So, here comes my first ever blog. I thought that I would take the opportunity to talk about what we can do, as consumers and as humans to try to play our part in reducing the considerable impact of plastic pollution on our planet. This is such a huge subject that I could write for days, no doubt. But this is just my personal opinion and some of the things that I do.
I hope that I get a reader or two and that I’m not just doing this to keep the Google spiders happy (Not that that is a bad thing when trying to place one’s website high in the search listings).
Re-use wherever possible
How many 5 pence bags have you bought since the charge came in, in October 2015? Well I have bought one. Do you have a drawer at home to keep all of your carrier bags and do you remember to take them with you – either to the supermarket or clothes shopping? (Did you know – within about 6 months of the levy being introduced plastic bag use was cut by 75%, from 7 billion bags each year down to 500 million in the first six month period. That is still far too many, and we can all help to reduce this figure further.)
Do you ever buy Chinese take-aways? I have one a year when I have friends over for my birthday. Do you keep the plastic lidded containers? They are (in the main) dishwasher and freezer proof and are great for storing left overs in the fridge. (Did you know – research indicates that the number of fast food outlets has increased by 45% in the last 18 years. That is a lot of packaging – much of which can be re-used)
Have you or your children ever been given a promotional plastic cup? How long do you keep and use it for? My daughter has a Kung Fu 3 Panda cup. I’ve just Googled it and the film came out in January 2016. She has had this cup for nearly three years and it is used on an almost daily basis. (Did you know – these sorts of cups are made from polypropylene and because of the properties of this plastic they will last for years and years and years)
Recycle anything that you can
I will keep my focus on plastic, as that is what our business is about and that is the material that is under the greatest pressure at the moment. That said – please ensure that you also recycle your paper, card, glass and textiles (most charity shops will take your damaged clothes, where they get paid a small amount of money for “rag”).
Plastic recycling. Hmm, I have a big bug-bear about the collection of plastics and that is down to local councils, all of whom have different strategies and different contracts in place. They all, therefore have different collection strategies, meaning that not every home in the UK has the ability to recycle all of the materials that they dispose of that are recyclable. As an example, bags are recyclable but my council does not take them!
So if you do have bags to be thrown away (after you have re-used them until they can be used no longer), take them to one of your bigger supermarkets. They have cages for the disposal of end-of-life carrier bags and these will be recycled for you. Also, if you use “bag for life” bags, then take these into the store to get a shiny new replacement and the store will recycle the damaged bag.
Plastic containers. Now I’m going to be controversial here, and I hope that I do not get myself into any trouble! I put all of my plastic trays into my recycling bin. Why? I hear you cry. Well I know, only too well, how difficult it is to tell plastics apart. When I first visited a mixed recycling facility (MRF) I was rather shocked to see a dozen or so people sitting along the length of a conveyor hand picking through the recycling. One was responsible for wood, one for paper, one for card, etc. and one for plastic. And therein lays the problem. “Plastic” as a comingled entity cannot be recycled. Only the individual polymers can be truly recycled back into plastic products. For example, plastic bottles back to plastic bottles, wheelie bins back to wheelie bins, buckets into garden furniture, etc.
There are, of course, industrial plants that can make a pretty good job of separating certain plastic types – but the investment is vast and the results are not perfect. As an example, a sorting line can separate materials that float from materials that sink – but there could be a selection of polymers that do either in a mix. Certain lines can recognise a certain polymer type, but all of the reject is still mixed.
And this is why I put all of my plastics into my recycling bin – not to make the MRFs job more difficult, but because I know that there will always be an element of mixed plastic at the end of the day. And do you know what happens with that mixed plastic? One of two things. The first one upsets me greatly and that is the risk that it ends up in landfill – but let’s be honest, if I’d put it in my normal bin that’s where it would have ended up anyway. The second option is “EfW”, energy from waste. I used to hate this option too, because of the noxious gases that the burning of plastic releases into the atmosphere, but I have recently learned that if the plant is running at a rate of over 1300˚ then the noxious gases burn off too. This is not recycling – but it is better than the landfill (or sea-fill alternatives).
Don’t buy plastic when there is a perfectly good alternative
Some of these options require some forethought, I’m afraid.
Single use plastic bottles are recyclable, so that is fine, but we don’t actually need so many of them in our lives. If you want water, try buying a reusable water bottle and filling it at home. (Did you know – the average person buys 50 litres of bottled water each year. That is probably between 50 and 100 bottles each. If you used a reusable alternative then you would be helping to protect our planet and saving yourself around £60 per year.)
The obvious unnecessary plastic that the UK government is about to ban is plastic drinking straws and ear buds with plastic stalks. I think we will all agree that a drink tastes the same whether you consumer it with a straw or not. They are fun, but they are just not necessary. The government also banned the sale of products containing microbeads last month, if you still have any at home, throw them away. (Did you know – the problem with microbeads is that they are consumed by all sorts of sea life and are ending up back on our plates in the seafood that we eat.)
If you’re having a picnic take cutlery from your drawer, bring it home and wash it up. You don’t really need plastic knives and forks – and they’re not very nice to eat with.
Do you really need a swanky shower gel? When you were younger, didn’t you used to wash with that old-fashioned, untrendy thing called a bar of soap? Are any of your cosmetics available in a glass jar rather than a plastic bottle?
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that plastic is bad (perhaps that should be my next blog) – it is not. But we do not need to use so much of it, we need to reuse it whenever possible and we need to recycle the rest.
Thanks for reading.
Any comments or questions, I’d be delighted to hear from you!
All the best, Susan.