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Phil’s Friday Thought #24 – Environment & Recycling

Phil’s Friday Thought #24 – Environment & Recycling

Over the past month we have been focusing on the environment and recycling. This is not a topic that can be summarised and covered easily, and I am certainly not going to cover anything other than the tip, of the tip of the iceberg in what I have written below.

We should consider carefully what our individual impact might be in choosing the right materials for the job. There is rarely one perfect choice.

We don’t all use products in the same way, for the same length of time, or have accessibility to the same disposal options. We need be as informed as we can be. Weeding out the misinformation from the fact. Recognising when we are being marketed too rather than being given useful and correct information.

So back to the same question; Is the problem plastic? Or is the problem plastic waste that is not being disposed of properly by consumers?

The answer is of course both. Only a very small percentage of all plastic is being recycled effectively. There is confusion on what can or can’t be recycled. There are myths and misinformation on what can be recycled and what can’t be. The infrastructure to collect plastic waste is much improved (certainly here in the UK) but there is a long way to go and additional waste streams need to be added to cater for new and emerging materials.

When plastics get into the environment they take a long time to degrade, they are unsightly and of course when they breakdown we are then into the realms of the dreaded microplastics that can work their way into the water table, onto the dinner table an generally find their way into all aspects of the environment and ecosystem. The point is, they should never find their way out there in the first place.

There are lots of well meaning options and alternatives out there that might well become the future, but unfortunately are actually causing greater harm. Plastics that claim to be biodegradable being a pet hate of mine at the moment. Members of the public will see this (potentially pay more for the pleasure) and think that they are doing the right thing.

However, most biodegradable options will only degrade in industrial conditions. Given that there is currently no infrastructure to collect these items to get them to these ‘conditions’, how do they degrade? Do they need specific conditions to degrade – if they do at all? When they degrade what will be left behind?

I have had many a conversation with a customer who has moved from a Polypropylene product that is hardwearing & durable, so will last the distance, and can be recycled in your household recycling (or commercially of course if you have access to facilities or return it to us) to a cardboard often laminated product. Even with a biodegradable laminate – note the earlier comment about how biodegradable these items really are – your cardboard item can now not be recycled in the household recycling. They have moved from an efficiently made, robust and completely recyclable item, to a energy hungry, more delicate alternative that (due to the finishes on it) cannot be recycled.

It comes down to people understanding what these terms mean. Not just what they mean, but what the end of life implications are for that product. This applies to ALL materials. It is not just a cardboard, plastic, paper, glass, metals question. Understanding what we are using, why we are using it, what the story and journey of the material throughout it’s life will be, and taking the responsibility for disposing of it properly at the end of it’s life is vital.

There is also the question of the carbon foot print of the life of a product. There are additional volumes of information on this topic for all materials. People seem not to recognise the damage that is being caused by the production and recycling of paper and board. I am not talking about trees. The vast majority if paper is produced from environmentally responsible carefully managed forestry.

The volume of energy and water being used is vast. Polypropylene and PET use up to 70% less energy (and no water) in production than paper and board. They can be recycled and almost infinite amount of times compared to cardboard being able to be recycled around 4-7 times. Why then are we not treating these materials as precious? Collecting every morsel that we can to recycle and reuse?

There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer to many of these questions, but simply saying NO to plastic is wrong. Understanding the full implications of your choices and explaining these to your customer, giving them the solutions for end of life, and being bold enough to stand up for the facts and science and not to simply bow to public perception is something that we feel strongly about, and are fighting hard to provide our customers information to make informed and proper decisions.

I hope that we can help with any questions that you might have. We can offer most material choices. Let us help you make an informed decision.