The plastic backlash
- Every bit of plastic made is still around, unless it’s been incinerated.
- By 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
- Every minute one truck full of plastic waste is thrown in the ocean.
Facts like these, and programs like Blue Planet II, have started a war on plastic. But what can we do, today, to start fighting the problem? Giki looks at Better Plastics to see whether some types of plastic have a place in our way of life and offers 4 to-dos to get you started.
Make in weeks, use for days, last for centuries.
Many plastics are simply too well made for the tasks they have to fulfil. A plastic bottle may take seconds to empty, but will take 450 years to decompose. Perhaps it’s no surprise that many people are there going plastic free and reduced plastic usage has to be our first step.
However, for many people cutting out all plastics is just not practical. Can you imagine your weekly supermarket shop without a single bit of plastic? It’s almost impossible. Despite this there is still a lot we can do by looking for better types of plastic and making sure we recycle as much as possible.
So what is better plastic? The ‘UK Plastic Pact’ led by WRAP UK was launched this year and provides a good framework.
- make 100% of plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable
- make 70% of plastic packaging effectively recycled (or composted)
- have 30% recycled content in all plastic packaging.
These are great goals but a few facts show how far away we are from these targets:
- Analysing Giki’s full set of UK supermarket products we found just under 5000 products which with widely recycled plastic. That compares to almost 20,000 “not currently recycled”
- Only 45% of plastic in the UK is recycled and there are limited industrial composting facilities
- Only a smattering of companies use recycled plastic at the moment (look out for comments on the label and also name like rPET which standards for recycled PET).
The good news is that a number of large brands and supermarkets have signed up to the Pact although, for some, the aim to hit these targets by 2025 seems just too far away.
Moreover, there are some companies who are already making progress.
Perhaps the most radical is Iceland who are going plastic free. Other companies are leading the way: Ecover use 100% recycled plastic in their bottles whilst Innocent drinks use 30% recycled plastic in theirs drinks bottles. These are examples of ‘better plastics’ – they are widely recyclable, made from recycled material and have clear recycling information on pack.
Unfortunately this type of plastic packaging remains a tiny portion of what is available in the UK but if you cannot go plastic free looking out for plastic that can be recycled, and then recycling it, is a good start.
There will be challenges, cost in particular. It is still cheaper to make virgin plastic than to make plastic from recycled materials and so higher costs may well be passed onto the consumer. Also only certain plastics can be used for “food grade” plastics and so companies cannot simply recover plastics from the sea and start making new juice bottles. However, if we can make a material that would have lasted from the Aztec Empire to now, these are surely surmountable? Indeed supermarkets and brands in the vanguard are already nearly there.
Are Bioplastics the answer?
Biodegradable plastic derived from biological materials such as plants rather than oil sound like a great idea. But without commercial scale composting sites they cant be composted efficiently and can hang around in the environment for years. Additionally, bioplastics can contaminate the plastic recycling systems if not sorted effectively (no local authority is collecting compostable packaging in the UK).
Bioplastic production also competes for resources such as land and food crops, so that doesn’t seem sustainable. In short it sounds great, but at the moment reducing plastic and looking for better plastic seem like surer answers.
So what can you do today? 4 actionable to-dos.
- Look on the label, or scan the barcode with Giki’s free app, for recycling information. Recycle everything you can. Can you recycle 3 out of 4 pieces of plastic that come into your house?
- Find a product that is made from recycled material. Scan it and share it with your friends when you recycle it.
- Get your kids involved too. Scan a few items with them to help them learn about packaging. You can check out the healthier options badge at the same time!
- Got a product with plastic that cannot be recycled? Look for alternatives and, even better, see if you can save money at the same time. We’d love to hear about it.