Broadcast From the Bins - The Problem with Plastic
The Problem with Plastic
It’s hard to imagine our lives without plastic. It’s versatile, durable, and economical but it’s these very attributes which make disposing of it such a problem. In the UK, we use 5 million tonnes of plastic each year, a third of this is packaging.
Figures from the UK government show that last year, 240,000 tonnes of plastic bottles and other plastic products were sent to landfill. Most of this waste was household waste which could have been recycled. The figures look even more bleak, as they go on to reveal that the plastic bottles sent to landfill would have been worth £91 million if they had been recycled.
But the disposal of plastic is not only a problem in the UK, it’s a global issue. Every year, we consume 10% more plastic products globally than in the previous year and half of this is sent to landfill.
The problem of plastic
It ends up in our oceans
Plastic that isn’t recycled or sent to landfill can end up in our oceans. Millions of tonnes of plastic such as plastic bags floating in our oceans causes harm to wildlife and can even enter the food chain. The so-called ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ is an example of this. It is a huge mass of plastic and other waste which has accumulated in the ocean because of oceanic currents.
Most of it ends up in landfill
Almost half of all plastic waste is sent to landfill. That is a lot of material and energy being lost that could have been made into new products. When plastic wastes degrade in landfills, gases such as carbon dioxide and methane are produced which cause further environmental damage. Modern landfill sites are required to have gas collection and control systems however.
Some plastic is not recyclable
Sometimes people get confused about the types of plastic that can be recycled. All plastics are labelled with a symbol with information about the type of plastic the product is made from. Certain types of plastics such as polystyrene and polypropylene might not be acceptable for putting in a council recycling bin and they need to be taken to a recycling centre. Some plastics, like PVC, can’t be recycled at all.
Solving the problem
The government is working with an advisory committee to look at ways that businesses and households can be made more aware of how they can recycle more plastic. One option also being explored is setting voluntary targets for recycling companies to tackle waste, like those adopted by supermarkets. Several councils are also looking at how recycling incentive schemes can increase household recycling overall.
There have been developments in industry which look positive for the future. A company in Southampton is developing a 100% naturally sourced and biodegradable plastic. The company are trying to replace oil based chemicals used in plastic production with a more natural derivative, which although more expensive in the short term, will eventually bring production costs down. A by-product of the degradation of the new plastic could replace the oil-based chemicals and drive production costs down.
Every company knows that being sustainable makes good business sense. Recyclable packaging has grown in popularity in recent years as customers become more aware of environmental concerns. Being perceived as a ‘green’ company is a great PR move for businesses.
What can you do?
If we all made a few changes to the way we use and dispose of plastics, we can limit the damage to the environment. Refill and reuse water bottles and reuse plastic bags instead of getting new ones every time you visit the supermarket. Instead of buying a taking coffee with a single use lid, buy yourself a travel mug. This is kinder to the environment and your pocket!
And the most important thing, be sure to recycle whenever you can. These things might seem small, but if everyone got on board, it would lead to some big changes.