We can recycle plastic bags

3rd July 2017 | Recycling

The UK consumed a whopping 7.64 billion plastic bags a year before the charge – an extraordinary drop of billions of bags because of the 5p charge.

However much we reduce our consumption of plastic bags, through using sustainable solutions and re-using them, we must look at ways to deal with what we do still use – because there will still be a few million of them. And, the further news is that, contrary to popular belief, those remaining 640 million bags that we do still use can be recycled.

Plastic bags are classified as “plastic films” in waste terms, alongside packaging, carrier bags, and labels: In the UK we generate 414,000 tons of plastic film every year. The collection, separation and recycling of plastic film is not widely implemented in this country, but there is slow progress.

Recycle Plastic Bags

“Back-of-store” recycling of commercial plastic films – eg that of the film covering food pallets – has been commonplace for some time and has more recently been joined by “front-of-store” collection points for plastic bags and food packaging, including at some Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose branches.

Post-consumer plastic film is also collected and recycled by some local authorities. According to a report by Recoup, 20% of authorities in the UK currently offer kerbside collection of plastic film, including Cambridge, Swindon and Oxford. Although this currently falls far behind the widespread collection of other recyclables (eg glass, paper and plastic bottles) largely thanks to technical difficulties and associated added costs – it often gets trapped in equipment and mixed up with other materials – it does represent a step forward in the “long march” for the “dirty man of Europe”, the UK, to clean up its act.

Whichever way it is collected, the plastic film is often then exported abroad for sorting and processing, for example to CeDo in the Netherlands, where it is given a new lease of life as other products such as bin bags, or is used for energy recovery.

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