Monday, 26 September 2016

All not what it seems in packaging

I have just had a lovely slice of apple and blackberry lattice pie from Waitrose. It came in a cardboard carton, which I turned over to read recycling codes: card is 'widely recycled'; foil is 'check locally for kerbside'; but the window of plastic in the carton is 'not recyclable'. Why not? Why produce such complex packaging? It is unnecessary.

I also had a lovely bit of toast from a slice of Vogel's Soya and Linseed bread 'crammed with bursting seeds and grains'. You can imagine the explosions of the seeds and grains! It was lovely toasted with a bit of cheese, cheese on toast being one of my favourite snacks. But the really good thing thing is that the plastic 'bag' it came in is recyclable. Well done Vogel. it leads me to a question. If they can use recyclable plastic bags for their bread, then why can't others? Why is the plastic wrap on the bunch of bananas from Waitrose not recyclable? And also why are bananas in a bag at all? The answer to the latter is of course sales promotion. It is easy to sell a bargain if it is packaged.

Recycling plastic is a mess, and it is a mess we the consumer is having to deal with. The onus has been placed on us to sort it out and put the appropriate bits in our recycle bins. But while the responsibility has been placed upon us, the producers appear to be doing little to ease the problem with mixed packaging, and with packaging for promotional reasons rather than necessity. It really is unnecessary to put apples in a cardboard carton with a plastic covering. Apples can be and should be sold loose.

Let's take black plastic Trays. Black plastic trays used for microwavable ready meals are not currently recyclable simply because they are black. The problem is that recycle companies use optical technology to sort the plastic, but it can't cope with black plastic! It is unable to detect the polymers.

You would think it would be sensible to make all plastic trays a colour that can be recycled, but I think the problem is that black is used to cover the colour impurities in the plastic. Some companies have been trying to overcome this problem, but meanwhile we are putting these trays in the recycle bin when they can't be recycled. The solution is simple. The government could act to make it mandatory for such trays to be recyclable. The government could act to stop this nonsense.

And then there are Yoghurt pots. Several manufacturers now use PET, polyethylene terephthalate, yoghurt pots, which are the same polymer type as plastic bottles. PET yoghurt pots can be recycled. That is good.

However, some yogurt pots are made from polystyrene and are not generally accepted in plastic recycling schemes. Polystyrene has an entirely different make-up to the polymers used in plastic bottles and there are currently limited outlets for this material. That is bad.

So here is the question: If some yogurt pots can be recycled, then why shouldn't it be mandatory on producers that ALL yogurt pots be recyclable? Doesn't that make sense?

We can stop this nonsense! Governments can act.

But our government has left us, the consumers, to sort out the problem with plastic. Surely it is time we stopped non-recyclable plastics being used for packaging.

When you buy fish and chips and they give it to you in a styrofoam carton it is not considered recyclable because when it is broken down it doesn't produce sufficient to be reusable. This is also why styrofoam cups can't be recycled. We should stop the use of such cups.

The UK uses over 5 million tonnes of plastic each year of which an estimated 29% is currently being recovered or recycled. Around 38%, 2.4 million tons of this is plastic in packaging.

The UK has a plastic packaging recycling target of 57% by 2020. Frankly I don't think this is good enough. It doesn't address the problem of too much packaging.

According to the Waste Resource Action Programme (WRAP), 1.7 million tonnes of this plastic waste comes from households and the rest from commercial and industrial companies. Plastic bottles, pots, tubs, trays, films and plastic bags are the most common types of household plastic waste.

The government has acted to reduce the use of plastic carrier bags. But what is the point of this when we go on using non-recyclable bags for our fruit? The onus has been put on us, the consumer to recycle our plastic waste. There is much talk of fines to households for not properly recycling such waste. We have a responsibility to ensure that the waste item is placed into a collection system which maximises the opportunity for collection and recycling of the material content. This is why I find it frustrating that so much of the outer packaging is not recyclable. Many don't realise this and they simply put it in the recycle bin. Tonnes of this wretched stuff, used for outer packaging, cannot currently be recycled.

We need a firner strategy on packaging.




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