Green Tau: issue 50

1st September 2022

There is no ‘away’ in a throw-away society 

We can go away on holiday to the sea side, to the mountains, to a tropical islands or a city of culture. We take away 3 from 5, or 99 from 100, and get a number. When we look away, we look in the  opposite direction. But where is away on a throw-away society?

It is said that if Henry VIII had had a plastic toothbrush it would still exist today – plastics take

400-500 years to biodegrade. In the UK we throw away in excess of 200 million toothbrushes every year. These end up in landfill, incinerators or in the ocean. As they degrade they release toxins into the water or – in the case of the incinerator – into the air. 

Plastic waste is a global issue even though most of it originates in the developed world. As plastic degrades it breaks into smaller and smaller pieces. These end up in the digestive systems of various creatures, but especially so in sea creatures, in the ice on remote mountains, and in the water we all drinks. Plastic particles can even transfer from mother to foetus through the placenta.  You cannot throw plastic away. It always goes somewhere!  There is nowhere where it can be ‘away’ from us. 

Terracycle and Colgate together offer a recycling scheme for plastic toothbrushes,  toothpaste tubes and caps, floss containers and packaging and electric toothbrush heads. So for any plastic toothbrushes etc that you are currently using, there is at least one means of ensuring that the ‘away’ to which they go is to be recycled into another product rather than polluting the environment meant. Colgate also sells a toothbrush made from 100% recycled plastic with 100% plant-based nylon bristles which maybe helping to close the loop on this product. Hopefully we can all act now – whether by using a recycled or a bamboo toothbrush – to prevent this ‘mound’ of ex-toothbrushes from continuing to grow 

One of the easiest plastics to recycle is PET (polyethylene terephthalate) which is the type of plastic used to make drinks bottles – type 1 plastic as marked inside the recycle triangle. This can be recycled to create another plastic bottle – an rPET bottle. You may be able to find rPET bottles used for Buxton Spa and Evian water and for Coca Cola but most bottles are still made from virgin PET. (PET plastic cannot be recycled indefinitely without the addition of a proportion of new plastic resin so recycling isn’t the complete answer).

It is estimated that an average of 35.8 million plastic bottles are used every day in the UK, but only 19.8 million are recycled (https://www.recyclenow.com/recycle-an-item/plastic-bottles). For a little more than half of PET bottles, ‘away’ means a new life as recycled plastic, but for the remainder ‘away’ may still be landfill, the incinerator or the ocean. 

For other plastics the recycling rates are not as rosey. HDPE plastic – high density poly ethylene – is widely used for plastic bags, milk bottles, shampoo and laundry bottles etc. Whilst it can be recycled into more bottles, drain pipes, plastic sheeting etc, only 12% of all plastic bags are recycled and 28% of milk and water bottles are recycled (https://www.plasticexpert.co.uk/plastic-recycling/hdpe-plastic-recycling/). 

Other plastics are even less likely to be recycled. Polystyrene for example – whilst it can be recycled, there are very few recycling plants (apparently there is one in Cardiff but none in London!) and no kerb side collections. Other plastics can be hard to recycle because they are a composite of several materials which are hard to separate – this has long been the case with coffee cups made from paper and lined with polythene. There are now an increasing number of recycling facilities for such cups. An optimistic estimate suggests that 1 in 25 disposable coffee cups are recycled (https://www.recycling-magazine.com/2019/10/01/reducing-coffee-waste/). But for most coffee cups ‘away’ means landfill, incinerator or the ocean.

Despite all these health threatening ‘aways’ which is where waste most plastic goes, we are still producing more and more new plastic every year. According to the OECD global plastics production doubled between 2000 to 2019 to reach 460 million tonnes. Much of this is used for packaging (146 million tonnes in 2015 (https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/plastic-production-by-sector)

It is a scary thought that there is no real ‘away’ where we can throw what we wish to discard. What happens to all the shoes, the clothes, the half empty paint tins and paint brushes, the punctured inner tubes and bike tyres, car tyres, shower curtains, kitchen sinks, soft toys, the leaky hot water bottle etc that we will throw throw away during our life times. Sometimes there be recycling options but not always and even then one wonders what the end product is. We have a foam mattress bought when we were first married. It is probably coming near to the end of its useful life as a mattress but I do not think there is any safe ‘away’ where we can send it. Were we buying that same mattress now I know we think and choose differently. 

Whenever we acquire new things, we need to consider what will be its destination when it is has ceased to be useful in its current formation. Can this pair of trainers be recycled even though it comprises several materials? Will it just end up as road fill? Can this polyester running shirt be recycled into a new shirt? Can this iron/ kettle/ printer be recycled, its metal,and plastic parts separated and reprocessed? 

Should this be solely our responsibility as consumers? The Extended Producer Responsibility is an approach that says that the manufacture must take on responsibility for their products when they re@ch their end of life. This would refurbishing and/ or recycling the product. Placing the responsibility manufacturer should encourage more sustainable designs and manufacturing processes.  Such policies are slowly be introduced in a number of countries. As a result of current legislation European manufacturers, including British ones, are responsible for taking back and recycling in all batteries, and waste electronics and electrical equipment – The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive is the European Community Directive or WEEE. 

I am hoping that such a scheme will be introduced for mattresses (and applied retroactively)

Counting on … day 295

31st August 2022

A message from our milk delivery service: “Rinse, Return, Repeat. Did you know, our glass bottles are reused an average of 25 times before being recycled? But, this is only possible with your help!

We’re sometimes unable to re-use returned glass bottles if there are too many traces of juice and milk left behind, and this is an important part of ensuring our cycle is zero waste.”

– a message which equally applies to plastic food cartons that we put out for recycling.

Eco Tips: more notes on plastics

Greenpeace has drawn attention to the very small, proportion of plastic that is actually collected and recycled in the UK: a mere 12%. (17% is sent overseas for recycling. In an era when we are seeking to reduce carbon emissions, cutting out unnecessary journeys should be a sine qua non. A further problem is that not all the material  exported is actually recycled; in some countries it is burnt or put into landfill sites – https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/may/17/uk-plastics-sent-for-recycling-in-turkey-dumped-and-burned-greenpeace-finds?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other)

According to the London Borough of Richmond’s web site, plastic is recycled as follows:-

After initial sorting first in Twickenham and then in Mansfield Derbyshire,  plastics are transported for further sorting at a plant in Leeds: this plant separates high Density Polyethylene (HDPE) and Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET, a type of polyester) bottles from PET pots, tubs and trays and any plastic films present. 

HDPE flake recycled in either UK or Belgium Injection moulding products including plastic packaging and containers and cable protection covers.

Mixed plastic bottles recycled in Turkey, Germany, Spain Recycling bags and other plastic products.

PET bottles Recycled as new bottles

Pots, tubs and food trays Recycled in UK or else where in Europe Imitation wooden products e.g. garden furniture and other new plastic products

Contaminated recycling is incinerated. 

https://www.richmond.gov.uk/services/waste_and_recycling/household_recycling/ what_happens_to_your_recycling

Only PET bottles are solely recycled here in the UK, having been on quite a journey around England. These PET bottles are recycled as new plastic bottles – known as closed loop recycling. This is not to say that we should rush out and buy drinks in PET bottles. How many  of the plastic bottles on the shelves are actually made of recycled plastic (rPET)? Most still are made from virgin plastic.

Consider the alternatives. You could refill your own refill bottle from the tap which would be both economical and ecological. You could be given the option of buying a drink in a refillable glass or plastic bottle, perhaps one with a deposit to encourage reuse. (Heavy duty PET bottles can be refilled as per a glass milk bottle).

Greenpeace is petitioning the Government on the following points.

  1. Set a target for eliminating single use plastics by 2037 and halving such use by 2025. (There would be exemptions such as for medical items).
  2. Ban on the export of plastic recycling by 2025, including an immediate ban on their export to non OECD countries. 
  3. Implement a deposit return scheme for bottles
  4. Moratorium on expanding  incineration capacity in the UK. 

You can support this petition here – https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/challenges/plastic-pollution/?utm_source=SS (scroll down for the petition) or use this link:

https://act.gp/3ytd3QF

We too can be part of the change. 

*We can contact our local council and ask for them to reconsider where their plastic recycling goes. We can ask them to ban single use plastics within their organisation. 

*We can contact manufacturers and suppliers and ask them to reduce single use plastic, ditto cafes and food outlets.

  • We can avoid single use plastics by using our own keep cup/ flask for coffee etc, water bottle for drinks, sandwich box for pack lunches etc

*We can simply not buy things that use or come packed in plastic. 

Counting on …day 249

18th July 2022

In May many people took part in the Big Plastic Count organised by Greenpeace. They have now produced the results of survey  and a report in which they highlight that only 12% of plastic household waste is recycled in the UK, as opposed to being buried as landfill, incinerated or sent abroad. This is not a happy state of affairs and not surprisingly they now have set up a petition calling on the government for more responsible action.

Eco Tips: Stuff 

What does sustainability look like in daily life? I thought I would share my experiences.

Previous pages have looked at the use of heating and energy, food and travel for which it is generally easier to calculate one’s carbon footprint and assess the sustainability of alternative choices. Today I am going to reflect on the none food things I buy such as books, clothes, things for the house and garden. These all have a carbon footprint and have more or less sustainable credentials. Here are some of the ways I try to ensure that I use stuff sustainably.

*Not acquiring things that I don’t actually need. It is surprising how often we are tempted  – or encouraged by advertising – to buy things we don’t need. Do I really need it? Do I need to buy it now or could I wait and see if I still need it at a later date? Have I got something similar that will fulfil the same purpose?

* Research – find out what choices are available: which product is most sustainably, how long it will last and, if electrical, its energy efficiency. The internet is useful, as is Ethical Consumer which has both a web site and a magazine. When we needed a new printer, we bought a more expensive Epson model that instead of using disposable cartridges (which hardly last any time at all) has an economical  refill system  – and 8 months later we have yet to need to refill these. 

  • Buying second hand – or more endearingly, preloved – items allows existing resources to be reused  rather than consuming even more fresh resources. I buy clothes and books from charity shops with the plus of funding a worthwhile cause. Sometimes I can also find household items here too – such as a saucepan or a pestle and mortar – but then I do have to be patient as what a charity shop stocks is not predictable! I bought my mobile phone and iPad from Music Magpie – an online second hand site.  When I need a particular book I try web sites such as World of Books and Oxfam – I avoid Abe Books and The Book Depositary being subsidiaries of Amazon. If I buy new books, I use our local independent book shop. 

* Repairing rather than replacing. When something breaks, see if it can be repaired – either at home or via a specialist. Years ago, I bought a Globe Trotter suitcase because of their reputation for quality. When the handle broke, I was able to take it back and have a new one fitted. I frequently darn socks and T shirts, patch up tears, glue broken items in the kitchen, mend punctured tyres, takes shoes to the cobbler,  and buy spare parts from the manufacturer.

  • Up cycling – sometimes rather than buying, I can make what I need from something I already have. Eg pillow cases from worn sheets, plant pots from have cartons, a seed sprouted from a jam jar and a piece of muslin. Old inner tubes become garden ties, and shoe laces are reused as string. Old trousers become shorts, and trouser legs bags for root vegetables.
  • Making do with – enjoying! – what I have: I could buy a food processor but instead I use the knife and the ballon whisk I already have. We have an old kettle whose automatic switch no longer works but since the rest functions, we continue to use it. 

* Lending and borrowing: do I need to buy something if I am only  go to use it occasionally? As well as libraries for books and videos, there are libraries for things. I prefer to rent skis  knowing that they are going to be well used, as opposed to buying skis that would become obsolescent before they wore out.

* If I can, I look for options that will make a positive contribution to someone else: eg choosing a fair trade or organic option, supporting a local producer, buying from a B corp.

  • Packaging – I often make choices dependant on packaging, choosing not to buy something because it comes wrapt in plastic. For example buying a pencil I might choice the pencils sold loose over those pre-packed in plastic.
  • I prefer to spend money on doing rather than having: going to a cafe for a coffee and a cake rather than buying a magazine, going to the theatre rather than buying clothes, buying membership for a nature reserve (eg The Wetlands Centre) rather than cosmetics.

 Counting on ….day 234

5th July 2022

Having to think before we discard or throw something away is a good thing. Maybe what we are discarding could be repaired, or reused or at the very least be recycled. Maybe it was surplus to needs and now we know not to get it future. Maybe it is the packaging that is superfluous and next time we can find a different supply that comes with zero waste.

 Counting on …day 190

22nd May 2022

This month saw the launch of FlexCollect, a 3 year trial project in which  flexible – soft/ scrunchable – plastic will be part of the kerbside recycling collection  made by local authorities. The first council taking part will be Cheltenham Borough Council.

https://flexibleplasticfund.org.uk/

For more articles about recycling  see https://greentau.org/tag/recycling/

Counting on …day 189 

21st May 2022

HDPE and LDPE are widely used for packaging – plastic bags and wrappers, margarine cartons and milk containers  – and both can be recycled. As with PET bottles closed loop recycling is possible but more often these plastics are recycled into none food items such as pipes, plastic ‘wood’ for outdoor furniture,  recycling bins and rubbish bags. Clearly it would be better for the environment if all recycling were closed loop recycling as this is the best way of eliminating the use of oil to make virgin plastic. 

Again ask companies whether they use recycled plastics and of not, what not. 

NB the recycling of plastics is made much easier of the plastic is washed/ cleaned before it is put in the  recycling bin. Dirty plastic can contaminate a whole batch sent for recycling .

Counting on …day 187

19th May 2022

If only 44% of plastic packaging waste is recycled, what happens to the other 56%? 

Some will litter the streets and pavements, before being blown into hedgerows and trees, into waterways and out to sea. There it will break down into smaller and smaller bits until it is small enough to count as micro plastic (less than 5mm in length). Micro plastics have been found in the ice at both north and south Poles. They have infiltrated the food chain. They have even crossed the placenta from the mother to the foetus. 

Some of this litter will be eaten by animals and birds almost certainly causing premature death. Some will go via domestic dustbins,  public waste bins and commercial waste bins, into either landfill where again it will break down over time into micro plastic particles, or it will be burnt in an incinerator further adding to air pollution. 

Want to recycle ‘hard to recycle’ plastics? Here is a partial solution – https://greentau.org/2022/04/13/counting-on-day-150/

 Counting on …day 184

16th May 2022

Most plastics can now be recycled especially as much plastic packaging is what is known as ‘soft plastic’. Soft plastics can be recycled at various supermarkets including the Coop and Amazon Fresh. To check what counts as soft plastic, the Coop has a good listing- https://www.coop.co.uk/environment/soft-plastics/packaging-list

Want to know what happens to the plastic that goes into the recycling bin? https://greentau.org/2022/02/10/green-tau-issue-33/