Plastics and Plastic Recycling

Plastic is all around us. It is ubiquitous in our modern lives. Our telephones, our carpets, and even the fleeces we wear, may contain plastic. Plastics and plastic recycling is key topic of conversation in the modern day.

We store our food in it, drink water from it, and even brush our teeth with it. It’s cheap, convenient, and versatile and because it is lightweight it has financial and environmental benefits for transportation.

Plastic is made from hydrocarbons found in oil and natural gas. It is created when small molecules, called monomers, are bonded together into chains called polymers.

Different monomers, when bonded together, create different kinds of plastic, Some are soft and pliable like LDPE used in the better quality carrier bags. Others are hard and durable such as Polyamide (PA) more commonly known as Nylon.

And yet others are somewhere in between such as PET used for water bottles and HDPE used for milk bottles.

Plastics and plastic recycling – most of these thermoplastics can be recycled back into new products.

Plastic Fantastic

The qualities and benefits of plastics are unmatched by any other individual material, which is why it has become so prevalent.

Plastic is light, easily shaped (and re-shaped), strong, and relatively inexpensive. Its’ ability to protect against contamination makes it useful in sterile medical environments.

Polymers preserve flavour and help fresh food last longer. Leak-proof and child-resistant plastic containers are useful for holding dangerous household products such as bleach, ammonia, and other potentially dangerous cleaning products..

Plastic packaging withstands the rigours of transportation, and plastic containers provide good storage solutions at home and in the office. It seems that the benefits of using plastic are unrivalled.

So Why The Bad Press?

Over the last few years, plastics and plastic recycling have earned a bad reputation through stories in the press.

Stories about health and safety concerns in China (where lots of UK plastic used to be shipped for recycling.

And obviously the backlash caused by stories about Ocean plastics highlighted by the Blue Planet II television series.

But it isn’t plastic itself that is the problem as such. It is how it is used and how it is treated after it’s useful life. Knee jerk reactions by all and sundry saying they have the solution, exacerbate the scale of the problem.

Is Plastic Recycling The Solution?

It is part of the solution yes, but on its own, quite frankly no!
 
You can’t have:-
 
– badly designed products
– ill conceived use of packaging materials and
– a poor collection infrastructure
 
… and expect Plastic Recycling to solve all the problems.
 
Energy from waste is not the solution either. Billions have been invested into EfW plants across the world and every day 1000’s and 1000s of tonnes of potentially recyclable plastics are being burned to create energy. Not exactly clean or renewable!
 

Joined Up Thinking

At last there appears to be some sensible moves towards a collaborative, holistic approach to plastics and plastic recycling, and it is the UK that are leading the way.

Several studies have been undertaken and reports produced by the Ellen McArthur Foundation which has led to the creation of the New Plastics Economy initiative which in turn has led WRAP’s – UK Plastics PACT

Both initiatives instil he values of the Circular Economy. Designing products, packaging and collection systems in such a way that nothing becomes waste. Everything in the value chain is re-used or recycled.

Watch this space!

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