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Plastic in the Ocean

As of Monday 1st January 2018, a new regulation will come into effect banning plastic waste imports into China. Already causing panic, with rubbish building up at UK recycling plants and landfill sites, we look to the government for solutions to stop more plastic pollution in the ocean.

The primary problem is that once the waste is imported, the Chinese removed the materials which they found to be valuable and discarded the rest.  Evidence now suggests that as there was no monitoring, the problem has lead to both global environmental and health issues.  While sieving through the waste and as the majority of sorting is done by hand, many workers were exposed to harmful toxins.  The imported materials were often contaminated with food, too difficult to recycle, useless, dirty, leading to the waste not being disposed of correctly, ultimately finding its way into the sea or being incinerated.

China’s new regulation has the potential to encourage exporting countries to rethink about how they tackle their waste disposal and recycling solutions.  Countries similar to the UK have had an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude.  We need to deal with this issue head on and face up to the consequences of plastic in the ocean, which is now washing up on our shores and causing threat to sea life.  The new restriction, will ban the import of 24 of the dirtiest and most polluting types of waste such as household plastic waste and other contaminated materials.  The UK government now has the opportunity to find a more sustainable method of recycling plastic.

Within the UK, the recycling problem is being able to turn out the same quality and quantity of a desired type of plastic, which has the same properties as the virgin plastic material.  This proves difficult, especially when the current method of “household recycling” is the means of throwing every material that is thought to be recyclable into the same bin.  Take a Lucozade bottle for example. While the bottle and material is recyclable, it is only recyclable if all the materials (PVC label, PET bottle and PP or PR cap) are separated, and the cost to do so is prohibitive to recyclers. To ensure that the bottle is definitely recycled, why not just remove the cap yourself?  Is it really any wonder that our plastic ends up in the ocean?  This is why we need more comprehensive, clear labelling on recyclable materials and a more effective classification recycling system.

Our very own David Walsh, director of Impact Recycling (sister company of Impact Solutions), was interviewed on Newstalk Radio Ireland earlier today.  He was responding to China’s new regulation and explaining what Impact Solutions is doing to help with solving the problem of recycled plastic.  David states, “incineration is a much bigger wolf than landfill because you are producing emissions. If you bury it, technically nothing is really going on as it just stays there.” He then goes on to say, “You do have to replace the plastic so it is not a great option but once you burn it, its gone forever. With landfill, it is there until we find a better use for it.” This also means it does not become plastic in the ocean.

David and his team have just finished setting up the new recycling plant, local to Newcastle and opening early 2018, which will feature Impact Recycling’s separation technology, BOSS.  You need to be able to separate the mixed plastic back into different plastic types in order to sell a high quality recycled plastic that is almost as good as the virgin plastic.  BOSS separates the mixed plastic rigids, using only water, into polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene (PE).  An important point made by David is that it does not need as much energy and man power to separate recycled plastic as it does to make raw plastic in the first place.  David explains, “the huge emissions that come from transforming it from oil into plastic is not necessary, its really more of a separating and cleansing process”.  Therefore, it is more worth while separating recycled plastic materials than creating new plastic.

The UK Government should lead the way to introduce a more effective way to separate materials in household recycling but also to reduce the amount of plastic produced in the first place.  Plastic production is essentially the source of plastic waste.  Packaging and the way in which products are marketed using their packaging could be redesigned in order to help the fight.  There are of course advantages to using plastic packaging, e.g in food packaging, however is it all essential?  In the Newstalk Radio interview, David also explains about branding products with the word “Recycled” and selling them as premium products.  This is the kind of encouraging and sought after marketing which is needed to change the way consumers think about recycling and recycled products.

Globally, we have reached a point where people, companies and governments need to take responsibility for the disposable plastic products which they manufacture if we are to have any hope in reverting the current crisis of plastic in the ocean.  Consumers have a responsibility to do their part at home as well as the Government taking a stand to actively make changes within our environment.  If you require any further information on recycling or plastic materials, please get in touch via phone: +44 (0)1324 489182 or email: info@impact-solutions.co.uk.

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