Plastic – Victim of Its Own Success
Plastic is one of the most popular and useful materials of modern times due to its light weight and flexilibility in production and the range of properties that different plastic types have which make it an ideal material in so many different applications.
However, its popularity is part of the problem: we now use about 20 times more plastic than we did 50 years ago and each different plastic type is essentially a different material and cannot be mixed with other plastics when recycled without de-valuing it and reducing its usability.
By optimising the lifespan of plastics by reusing and recycling items as many times as possible, i.e. by recycling used plastic bottles into new ones (closed loop recycling), we can reduce our need to create ‘new’ plastic, thus:
- Conserving non-renewable fossil fuels (oil);
- Reducing the consumption of energy used;
- Reducing the amount of solid waste going to landfill;
- Reducing the emission of gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere;
The Problem With Design
Plastics are great, they can be moulded into any number of shapes in any numbers of colours which undoubtedly enhance our day to day life making it more colourful, easy on the eye and practical. They are also relatively cheap to work with and their light weight also makes them cheaper to transport.
Computers, televisions, calculators, broadband routers, printers, disposable razors, CD’s, CD cases, food packaging etc etc.
Everyday designers of are creating new products, and the packaging to put them in using innovative designs that keep their product one step ahead in the market place.
However, have you ever considered the downsides of all this design. Most plastic products are made up a of numerous different plastics for each different part and often contain other materials such as metal, foam, glass etc.
And in the case of food packaging, they often use laminated plastics (two or more plastics bonded together).
What This Means for Plastic Recycling
As mentioned previously different plastics should be treated as different materials altogether as they are generally not compatible with one another when recycled. If not segregated properly this leads to poor quality plastic recyclate
if we are going to do anything other than burn them for energy recovery. Once burnt that resource is gone for good.
The Bigger Picture for Plastic Recycling
There is only so much that plastic recycling companies can do to recycle the plastics that are in the various waste streams at the current time and because of the difficulties involved they will quite rightly take the easy option to ensure their own survival.
Our local authorities take the same approach with the plastics that we are allowed to put into our recycling bins at home which is why so few plastics that you have at home are currently recycled.
There are numerous laudable government backed schemes such as Recycle Now and WRAP that aim to increase recycling in the UK, encouraging us as householders to look to segregate our waste and place in the correct bin for collection and recycling.
In industry too we see that companies have been quick to see the potential value in their waste (thanks to increasing landfill costs) and have started to segregate waste and offer for sale to recycling companies.
This is all well and good abut it doesn’t go far enough. There is little point in encouraging people to want to recycle more and more if the infrastructure is not there to allow this to happen, and if there is not a ready market for the recycled materials to be used into.
A Seed Change
At Green Ant Plastic Recycling we believe that there is a requirement for a seed change in the way everyone thinks about new products.
Consumers – need to be encouraged to buy products that contain a recycled content. Many products already contain some recycled content and savvy manufacturers even use this as a marketing tool but still too often the driver for using recycled materials is for cost reduction rather than because consumers are demanding it.
As people have been educated to recycle their waste they also need to be educated into the need to buy products with recycled content tp provide new outlets for their recycled waste.
Designers and Manufacturers – need to be challenged to design plastic products and plastic packaging that use higher levels of recycled plastics and other materials. This means spending time learning about the limitations of plastic recycling and using the principles in their designs.
Principles such as single polymer production or use of polymers which are compatible in the recycling process. Alongside this approach they should also look to develop lower grade products that can be produced from mixed plastic waste to provide an alternative to energy recovery for mixed “legacy” plastic waste.
Government – need to understand the challenges of what is required in the plastic recycling industry and look to educate consumers, designers and manufacturers accordingly and introduce new legislation where required.
Green Ant Plastic Recycling Initiatives
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