A sustainable future

Cromwell Polythene’s Managing Director, James Lee, shares his insights on plastics as part of circular solutions.

We need to act now to protect both our planet and precious resources. To help us, the UK government outlined plans to address the environmental and climate crises, under its Environment Bill. This aims to deliver the vision set out in the 25 Year Environment Plan, which sets out targets for a green future.

The Environment Bill includes plans for a consistent set of recyclable materials to be collected from households and businesses. These include weekly food waste collections, and simplification of the recycling process.

Material recycling and re-use starts with effective segregation of different waste streams, such as paper, glass, plastic, and food waste, to avoid contamination. Unfortunately, items can often end up in the incorrect bin. The value of paper, for example, is significantly reduced if it’s contaminated with wet wastes such as food, and may even render it unrecyclable.

The government also plans to introduce an extended producer responsibility system for packaging in 2023. Producers would be given significant responsibility – financial and/or physical – for the disposal or treatment of their products once they are no longer in use by the consumer. In addition, there will be a Plastic Packaging Tax from April 2022, which will apply to plastic packaging manufactured in, or imported into the UK that contains less than 30% recycled plastics.

Protective role of plastics

All businesses in the supply chain should be now working together to find solutions to protect our environment, combat climate change, and support circular economy principles, where we re-use, re-manufacture, repair and recycle as much as possible.

At the same time, it’s important to recognise that there are many benefits to using plastic packaging, such as preventing food from being wasted, reduced fuel consumption and lower greenhouse gases, due to its lightweight characteristics.

Plastic is used for medical equipment and to safely protect specialist items, which is extremely important for infection control. Within the cleaning industry, it enables the safe containment of liquids, eliminating environmental leaching of cleaning chemicals and wastes from bottles, for instance. The industry’s use of plastic waste sacks and bags is the simplest and most cost-effective way to encourage the safe and hygienic separation and collection of materials for re- use and recycling.

Plastic has been demonised in the media, and switching from plastic to alternative materials, such as glass or cardboard, is often suggested to be ‘greener’. However, responsibly produced plastic can have a high recycled


content (up to 100%) and can be reprocessed many times, saving virgin material and associated energy as well. Switching to alternatives can lead to sustainability issues, such as higher energy and water use, increased C02 emissions in production and transport (due to the extra weight), and, more often than not, an increase in food waste because other materials don’t perform as well as plastic.

Marine pollution (it’s not just plastic packaging washing up on the beaches) is very real. However, this is the result of littering and ineffective waste management infrastructure, not something inherently wrong with the material.

A pledge for our future

The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) outlines an ambitious set of targets to create a circular economy for plastics in its UK Plastics Pact. The aim is to eliminate all avoidable plastic packaging waste and make all plastic packaging reusable, recyclable, recycled, or compostable, by 2025.

Using resources efficiently depends upon the engagement of everyone, working together to share expertise, so we can find achievable solutions to protect our environment and act on climate change. Unfortunately, all too often we see the sustainability spotlight focused on a single issue or product, rather than looking at the whole picture. By using positive messaging, simplifying the solutions, combined with carefully selected products and services to enable recycling, we can all be encouraged to take ownership and be a chorus for action.

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