Last night’s BBC TV show ‘The War on Plastics’ was a stark reminder of the plastic pollution in our oceans. In Hugh’s words ‘we’re just adding to an ever thicker plastic soup’ with plastic being found in the stomachs of all manner of wildlife and destroying the planet’s eco-system.
The show’s overriding message was to encourage people to reduce the amount of single use plastic they discard each day. The household cupboard clear outs shown on the programme were an excellent demonstration of the amount of plastic each of us uses in our daily life.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
At Cawleys, we agree wholeheartedly agree with this philosophy. The mantra ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ is at the heart of everything we stand for. Plastic has an important role to play, and shouldn’t be vilified across the board, but reducing the amount of non-essential plastic we use needs to happen now.
We accept that some plastics can actually help our environment by improving food shelf-life, for example, reducing its carbon footprint and cutting food waste, but most of the plastic we use can easily be replaced with more environmentally friend alternatives.
For example, Cawleys are launching a new service for the collection of compostable single use foodservice packaging. Cawleys will collect and segregate compostable waste so that it can be processed effectively, helping food packaging suppliers operate in a truly sustainable manner.
Understanding plastic grades and recyclability
Although companies that produce compostable packaging have an increasingly important role to play, vital plastic products will always exist and need to be recycled effectively. The BBC show highlighted the potential issue of segregated recycling ending up in overseas landfill.
This is extremely shocking and highlights the desperate need for authorities and organisations to work with companies that are totally transparent about the segregation methods, waste journeys and the processes they have in place for all the materials they claim to recycle.
Grading of material is extremely important and the public often isn’t aware that some types of plastic are much better for recycling than others.
It may be that the plastic waste in landfill highlighted by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall was of a lower grade. This may have been earmarked for recycling by households and authorities but ultimately wasn’t of good enough quality to be re-manufactured. This is exactly the type of plastic that needs to be replaced with alternative bio-degradable products or indeed earmarked for RDF instead of recycling.
Ensuring quality and trust
At Cawleys, we only segregate good quality material for recycling. Our systems and processes are extremely sophisticated and allow us to grade each material carefully to ensure it is put to its best use. A great deal of our good quality plastic recyclate is sent to Holland where it is effectively re-processed as part of the circular economy. We also work with plastic producers to return used bottles for recycling, for example our involvement in this year’s London Marathon involved the collection and return of thousands of water bottles that were fully recycled by the manufacturers.
Ultimately all of us need to be accountable and transparent. Manufacturers need a clearer system to enable consumers to know the recycling rules and those organisations responsible for recycling need to be upfront about their waste’s end destination, whether that be in landfill, refuse derived fuel or recycled effectively. Most of all, we should all live by the mantra, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
Another issue the ‘The War on Plastics’ programme highlighted is the huge price disparity between products bought loose, and those pre-wrapped, almost always in plastic. An example was shown where three loose peppers, if bought individually were between 20 - 40% more expensive to buy than those which were sold together, pre-wrapped in plastic.
Do we need that plastic? Previous research has shown that cucumbers wrapped in plastic remain fresh and good to eat for 20% longer, so this suggests a clear benefit from the use of plastic. What are the options if this is the case?
The Co-op has been offering to pack items in customers own reusable containers for some time, and most recently Waitrose launched a campaign encouraging customers to ‘wrap their own’.
The best possible way to encourage shops and shoppers everywhere to take this up would be to reward customers who use their own reusable containers with lower prices. To ensure this is commercially viable requires significant research to identify shelf life and wastage, and the steps major retailers are already taking to make this happen are very positive indeed.
Another positive step and one which the government is aiming to tackle in the DEFRA Waste Strategy is to end ‘mixed messages’ about recycling. As the TV programme highlighted for example, some councils will recycle yoghurt pots trays whilst others won’t. This creates confusion which ultimately causes householders to abandon good recycling practices.
The reason councils have varying rules is because they will have different facilities and budget requirements, and can’t all offer the same service. Whilst it might seem counter intuitive, the best recycling rates might be achieved if the lowest common denominator was identified across all councils, and this became the universal rule. It wouldn’t necessarily mean that household waste increases, because better segregation means higher quality waste and more recycling.
At Cawleys we are a specialist waste management provider for businesses, and don’t collect household waste. Because we are individually accountable to businesses, we have developed the most transparent, efficient recycling systems possible.
We achieve the highest recycling rates in the UK for our clients and know that better recycling and less wastage is possible for everyone. The BBC Programme has highlighted again the challenges of plastic pollution. There are solutions available, and we should all reach out for them.