Plastic waste - 2 major reasons why packaging needs to be 100% recyclable

To say plastic pollution is a ‘huge issue just now’ seems like an inadequate adjective to use when trying to highlight the effect plastic waste is having on our planet.

At the last count in 2015, plastic production had amassed to 381 million tonnes.  Sounds like quite a bit right? But how much is 381 million tonnes?

381 million tonnes is the equivalent to:

  • 279, 325, 513 Vauxhall Astra’s
  • 839,961,218,924 bags of sugar
  • Roughly, the equivalent to the mass of two-thirds of the world population

Plastic production around the world did not take off until the 1950’s and in less than 70 years, this is what the human race has done to our beautiful planet…

Plastic waste in the ocean

A man and his son floating on a make-shift raft, in a sea of plastic, trying to collect bottles to sell

This is an upsetting image; it is all too easy for individuals and companies to take the stance that it is not ‘their problem’ or think ‘that it is on the other side of the world so it can’t be our responsibility’

But it is our problem; we are all responsible. Humanity made the mess, humanity need to clean it up.

Environmental sustainability is a fundamental principle behind our company and our product.

With the imminent launch of our bottled ESOL™ range we wanted to make sure our packaging was not only made from recycled plastics but also that the bottles could be recycled themselves.

Why? We had 2 major reasons for this decision:

Reason 1 – Single use plastics

Single use plastics; why are they such a problem?

Firstly, what is a single use plastic? They are plastic items that are intended to be used once and then discarded; plastic cutlery, straws, juice and plastic bottles, food packaging, cup lids and plastic bags.

In the cases where these items are able to be recycled, there is no threat to the environment however; this does not apply to all plastics.

In the worst case; these and other items are being carelessly discarded and end up in strewn over land and in the oceans.

When plastic starts to break down it reverts into the toxic chemicals that it was first made up of, making animals and humans susceptible to absorption.  It gets worse; it has been reported that these chemicals are responsible for hormone disruption and life threatening disease.

Related content: The Dual Menace of Toxic Chemical Pollutants and Plastics

What plastics can I put in my recycling waste?

Plastic packaging generally has a symbol on it to show the type of plastic it is made from.  Just because you see the black chasing arrows on your item doesn’t always mean you can throw it in your plastic recycling bin.

Here is a high level guide to plastic symbols and whether or not you are able to pop them in the recycling bin

What plastics can I put in my recycling waste_
  • Bin liners
  • Bubble wrap
  • Cling film
  • Plastic Egg boxes
  • Hangers for clothes
  • Plastic bags
  • Polystyrene packaging
  • Polythene wrappers

These are just some of the items that can’t be recycled and end up in landfill.

As we mentioned, this guide may not be applicable in all areas, it depends on your council jurisdiction (UK) as to the rules surrounding recycling. To find out more about what you are able to recycle visit your local authority’s website.

Reason 2 – Marine Life and our Oceans

How is plastic pollution detrimental to marine life?

I remember watching a devastating clip by filmed by Christine Figgener, marine biologist at Texas A&M University.  It showed a sea turtle having to have a plastic straw removed from its nostril.

This clip is not nice to watch; it is terrible to think that this animal suffered as a result of our nonchalant attitude to plastic waste.

How is plastic pollution affecting coral reefs?

Corals are like humans and animals; they are living creatures and can become cut and wounded.  Plastic waste acts as a carrier of pathogens down to the sea bed.  The discarded rubbish gets caught up in the coral beds, it then breaks or damages the coral giving the pathogens a clear entry point to begin infecting and killing the coral.

What would happen if there were no more coral reefs?

In an interview with Pavan Sukhdev, an environmental economist states:

“If they [coral reefs] were to disappear, that would mean the loss of an ecosystem, a loss of biodiversity and a risk to future potential solutions to medical problems. But even more importantly, that scenario poses a risk to the 500 odd million people who live along coastlines and depend, for both their livelihood and their food, on the fish that breed and thrive among coral reefs.”

Read the full interview here

How long does it take for plastic to decompose in the ocean?

Plastic pollution is a serious threat to our planet.

Some of the plastic that is carelessly discarded today will be here long after you and I are gone; breaking down into harmful chemicals, having an adverse effect on the earth, the air, our animals, marine life and the population – a scary thought isn’t it…

How long does it take for plastic to decompose

This Indian woman holds a jar filled with Yamuna river water polluted with froth and toxic foam to be used for rituals at the river bank in New Delhi, India. The Yamuna River, like all other holy rivers in India, has been massively polluted for decades now. The river that originates in a glacier in the pristine and unpolluted Himalayas, and flows through Haryana, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh before merging with the Ganges River in Allahabad, once used to be the lifeline of the Indian capital. Currently, it is no more than a large, open sewer that is choking with industrial and domestic discharge that includes plastic, flowers and debris and has virtually no aquatic life – EPA

plastic-waste indian woman with plasstic jar filled with holy water

That fact that you have read this far tells me that this stuff is important to you.

What can we do to help plastic pollution?

There are many ways that we can reduce the amount of plastic we use and then throw away in our everyday life. Here are 4 relatively easy swaps to make to start you on a plastic reduction journey.

1.Take a reusable water bottle with you everywhere you go

There is a really handy app from the City to Sea Company called ‘Refill’ it shows you over 12,000 locations in the UK where you can grab free water refills.  It can also be set to remind you each time to leave the house to take your bottle with you.

Get the App here

What about your business?

Do you run a café or a restaurant?

Do you have a tap that is publicly accessible?

Register your company as a ‘refill station’ with refill.org.uk to allow the public access to free drinking water.

Maybe, like us, you work in offices or a building that is not accessible by the public.

Pop a notice in reception to let visitors and delivery people know that you are happy to fill up their bottles.

Here is ours:

Free water refill poster Bridge Biotechnology dunfermline

Fact: More than 480 billion plastic drinking bottles were sold in 2016 across the globe, which increased exponentially from around 300 billion bottles a decade ago - Forbes

2.Carry a shopping bag with you

There are lots of solutions on the market today to eliminate the use of plastic bags in the shops and supermarkets:

Hessian tote bags

Reusable shopping bags

Fold–away shopping bags

What can I do with the plastic bags I no longer need?

Most supermarkets have collection points in the stores where you can take your unwanted plastic bags.

What happens to plastic bags once you drop them off at a store recycling point?

We could not find anything online to say what happened to these bags.  After a few calls to Tesco’s stores and their distribution centres we are still no further forward.  It is great to see the initiative but we want to know what happens after the bags leave the shops – we will keep you updated

Fact: Sea turtles and other marine life mistake plastic bags for jelly fish so they end up eating them, leaving them with a plastic bag in their stomachs

3.Refuse a straw

Plastic straws are not easily recyclable so therefore end up in landfill or even worse, scattered on land and in the ocean.

If you are in a position where you need to use a straw there are several reusable alternatives available:

Bambaw – reusable essentials made from bamboo

Boobalou - reusable straws and other eco-essentials

Fact: It takes 500-1,000 years for some plastics to degrade

4.Reusable coffee cups

Coffee companies advertise their takeaway cups as ‘recyclable’ however this is slightly misleading. They may be made of paper however the cups are lined with plastic polyethylene to make the inside of the cup water tight.  This means that these cups can’t be recycled in the generic paper recycling.

There are only 3 plants in the UK that are equipped to deal with the recycling of these items;  the reality is that less than 1 per cent of coffee cups ever end up being recycled.

Reusable cups are available to buy in most coffee shops but if you fancy something a little bit different:

Boobalou reusable cups

Amazon - reusable cups

Most coffee shops give you the option of using your own coffee cup; some even give you a little bit off the price of a coffee in doing so.  Recently I read that Waitrose are giving free coffee to customers who take their own cup!

Some staggering facts:

  • UK throws away 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups every year*
  • Less than 1 per cent of coffee cups are recycled*
  • Half a million cups are littered every day*
  • Packaging producers only pay for 10 per cent of the cost of packaging disposal and recycling*

As an individual, do you think you would be able to implement these small changes to your day?

What can companies do to help the environment?

There are several, relatively simple steps all companies can take to help reduce their impact on the environment:

  • Are all your bulbs Energy saving?
  • Do you switch off all your equipment at night?
  • Do you monitor usage of all utilities with a meter?
  • Are your cleaning products environmentally friendly?
  • Can you swap paper towels for a cotton hand towel?
  • Can you swap disposable cups or cutlery for reusable versions?
  • Do you reuse packaging that you receive from suppliers?
  • Is your own packaging recyclable and reusable?

As an SME we looked at each element of our business that had an impact on the environment, such as:

  • Use of water in equipment testing process
  • Electricity consumption
  • Use and disposal of paper
  • Energy and chemical usage in office cleaning
  • Office electrical equipment and lighting
  • System manufacturing
  • Packaging

We made the necessary changes to ensure we are doing our utmost to keep our impact on the planet to a minimum.

Depending on the nature and size of your organisation, can you think of area’s that you can make even more changes?

As part of our environmental continuous improvement we wanted to take things a little bit further.

BS8555 training helps organisations improve their environmental performance by providing a way to build an environmental management system (EMS) in five phased stages.   These courses are available through different consultancy firms throughout the UK.

SGS UK

Penarth.co.uk

Mabbett

This training is not where it stopped;

After the changes were made we had a GAP analysis carried out by an environmental, quality and H&S consultant to highlight areas where further improvements could be made.  Making these changes allows us to register as an ISO140001:2015 accredited company, we are working on these point and we will keep you updated. {Nov 18}

What is being done by supermarkets to help reduce plastic waste?

As of next year, Tesco will refuse certain brands if non-recyclable plastic is used in their products.

Read full article here

From October 2018, Waitrose plan to replace fruit and veg bags with a compostable alternative.  This means a reduction in single use plastic and a stop to the 5p bag levy.

Read full article here

In February 2018, Asda announced a series of measures to help the battle on plastic waste.  One of these measures was to reduce plastic use in their own brands by 10%.  In the grand scheme of things this is not a huge amount but ‘every little helps’ – nope, wrong supermarket.

Read full article here

What next?

There is no doubt that the problem with plastic pollution is a big one;  I want to be able to say that it is an issue that can be solved but without individuals, manufacturers and companies being on board the problem could remain inherent.

We gave you 4 tips to help you reduce plastic relatively easily; do you have any other tips you would like to share with us?

Do you have any ideas to help companies and organisations reduce their impact of the planet?

Pop them in the comments below, we would love you hear them

It takes a modicum of empathy, awareness and effort for individuals to ‘do their bit’ to help.  However it is ultimately down to manufacturers and supplier to take a stance and find an alternative to non-recyclable plastics.

Just in case you missed any of the links from this article, we have popped them all below for you:

Sources


 The independant


Articles


The Dual Menace of Toxic Chemical Pollutants and Plastics


Full interview with environmental economist, Pavan Sukhdev - what would happen if coral reefs did not exist?


Full article regarding Tescos ban on single use plastics


Full article on Waitrose ban of plastic fruit and vegetable bags


Full article on Asdas promise to reduce plastic by 10% in own-brand goods




Shopping


Hessian tote bags


Reusable shopping bags


Fold–away shopping bags


Bambaw – reusable essentials made from bamboo


Boobalou - reusable straws and other eco-essentials


Boobalou reusable cups


Amazon - reusable cups

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