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Mistaken for plastic. Why some items can make batches of valuable plastic recycling worthless!

Sharing knowledge across industries to challenge how customer demand (led by public perception) is fuelling some concerning changes.

I really don’t want all my thoughts to be about the environment and the challenges that we are facing, but it is never far from the front of my mind as I am often being questioned by colleagues and customers alike as the landscape continues to develop and change.

Last Friday I was at an Environmental event at one of largest customers. I had been invited along with paper and board print suppliers to discuss a number of items specifically, and generally talk about the impact of things like the poly bagging of magazines, the effects of lamination, how print and foil impacts on recycling, and the same with adhesives.

It was interesting to pool knowledge from across the different industries to share and challenge our experiences of how customer demand (led we assume by public perception) is fuelling sometimes concerning changes. Taking one example, in the use of poly bagging there has been a surge in changing to a very much more expensive supposedly compostable alternative. The issue here is that the material is only compostable in industrial conditions. Will it be mistaken for plastic in the home, rendering whole batches of valuable plastic recycling worthless?

This sounds similar to the situation that McDonalds found themselves in, changing recyclable plastic straws to non-recyclable paper ones, in response to public pressure. So you had a recyclable plastic lid, with recyclable plastic straw that can be disposed of, recycled properly and made back into more lids and straws, versus a plastic lid and paper straw combination (ok, so these can be easily separated, but are they being?) and the straws were being sent to landfill because they couldn’t be recycled?

Just to note here that McDonalds claim to recycle all their drinks cups, which is great to hear and dispels a myth that the estimated 3 billion ‘coffee’ cups that will be used this year can’t be recycled. Instead if they were just collected properly and returned to a proper recycling centre this would save an enormous amount of needless landfill.

I am not suggesting that we should not be looking for alternatives, but let’s not make a bad situation worse by latching onto what a well meaning public would like to see, and rush solutions to market that simply don’t do what they claim, or make the situation worse. Yes, make changes, but ensure that the infrastructure around them and the technology can support it. Let us try and do the right things for the right reasons.

This was backed up by a recent meeting with the people that do our commercial plastics recycling for us, Vanden. If you get a moment pop across to their website and have a look at the great work that they do https://www.vandenrecycling.com/en/.

At Ambro I am striving to ensure that as little of what we produce as waste as a business ends up in landfill. At a micro level a regular check of people’s waste bins ensures that all potentially recyclable items are placed in the dry mixed recycling. This culture has to run through the business from the ground up and every item of waste analysed to see if can be recycled, reused or simply an alternative found to sending it to the general waste. It is not easy but it is this area that our social conscience should be focusing on. Proper identification, and proper treatment of any waste material.

Only this week we have added shrink wrap film and plastic pallet strapping – essential to protecting and securing products in transit – to the list of materials that we are recycling, and we continue to investigate others.

I am working on plans to ensure that every product that leaves our factory is marked with the correct code to enable easy identification and to empower the end user to make the right choice when it has reached the end of its useful life. It is my hope that this small change can remove barriers to recycling our fully recyclable products that can benefit us all.

PET Kiss cut trial

We are looking to do this in a cost neutral way. Here you can see a simple idea currently in development for marking materials with the relevant identification mark, in this case a piece of PET. I hope that we can mark every product like this during the manufacturing process at no charge to our customer.

Equally we are giving customers the opportunity to have product sent back to us to be recycled responsibly. Providing stillages for larger quantities that we can change out periodically, or simply sharing our recyclers details with them.

Colleagues and I will be visiting local household Materials Recycling Facilities to see the operations in practice to see what we can do to ensure that items placed in the household recycling will be properly identified and recycled if placed in kerbside recycling bins.

Plastic isn’t the enemy here. Treated and recycled properly it is our friend, and can be reincarnated time and time again to take an endless number of possible forms. If that isn’t sustainable I don’t know what is.

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