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A circular economy for all materials

31.07.20

A recent report from Green Alliance has looked at how effective banning plastic is and what the alternatives mean.

Research from the charity and independent think tank found that 61% of people worried about food packaging going into landfill.

In response to these worries, businesses and the Government have introduced initiatives to ban plastic drinks stirrers, straws and cotton buds in 2020.

This has meant a move to creating these products from alternative materials. For example, the global market for paper straws is growing 13.8% each year but they currently cannot be recycled.

Mark Penny, Commercial Manager at J&B Recycling, said: “I am all for reducing single use plastic, but not if the alternatives introduced are just as bad or even worse in the rush to reduce plastics.

“The aim should be to reduce all single use items no matter what they are made from. Where we can't eliminate these then we need to consider the full life cycle of products from design, manufacturing, right through to disposal to determine what are the best materials to use.”

Green Alliance found that encouraging people away from the use of plastic and towards other single use materials can be problematic.

For example, aluminium is the most carbon intensive material to produce across the supply chain as well as using the most water on a per kilogram basis. The report has therefore argued that focusing on decarbonising production and a higher recycled content would be a beneficial method for the planet.

The PwC estimates that switching the 1.6 million tonnes of plastic we use in the UK to another material could almost triple associated carbon emissions from 1.7 billion tonnes CO2e to 4.8 billion tonnes CO2e.

The report states that the move towards biodegradable plastics has also created a problem for the recycling sector as they cannot be recycled the same way as other plastics, so kerbside recycling schemes are not able to accommodate that type of material, nor are they suitable for collections of food or green waste either. The research suggests that people’s recycling must be increased and done correctly to benefit the circular economy and the environment.

Mark added: “Far too often one type of product or packaging is marketed as being more environmentally friendly than another simply because the designer has determined this via a lab or consultant without considering how it will need to be collected and recycled in the real world, or if current collection systems to do so even exist. They need to involve the waste industry more when making these decisions."

A point of view put forward considers that a circular economy for all our waste materials could be a solution to this problem. A system where materials are continually recycled and very little is thrown away.

Environmentalist, Julia Hales MBE, said in her latest post on the Green Alliance’s report: “It is not about what materials we should be using but what systems we should be creating instead.

“Paper, glass and aluminium are now commonly touted as more eco-friendly than plastic, even when they are used for single use purposes. The report points out that this is not the case. Simply replacing one material for another is not the answer.

“The solution will be to design systems for a circular economy, where materials are continually recycled – and very little is thrown away.”

J&B Recycling processed 200,000 tonnes of materials from local authority and commercial waste streams last year with its end products including commodities that are sent on for reprocessing and eventually recycled into new products within the circular economy.

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