We all gain from knowing more about plastics
Plastic is everywhere in the workplace, from office equipment to food packaging. Even if you manufacture or sell plastic products, it is essential to understand the different types of plastic. It’s not a ‘one size fits all’ situation. But if you don’t know what plastics are available, it can cause confusion about what can be recycled. This can lead to contamination, which will affect our ability to recycle the items placed in the bin.
This handy guide explains the seven types of plastics, their most common uses, and if they can be recycled. Share this guide with colleagues and customers to help them make informed decisions about plastics and recycling. You can download and print this guide for your office or send the link to colleagues.
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Three facts about plastic
Plastic is everywhere we go – at work, at home, or in the cities where we travel. There’s a huge knowledge gap about plastic. Our experts have gathered the three most important things to know about recycling.
- Plastics are not all the same.
Plastic has its problems. Plastic is a problem. We produce more virgin plastic now than ever before. Demand has never been so high. Not everything can be recycled. The UK cannot process the volume of recyclable plastics that are being produced. Not all plastics pose a threat.
Plastics are complex, they can be controversial, but they perform vital functions in our society. Plastics are used to preserve food and keep medical equipment sterile. Plastic can be an environmentally friendly solution when appropriately used. It is also a vital part of the circular economic system. Plastic can only work if everyone works together.
We know this because we spent years developing a milk bottle solution that allows materials to be recycled and turned into new products. We have created a closed-loop system by working with dairies and retailers, government departments, and regulatory bodies to ensure that 80% of the high-density plastic (HDPE) milk bottles used in the UK are made from Biffa recycled material. This case study shows how regulatory bodies and partners can work together to find a solution that results in higher recycling rates.
There is no recycling solution available for all plastics. The challenge of sustainability is one that we face as a society. It is not currently recyclable, is easily contaminated, and is a pollution source.
Plastic wraps and films are not a short-term solution. The entire UK supply chain and every household and business must be changed. Our current advice is to avoid contaminating recyclable plastics with film and dispose of film and non-recyclable materials in general waste. We process these plastics whenever possible to extract low-carbon energies.
- Some plastics are not food grade.
Plastics suitable for direct food contact are called “food grade plastics”. This type of packaging is subjected to a higher level of testing to meet the UK’s health regulations. RECOUP reported that 61% of UK household plastic bottles were collected in 2021. However, UK HDPE Milk bottles typically contain 30% recycled material. This discrepancy in the amount of recycled plastic in bottles and containers indicates that UK consumers waste valuable food-grade plastics.
The primary cause is the need for more food-grade containers to be recycled. The producers are left with less raw material to produce new products when recyclable food-grade plastic is disposed of. The UK also faces stiff competition from Europe in the HDPE and other plastics markets. The UK is a significant source of food-grade HDPE for many EU economies. This impacts our ability to create new products using recycled materials and increases the need for virgin materials.
HDPE is not the only food-grade plastic that can be used in this way. Polypropylene is commonly used to make yogurt pots, sauce containers, and some butter and spread containers. This plastic can be recycled, but it is not food-grade. Although plastic can still be recycled, it must be replaced by virgin material.
Investment in infrastructure is needed to create a circular economy for UK food-grade plastics. Investing in infrastructure will allow us to increase our recycling rate of food packaging. More recycling facilities will be needed to achieve this. Consultations with the UK Government regarding potential infrastructure developments are underway, but it is a long-term solution.
Our Polymers facilities have the necessary technology to handle a variety of plastics. We separate the non-food grade plastics as they are a valuable resource to other recycled products. Non-food grade plastics can cause whole batches to be unsuitable as food and beverage containers. We take great care to ensure the UK’s producers can access only the best food-grade plastic.
It can be complex to reduce, reuse, and recycle, but our container makes it possible. The best way to preserve food-grade plastics in the UK is to prevent contamination before they are thrown away. We can all do our part now.
Have you ever wondered what happens to the recycling collected after it has been collected?
- Pre-cycling improves recycling
Contamination is a major obstacle to plastic recycling. It wastes precious UK resources, increases our carbon footprint, and increases recycling costs for everyone. Most contamination happens before the waste is collected. Plastic containers that are contaminated cannot be recycled. If a damaged cooking oil bottle is placed in a recycle bin, the contamination can spread and waste tons of plastic.
Pre-cycling is the only way for individuals and businesses to prevent this kind of contamination on the scale needed. Pre-cycling is emptying the contents, cleaning the residue, and placing the waste into the appropriate recycling bin. Pre-cycling will allow the UK to recycle more high-quality plastic if everyone follows the instructions.
We can protect and recycle more UK resources if all waste is recycled. Recycling service providers will use less water and energy to clean and process containers. This reduces their carbon footprint. It’s also safer for the people on the front lines collecting and sorting recyclables.
Everyone in the UK is involved in reducing, reusing, and recycling more. We can all help by learning which plastics are recyclable and which should be thrown away. Read this guide to know what the recycling symbols are to improve your employees’ recycling knowledge.