Plastic Not So Fantastic

Plastic Not So Fantastic

On Monday 20 October 2014 a charge will be enforced on single use carrier bags in Scotland. However, carrier bags only account for 3.5-5.3% of total plastics in packaging in the UK (Wrap, 2005). Plastic carrier bags, along with bottles are easily recyclable across the UK. However, what about the plastics we cannot recycle? Crisp/ confectionary packets, bubble wrap, cling film, polystyrene, plastic tubs and pots, garden pots, CD/DVD’s & their cases, to name but a few.

It frustrates me that all my bin seems to contain these days is plastic of some description that cannot be recycled.  But there is a reason behind this.  These plastics maybe contaminated with foods and so are difficult to clean, some plastics cannot be mechanically sorted, therefore are costly to sort; and there just is not a market for these plastics. However, one particular coffee brand is taking responsibility for its packaging.  The coffee eco-refill bags this brand produces can be recycled in some of the stores where it can be purchased from or they can be mailed back to them for recycling.  But this relies on the consumer to make the effort to return the packaging.  Companies making steps like this are very few and far between though.

What can we do about it? Well we are told to adopt a ‘don’t buy’ philosophy of items adorned in too much packaging and packaging that cannot be recycled.  Although public demand is fundamental to what goes out on the shelf, will retailers really understand the motive behind the reduced sales? We need government enforcement.  Reduction in packaging is key, after all treating the cause is far better than treating the symptoms, because even recycling still creates carbon emissions.  Some packaging is necessary for food hygiene and for a product’s protection etc. but the producer needs to be more sensible and think about an afterlife for the packaging and asking ‘Can this packaging be recycled or is biodegradable without causing pollution?’ If the answer is no for whatever reason, well don’t use it and use something that can be.

The Scottish Biofuel Programme recently held an event ‘Don’t waste money on food waste’ and although as you can tell from the title the focus was more on food based waste, packaging for the food did come into it. Among the presenters including Zero waste Scotland, Tidy planet, LEAPs and CEMVO were Vegware. Vegware make completely compostable foodservice packaging, made entirely from recycled or renewable materials.  You can see a video of their presentation outlining how they are helping to move businesses to zero waste here.

So let’s have our chocolate bars wrapped in biodegradable plastic, protect our televisions will starch-based polystyrene, maybe even refill containers with coffee, shampoo, cooking oil from large shop dispensers? Seldom seen these days.  Let’s ration the plastic in the first instance and ditch the petrochemical-based plastics and go biodegradable.  Let nothing go to landfill.

Chief Science Officer

Julie is the Chief Science Officer for the Scottish Biofuel Programme. Julie holds a PhD in Microbiology and her research expertise is in ABE Fermentation. She is also interested in sustainable biofuels and energy production.

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