FIVE MINUTES TO PRODUCE: FIVE HUNDRED YEARS TO BREAK DOWN AGAIN.
THE PROBLEM OF SINGLE USE PLASTIC
You will no doubt have all heard of five a day in connection with fruit and vegetables but for Frans Timmermanns’, European Commission, vice president, the number five is also a significant number.
To quote him
“Single use plastic takes five seconds to produce, you use it for five minutes and it takes 500 years to break down again”.
Here in lies in a single sentence the cost and benefit of this versatile and ubiquitous product.
Lighter and cheaper than metals, they do not rust, strong yet malleable, new uses for plastic are being developed all the time. There is, however, a downside, plastics are not biodegradable. If placed in landfill sites they will still be there many years later. A world without plastic is probably unconceivable in our consumption led modern world; in historical terms however; plastic is the new kid on the block being a 20th Century invention.
From the 1950’s, however, plastics use has become increasingly common. It’s increasing application, over recent years, as a single use product that is causing considerable concern. Our own Green party whose foundations are ecological/ environment advocate the use of renewables... This suggests best practice regarding plastics is to use them as often as possible and then recycle them if you can. It is to to the question of recycling that I now refer.
Waste recycling company, Suez, is helping to clean up the oceans of plastic and then reuse it. Suez and Proctor and Gamble (the makers of head and Shoulders Shampoo) have worked together to create the first recycled shampoo bottle out of plastic found on beaches. Volunteers collect the plastic and send it to recycling experts (Terracycle) who sort it. Suez then turn the plastic into pellets which are used to create the new shampoo bottles. So, in essence, Volunteers, Proctor and Gamble, recycling experts and a waste management company have collaborated to recycle a single use product. Proctor and Gamble say that within a year it will source a quarter of its shampoo bottles from recycled beached plastic.
Veolia, another recycling firm, is turning plastic bottles into flakes. These flakes are used to make fleeces, pipes and garden furniture. Veolux has sorting facilities in Dagenham and Rainham.
Tomra (a company based in Norway), a world leader in reverse vending machines helps to sort plastic bottles and packaging so they can be recycled.
These vending machines are used to deposit old plastic bottles and wrappers for recycling in return for a small cash reward. Tomra has at least 75,000 vending machines in more than 60 countries which collect 35 billion drink containers a year.
The International paper company of Tennessee produces paper cups made of plant materials which are biodegradable.
We then have a two sided relationship with plastics. We find them useful and in many cases necessary. This innovative Product has benefited humankind. The inventive expertise of the 20th Century scientists now needs to be applied in the 21st Century to find ways of reusing/ recycling plastic.
Julie C Stubbins