Can Government action solve the problem of plastic waste?

By Geeta Chandra
4 min read

However you feel about plastic, it’s near impossible to achieve a lifestyle that is free from it altogether. From clothing to food packaging to everyday household objects, plastic is everywhere. It’s versatile, cheap and easy to use. However, once an item of plastic has exceeded its useful life, where is its final resting place?

It’s estimated that 300m tons of plastic waste are produced around the world every single year; that’s about 36kg per person. However the UK produces more than our fair share per person – second only to the US. But what happens to this waste plastic?  That largely depends on where you live and the facilities which are available to you, but it doesn’t stop there.

Greenpeace recently released a video claiming that the equivalent of three and a half Olympic swimming pools of UK plastic is shipped to other countries every single day, where it is largely burned or dumped into the local environment. Much of this plastic waste has been carefully sorted by the householder who is doing what they can to ethically dispose of their plastic waste, and collected and processed in good faith by ethical waste management companies; that’s why Greenpeace puts the blame at the door of the British Government.

The production of plastic is often considered a relatively environmentally friendly choice of material, as it requires less energy and resource to produce than other materials. However, if it is not disposed of responsibly or recycled, it represents one of the biggest environmental threats to the world right now.

What can be done?

Responsible waste management programmes could hold the key to solving this growing crisis. The circular economy, which centres around the reduction, reuse and recycling of waste, is tipped to be a large part of the solution, allowing the intrinsic value of the waste materials to be retained for future use and avoiding the need to produce more plastic in future.  Waste is no longer a disposable commodity, Assistant Professor at Nanyang Technological University, Grzegorz Lisak says:

“Waste is not waste, but a misplaced resource.”

While the UK still requires significant government funding to maximise the potential for plastic reuse and recycling and support the move towards a circular economy, it’s estimated that 350,000 tons of plastic waste is currently recycled per year. However despite the goodwill of those who do what they can to recycle, there is a major problem to be solved: the export of British plastic waste to other countries.

What can waste management companies do?

It’s clear that consumers can reduce their use of plastics and ensure they are sent for recycling, but recycling creates more plastic waste which the Government is continuing to export.  So, what can waste management companies do to contribute to a solution? Greenpeace have launched a petition aimed at the UK Government and asking them to:

  • Stop dumping British plastic waste on other countries
  • Cut the UK’s single use plastic by 50% by 2025
  • Roll out a bottle return scheme to stop billions of bottles from being dumped

If you’re in the waste management business, you will no doubt want to ensure that the waste you collect is being disposed of ethically, wherever it’s final destination is.  If you’re concerned about how the UK Government is handling the plastic waste which you collect, sign the petition here. Over 200,000 people have already signed, let’s help Greenpeace exceed 250,000.

By Geeta Chandra
April 29, 2022