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Recycling plastic

July 19, 2007 at 12:22 pm

The UK as a whole generates a staggering two million tonnes of plastic waste each year, and sadly for the environment only seven percent is recycled. This is not down to a lack of desire from the public, but because of the difficulties in recycling plastics: there are so many different types of plastics that it is a labour intensive task to sort them all out. In addition, the high degree of contamination, especially with food, makes the recycled material less commercially valuable.

However, it is not all bad news. As plastics go, bottles are the easiest to recycle (being made predominantly of only three types of plastic) and 92% of local authorities provide some sort of recycling scheme for them. So far, a quarter of all the bottles in the UK are being recycled this year, twice the percentage for 2004. Last year 108,000 tonnes of plastic bottles were recycled according to Recoup, the plastics recycling body, saving around 162,000 tonnes of carbon. There have been calls from frustrated householders, however, to increase the kerbside collection of plastics. Only 60% of local authorities offer such collections, with the rest expecting the householder to take their bottles to a collection point. It seems that for one reason or another, our green credentials are put to the test when we have to take our plastics to a collection point with kerbside collection schemes being four times more effective.

Other plastic items such as margarine tubs are less easy to recycle because they are made from a blend of materials. Despite the difficulty however, there are thirty local authorities who offer recycling schemes for plastic items other than bottles.

The issue of plastic bags is currently a hot potato with all the major supermarkets competing to see who is “greenest”. Initiatives include the recycling of bags returned to the stores, jute bags for sale, reusable “bags for life”, “green points” awarded to customers who use their own bags and the use of recycled plastics in manufacturing the bags. Ireland introduced a tax on plastic bags in 2002 and has reported a 90% reduction in their use. The irony is that according to Defra, more people have been buying plastic bin liners, which are even more environmentally unfriendly, as a result of the tax. London’s mayor, Ken Livingstone, is pressing for some sort of tax to be levied on plastic bags or for the bags to be banned altogether. With the Government Office for London opposing the measures, however, they are unlikely to go ahead.

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