Package recycling: To sort or not to sort
Recycling is increasing but is still a problem. Here in the UK, every local authority organizes collection of waste from houses and businesses, and they decide on how many bins everyone will be issued and what needs to be collected in each. In some areas, metal cans, polymers, glass and paper can be put into the same bin as the local recycling plant will then separate the different materials. Elsewhere, glass may be collected separately from polymers, and metal and paper separately from both.
Where plastics are recycled, some authorities issue a list of which polymers are acceptable and which are not, and there will be a significant portion of used packaging that the consumer has to guess at whether it can be placed in the bin or not. It does not matter that there is the little triangular symbol that tells it is a particular polymer type or that on the label it states, “widely recycled” or “may be recycled at larger stores” or “recycle responsibly.” I know some consumers have given up and put everything into the recycling bin and assume that at some point someone else will sort it out; others, who have also given up, put the same packages into the bin as waste for the landfill.
Not helping in all of this is the vested interest of the various groups. The oxo-biodegradable film industry tells us why they are to be preferred over bioplastics or compostable films. The traditional film industry warns us about the problems of these films getting into the municipal wastestream and compromising the quality of the recycled film. We then have added to this the nature documentaries such as “The Blue Planet,” playing on viewers’ emotions, where they highlight the problems caused by plastic microbeads and the volume of plastics dumped into the sea annually.
A number of the current initiatives use the wave of emotion generated by “The Blue Planet” to help get the initiative started. I do wonder how many drinking straws from a city in the UK do find their way out to sea. I would imagine it is small but, of course, what they are hoping is that it is a step toward changing the public mindset. So that in the future they will consider more if they need the plastic item in the first place and, if they do, how they are going to responsibly dispose of the item after use. It has been highlighted many times by the packaging industry that the packaging is inert and does not throw itself into a landfill or the ocean, but it is the humans who have purchased it that are causing the littering.