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Plastic vs People

April 22, 2024

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The Theme for Earth Day 2024

Today is Earth Day, not only does it honour and support our wonderful planet but it raises awareness of the need to protect Earth’s natural resources for future generations.

The theme this year is Plastic vs People and renews commitment to end the pervasive use of plastic. Action is needed to combat the global plastic waste problem if we are to safeguard both human and planetary health.

 

Where does plastic go?

Every year Coastal Recycling processes 2,790 tonnes of plastic from our customers around the county. At our processing sites it goes through a thorough sorting process and gets prepared to be made into new plastic packaging and products.  Although many of us diligently fill up our recycling bins each week, according to research just 12% of the UKs plastic actually heads for recycling. With 88% of plastic heading elsewhere, it seems recycling is only part of the solution to our growing plastic waste problem.

So, apart from the recycling centre what else happens to plastic after we discard it? The journey for each piece of plastic can be long and agonizing or short and final, depending on where it ends up.

Energy from Waste (EfW) plant – Almost 50% of the UKs waste now heads for incineration. These facilities are designed to burn waste at high temperatures, typically between 800°C to 1000°C in a controlled environment and used to create Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) to produce electricity and heat. There is no doubt that reducing, re-using and recycling is preferable when it comes to our waste. However, when we treat non-recyclable waste in this safe and effective way, it becomes a resource that we can harness, and an essential and complementary part of the waste management solution.

Landfill – Landfills are engineered sites where waste is deposited into the ground for disposal. This is a less than ideal destination for your plastic since it can take anywhere between 400 to 1,000 years for plastic waste to fully decompose meaning most the plastic we’ve used in our lifetime still exists somewhere on the planet today!

The ocean – 8 – 14 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean annually where it poses a severe threat to marine life and ecosystems that is potentially irreversible. 80% of this waste washes or blows in from the land.  It’s a horrible fact, more than 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine animals die from plastic pollution every year. In our Devon community, organisations like North Devon Plastic Free and Till the Coast is Clear work tirelessly to educate others and to try and reverse the damage.

So, is a recycling facility is the best option for our plastic?

When you look at where your plastic can end up, the recycling centre is definitely the most preferable option. However, not all types of plastic can be recycled, and even among those that can, the recycling process may vary depending on local facilities and regulations.

Plastics are categorised into different resin types, each with its own recycling properties. The most common types of recyclable plastics include PET (polyethylene terephthalate, used for drinks bottles), HDPE (high-density polyethylene, used for milk and detergent bottles), PVC (polyvinyl chloride, used for pipes and packaging), LDPE (low-density polyethylene, used in plastic bags and films), PP (polypropylene, used in containers and packaging), and PS (polystyrene, used in foam products and packaging).

Examples of non-recyclable plastics include bioplastics, composite plastic, plastic-coated wrapping paper and polycarbonate.  Non-recyclable plastics items can include cling film or polystyrene. Mixed-material plastics, and plastics contaminated with food or other substances an also be a problem in the recycling process.

What is being done globally to tackle plastic pollution?

Addressing the world’s growing plastic problem requires a multifaceted approach involving legislation, innovation, education, as well as individual action.

More and more nations are implementing policies to reduce single-use plastics through bans, taxes or incentives, investing in research and development to create sustainable alternatives to plastic and enhancing waste management infrastructure and facilities for proper disposal and recycling. The UN Environment Programme has recently created a report called ‘Turning off the Tap: How the world can end plastic pollution and create a circular economy’. The report highlights a systems change is needed to address the cause of plastic pollution. It combines reducing the most problematic and unnecessary plastic uses with three market shifts – Reuse, Recycle, and Reorient and Diversify – and actions to deal with the plastic pollution legacy.

When it comes to recycling, we will play our part in complementing the other solutions. It’s about ensuring that where plastics are produced, they are designed to be recyclable.  A 12% recycle rate for the UKs plastics (and just 9% globally) is just not good enough!

What can I do to help manage plastic waste?

By implementing these practices yourself, we can collectively reduce plastic consumption and minimise its detrimental effects on the planet.

Say no to single use plastics – Say no to plastic straws, utensils, and containers. Opt for alternatives like stainless steel straws or bamboo utensils.

Carry a refillable bottle – Use a refillable water bottle instead of buying bottled water.

Avoid products that contain microbeads – Check product labels containing microbeads, which are small plastic particles harmful to marine life.

Use products with eco-friendly packaging -Support companies that use eco-friendly packaging materials or minimal packaging.

Support legislation – Be an advocate for policies that regulate single-use plastics and promote sustainable alternatives.

Properly dispose of plastic waste – Recycle plastic items whenever possible, rinse them to reduce contamination so you know when they reach a recycling facility like ours, it can actually get recycled.

Follow Coastal Recycling on Social Media (LinkedIn, Facebook & Instagram) –We share our Recycling Rules, the unspoken rules of the recycling bin!

"It’s about ensuring that where plastics are produced, they are designed to be recyclable"