Breaking: All plastic cotton buds banned after successful #SwitchTheStick campaign

We are today celebrating the news that the British Government is completely banning plastic cotton buds, stirrers and straws. The move has been in the offing for more than a year after the agreement of the EU’s Single-Use Plastics Directive and follows years of campaigning by  City to Sea including the successful #SwitchTheStick campaign.

The #SwitchTheStick campaign saw all major UK retailers announcing they would ‘Switch the Stick’ and only sell biodegradable paper stem buds. A move which stopped over 478 tonnes of single-use, non-recyclable plastic being produced each year.

Our founder Natalie Fee welcomed the news saying, “Since our successful #SwitchtheStick campaign in 2017 we’ve seen over 400 tonnes of plastic stopped at source each year through all major retailers having switched to paper stem buds. This ban will now mop up all the smaller retailers and pharmacies who still need to make the switch and hopefully make flushed cotton buds on UK riverbanks and beaches a thing of the past!”

Natalie also warned however that this is just the first step and that there is still a lot more to do. She continued, “Without sounding too much like a stick in the mud, today’s announcement also highlights how much more there is to do. We desperately need government to adopt a Deposit Return Scheme on all plastic bottles, we need them to commit to not send period products filled with plastics to schools and they need to be clear about how they plan to implement the EU’s Directive that demands countries ban other items including cutlery, plates, sticks for balloons, as well as cups, food and beverage containers made of expanded polystyrene and on all products made of oxo-degradable plastics.”

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Sign the petition: Plastic Free Schools need Plastic Free Periods!

We’ve just launched a new petition with 38 Degrees calling on the Department of Education to only purchase plastic-free period products for schools – setting young people up with products that are better for their bodies, the environment and their future.

Why is this important?

The government has made three promising commitments recently:

Having attended a government procurement meeting on period products for schools, it seems that they are not using joined up thinking to tackle all these problems at once. With all three commitments in mind we want the Department of Education to commit to only purchasing period products for schools that are plastic-free or reusable.

This would mean schools can offer students a range of plastic-free disposable products (tampons, pads and liners) and reusable products (menstrual cups and washable pads).

Here in the UK a staggering 4.3 billion disposable menstrual products are used every year. Many people don’t realise that most period pads (including Always, Bodyform and most supermarket own-brands) can contain up to 90% plastic – the equivalent of 4 plastic bags per pad! Most tampons also contain a thin layer of plastic. What’s more, although no period products should go down the loo, it’s estimated around 700,000 panty liners, 2.5 million tampons and 1.4 million pads are flushed down the toilet every day in the UK – many of which block our sewer systems and escape into our rivers and seas.

In addition to the environmental benefits of providing plastic-free period products, a reusable product option provides immense cost savings over time and reduces ‘period poverty shame’ – those who require free products find it more dignified to do so every 2-10 years, as opposed to every month. Research shows that over a lifetime an individual can save up to 94% of what would have been spent on disposable products, by switching to reusable ones.

If you want the government to use joined-up thinking in tackling these issues and commit to supplying plastic-free and reusable period products for schools please sign and share our petition here!

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Tallulah Rendall releases stunning new music video in support of City to Sea.

This week, we’re excited to announce a new partnership with the stunning Tallulah Rendall, an amazingly talented singer-songwriter and sound therapist who has dedicated the video for her new single – Holding on to Love – Be The Change, to City to Sea!

Nominated for the Woman of the Future Arts Culture Award in 2014, hailed as ‘London’s most creative woman’ by AOL, and celebrated by Latitude Festival for her “voice of an angel” – Tallulah was one of the first artists to introduce crowdfunding in 2006 with her first EP, Without Time. She has since crowdfunded, released and toured four albums worldwide: Libellus (2009), Alive (2011), The Banshee And The Moon (2014), and now The Liminal (April 2019).

Feeling a symbiotic connection to City to Sea and their mission to prevent plastic from littering the world’s oceans, Tallulah welcomed the opportunity to collaborate, as she explains:

City to Sea invites each of us to explore our own relationship with plastic and environmental awareness through campaigning for policy and behavioural change. I love the rawness, heartfelt and sometimes even playful approach they use to engage us with this conversation. Personally, I feel passionate about supporting systemic change in our individual and collective relationship to both plastic and the environment. I believe in music’s ability to inspire change and if I can add my creative voice to something as vital as City to Sea’s mission and help more people engage with protecting our wildlife, rivers and seas then that is both an honour and a privilege.

Tallulah’s thought-provoking music video features exquisite time-lapse footage shot by 2014 Travel Photographer of the Year, Rufus Blackwell, as well as footage from the recent Extinction Rebellion protests in London. The video highlights the plight of the oceans amid the escalating plastic pollution crisis. An emotive cry to unite and make a stand, the video invites viewers to take responsibility for their plastic consumption, with a clear call to action: “You can be the change. Say no to single-use plastic, say yes to the future.”

City to Sea founder, Natalie Fee says:

We’re all about awakening active hope, championing practical solutions and inspiring positive action – and we love doing that creatively! I’m a huge fan of Tallulah’s new album, The Liminal, and we thought it would be potent to combine our voices and work together to spread the word that we can – and are – making a difference. With serious threats from the plastic industry to boost production there is a real danger that plastic pollution in our oceans could double by 2050. So we need to get the message out there, through art as well as emails, petitions and the news, that we can stop this from happening. Tallulah’s music fits wholly with our ethos – we can be the change.

 

Co-produced with acclaimed Berlin producer Aaron Ahrends, Holding onto Love, Be The Change reflects Tallulah’s intention to use her music as a conduit to inspire change, as demonstrated by previous songs such as We Don’t Want War: written in response to the Syrian Refugee Crisis, all sales from this track were donated to Save The Children.

Explaining the concept behind her new album, The Liminal, Tallulah explains: “The ‘Liminal’ is an energetic, unquantifiable space which I attune to when I meditate or create. My deepening relationship with this connection has inspired me to believe in our human capacity to live an expansive life in harmony with ourselves, the planet we live on and each other. It is my passion to inspire and support this awakening in others through sound and creativity.”

We’re super proud and excited that Tallulah has chosen to work with us, and we hope you enjoy the single as much as we do! To view tour dates and order the album visit Tallulah Rendall’s website: www.tallulahrendall.com

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Plastic Free Period product review – THINX period pants

A City to Sea volunteer Daisy gives THINX period pants a try and reports back. These are her thoughts on this increasingly popular product for managing your period…plastic free!

‘I try to live in as environmentally-friendly way as possible, even during my period. I first learnt about reusable period products at Sussex Uni where they give out free Mooncups. As different reusable period products have grown in popularity, I thought I’d give another plastic free product a go with; the THINX pants.

I feel that with all the threats the planet is currently facing, now is the time to move away from single-use plastic period pads and tampons (which includes most supermarkets own-brands, Lil-lets, Tampax, Always, Bodyform) and try something new.

I first starting using THINX pants a few months ago – I trialled their ‘Hiphuggers’ (which hold up to two tampons worth of blood) and their ‘Cheeky’ (one tampons worth). They’re a great ethical company that have a pay-it-forward scheme and are general do-gooders in the movement against period poverty. THINX aim to empower young women through their schemes – giving women access to period products and providing funding for programs and services that support under privileged people with periods, including survivors of domestic violence, refugees, and the homeless.

Trailing the pants…

When you receive your THINX order they come in a sweet little bag that contains all the care information you need. At the beginning I was apprehensive about wearing them out in public and getting caught short, but I needn’t have worried.

I’m so happy to have discovered period pants – no longer will I experience the mad panic whilst staying at my in-laws house that I haven’t got any tampons and a) have to pretend I need something from the shops or b) have to ask my boyfriends mum for a tampon.

During the first few days of my cycle I used the pants alongside a Mooncup and after that the pants worked great on their own. They are the comfiest pants I own now, and, I sleep in them, cycle to work in them and can go about my daily life without worrying if I’ll get nappy rash or if the product will need readjusting like pads.

I’m comfortable with period blood but I know that many people aren’t. What’s great about THINX pants is that you don’t see any of the blood. The blood is absorbed by the pants’ black fabric, which is only 3mm thick, so they’re even less ‘gory’ than the usual tampon or pad.

Something that gives me great comfort about period pants is that the fear of toxic shock syndrome is non-existent. I also work at festivals and my full-time job is alongside adults with learning disabilities – now I no longer watch the clock wondering when I last put my tampon in or worrying when my next break will be so I can change my pad.

The only downside … 

The only downside to these THINX period pants is that they take a long time to dry – you need more than a couple of pairs or to have a thought-through washing routine. Other than that, THINX are very easy to care for, you just rinse them in the sink and then throw them in the washing machine.

I understand that the up-front cost of THINX pants mean that they aren’t accessible to everyone (at £25-£30 a pair). There are other cheaper brands out there like Modibodi and Cheeky Wipes that cost between £10 – £20 and even offer swimwear. Also, research shows that over a lifetime an individual can save up to 94% of what would have been spent on disposable products.

In my experience, period pants are bloody awesome! They’re a trustworthy investment for anyone with periods and I will be investing in another couple of pairs to circulate on my next cycle. Rather than buying a new top or a jumper that you don’t really need, why not try a reusable period product instead, it will change your periods forever.

Find out more about City to Sea’s Plastic Free Period Campaign here.

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If you care about climate breakdown, you should care about plastics.

More than once I’ve heard people say that climate breakdown is a much bigger issue than plastic pollution, or that plastic pollution is a distraction from the wider environmental crisis we face. Add to this a recent BBC interview with George Monbiot in which he slammed switching your cotton buds as ‘pathetic micro-consumerist bollocks’, and I’ve got myself a case for defending plastic pollution’s place at the table of environmental collapse. Sounds like a dinner party to die for. 

In his defence, George was referring to the problem of trying to solve rampant consumerism with more consumerism. And we did have a particularly fun moment when I challenged him on it on stage recently at an event. As the founder of City to Sea, the organisation behind the #SwitchtheStick campaign (which successfully got all UK supermarkets to stop making cotton buds out of plastic and switch to paper instead) I felt the need to call him out on that one.  

And it’s a case in point, stopping over 400 tonnes of non-recyclable plastic, which would have most likely ended up being flushed and making its way into the UK’s rivers and seas, isn’t micro-consumerist bollocks. It’s a big reduction in fossil-fuel based plastic that sent a strong message to not just the supermarkets, but the plastic industry itself, that us ‘consumers’ don’t want 275,000 tonnes of currently non-recyclable plastic a year covering our cosmetic products, food, or anything else. And beyond that, it challenged investor’s assumptions that the plastic industry is a good bet. Pathetic micro-consumerist bollocks? More like awesome macro-systemic transformation. (I thought I made that word up, but apparently, it already exists.)  

Challenging industry assumptions of the infinite growth of demand for plastic – a plastics boom even – is exactly what we’re doing every time we as individuals refuse single-use plastic. And challenge them we must, as over 99% of plastic is made from fossil fuels, and most of us are now well aware that we need to keep that stuff firmly in the ground if we’re to have any chance of avoiding the worst consequences from climate breakdown.  

According to one study, this means leaving at least 80 percent of the world’s known remaining fossil fuel reserves in the ground, which includes more than 90 percent of U.S. coal reserves and all 100% of Arctic oil and gas. We cannot meet these goals without kicking our global plastics habit. And here’s why.  

Currently, plastic manufacturing is estimated to use 8 percent of yearly global oil production. It doesn’t sound like much does it? Yet the plastic produced from this, or our lack of effective waste management systems, has been enough to wreak utter destruction on marine ecosystems, killing hundreds of thousands of marine mammals, entangling countless others and poisoning our food chain. There are unseen consequences too; degrading plastics on beaches are releasing methane (a greenhouse gas 84 times more potent than CO2) and a new study shows that microplastics in the ocean could be disrupting natural carbon storage 

Despite this catastrophe, plastic’s share of global oil use is set to triple by 2050, increasing greenhouse gas emissions from petrochemicals by 30 percent and doubling plastic pollution in our oceans. 

via GIPHY

If the plastic industry has its way, rising plastic production will account for 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. That’s about the same as the entire current emissions of the transportation industry – planes, trains, cars, buses and all.  

And the industry push is powerful – currently, over $200 billion is being invested in factories, pipelines, and other infrastructure in the U.S. that will rely on shale gas (from fracking) to supply feedstock to the plastic industry. The need for us to push back is real, and it’s urgent.  

Yet for such a big and ruthless force, they have a major weak spot; they need us more than we need them. They need us to keep buying plastic, they need our governments to keep subsidising them, and they need investors to keep investing in them.  

You can stop buying single-use plastic. You can join a movement like School Strike for Climate or Extinction Rebellion and get your government to subsidise mass ecological restoration and renewable energy instead of fossil fuels. And you can make sure your current account provider, investments or pension funds are not funding the plastic industry.  

climate protestor holding sign Image by Jonathan Kemper

Plastic bag bans all around the world, the new EU single-use plastics directive, bans on straws, polystyrene and yes, even the plastic cotton bud, are a red flag to investors that the plastic industry is at risk – that maybe the boom they were hoping to make a buck out of is as dead in the water as the marine life they might one day have gone snorkelling with, had they not ruined it.   

So keep on signing petitions, sharing your zero-waste, plastic-free photos on Instagram, keep on creating a trend for a reusable, buy-less lifestyle and keep on refilling those water bottles. You’re creating a new story, and the more people that buy into it the less attractive the old one becomes … and, a bit like smoking, we quickly realise it really wasn’t that attractive anyway. “Remember the days we used to walk around carrying planet-polluting bottles and sipping coffee out of plastic-lined cups with virgin plastic lids? What were we thinking?”  

It’s time to broaden our perspective on plastic pollution and shift the focus away from its effects towards its cause. Yes, we still need to share photos of majestic, endangered species dying from ingesting plastic, and we also need to be talking about consumerism, capitalism and climate breakdown. Plastic pollution is a symptom not just of a broken waste system, but of a broken society, and it’s in all of our interests to fix it as soon as is humanly possible. 

Natalie Fee is the founder of City to Sea 

Feature Image provided by Bob Blob

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Bioplastics: A load of rubbish?

From balloons to disposable cups and cutlery to take away boxes, bioplastics are appearing as the supposed environmentally-friendly solution to plastic.

They allow you to enjoy the benefits of a disposable lifestyle but without the environmental price-tag. But is it that simple? Here at City to Sea we’ve taken a look at the issue and sorted the facts from the rubbish.

But first of all, what actually are bioplastics? To be called a bioplastic, a product has to be either biodegradable or made from plant-based materials. But being made from a plant doesn’t mean a product will degrade like a plant, and being biodegradable doesn’t mean a product will break down with food waste in the kitchen. In reality, most bioplastics need to be composted at very high temperatures over a period of several weeks in an industrial composter, and not at home in our garden compost as many of us think.

There are a couple of main types of bioplastics that you may have heard of, oxo-degradable and compostable. Oxo-degradable plastics are actually petroleum-based plastics that break down into lots of little pieces, yes that’s right- they turn into micro-plastics deliberately. Thankfully the EU Environment Committee is demanding these are banned by 2020. The second type of bioplastics are called ‘compostable plastics’. These aren’t made from oil, so that is a positive. However, despite the ‘compostable’ labelling they can’t be composted in your back garden but need to be industrially composted at high heat. Which means if your compostable balloon or straw ends up as rubbish in our oceans, rivers or natural environment, it won’t breakdown and will pose the same risks to wildlife as normal plastics.

Finally, there are home compostable bioplastics like cellophane. These can go in your home composter and will take 28-60 days to break down. However, if they go in your food caddy, which is then picked up by your local council, they will be removed as part of the depackaging process which prevents contamination from plastics as they don’t break down quick enough.

But if we process them responsibly are bioplastics OK?


The second big issue is that we don’t currently have significant infrastructure to compost bioplastics in the UK. The industrial composters that can break down compostable plastics are called in-vessel composters and there are currently only around 18 in the UK. These sites only accept waste that’s guaranteed not to be contaminated by oil-based plastics, which means the shipments need to come from closed environments (like festivals) which can guarantee the plastics have been kept separate.  Some café’s are offering take-back schemes to enable this too.

This leaves us consumers in a plastics pickle. Compostable bioplastics look exactly the same as oil-based plastics, so they often end up in the food bin or the recycling bin when actually, the only household bin they can go in is the general waste bin. Yes, that’s right, we’re expected to understand that ‘compostable’ doesn’t mean we can actually compost them. As clear as mud.

 

So, should we say bye-bye to bioplastics?

What all this means, is that while bioplastics might sound good, they are still a single-use material and there are extremely limited options to compost them. Ultimately, due the nature of when we tend to use bioplastics – as takeaway food containers and packaging – they end up in the bin and consequently in landfill.   The other issue is that as they don’t biodegrade outside of certain conditions they can still contribute to marine pollution if they become litter.

If compostable plastics are to become a viable alternative to oil-based plastics, there is a lot of work for the bioplastics and waste industries to do so they can better work together.

There are some positive innovations that should be celebrated and are fit for purpose– for example– in Indonesia they have developed a product using seaweed that dissolves harmlessly in water, which solves some of their issues with small sachets.

Our advice at City to Sea remains that refusing plastic and any single-use is the only solution. So choosing to refill and reuse are the best options. If your local cafe is using bio-plastic packaging, then treat it as you would traditional plastic and take your own reusable alternatives.

Check out our list of bioplastics FAQs to find out everything you need to know.

Livvy Drake is a Sustainability and Behaviour Change consultant. In her spare time, she can be found on her bike escaping to nature

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Government urged not to flood schools with plastic period products months after challenging schools to go plastic free

City to Sea have today written to the Education Secretary Damian Hinds MP, urging him to make sure that all period products purchased by this government will either be plastic-free disposables or reusable products.

The call comes after government confirmed that they would be providing free period products to both Primary and Secondary Schools in England and months after the Government challenged Schools to give up all single-use plastics by 2022.

Most period products contain plastic. Period pads for example (including Lil-lets, Always, Tampax and most supermarkets own-brands) often contain up to 90% plastic – the equivalent of four plastic bags per pad, as well as using single-use plastic for packaging the products.

Commenting, founder of City to Sea, Natalie Fee, said:

“Following the announcement to provide period products in schools we want to ensure this momentous and welcome action isn’t a travesty for the environment by ensuring all schools are provided plastic free products. As such we are seeking confirmation from government that they aren’t planning on flooding schools with single-use plastic period products just months after challenging schools to go plastic-free. There are plenty of alternatives out there that are plastic-free, including many reusable options that can save school girls and the government money whilst having a smaller impact on our planet.

She continued, “Most people don’t realise that every single day in the UK about 2.5 million tampons, 1.4 million pads and 700,000 pantyliners are flushed down the loo and that nearly all of these will contain plastic. The result is blockages in our sewers and used period products washing up on our riverbanks and beaches. I am hoping that Government will agree with us that this is a huge problem and set a real example by making sure all the period products they procure are truly plastic-free.”

Campaigns Coordinator at City to City, Jasmine Tribe added,

“In one move Government has the chance to empower young people, protect our oceans and tackle period poverty. People can save up to 94% over their menstruating lives by switching to reusable period products. I hope to see government rolling out a modern period education program alongside this great initiative as this is absolutely vital to get the most out of the scheme.”

For further information on City to Sea’s Plastic Free Period Campaign please visit https://www.citytosea.org.uk/plasticfreeperiods/

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Race to champion anti-plastics in Premier League kicks off in earnest

As Tottenham Hotspurs plays their first home game in their long-awaited new stadium this evening, anti-plastic pollution campaigners at City to Sea are celebrating the news as the start of race to champion the anti-plastic pollution movement in the sports sector.

The new stadium is being heralded for having green credentials such as the complete elimination of all plastic straws, stirrers, cutlery and all plastic disposable packaging that accompanies these items.  Equally, the club has a commitment to “to phasing out single-use plastics across all Club operations” as well as supporting school education programmes. These measures come alongside Newcastle United’s announcement this week that they will eliminate all plastic water bottles from their training ground saving an estimate 48,000 bottles a year.

Commenting ahead of the home game this evening against Crystal Palace, CEO of City to Sea, Rebecca Burgess said,

“The drive to eliminate plastic pollution by Premier League clubs is really kicking off this evening. Spurs have had this great opportunity through their new state of the art stadium to drive forward their efforts to eliminate plastic pollution at source. And it really feels like there is real competition now between the clubs for each to being doing more. This is a welcome competition. While each club are taking their own different steps forward, it is important to say that any action to tackle this problem is welcome. At City to Sea we can work with top clubs to help them go further faster.

Increasingly I think clubs are seeing that they can offer fans truly memorable match days experience without producing mountains of plastic pollution. With more than eight million tonnes of plastic thrown away each year, with much of it being washed out to sea, this is something that all clubs need to tackle.”

Photo by Nathan Rogers on Unsplash.

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European Union Flag

European Union To Ban Single-Use Plastics By 2021 

Last week the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly to support earlier proposals from the European Commission to cut plastic waste, targeting, in particular, the single-use plastics that are most commonly found polluting Europe’s beaches and seas.  

The vote by MEPs paves the way for a ban on single-use plastics to come into force by 2021 in all EU member states.  

The Single-Use Plastics Directive, which if adopted in full would come into force in 2021, would see a ban on selected single-use products including: cotton bud sticks, cutlery, plates, straws, stirrers, sticks for balloons, as well as cups, food and beverage containers made of expanded polystyrene and on all products made of oxo-degradable plastic across all 28 member states. 

As an organisation, our focus has always been on preventing marine plastic pollution so we welcomed this Directive as “the biggest shift we have ever seen in eliminating” plastic pollution at source 

As well as banning certain items the Directive would force all Member States to: 

  • Take measures to reduce consumption of food containers and beverage cups made of plastic and specific marking and labelling of certain products. 
  • Extend Producer Responsibility schemes covering the cost to clean-up litter, applied to products such as tobacco filters and fishing gear. 
  • Implement a 90% separate collection target for plastic bottles by 2029 (77% by 2025) and the introduction of design requirements to connect caps to bottles, as well as target to incorporate 25% of recycled plastic in PET bottles as from 2025 and 30% in all plastic bottles as from 2030. 

Responding to the Directive, Natalie Fee, our founder commented.

“This is biggest shift we have ever seen in eliminating plastic at source – the EU has set a precedent we hope the UK and the rest of the world will follow. It’s time for companies to wake up and take action if they want to keep trading and selling inside the biggest market in the world, they need to get serious about stopping plastic pollution. Ultimately, we’d like to see a shift towards organisations looking at reusable alternatives to some of the pointless plastics that are hard to recycle and polluting our oceansThe refill revolution is happening – it’s time to get on board.” 

The European Commission estimates that as well as tackling the most common forms of plastic pollution found on beaches the Directive will:  

    • Avoid the emission of 3.4 million tons of CO2 equivalent; 
    • Avoid environmental damages which would cost the equivalent of €22 billion by 2030;
    • Save consumers a projected €6.5 billion.  

So what’s next for Europe?  

The proposals still need to receive a final adoption at the Council of Ministers before the Member States will be given two years to transpose the legislation into their national law. 

But what about Brexit?  

Regardless of what happens with Brexit, the UK is almost certainly going to be obliged to implement the Directive’s proposals. The UK government has repeatedly claimed that they will match or where economically practicable exceed the Directive’s ambition.  

We’ll be watching closely to make sure this happens and will keep you updated. In the meantime, find out what you can do to reduce single-use plastics here 

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WHY Recycling won’t solve our plastic problem ♻️😟

Over the last few years, it has become increasingly clear that we can not recycle ourselves out of our current plastic problem. In fact, the current recycling system for plastics is one of the big contributors to plastic pollution around the world.  

Of the more than six billion tonnes of plastic waste produced by 2015, only 9 per cent has ever been recycled. Of the rest, almost all of it is now in the landfill or the natural environment (79 per cent) with the remainder incinerated.  

The UK’s official plastic packaging recycling rate is just 39 per cent – although research organisation Eunomia believe this to be much lower than reported.  That means more than 60% of all the plastic we use is ending up in landfill, incinerated – or worse, in our environment and oceans.  With the tragic news of yet another whale found dead with a belly full of plastic, it’s clear we have a very serious problem we’re not going to recycle our way out of.

City to Sea are committed to preventing plastic pollution at source – reducing the need for recycling in the first place by advocating reuse and providing practical solutions to the single-use water bottles such as our Refill campaign.

Why recycling plastic is hard 

For some products, recycling is an effective solution. Aluminium cans and glass, for example, are infinitely recyclable and can be reprocessed in the UK.  But for plastics, it’s a different story 

For one thing, there are so many types of plastic it makes it hard to sort correctly. Consumers inadvertently mix recyclable and non-recyclable plastics in the same box, which contaminates the load and requires there to be further sorting and segregating, which not all collectors do, and effects the value and re-usability of the plastic when it’s resold.  

Most people believe that putting out the plastic each week is helping the environment; although many are unaware the complexity of the processing required and the diligence of contractors required to make sure materials do actually get reprocessed effectively.  

Most people are trying their best to recycle plastic – but the many different ways in which recycling is collected by councils across the UK has left them confused over what can be recycled and what can’t. Read our essential guide to recycling for more information on recycling logos and what they mean.

What happens to our plastic waste? 

We only reprocess 1/3rd of our plastic recycling in the UK, so once plastic waste enters the system, it is sorted and then put up for sale on the international commodities market to be shipped around the world. Depending on the quality of the load―e.g. how many types of plastic it includes, how dirty they are―and the reputation of the waste handler, there are a number of different things that can then happen.  

If the quality is good enough, the plastics are re-purposed. This means downcycling them into plastic furniture, drain pipes or fleece clothing, which then can’t be recycled afterwards.  

If the quality is poor, the plastics that can be used are extracted and the rest end up being burned or dumped.  

And, if they’re bought by unscrupulous reprocesses in countries where environmental laws are lax, this dumped and incinerated waste can end up in the local environment, contaminating rivers and making its way to the sea.  

Historically, China is where most of the world’s plastic has ended up. It’s no coincidence that more than half of all the plastic pollution carried from the rivers to the ocean comes from the Yangtze. But at the end of 2017 China closed its doors to the most contaminated loads, putting the burden back on the rest of the world. 

What the future holds for recycling and plastic 

Whilst governments and environmental agencies investigate the issues of the plastics recycling industry around the world. The obvious solution to our plastic problem is to produce and use less of it.  

Several EU and UK laws will come into force in the next few years requiring manufacturers to take more responsibility for their materials. And the UK Government’s Waste and Resources Strategy proposes taxing companies that don’t have a minimum of 30 per cent recycled content in their plastics.  

Voluntary initiatives like the UK Plastics Pact and The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment also keep the pressure on to create a more ‘circular economy’. 

At City to Sea we appreciate that some of the issues surrounding recycling are being addressed by the New Plastics Economy Commitment, Plastics Pact and the Waste and Resources Strategy however, we feel there should be a greater focus on the reusability of materials. Whilst recycling is obviously a fantastic solution for dealing with some of the plastics we need, we need to reduce the sheer volume of single-use plastics and shift away from our throwaway culture to value the products we have and start refilling and reusing over recycling.

What you can do  

    • Refuse, Reduce, Reuse and Refill and only then opt for Recycling. Check out our top 12 ways to reduce single-use plastic here.
    • Where reusables aren’t an option, choose materials that have a clear waste stream such as recycled card, paper, aluminium and glass.
    • Tell the Government that you want to see meaningful change with their consultations on waste and plastics. See our comments on the plastic bottle Deposit Return Scheme consultation. 
    • Seek out plastic-free packaging suppliers or those using recycled content e.g. Iceland and Lush. 
    • Where plastics are unavoidable ask producers to increase the recycled content to create a proper market for recycled plastics.
    • Join campaigns such as Plastic Attack to highlight pointless packaging in supermarkets.   

Image of recycling bins

Paweł Czerwiński

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