Close to three quarters of the UK demand for plastic could be supplied by recycling previous incarnations of the stuff, according to a new report from environmental charity and think thank, Green Alliance.
This move would necessitate governmental action to build up the plastic recycling industry in this country, which could mean an extra two million tonnes of products and packaging recycled here.
The UK currently consumes 3.3m tonnes of plastic annually. We export two thirds of plastic collected for recycling and only recycle nine per cent of all plastics domestically, according to the report.
“The UK does not have an adequate system to capture, recycle and re-use plastic materials,” the report said.
Current recycling targets serve only to divert products and packaging into the ether of waste management systems, instead of building up a local market for the plastic gathered, the report, created by Green Alliance on behalf of business group the Circular Economy Task Force, states.
As such, there is an over reliance on ‘virgin’ materials – resulting in more production, waste and, ultimately, pollution.
The report recommends three measures to ignite a solution. These are mandatory recycled content requirements for all plastic products and packaging, short term support to kickstart the plastic reprocessing market, and market stabilisation fund to derisk investment in the market.
“If the UK wants to lead the world in addressing the global scourge of plastic pollution, that means creating a circular economy at home that allows us to turn discarded plastics back into new products,” Libby Peake, senior policy adviser on resources at Green Alliance, said. “Just collecting plastic and shipping it abroad doesn’t solve the problem.”
Peter Maddox, director of resource efficiency charity WRAP UK, said: “The time has come for the UK to take more responsibility for its own waste.
“This will require some fundamental changes from all of us. The UK government has shown ambition in its 25 year environment plan and has a great opportunity through the forthcoming resources and waste strategy to ensure that the policy framework enables a thriving and commercially successful UK recycling sector to capture the value from waste here at home.”
Friends of the Earth plastic campaigner Julian Kirby told HuffPost UK that while recycling is definitely needed, it won’t be enough to stop plastic pollution on its own.
“Plastic can only be recycled a number of times, and then it is either landfilled, incinerated or released into the environment,” he said. “Some plastic is downcycled into things like fleece jackets and surfacing for roads and cycle-paths, which then shed micro-fibres and micro-particles into the environment.
“And a lot of plastic pollution is caused by tiny bits of plastic that flake off things like car tyres, plastic clothes and carpets, and then get washed into our waterways. And these can’t be recycled.”
So what’s the solution? Kirby told HuffPost UK: “We certainly need to ringfence plastics that are needed for essential use, such as for medical and emergency services. But beyond this we need governments to come up with an action plan to phase-out all but the most essential uses of plastic – that’s the only way out of the plastics pollution crisis.”