Consumerism, Plastic Problems

UK Waste Plan: What is being done?

Following on from my recent discovery on food waste, I have been looking into what our country is doing for waste in general. Waste is a huge environmental problem. When we ‘throw away’ our waste, there is no such thing as ‘away’. This waste must go somewhere! In our government’s 25 year environment plan they pledged to leave the environment in better condition for future generations. However, it seems all they are able to do right now is attempt to solve the chaos and confusion which is Brexit. It may have passed you by (certainly passed me by until recently) that in December last year a Resource and Waste Strategy for England and Wales was published which hopes to tackle our environmental waste problem. This was the first comprehensive waste and recycling document for England and Wales in over a decade. Step in the right direction!

The clear message is to move away from being a throwaway society, focusing on not only improving recycling but also tackling consumption. “We cannot just recycle our way out of this plastic problem” is a phrase I am seeing more and more at the moment and it speaks a lot of truth. The document aims to shift away from waste to focusing on resources and making the most of them.

This will be done by moving from an inefficient linear model (which ends in waste) to a circular economy where used materials are fed back in.

Circular Economy

A circular economy keeps resources within the cycle for as long as possible, allowing their maximum value to be taken from them. This is through e.g. recycling, refashioning, remanufacturing etc… all the things which we are beginning to hear more and more about!

Strategic Framework:

The two main objectives to work towards are

  1. Maximise value of resource use
  2. Minimise waste and the impact on the environment

This will be delivered via 5 strategic principles:

  1. Provide incentives (regulatory/economic) and ensure infrastructure, information and skills are in place for people to do the right thing
  2. Prevent waste occurring in first place and provide better management when it does
  3. Ensure the producers take greater responsibility for the cost of waste which is as a result of their products (“polluter pays”)
  4. Lead by example, domestically and internationally
  5. Not allow ambition to be affected by crime

To achieve the 5 strategic ambitions:

  1. To work toward all plastic packaging places on the market to be recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025
  2. To work towards eliminating all food waste to landfill by 2030
  3. Eliminate all avoidable plastic waste over the lifetime of the 25 year Environment plan
  4. To double resource productivity b 2050
  5. To eliminate all avoidable waste of all kinds by 2050

So how will we do this?

There are 4 main elements of the plan which all are still under consultation.

1.Reforming the responsibility of the producer

Producers and manufacturers are to pay for the costs of their products waste. This aims to reduce the waste which is littered (branded litter is obvious who the producer, and thus the one responsible). Producers will have to pay the full cost of disposing their packaging. If a material is hard to recycle they will pay a higher cost to the government and this money will go towards recycling and disposal.

In practise…Companies may turn to refills schemes or reduce their packaging waste, hopefully! (A little irrelevant but I love Ocado’s attitude. When they drop off shopping they collect any waste, plastic bags, cardboard boxes left from the previous shop which they recycle back into their system.)

2. Deposit return scheme

A small fee is charged when buying e.g. a plastic water bottle which is refunded when the item is returned to a designated checkpoint. These are working wonders abroad (Germany, Finland and Sweden I have certainly seen recently) and it is high time we introduced one into the UK. They aim to reduce littering by providing a monetary incentive to return the packaging to the correct location. The deposit return places are likely to be in shops and supermarkets and run by commercial organisations. The government are debating about what size bottles this would include.

In practise…Drink containers are likely to increase in price and this will involve everyone participating and returning their packaging back to the correct location.

3. Plastic Packaging Tax

A tax is charged to the packaging manufacturer if the material contains less than 30% recyclable material.Virgin plastic is a lot cheaper for manufacturers to buy than recycled, therefore most packaging rarely uses recycled content. (Even though it is better for the environment and uses less energy to produce without producing fossil fuels!). The government is aiming to shift the incentive towards using recycled material in packaging.

In practise…This will have very little effect on our daily lives but will considerable improve our waste management chain. (Focus on the circular economy!)

4. Consistency in waste recycling stations

Standard target materials which should be collected all over the UK (e.g. food waste and plastic packaging). I don’t know about you, but for the people I know the current recycling system is confusing. Black plastics can’t be recycled? Will they throw the whole recycling if this is wrong? It says recyclable but is it able to be recycled in my area? These questions I ask along with others around me so often. Having a consistent recycling scheme and method will help recycling at household level be more efficient. The chance that a material can be reused is increased. They are (hopefully) going to solve the labelling situation and have target materials to be collected in all local authorities (including food waste and plastic containers!)

In practise…This will likely result in segregated recycling within our own homes. Recycling will move away from one single collection but households will have the responsibility to do further sorting. It is likely how we collect our recycling will change dramatically (hopefully!).

How waste management has (and will hopefully) progress over time

The UK Plastics Pact is a collaborative initiative to create a circular system which keeps plastic within the economy and therefore out of the natural environment (which, lets face it, seems to have enough of its own at the moment to be dealing with). This is led by the charity WRAP and in partnership with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Their ambitious targets for 2025 are to:

  • 100% plastic to be reusable, recyclable or compostable
  • 70% to be effectively recycled
  • 30% average recycled content across all plastic packaging
  • Action taken to eliminate problematic or unnecessary single use packaging items

So, in summary we should be seeing deposit return schemes cropping up, a change in the packaging we are receiving and a more comprehensive recycling system. We hope!

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