Creating non-recyclable waste

18th January 2017 | Recycling

Single use plastic bag use by shoppers in England has plummeted since the introduction of the 5p charge 18 months ago. It is estimated that plastic bag consumption has dropped by around 85%. Even though plastic bag use has fallen, they are still used and thrown away in huge numbers and with reckless abandon. We use around 500m of them every year in England alone.

Much of it ends up littering roadsides, floating in rivers and making its way into the ocean. Here they pollute the water and harm marine life, which has far reaching consequences.

Only a tiny proportion of single-use plastic makes its way to recycling plants. The rest is burned, buried, or kicking or floating on the land or sea. In fact, the UK fails to recycle over 1.5 million tonnes of plastic packaging waste each year, which ends up in landfill and waterways.

Major Retailers

Major retailers say it’s the customer who demands extra packaging, and it is necessary to ensure quality or freshness. Sadly, even much of the most common household packaging (crisp bags, pizza boxes and toothpaste tubes) aren’t recyclable.

This year, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall revealed that only a tiny fraction of the millions of coffee cups from Starbucks, Costa and Nero etc are recycled. Although technically recyclable, the process is very difficult and there are only a couple of plants which can do it. However, these coffee retailers print a large recycling logo on their cups – served with a single-use plastic lid.

The problem is that sustainability is typically a third priority at best for businesses chasing profit. Packaging priorities are the cost and customer appeal – sustainability is a distant third.

A crisp bag is made from up to seven layers of foil and plastic, which cannot be separated or recycled. Companies like to use it, however, as it’s light and cheap to ship and print and graphics friendly.

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