Recycling & Waste Management
Time to stop bashing
Ditching plastics would be a knee jerk and unsustainable response to recent negative press, says
Cromwell Polythene managing director James Lee
In September, I spoke at RWM, the
UK’s largest recycling and waste
management exhibition and
conference, about the issue of plastics
waste. It seems to have become the
norm to deride plastics and condemn
them as bad for the environment.
Brought into public focus though Blue
Planet 2, the issue has gathered pace
with the UK Government’s 25-Year
Unfortunately, there can be a danger
of trying to tackle hugely complicated
worldwide issues with eye-catching
headlines – rather than fully considering
cause and effect.
No one wants to see a floating island
of plastic in our oceans, however,
lightweight plastic products, including
bin liners, make a huge difference to the
effectiveness of the cleaning industry.
They can have a high recycled content
(up to 100%) and may also be recycled
themselves. The calorific value can be
recovered to generate electricity or heat
at the end of their useful life, through
energy from waste (EfW) plants.
Effective waste collection
Using plastic waste sacks and bags
makes it simple, safe, and hygienic to
separate and collect waste effectively,
for appropriate disposal or recycling.
Disposable personal protective
equipment (PPE), including gloves and
aprons, couldn’t be sustainably made
from alternative products, and who
would want to collect dog mess in
paper bags which are not as flexible or
The problem of plastics in the ocean
comes from littering, and ineffective
waste management infrastructure.
Around 85% of the plastic in the ocean
comes from a small number of Asian
and Pacific rim countries, so a ban in
the UK is not the answer, rather we
need to use our resources more
effectively and help others to do so
A look at the alternatives
Switching from plastic to alternative
materials, such as glass or cardboard, is
often suggested to be more ‘green’.
However, this can lead to other
sustainability issues, such as increased
C02 emissions in production and
transport (due to the extra
weight of material), or an
increase in food waste.
Without plastic to
both protect and
much more of it
will be diverted
from our plates
and end up in
Glass is much
heavier and so
and emissions are
greater – a typical
truck load of glass jars
weighs 19 tonnes more
than the plastic equivalent.
It’s also far more fragile and can
lead to further wastage of the contents
(causing the highest use of resources).
The energy used and associated
emissions means that paper bags have a
global warming potential four times
greater than a single use plastic bag, and
recycling paper uses 91% more energy
Oxo-degradable bags are sometimes
described as biodegradable, which is not
the case and they are certainly not
compostable. In fact, some countries do
not allow the term biodegradable if a
product is not compostable. The EU is
likely to follow suit and, in the UK, the
Advertising Standards Authority
recently determined the use of the term
biodegradable “is misleading and had
not been substantiated”, when used to
described an oxo-degradable product.
Uneconomical use of resources,
energy used and associated emissions is
wasteful and contributes to climate
54 Find more like this at: www.cleaning-matters.co.uk
change. This sort of cause and effect
must be examined closely before
introducing new policies or procedures.
In my opinion, rather than taxes or
bans on plastic packaging,
government efforts should be
who flout the
from fines could
pay for clean-ups.
items (it’s not just
washing up on the
beaches) would have
tremendous disadvantages to
modern living and would create huge
inefficiencies in the supply chain which
would accelerate our use of resources,
drive up costs, and do more harm to
Unintended consequences such as the
use of heavier, more polluting
alternatives, would have a worse effect.
The plastic debate is, however,
important because it is helping to
address the way plastics are designed,
produced, used, re-used, disposed of
and re-processed. WRAP’s UK Plastic
Pact is bringing together major brands
and the plastics industry with a common
vision and ambitious set of targets to
create a circular economy for plastics.
The aim is to eliminate all avoidable
plastic packaging waste and make all
plastic packaging reusable, recyclable,
recycled, or compostable by 2025.
Tel:01977 686 868
taxes or bans
who flout the