Customers within the UK generate extra plastic waste per particular person than residents of every other nation besides the USA – and fewer than 10 % of it’s recycled.
Not solely is our recycling system overwhelmed however we’re additionally bombarding different nations with our waste too, inflicting severe hurt to their residents and atmosphere, notably in India, Indonesia and Malaysia.
Public concern concerning the plastic air pollution disaster has risen sharply, with outcomes from a current ballot displaying that 85 % of individuals within the UK need the federal government to make retailers minimize the quantity of plastic packaging.
But regardless of this, new evaluation by Greenpeace and the Environmental Investigation Company (EIA) has discovered that the highest 10 UK supermarkets truly elevated their plastic footprints by 1.2 % between 2017 and 2019, from 886,000 tonnes to just about 897,000 tonnes.
Why are we nonetheless drowning in plastic?
- Lowering oil worth
Oil costs have dropped considerably through the COVID-19 pandemic. Which means the businesses that make plastics don’t use as many recyclables as the value of virgin plastic is decrease and there may be little or no incentive to make use of a recycled model.
- We use an excessive amount of of it
It’s nice we’re recycling extra, however we don’t have capability to course of it. Decreasing consumption within the first place appears blindingly apparent but it surely’s tough to place into motion when it’s ingrained in most of our every day lives.
Customers are blamed however in the end it’s as much as a change from large firms. Take supermarkets for instance. Now and again, plastic can enhance shelf life, however for probably the most half it’s pointless.
In 2019 UK supermarkets produced 896,853 tonnes of plastic packaging. It is a slight lower from 2018 (lower than two %), but it surely’s means off the progress that our planet actually wants, and is definitely nothing to shout about.
One change that would assistance is the rise in on-line grocery purchasing which is a big alternative to cut back plastic.
Just lately, Tesco partnered with Loop, who makes use of fully reusable packaging, which is returned, cleaned and reused. If supermarkets replicated this on a big scale they may ditch hundreds of tonnes of plastic.
- There isn’t sufficient closed loop recycling
Recyclists have a better likelihood of promoting high-grade clear plastics that may be sorted and processed rapidly so these are prioritised e.g. water bottles.
In the meanwhile, there may be not sufficient closed-loop recycling (e.g. a bottle turning into a brand new bottle which suggests it may be recycled time and time once more). Most pliable recycled in our households isn’t clear sufficient and leads to an open-loop recycling course of.
The issue with open-loop is that finally supplies can’t be recycled as water bottles grow to be meals packaging or polyester with low restoration charges
Weighing up the options
- Utilizing plastic waste to switch sand
Sand? Random, you may assume. Really, the uncooked materials is used for excess of sandy seashores. Within the constructing sector alone, 40-50bn tonnes of the stuff is used world wide yearly primarily in concrete, which is 25 % sand. It’s additionally utilized in smartphone and TV screens, and assume what number of of them there are globally. Billions.
The issue is we’re operating out of it – most desert or seashore sand is unsuitable, so it’s sometimes dredged from rivers, and because of the environmental harm this causes, nations together with India, Cambodia and Vietnam have launched bans lately.
Current analysis by Dr John Orr, a lecturer in concrete buildings at Cambridge College has discovered that plastic waste might be sorted, cleaned, shredded and crushed right into a sand various to be used in concrete.
While that is an thrilling prospect, in the end long run we ought to be straying away from concrete and cement altogether to discover a extra sustainable various constructing materials.
- Chemical recycling
Chemical recycling isn’t affected by contamination so might be a major step in tackling the waste disaster. It really works by breaking down plastic into its authentic kind utilizing warmth or a catalyst in order that it might finally be remade and utilized in new plastic merchandise.
Nevertheless, we have to discover methods of constructing it economically sustainable as at current it’s a pretty costly course of and we lack the infrastructure. It additionally makes use of power and produces fumes when the plastics are melted down, contributing to international warming so we’d have to supply measures to manage this.
In the meanwhile, many plastics are burnt utilizing incineration. Nevertheless, this course of emits fly ash and quite a few different pollution.
Gasification, however, produces 25-30 % decrease greenhouse gasoline emissions than incineration.
It really works through the use of solely a tiny quantity of oxygen, which is mixed with steam and cooked below intense strain. This initiates a collection of reactions that produces a gaseous combination composed primarily of carbon monoxide and hydrogen.
- Deposit return scheme
Regardless of good intentions, small gestures in the direction of stemming the plastic tide equivalent to banning plastic straws and cotton buds have had minimal influence to this point.
Nevertheless, extra vital reforms like introducing a plastic bottle ‘deposit return scheme’ may make a distinction. Yearly throughout the UK, shoppers undergo an estimated 14 billion plastic drink bottles, 9 billion drink cans and 5 billion glass bottles.
The deposit return scheme is about to be in place in 2024 as was delayed by COVID-19. It will work by UK retailers imposing a deposit to prospects on prime of the value of glass bottles, plastic bottles and cans. Prospects can then retrieve this after having returned the container to a chosen return level.
- Prolonged producer duty for packaging
Prolonged Producer Accountability (EPR) is about to return into drive from 2023. Producers pays the complete prices of managing and recycling their packaging waste, with increased charges being levied if packaging is tougher to reuse or recycle.
Companies producing and/or promoting packaging may have a duty past the design and use of their packaging, which incorporates contributing in the direction of it being collected and reused, recycled, or composted in follow.
- Plastic tax
A tax on plastic packaging with lower than 30 % recycled content material is proposed to return into place from April 2022. It’s estimated that by 2030 the tax may have raised £1.8 billion and the hope is that this tax will likely be used to supply UK reprocessing capability in addition to invested in assortment and sorting.
- Ban single-use plastic
If the UK produced half as a lot single-use plastic, we may finish waste exports, and ship much less plastic into incineration and landfill.
With out elimination, reaching a round economic system for plastic is not going to be potential. With the demand for plastic packaging set to double over the approaching 20 years, it is going to be not possible to maintain this ever-growing circulate of plastics within the economic system and out of the atmosphere.
- Utilizing bioplastics
Bioplastics are types of plastic which might be both biobased, associated to how the fabric is sourced (e.g. espresso cups constituted of espresso husks), or compostable, associated to how the fabric might be processed after use (e.g. compostable tea baggage or meals caddy baggage utilized in cities for meals waste assortment).
The issue with many bioplastics is that they’ll’t be recycled. Due to their decrease melting level than uncooked plastics, they trigger havoc if blended in with petroleum-based plastics. In addition they gained’t degrade in landfill as there’s a full lack of oxygen.
Additionally the environmental influence on land and water use of the fabric that makes bioplastics ought to be taken under consideration.
- Various supplies
Long run options to plastic are being researched and there are a number of packaging choices being trialled globally. Examples embrace Ooho and Apeel.
Ooho is an edible and biodegradable packaging for drinks and condiments constituted of brown seaweed, a renewable pure useful resource. The condiment sachets have been trialled on Simply Eat’s supply platform and through the preliminary trial with ten eating places, using 46,000 sauce sachets constituted of single-use plastic have been prevented. The water capsules have been additionally trialled on the 2019 London marathon, eliminating the necessity for greater than 30,000 single-use plastic cups and bottles.
Apeel is a plant-derived coating for fruit and greens which slows water loss and oxidation. It extends shelf-life with out the necessity for plastic packaging, equivalent to shrink wrap on fruit and greens.A single cucumber provider is predicted to get rid of greater than 30,000 kg of shrink wrap per 12 months utilizing Apeel. Apeel for avocados had been rolled out throughout all 1,100 shops of US retailer Kroger and was not too long ago launched in ASDA shops within the UK.
Nevertheless, there might be unintended penalties of the options too – a special materials might need a bigger environmental footprint because of the means it’s made or produce increased carbon emissions with its transportation (e.g. glass is heavier than plastic).
Given its versatility, plastic is predicted to proceed for use for numerous purposes, so the most effective method is to design a plastics system that works, by which it by no means turns into waste or air pollution.
- Re-design plastics
With out elementary redesign and innovation, about 30% of plastic packaging won’t ever be reused or recycled. So whereas recycling is a part of the answer, we cannot recycle our means out of the plastic air pollution disaster.
Stuff might be designed higher to last more; meals chains and toy makers don’t should make poor high quality items; producers can use fewer virgin uncooked supplies. Innovate to make sure that the plastics we do want are reusable, recyclable, or compostable.
- Particular person contribution
While in the end we’d like cooperation from companies and authorities to see long run change, there are methods by which we will individually contribute and assist cut back demand for plastic:
- Purchase unfastened veg when potential, and keep away from skinny plastic movie should you will help it
- Purchase fish and meat from the counters to keep away from extra packaging
- Reuse espresso cups and water bottles
- Say no to microbeads
- Swap from bathe gel to cleaning soap bars
- Purchase refills for laundry detergent, washing up liquid, cleaning soap and so on.
- Put two bins in your rest room – one for recycling, one for landfill
- Wean your self off the moist wipe
- Rinse out plastics to keep away from contamination
- Maintain lids on bottles when recycling
When you really feel passionate, you also needs to write to corporations whose packaging you disagree with – letter, e-mail, tweet. It’s extremely efficient.
For instance, a member of the general public complained to Unilever about plastic in PG ideas teabags.
They made a petition which acquired 200,000 signatures and subsequently the CEO mentioned he would design plastic out of teabags. One man, one petition, 10 billion fewer plastic tea baggage within the atmosphere.
In the long term we’d like deeper authorities assist to stimulate and enhance the capability of home recycling and reprocessing and drive poorer high quality plastics and packaging codecs off the market.
This may largely be achieved by an efficient, long-term, plastics tax to underpin home funding and prolonged producer duty insurance policies to eradicate difficult-to-recycle or poor high quality packaging codecs from sale.
Sophie Johnson is a Zoology graduate and passionate conservation blogger from the UK.