Plastics and Waste
Since China banned the import of waste and plastic waste at the end of 2017, there has been an explosion of awareness generated by the media into waste and recycling. A great deal of this media coverage has been generated by the shocking pictures of oceanic pollution causing death and suffering to marine wildlife. Most of all this has revolved around plastics.
Consequently, many of our customers ask us what we think about the issue and what our company policy is. For Handmade Naturals, the obvious way to reduce environmental impact is to reduce the use of single use plastic where appropriate, promote recycling of the packaging our products come in and reduce all waste. We recycle most of the packaging materials we receive through ordering ingredients and packaging, and what cannot be re-used we recycle locally and we urge our customers to do the same.
In the EU (which to date includes the UK !!) 2.5 billion tonnes of waste is produced each year. Of this, 26 million tonnes is plastic waste. So about 1% of all waste produced is plastic waste (source : European Commission > Environment > Waste 12.02.19). Of all waste produced, about 30-40% is recycled. So overall, about 0.6% of all waste produced is non-recycled plastic waste. Clearly there’s a great deal that needs to be done regarding all waste at a governmental policy level, a technological level, a corporate and personal level to get recycling of all materials to a much higher level than it is now to reduce environmental stressors.
The case for recycling glass and aluminium is clear. Both have a uniformity of material, generally speaking glass is glass and aluminium is aluminium. Making a can out of recycled aluminium requires 95% less energy than making a can from raw materials extracted from the environment. recycling both glass and aluminium is easier and cheaper.
However recycling plastics is different, because there are many different forms of plastic, each are designed for different uses. Therefore, to use recycled plastic for a particular product requires a source of recycled plastic which is of a compatible specification to the product to be manufactured. This is more difficult and costly than for recycling say glass or aluminium. In consequence, the demand from manufacturers for recycled plastics accounts for only 6% of plastics demand in Europe (source: EU Parliament: Plastic Waste & Recycling in the EU 19.12.18).
So what is to be done ?
We think that at a governmental and industry level plastics specifications have to be regularised so that plastic which was used for one type of product can be more easily recycled for use into another type of plastic product. This will increase the availability of recycled plastic and reduce the cost of using recycled plastic. Therefore, plastic use will be optimised for products where plastic containers are the only realistic option at this time.
Greater use of non-plastic packaging should be encouraged where possible, for example for food and beverage carriers and wrappers. However, plastic can significantly reduce transport costs (therefore fuel and environmental costs) because it is very light, and it can increase food life (c.30% of all food production is wasted globally, see a good article from the BBC here). We think there is a place for plastic provided it is sourced, used and disposed of properly. This is why we at Handmade Naturals strongly promote recycling and why all our dispensers, jars and bottles are recyclable. Where appropriate to do so we are putting our products into glass containers because glass is easier to recycle. Our bottles are all made of HDPE and PET, both of which are the most widely recyclable form of plastic and are used to make more HDPE and PET bottles.
There’s a lot that is still required to be done at a government and industry level, but obviously we have to ask what we can do at an individual level. Greater lobbying of relevant bodies can be done by supporting existing environmental campaign groups to reduce all forms of waste. Plastic waste has become the most visible but based on the above EU figures plastic waste is not the majority of the waste that is being created, and all waste causes environmental stresses. As individuals we need to take more responsibility with waste disposal and recycling. Every piece of plastic or other waste on the beach or in the ocean got there because someone didn’t dispose of it properly – ie. put it in the bin and put it in the right bin ! Click here for a video on people just throwing plastic into the sea
And finally, a lot of people also talk about one-time use plastics. But have you noticed how many skin care brands sell their products in one-time use boxes ? Quite a few; the moment it’s at home the box gets thrown away. Now a box isn’t plastic but it’s still a waste, of which only about 40% gets recycled. This why we at Handmade Naturals have avoided such unnecessary one-time use wasteful packaging from the start. It is not needed to protect the product, just to make it look pretty so you can take it home to dispose of it.