The world’s annual consumption of plastic materials, according to Waste Online, has increased from around 5 million tonnes in the 1950s to nearly 100 million tonnes today, which means that we use 20 times as much plastic today than we did 50 years ago.
Plastic recycling in the UK lags a long way behind recycling of paper, glass and metal. The main reason for this is because comparatively few local councils include plastics in their kerbside collections; many provide plastic recycling collection facilities in their recycling collection centres, but inevitably this requires a greater commitment from the recycler, as they have to take it there themselves. They may also only accept one type of plastic, such as bottles.
The problem? Money, of course. There is a wide variety of types of plastic that you might be throwing away – you’ve probably seen the triangular recycling logo on plastic items which has a number in the centre of it. This identifies the type of plastic, for example 1 is PET- Polyethylene Terephthalate, 3 is PVC, 5 is polypropylene and 6 is Polystyrene.
This means that plastics need to be sorted into their different types before they can be recycled, and this needs to be done by humans – yes it’s up to us. This is why, for example your local recycling collection facility may only accept plastic bottles and why Tesco will accept all you carrier bags – they are sorted and ready for recycling.
It is estimated that only 7% of plastic waste is recycled at present. So what can we do to reduce the 93% of plastic that currently goes to landfill?
- Reject over-packaged items (a tough choice when four packs of a product encased in a plastic wrapper is cheaper than buying the items individually. Yet that wrapper must increase the production costs surely?)
- Choose products that use recyclable packaging such as glass rather than plastic. Another tough choice – a favourite fruit juice of mine just changed its packaging from glass to plastic. Grrrr.
- Reuse carrier bags, take your own bags to the supermarket and give unwanted ones to Tesco – they will accept any bags, not just Tesco ones.
- Reuse plastic packaging where possible – margarine and ice cream tubs can be used for storage and for planting seeds in for example. Drinks bottles such as water bottles can be refilled from larger containers (or the tap of course). Be carefulnever to reuse drinks bottles for substances such as cleaning materials where they could be accidentally drunk by a child.
- Choose products where refill options are available. Many health food shops will refill Ecover bottles for example, and The Body Shop will also refill bottles.
- If roadside collections are not available for plastics, take sorted plastics to a recycling collection centre. Bottle tops should always be removed from bottles as they are of a different material.
- Choose plastic items made from recycled materials. Plastic bags, fencing, garden furniture, water butts, composters, seed trays and fleeces can all be made from recycled materials