1 million Exeter Multidisciplinary Plastics Research Hub (ExeMPLaR) project, alongside colleague Professor Peter Hopkinson, Director of the University’s Centre for Circular Economy within the Business School. One of eight initiatives across the country, the project will investigate alternatives to fossil-based materials for plastics as well as looking at how to reclaim and recycle plastics already out there.
Hand in hand with this, tighter regulations are recommended to cut down plastic use in the UK, increase targets for recycling and ensure this is carried out in the UK rather than shipping it overseas.
Many speakers pointed out that developing better ways of dealing with our waste would help the economy long term. In the words of the report:
“…we are providing ambitious but necessary steps and standards needed to take control of and boost our waste economy, jobs and innovation market, and ultimately stop waste plastic from damaging the environment we all live in.”
Everyone working in the area agrees that plastic is an immensely useful material. Lightweight, strong and less environmentally costly to produce than glass or paper in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, it is an effective way of preserving and protecting other materials. The problem comes in its use or – more precisely – waste.
In our own small way, we at Techbuyer have experienced this when dealing with our own plastic packaging. Products are shipped to us in bubble wrap, a great solution for protecting servers and component parts. Our configure to order builds are too large to reuse this when shipping to customers. However, our work with the Cone Exchange has demonstrated that this is a useful resource for charities looking to avoid the overheads of a shop and sell product online. With the right connections, our leftover product can cut costs and help make money for worthwhile causes. It is a model we will look to replicate and develop wherever we can company wide.
Having an invitation to the Plastic Packaging Plan launch was valuable to us as a company as well as a group of people. It helped us understand more about approaches to tackling waste from our technical facilities, our kitchens and our breakroom. Later in the year we are looking forward to providing insight on minimising e-waste and extending the life of IT Infrastructure. With over a decade of experience, we are confident we can add value here as well as gain wider perspectives from academics and government.
A full copy of the Policy Connect Plastic Packaging Plan – Achieving Zero ‘Waste’ Exports is available here.