North-East plant proves viability of mixed plastics recycling

April 27, 2011 at 2:49 pm

A new recycling plant in Redcar on Teesside is leading the way when it comes to sorting and recycling different plastic types – an involved process that has so far proved beyond the capability of most other plants across the UK.

Since the disappearance of heavy industry in the north-east, high employment has dogged the region. For example, the closure of the world-famous Swan Hunter shipyard in Wallsend, Tyne and Wear, meant a proud workforce there was reduced from several thousand to just 200 (in 2008).

Many people either relocated south (if they could afford to), or remained in cities such as Newcastle, Middlesbrough and Sunderland (and their surrounding areas), snapping up the low number of unskilled jobs available, or simply resigning themselves to years on the dole.

The sudden creation of many green jobs on Teesside has been a revelation, therefore. The recent rescue of the Tata Steelworks in Scunthorpe (now finally in the black) created similar optimism, but with recycling being regarded by many as ‘the future’, the feeling in Redcar is that those lucky enough to have been taken on there may well enjoy secure employment for many years to come.

At the plant, workers are fully trained in all forms of plastic rescue, but the laborious process of sorting different items by hand (according to plastic-type, etc.) has been replaced by a pioneering, innovative new system where all forms of plastic are made reusable through the adoption of an integrated approach.

And so, the days of separately sorting items such as plastic bags, dessert pots, sandwich packaging, and microwave meal trays seem to have been finally consigned to history, which is not only a benefit to those working in recycling, but also to consumers (who can often be confused over which of their household waste items are recyclable, and which aren’t).

Lord Henley, the junior environment minister responsible for waste and recycling, said: “The innovative technology will make life easier for families who have puzzled over recycling their yoghurt tubs and food trays. It is also a welcome boost to green jobs in the north-east!”

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Tetra Pak sustainability concerns

April 11, 2011 at 2:52 pm

A question mark over Tetra Pak items’ sustainability is once again the ‘talk of recycling’ in the UK. With the majority of Tetra Pak recyclables being exported to Sweden for reprocessing, many local authorities in the UK are choosing not to collect Tetra Pak items at kerbside.

The lack of a domestic recycling capacity for Tetra Pak drinks cartons (since the closure of the Smith Anderson recycling plant in Fife in 2006) is forcing the company to work hard on developing a viable UK reprocessing option.

As one of the world’s foremost food processors and packagers, Tetra Pak prides itself on providing millions of people across the globe with environmentally-friendly products. Founded in 1951, Tetra Pak now operates in almost 200 markets, and employs thousands of people. They have always been recognised for their innovative approach to packaging design.

It is perhaps surprising, then, that their enviable reputation could be irreparably damaged, unless a UK reprocessing option is not established soon; after all, if Tetra Pak items are always left at kerbside (while other companies’ packaging is regularly taken away) Tetra Pak could soon be perceived as the eco-friendly processing and packaging company that’s ‘being left behind’.

After the closure of the Smith Anderson plant, Tetra Pak asked several UK paper mills to participate in ‘trials’: the mass incineration and recycling of millions of used Tetra Pak cartons of all shapes and sizes (particularly all post-consumer beverage cartons); however, this proved unsuccessful, due largely to increased energy costs.

Although shipping the used cartons to Sweden (and its neighbouring countries) obviously costs more in transport expenditure, the Scandinavian option still works out cheaper for Tetra Pak overall.

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Carbon footprint of household food waste

April 9, 2011 at 1:57 pm

The water and carbon footprint of household food waste has been recorded for the first time, showing environmental effects in the UK and globally.

A new report, jointly published by Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF), claims that water used to produce food that is then wasted by UK households, amounts to 6% of the UK’s water requirements.

The water footprint from the UK is worked out by calculating the amount of water used to provide goods and services around the country. Research from the report found that the 6.2 billion cubic metres of water, used to produce 5.3 million tonnes of food that is wasted each year, is almost twice the annual household’s water usage in Britain. This works out to be approximately 243 litres per person per day.

The new research follows reports in 2009 from WWF and WRAP that identified avoidable food waste as having a value of around £12 billion, when the majority that is thrown away could have been eaten. Moreover, apart from the financial costs when food is discarded, the water and energy used to produce it is not recovered, it explained.

According to the report, food that is wasted in the UK every year, is responsible for up to approximately 3% of the UK’s domestic greenhouse gas emissions, along with those added from overseas. This is the same as the emissions created by 7 million cars each year.

In the report WWF and WRAP highlighted the importance of preventing food waste at all stages of the supply chain and said that by reducing waste from food, positive steps could be made towards addressing climate change and poor water management.

Liz Goodwin, chief executive at WRAP added that “growing concern” over the “availability of water in the UK and abroad and security of food supply”, meant that it was “vital we understood the connections between food waste, water and climate change”.

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