Debunking myths on plastic recycling

SOME of the myths and questions surrounding plastic recycling were answered at a packed-out talk hosted by Turn Lyme Green and Plastic Free Lyme Regis last week. 

Polymer and sustainability expert Mark Foxhall gave the talk entitled ‘The Story Behind Recycling Plastic’ at the Royal Lion Hotel. Here, Plastic Free Lyme Regis share some of the main issues covered at the event.

Plastic is everywhere, in everything and there is a lot of confusion around new products and recycling.

Figures are scarce but in a government report last year it was stated that the total amount of plastic food and drink packaging put on the UK market and dealt with directly by consumers is 975,000 tonnes.

In addition, plastic packaging used in the hospitality sector (most of which will be associated with food and drink) was just under 200,000 tonnes. This is out of a total of approximately 2.36 million tonnes of plastic packaging that was estimated to be placed on the market in 2017. 

This is just packaging and only some of the plastic being produced. It’s increasing every year.

Corn starch packaging

The main points that cut through some of the confusion were as follows:

  • Compostable plastic (bio plastics), made from for example corn starch, are no better than plastic. This is due to scalability of production by using valuable, arable land to produce vast amounts of corn to make a small amount of plastic. Land that could be used to grow actual food.
  • Compostable plastic will only degrade in industrial composters that reach 60 degrees. They will degrade if you put them in your council food waste bins but not in your own compost heaps. Because of this, any put into recycling bins end up becoming a contaminant to recycling real plastic
  • Cardboard, paper and glass are not the solution either, they have poor carbon footprints. These knee-jerk solutions are only just starting to be understood and currently aren’t causing green steering groups or others enough concern. It is now becoming obvious that these are not a viable alternative to plastic.
Raspberry packaging

Make lifestyle choices

To reduce single-use plastic consumption, we need to make lifestyle choices about how we shop and our expectations for out of season fresh fruit and vegetables.

Buying fresh strawberries, blueberries or green beans year-round, for example, is doing nothing to reduce our plastic consumption nor our carbon footprint, all are grown in plastic poly tunnels (in countries that don’t always have an infrastructure for disposing plastic waste) and most of these products are flown in.

Nor is having pre-prepared fruit and vegetables such as mashed potato, chopped carrots or peeled and chopped fresh fruit.

Legislation has been introduced which lowers taxes on packaging with 30% of recycled plastic. However, in food packaging it is sandwiched between layers of new plastic as recycled plastic isn’t allowed to touch food.

The current costs involved in recycling plastic puts the price of packaging up, although government initiatives by taxing producers may help change this, as more cost-effective technology and processes will be developed.

Some of the points raised on reducing our plastic waste were as follows:

  • Disposing of our plastic waste needs to be upped on every level. No throwing/dropping litter anywhere, pick it up if you see any. All fishermen, day or commercial, and other sea users need to stop discarding plastic in harbours and the sea. Companies who shipped raw plastic components, manufacturers and sewage plants have to monitor and prevent plastic nurdles and bio beads going into the sea.
  • We need to deal with our own plastic waste and stop sending it to other countries. Many are economically poor, have no processes to deal with plastic waste, so much of our plastic goes back in the sea.
  • Manufacturers of all goods need to reduce their packaging. Food manufacturers need to stop shrink wrapping multiple cans for example. Most shop tills are sophisticated enough to work out if four can of beans are bought then a discount can be applied. Plastic toys don’t need to be wrapped in more plastic!
  • The plastics industry is gearing up and projecting the introduction of increasing post-consumer waste (recycled plastic) into production of single use plastics like packaging. The goal is to make all plastic packaging from recycled plastics, creating a looped supply.

Other tips to help the fight against plastic waste are:

  • Put pressure on the people that make and supply the products you like will help. Ask them via letter, email, or social media to use less and only recycled packaging.
  • Buy loose fruit and vegetables and demand your shop or supermarket supply it this way – potatoes for example don’t need to be sold in plastic bags!
  • Lobby your MP. Our own town council have made a tremendous commitment to reducing plastic waste. If the government incentivise and push the industry, both manufacturers and producers, we start doing our bit by changing our buying habits and reducing our plastic use, recycling sensibly and refusing to put plastic waste into our land and oceans then hopefully, we will at least, start turning the tide of plastic waste.

Karen Durham-Diggins,
Plastic Free Lyme Regis

Woodmead Halls
About Francesca Evans 2537 Articles
Francesca grew up in Lyme Regis and has worked in community journalism in the area since 2011, having gained a First Class Honours degree in journalism and her NCTJ qualifications at Southampton Solent University.

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