How recyclable is your plastic?

Healthy Planet  |  By

It’s encouraging to hear of all the new initiatives to turn our plastics into rugs, shoes, new packaging or more. Clearly, the more we can recycle, the better.

But it can be really confusing to know how recyclable that plastic wrapper really is. And, those TV reports showing mounting piles of rubbish, that was supposedly being sent for recycling, can make you wonder just what does happen to the plastic we put in the recycling bin every week.

So, it’s good to hear that researchers from the Universities of Exeter and Queensland are pushing for better labelling, to show more than just a symbol denoting how easy it is (or not!) to recycle our plastic packaging. Because, recycling services can vary a lot, depending on the country or local facilities and enthusiasm for recycling. For example, Germany recycles 62% of its plastic waste – well above the European average of 30%. Meanwhile, China recycles an estimated 25%, whilst USA is falling behind, at just 8%!

They are pushing for much more labelling on how the packing can best be recycled, including any variables relating to the area where it is being sold or used. It helps customers understand it better – for example, a coffee cup that is called compostable, may only be broken down in an industrial composter – not the compost heap at the bottom of the garden!

And, it also puts more responsibility on the manufacturer who will then be incentivised to make the packaging far less complex to recycle.

The researchers also want more information to be provided on all the chemical additives that give plastic its colour, flexibility or more. Much like food labelling, where the sugar, fat and calorie content and list of chemical preservatives and flavourings can be quite terrifying to read, it means the consumer can make more informed choices and put pressure on manufacturers to do away with unnecessary chemicals.

With 368 million tonnes of plastic being produced each year, this initiative may help us do better with our recycling…..though better still, let’s slash our use of single-use plastic in the first place!

Ref: The message on the bottle: Rethinking plastic labelling to better encourage sustainable use. Environmental Science & Policy, 2022; 132: 109
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