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

Green Ant  are committed to increasing levels of plastic recycling in the UK through facilitating plastic recycling and to improving quality of plastic recyclate.

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