What’s the problem with plastic?

Plastic is a brilliant product with all sorts of uses, however, our reliance on it has made it a nightmare material especially when we don’t recycle or reuse it correctly. It doesn’t rot down and disappear; it just becomes more brittle over time and will crumble into small pieces (micro plastic) which will never go away. It will be around for thousands of years whether in a landfill site, in the rivers or seas. We need to use less of it and be wise about which products we do use.

On average 325 tonnes of plastics are collected by the Recycle First service in Cheshire West and Chester every month. Our residents are very good at recycling their plastic bottles and containers but there is still more we can all do.

There is an increasing appetite for the reduction of single use plastics and responsible plastic recycling. This was triggered by the Blue Planet 2 programme in 2017. Having litter picks and beach cleans are all very well but they will not solve the plastic contamination problems. Our love of convenient products is now coming back to haunt us. All that unnecessary packaging.

People can still be confused about which plastics can and cannot be recycled. This means that many plastic items are still not put in the grey recycling box. In West Cheshire there are still many people that put their plastic waste in their black bins.

A Water bottle ‘Refill’ UK app has been introduced to encourage people to reuse their plastic bottles. There is one currently in operation in Chester.

Did you know?

  • Defra, in 2018, carried out a survey about plastic bottle recycling, plastic bottle bring banks and money back schemes. This has led to a trial introduction in certain areas of the UK for this type of scheme.
  • Plastic straws, plastic drinks stirrers and cotton buds could be banned in England between October 2019 – October 2020.
  • The war on plastic waste could spark the return of the neighbourhood milkman as figures show demand for milk in glass bottles is on the rise. People are appearing to boycott the plastic alternatives, which took over the market in the 1990s.
  • Prince Charles has joined the war on plastics. The heir to the throne said he had long had a “deep frustration” with the lack of action over mounting plastic in the seas, but added he is pleased to see a growing level of concern.
  • Today people live in a disposable society. However this year the media has been integral to changing people’s attitude towards waste; packaging and food waste in particular.
  • Family structures do still have a large part to play in people’s attitudes towards recycling. If your parents are avid recyclers then you understand the importance. Unfortunately there is still a ‘not my problem’ culture towards environmental issues.
  • A potentially hazardous chemical used in certain plastic food packaging has been found in the digestive system of 86% of teenagers who took part in a recent study. The University of Exeter research looked at Bisphenol A (BPA), which makes plastics flexible but strong.
  • A year on from the launch of Sky’s ocean rescue campaign, people say they have changed their behaviour on plastic use.
  • The focus of the *Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP) this year is on plastic packaging. Supermarkets are working on cutting down and changing the plastic on their shelves. WRAP are working with industry on the UK plastic Pact. Results and plans will be released this year.

* WRAP works with governments, businesses and communities to deliver practical solutions to improve resource efficiency.

What can you do?

It has become normal for everything to be packaged in plastic. We accept this without giving it much thought. Every bit of plastic we do buy and throw away may disappear from our view but in reality it doesn’t disappear from our streets, towns, and country.

If you do one thing today, think about the plastics you get every day, look at your family and friends, work colleagues and see how much they have and get. How much do you see? Can this picture be different?

Consequences of using plastic are coming back to bite us. There is lots of packaging. Tissues, yoghurt pots, sandwich cartons, individual dips and even fruit are all about convenience.

CUT IT OUT, be smarter when you buy, you may save money too.

10 ways to limit single use plastic

  • Use a reusable water bottle
  • Use a reusable coffee cup

Did you know that around seven million disposable cups are used each day in the UK alone and most don’t get recycled. Most coffee shops are happy to fill your cup and some will even offer a discount.

Don’t forget your reusable flask!

  • Use a backpack or reusable bag for your shopping

Did you know that the use of plastic bags has reduced since the charge was introduced?

  • Use a lunchbox and wax wraps instead of cling film

Did you know that taking a packed lunch from home can save lots of plastic and it might save you a small fortune too.

  • Buy loose fruit and vegetables
  • Use a reusable metal straw instead of plastic

Did you know a plastic straw is only used for a few minutes but can take hundreds of years to rot down.

  • Use fresh food rather than meals in plastic containers

Did you know that choosing unpackaged options could cut your plastic use and reduce food waste as you only buy what you need.

  • Picnic planning

Forget about buying your pre-packed foods and opt to take food from home when you are planning a picnic. You could even wrap your sandwiches in a wax wrap instead of cling film.

Why not make your own wax wrap for the occasion?

You can buy unpackaged foods and take them in a reuseable cool bag and help reduce those throw away plastic.

  • Barbeque basics

Local fresh food businesses often use less packaging than larger stores. Why not wow your guests at your next barbeque and buy your meats or vegetables fresh from your local butcher, farm shop or green grocer. Pick up some excellent barbeque tips, whilst supporting your local businesses.

  • Use bars of shampoo and soap rather than liquid in bottles

In the run up to your holiday, planning what reusable items you could use in place of all those plastic miniatures can save you and the planet a small fortune.

You can now buy bars of shampoo, and how about replacing your shower gel with a bar of soap? Why not try an electric shaver or reusable safety razor to look your best on the beach and do your bit to reduce the billions of disposable razors that are thrown away each year.

  • Buy products in bulk and refill as needed

Take a few minutes to plan your meals each day, before long this will become routine and you won’t even think about it.

Recycle plastic that you can’t reduce. Find out what you can recycle at the kerbside.

Cheshire West and Chester provide residents with a simple recycling system where materials are separated at home and at the kerbside. This reduces the amount of contamination going into the recycling process. Contamination happens when non-recyclable items are mixed in with recyclables items or when recyclable items are placed in the wrong recycling bins. This month we are aiming to inform people of these contaminates, why they cannot be recycled and what to do with them.

  • We are currently unable to recycle compostable cups and cutlery at the kerbside. Although compostable items such as cups and cutlery are on the increase, the current recycling processes cannot compost the materials sufficiently. This is often due to the actual composting process which can’t actually break the item down. This means that the item will contaminate the recycling. These need to be avoided or put into the black bin.
  • Hard plastic items such as toys, light switches. Plug sockets are often made from urea formaldehyde resin. This is a thermosetting plastic – its chemical structure makes it virtually impossible to recycle. Plastic toys are often made of hard plastic and other small components that cannot be broken down or are not safe to recycle. Donate to one of our reuse shops in Winsford, Ellesmere Port or Chester https://www.cheshirewestandchester.gov.uk/residents/waste-and-recycling/find-a-recycling-centre/find-a-recycling-centre-or-loc.aspx   or charity.
  • Polystyrene. Polystyrene products such as cups and packaging material aren’t collected at the kerbside. Polystyrene is not widely recycled in the UK because its makeup is a complex mixture of chemicals which don’t react in the same way to heat as other plastics, so it can’t be processed in the same way. This is because they are difficult to sort from other types of plastic waste and easily break up into small beads, which can clog up sorting machines. These go into the black bin.
  • Plastic film. This is because the plastic is likely to be contaminated. Cling film can be soiled with food which can attract pests or cause blockages in automated sorting machines. This is because cling film is made up of complex chemicals to make it cling and stretch, so it can’t be processed in the same way as a plastic bottle or tub. This type of plastic goes in your black bin.
  • Plastic bags.Plastic bags are a low grade plastic which cannot be mixed with plastic bottles and pots.These can be recycled separately at supermarkets or you could use the bag for your food waste to put in your brown food bin.
  • Chemical bottles / DIY plastic bottles. The content of these bottles may be hazardous so will not be accepted in your grey box. These need to be put in your black bin.
  • Black plastic. Plastic items are sorted by optical scanners which use the reflection of light to identify the types of plastics. Black plastic doesn’t reflect light, so cannot be seen and sorted by the scanners and could end up contaminating and discolouring other plastic. These are put in your black bin.

What happens to your plastic recycling?

If you have ever wondered what happens to your plastic recycling once your grey box (some people have a red box) is emptied  take a look at this short film and find out what plastic is recycled into.

Cheshire West and Chester Council’s contractor, Kier, manage the collection and recycling of the plastics from the kerbside recycling scheme, and work with a number of UK Re-processors who sort the material by polymer type before being either being further processed by themselves or moved on to another market within UK, the EU or Asia.

The target materials within our Mixed Bottle collections are made up of :

  • HDPE (Milk/Detergent) bottles,
  • PET (Water/fizzy drink) bottles,
  • PP (Butter/sweet/container) tubs,
  • PS (Yoghurt pots).

The processors of these materials will shred/flake, hot chemical wash and compound (re-melt) the product back into a recyclable pellet to be made back into either sheets or blown packaging. The processed plastic may then be exported to other countries where they are used for the production of new plastic products.

The plastic which is collected via the kerbside recycling scheme is a valuable resource required by plastic manufacturing organisations around the world.

All recycling processors are regulated by the Environment Agency, and approved by the Council prior to Kier being able to send materials there.

How about a little plastic history?

This is how it all started:

The first man-made plastic was created by Alexander Parkes who publicly demonstrated it at the 1862 Great International Exhibition in London. The material, called Parkesine, was an organic material derived from cellulose that once heated could be molded and retained its shape when cooled.

John Wesley Hyatt invented celluloid as a substitute for the ivory in billiard balls in 1868. He first tried using a natural substance called collodion after spilling a bottle of it and discovering that the material dried into a tough and flexible film. However, the material was not strong enough to be used as a billiard ball, not until the addition of camphor, taken from the laurel tree. The new celluloid could now be molded with heat and pressure into a durable shape.

Besides billiard balls, celluloid became famous as the first flexible photographic film used for still photography and motion pictures. Hyatt created celluloid in a strip format for movie film. By 1900, movie film was an exploding market for celluloid.

After cellulose nitrate, formaldehyde was the next product to advance the technology of plastic. Around 1897, efforts to manufacture white chalkboards led to casein plastics (milk protein mixed with formaldehyde) Galalith and Erinoid are two early tradename examples.

In 1899, Arthur Smith received British Patent 16,275, for “phenol-formaldehyde resins for use as an ebonite substitute in electrical insulation,” the first patent for processing a formaldehyde resin. However, in 1907, Leo Hendrik Baekeland improved phenol- formaldehyde reaction techniques and invented the first fully synthetic resin to become commercially successful with the trade name Bakelite. This was made using fossil fuels.

Further innovations:

  • 1908 – Cellophane – Invented by Jacques E. Brandenberger
  • 1909 – First true plastic Phenol-Formaldehyde trade name Bakelite – Invented by Leo Hendrik Baekeland
  • 1926 – Vinyl or PVC – Walter Semon invented a plasticized PVC.
  • 1933 – Polyvinylidene chloride or Saran also called PVDC – Accidentally discovered by Ralph Wiley, a Dow Chemical lab worker.
  • 1935 – Low-density polyethylene or LDPE – Invented by Reginald Gibson and Eric Fawcett
  • 1936 – Acrylic or Polymethyl Methacrylate
  • 1937 – Polyurethanes tradenamed Igamid for plastics materials and Perlon for fibers. – Otto Bayer and co-workers discovered and patented the chemistry of polyurethanes
  • 1938 – Polystyrene made practical
  • 1938 – Polytetrafluoroethylene or PTFE tradenamed Teflon – Invented by Roy Plunkett
  • 1939 – Nylon and Neoprene – Considered a replacement for silk and a synthetic rubber respectively by Wallace Hume Carothers
  • 1941 – Polyethylene Terephthalate or Pet – Invented by Whinfield and Dickson
  • 1942 – Low-Density Polyethylene
  • 1942 – Unsaturated Polyester also called PET patented by John Rex Whinfield
  • 1872 – Polyvinyl Chloride or PVC – First created by Eugen Baumann and James Tennant Dickson
  • 1951 – High-density polyethylene or HDPE tradenamed Marlex – Invented by Paul Hogan and Robert Banks
  • 1951 – Polypropylene or PP – Invented by Paul Hogan and Robert Banks
  • 1953 – Saran Wrap introduced by Dow Chemicals.
  • 1954 – Styrofoam a type of foamed polystyrene foam was invented by Ray McIntire for Dow Chemicals
  • 1964 – Polyimide
  • 1970 – Thermoplastic Polyester this includes trademarked Dacron, Mylar, Melinex, Teijin, and Tetoron
  • 1978 – Linear Low-Density Polyethylene
  • and James Tennant Dickson

History information above from https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-plastics-1992322