In the UK alone, we generate 4.9 million tonnes of plastic every year, with around two-thirds of that plastic packaging. With recycling/recovery rates for plastic packaging at only around 40%, a significant portion of this plastic ends up in landfill, being exported abroad, or in our oceans.
It is without doubt that the first option should always be to reduce the amount of plastic that is created in the first place. Initiatives like Plastic Free July are really important in helping to encourage behaviour change and get us all to think about reducing the amount of plastic we consume in everyday life. This global campaign asks people to spend a month without consuming single use plastic, particularly the top four single use plastics: coffee cups, straws, plastic bags and water bottles.
Cutting out these types of products is fairly easy. Reusable water bottles are commonplace, reusable shopping bags are available at every checkout, plastic straws have been replaced with paper, and many coffee shops offer a discount when using reusable coffee cups. More than this, supermarkets are cutting down on plastic packaging, and mainstream supermarkets are offering refill stations for cleaning products, cereal, and even pet food.
But what about other single-use plastics that have become essential to society? The pandemic has really brought home how important plastic is in some sectors, especially healthcare. Whether it’s medication packaging, PPE or antiviral wipes, plastic has been vital to prevent the spread of viruses.
After reducing as much single use plastic as we can the next best thing is to increase plastic recycling. Often this is hampered by local collection regimes where only certain plastics, like bottles, can be collected.
This is where the Plastic Park at Protos comes in. It’s a solution to plastic waste that is already in circulation and the plastics we can’t eliminate. It can take source separated mixed plastics, so doesn’t require any additional kerbside sorting, and uses different recycling and recovery technologies to maximize levels of recycling and get the most value from the remaining plastic waste. For anything that can’t be recycled the solution doesn’t have to be landfill. Protos will be home to the UK’s first plastic to hydrogen facility which will take non-recyclable plastics and turn them into hydrogen – a clean fuel for HGVs, buses and cars.
We’re unlikely to ever be completely free of plastic. It’s all around us. In our clothes, our homes, our cars, our offices. While we should reduce the amount of plastic we consume through design, what’s important is making sure that we get the most value from the plastic that is in society. We shouldn’t treat this plastic as a waste, it’s a resource that can be re-used to make new products or, where it is not capable of re-use, create sustainable fuels. So, alongside behaviour change campaigns, we need to rapidly increase recycling and recovery infrastructure and continually innovate to find the best technologies.