“Recent studies have shown that micro-plastic particles are even in the air we breath and the food we eat.”
– Natalie fee
Good things are happening in the fight against plastic waste, but it still feels like we are a long way from realising the benefits. Here are 5 things which we think need to happen to move things along.
Stop the production of non-recyclable plastic
A lot of the plastic we use today ends up in landfill either because we cannot recycle it, local authorities don’t accept it, or people just don’t recycle it properly. Thermoset plastics cannot be recycled because they contain polymers that cross-link to form an irreversible chemical bond which burn instead of melt1. There are some chemical methods that can be used, but they are a long way off being economically viable.
Here is a list of non-recyclable plastic:
- low Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
- Polypropylene (PP)
- Polystyrene (PS)
Recycling guidelines change depending on the local council, so check their website as some may accept Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE) and Polypropylene (PP).
If we only produced recyclable reusable plastics, we would see a decrease in recycling demand and would minimise the risk of plastic being sent to landfill.
Expedite the removal of single-use plastic
Businesses need to expedite their pursuit of reusable solutions and remove single-use plastics. This should start with own branded products and extend to the wholesale market to persuade suppliers to follow suit.
Overpackaging is also a problem as most retailers wrap individual items in plastic before boxing, and/or repackage already packaged items; and use airbags to fill the negative space.
Scale up the use of reusables
Removing single-use plastics will have a huge positive impact on the environment. But we need support from bigger business to enable us to adopt a reusable culture.
What if customers could use their reusable containers to…
- Buy fresh fruit and veg
- Buy goods from the delicatessen and salad bar
- Buy goods from the butcher and fishmonger
- Buy freshly baked goods from the baker
- Refill mineral water and soft drink bottles
- Refill detergents, fabric conditioners, washing up liquids and other cleaning products
- Refill dried pastas, rice, oats, nuts, seeds and cereals
Some smaller businesses offer a refillable service, but bigger business is far behind and needs to catch up.
Increase customer incentive initiatives
Research has shown that the English plastic bag charge has made a strong and positive impact on people’s behaviors and attitudes4 with an 85% decrease in the usage of plastic bags. However, it makes mores sense for businesses and other organizations to offer customer incentives to see an increase in changed behaviors and mind-sets.
Here are some ideas to elaborate on this point:
- Obtain supermarket points or cash for dispensing plastic bottles through ‘reverse vending machines’
- Top up your Oyster or MetroCard by dispensing plastic bottles through ‘reverse vending machines’
- Store discounts and vouchers for using reusable bottles and containers
- Reward and support your employees for the use and promotion of reusables
- Discounts and bonuses from takeaway restaurants for returning their containers
- Discounts and bonuses from food delivery companies for collecting reusable takeaway containers
Adopt alternative recycling methods – thermal cracking
Thermal cracking is the method of converting plastic waste into a source of energy. Plastic is shredded, dried and exposed to extreme heat in an oxygen free chamber breaking down the electron bond between carbon atoms in a hydrocarbon molecule, producing oil3.
This however introduces another risk: increasing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Interestingly, Harvard University and a company called Carbon Engineering claim they can refine the carbon from the atmosphere, combine it with hydrogen and water to produce fuel which burns completely clean5. If effective and adopted on a global scale, we could become carbon neutral and buy time to discover and perfect alternative sources of energy.
SOURCE: 1The BBC, 2Encyclopaedia Britannica, 3Live Science, 4Cardiff university, 5National Geographic, 6Reduce Reuse Recycle.