Since the early 2000s, plastic waste production in the UK has steadily risen each year. In 2002, the level of plastic waste produced was 1,740,000 metric tons. In 2017, it was 2,260,000 metric tons. Unfortunately, collection rates for recycling haven’t mirrored this increase. In 2018, the collection rate of plastic waste was only 36%.
This is a problem. Many of us know that plastic takes hundreds, if not thousands, of years to biodegrade. Before that point it can cause countless problems for biodiversity, finding its way into waterways and the digestive systems of small animals such as birds and fish.
The UK government has a commitment to making all plastic packaging on the market either compostable, reusable or recyclable by 2025, meaning that UK businesses need to keep up with government guidelines. There’s also an ambition of zero avoidable plastic waste by 2042.
So where do businesses go from here? In this blog, we’ll be talking about how to implement the best practices for plastic waste management objectives.
- Plastic Waste in the UK: What’s Changed?
- Plastic Waste Management Objectives
- The Best Practices for Plastic Waste Management
Plastic Waste in the UK: What’s Changed?
There’s been a number of key changes within the UK government’s approach to plastic waste within the last few years, such as the Plastic Packaging Tax, which is described as:
This is a new tax that applies to plastic packaging produced in, or imported into, the UK that does not contain at least 30% recycled plastic. Plastic packaging is packaging that is predominantly plastic by weight.
Similarly, there have been other proposals such as:
- Consultation on reforming the UK packaging producer responsibility system;
- Plastic packaging tax: consultation;
- Introducing a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland; and
- Consultation on Consistency in Household and Business Recycling Collections in England.
There’s also been a focus on what plastic waste can be shipped abroad. For example, under the UN Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Waste and their Disposal, UK organisations need a Prior Informed Consent procedure to ship certain types of waste.
Additionally, it was a commitment made by the Conservative Party in their 2019 manifesto to ban the export of plastic waste to non-OECD countries, but this has not been fully implemented yet.
Now, a lot of this is complex legislative talk. Businesses are more interested in how they can actually improve their plastic waste management - so it’s worth getting to grips with the basics.
What Kind of Plastic Are We Targeting?
In 2018, WRAP, a not-for-profit resources organisation, published their guide, ‘Understanding plastic packaging and the language we use to describe it’ which helps everyday businesses understand the plastic waste they are producing.
Essentially, it helps people understand the differences between how plastic types behave at the end of their life. For example, just because something is called a ‘bioplastic’ does not necessarily mean that it will biodegrade.
In a business setting, there might be a number of different types of plastic waste being produced, such as:
- Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE): Shopping bags and cling film are two of the most obvious and widespread uses of LDPE.
- Polystyrene: Used for packaging and to transport food.
- High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE): Liquid containers, such as milk cartons, are good examples of HDPE.
- Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC): Commonly used to make pipes and cladding.
- Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET): Most commonly used in items such as water bottles or frozen food packaging.
- Polypropylene (PP): A notable use for PP is to make bottle lids.
Plastic Waste Management Objectives
Businesses stand to gain tangible benefits from reducing plastic waste and ensuring whatever is produced is recyclable. Not only is it a popular waste management strategy from the point of view of consumers, it can help businesses remain more compliant with environmental protection and waste management legislation.
In fact, the environmental law group, ClientEarth, released a report that described plastic waste as a major business risk that companies may be exposed to. To avoid these issues and capitalise on the benefits of effective plastic waste management, businesses need to develop key objectives for themselves.
Now, all businesses will be different, but effective recycling targets can be introduced regardless of industry. For example, your business could work towards:
- 100% of plastic packaging being recyclable or reusable.
- 70% of plastic packaging used on-site is effectively recycled.
- Using new plastic packaging made from recycled materials.
Take the time to analyse your plastic waste production and how you can best create plastic waste management objectives for your business.
The Best Practices for Plastic Waste Management
Many businesses ask themselves how they can implement more effective plastic waste management. There are a number of key best practices that can be followed:
Utilise Waste Management Machinery
Many plastics are left unrecycled because they’re not left in a fit state to be. Utilising waste management machinery, such as vertical balers, which are machines specifically designed to deal with plastic waste types, such as polythene and PET.
These machines can bale waste into manageable pieces, making them easier to transport, less costly for collection and more likely to be recycled.
Improve Waste Collection
Waste collection is an important part of plastic waste management. Collection needs to be standardised, accomplished regularly and in a cost-efficient manner. Again, this is where a machine like a vertical baler helps, making sure waste produced is far more manageable for collection crews.
Align Waste Management with The Waste Hierarchy
The Waste Hierarchy sets out the standards and best practices for how waste should be dealt with, based on the type of waste in question. You can read more on using the Waste Hierarchy here.
Emphasise Proper Segregation
Plastic can only be managed and recycled properly if it is effectively segregated. It ensures that downstream recyclers receive correctly sorted waste and are able to more efficiently recapture value from it.
Partner with a Waste Management Machinery Provider
One of the most effective ways in which a business can accurately and efficiently begin to manage its plastic waste is by working with a waste management machinery provider to audit a site, determining what types of plastic are being created and at what sizes, ensuring that the right waste management solutions can be implemented.
Voluntary Initiatives Businesses Can Join
Right now, businesses can join a number of voluntary initiatives that help them confront and understand their plastic waste production. These initiatives help to change the way plastics are produced, used and disposed of by all members of a supply and distribution chain.
For example, businesses could volunteer to join:
- The UK Circular Plastics Network: Helping to create understanding and communication regarding plastics use throughout the UK.
- The Plastics Pact: Ran by Wrap, this initiative is a collaboration of businesses that set themselves targets to eliminate single-use plastic packaging and to ensure that 70% of all plastic packaging is recycled or composted by 2025.
- The Plastics Industry Recycling Action Plan (PIRAP): This plan promotes the increased collection of recyclable plastics, better sorting and the creation of end markets for those recycled plastics.
These are a small variety of the best practices and initiatives a business can pursue when creating and achieving plastic waste management objectives. To find out how businesses can improve their entire waste management strategy, click the link below.
How to Improve Your Waste Management Strategy
From conducting waste audits to utilising waste machinery, this simple guide will show you everything you need to know about improving a business’ waste management strategy.
This guide will help reduce the overall cost of waste management while showing you how easy it is to remain compliant with waste disposal legislation. Just click the link below to download.