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. 

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.

Count Down

 Action 11: Carry a keep cup when you go out.

In Britain we get through  2.5 billion single use coffee cups each year. Each cup – typically made of paper with a thin plastic layer – has a carbon footprint of 60.9g and that is before it leaves the cafe. Only 1 in 400 will be recycled with the remainder ending up in landfill, further adding to their carbon foot print. Each year single use coffee cups produce 152,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide – the equivalent to the output of 33,300 cars. 

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/26/why-britains-25-billion-paper-coffee-cups-are-an-eco-disaster