Why recycling is NOT the answer…but I know what is!

Did you know the UK is one of the largest plastic exporters in the world? This sort of information always makes me feel so ashamed. It is so easy to forget about that piece of rubbish once it leaves our homes but, sadly, so much of the plastic which we are told is ‘recycled’ is actually shipped off to other countries. Recycling is not the answer…but read on to find out what is.

According to a group of MPs, the UK generates more than 2.5 million tonnes of plastic packaging EACH YEAR! This is a staggering amount of packaging to be generated year on year on year. But what’s worse is that it is estimated around 60% of that plastic waste is sent abroad. That’s 1.5 million tonnes of packaging which we are sending away to be dealt with by someone else. I’m sat here shaking my head as I write this as it is just so hard to swallow. Much of these 1.5 million tonnes of plastic packaging waste is sent to Turkey, where it is dumped and burned, with devastating impacts on the local environment and human health.

How can the people in charge of these operations think this is okay?

Many people are trying to change things but it all takes so long. Some of the high level changes by our Government are:
• Plastic Packaging Tax (this charges manufacturers or importers for plastic that contains less than 30% recycled material at a rate of £200 per tonne)
• Extended Producer Responsibility (this requires plastic manufacturers to pay a fee on the products they produce and is coming into force next year).

Money raised from both schemes SHOULD be used to support a move to a circular economy.

Ultimately, the problem is that the tidiness and efficiencies of our modern-day systems mean that we, as consumers, don’t have to deal with out waste. Imagine if we didn’t have kerbside waste collections…what would we all do with our waste then? It would be OUR problem to deal with and, once the garden started filling up, I’m sure we would all find different ways to shop.

Now I’m not saying that’s what should happen, the very thought of not having a waste collection service terrifies me (we put out our black bin too). But it does focus the mind…that waste is going somewhere.

Fear not, I have an answer, or three!
• Refuse – we, as consumers, and the producers need to be concentrating on whether that product REALLY needs that packaging. There are some ridiculous examples of over packaging out there, like swede! It really doesn’t need to be wrapped in clingfilm. If we use our purchasing power to show we won’t buy overpackaged products then, eventually, the money hungry mega companies will listen.
• Reuse – where packaging is required, let’s focus on making sure the resources required to make it are not wasted! Keeping materials in use avoids the waste. It’s as simple as that. That’s why reusing old containers to refill is so great 😉
• Re-design – there are some situations where packaging is required but, by its very nature, it cannot be reused. I’m thinking medical suppliers here but I’m sure there are lots of examples. There are lots of very clever and motivated people out there who simply lack the funding to explore this area. With a bit of investment, I KNOW we could develop systems where materials never have to thrown away.

As consumers it might feel a bit like we can’t do anything about this. But we can! Don’t be disheartened, discouraged or overwhelmed. The power of our purchases has never been greater and, while I know money is tight and sometimes price is the only factor for people, if we can, we should be pushing for the above changes. And remember, recycling is not the answer.

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*photo credit (Caner Ozkan/Greenpeace)

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