Since 1950, it is estimated that 8.3 million metric tonnes of virgin plastics have been produced. Of this, 6.3 million metric tonnes has become waste, with 9% being recycled and 12% incinerated. This leaves 79% that is accumulated in landfills or the natural environment.
The report written by Geyer, Jambeck and Kara Lavender Law is concerning with a prediction of 12 million metric tonnes of plastic being in landfill or the natural environment by 2050.
In the UK, organisations such as The British Plastics Federation (BPF) identify sustainability as being key to the future growth of the plastics sector. They report that the UK uses over 5 million tonnes of plastic each year of which an estimated 29% is currently being recovered or recycled. The UK has a plastics recycling target of 57% by 2020 and the BPF and Plastics Europe with the support of WRAP are implementing the Plastics Industry Recycling Action Plan (PIRAP) to help meet this target. However, increasing the amount of plastic being recovered or recycled by 28% in 3 years appears to be exceptionally challenging and maybe unreachable.
The application of plastics technology continues to grow, with the UK launching a new plastic £10 note in September 2017. And this is because plastics technology produces such versatile and resilient products, properties that make it equally difficult to manage once it has been used and becomes waste.
Designing plastic products to enable easy reuse and recycling appears to be the key. However, often the aesthetic appearance of a plastic packaging product takes precedence over the post-use waste functionality.
As an equipment supplier, we understand the difficulties of recycling plastics. Even though we can remove the metal contamination with Magnetic Separators, Eddy Current Separators, and Metal Detectors, a substantial amount of further processing is required with colour and plastic type separation is often required. We will be exhibiting at Interplas 2017 (NEC, Birmingam, UK 26th – 28th September), the UK’s premier show for the plastics sector, and it will be interesting to see and hear the ideas and thoughts of the industry.
Designers of plastic products, especially packaging, need to be creative and give reuse and recycling a higher priority during the concept phase. With the prediction of an ever-increasing production of plastic, a workable environmental strategy has never been more important.