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Close the loop on plastic, says leading academic - COMMENT UPDATE

Manufacturers, local authorities and the public need to work towards closed loop recycling for plastic items to tackle the waste management problem associated with plastic in the environment, according to a leading academic.

Plymouth University marine scientist Dr Richard Thompson told MRW: We need to work toward closed-loop recycling. This applies to plastic bottles and a wide range of other disposable items of packaging. In other words to reduce the waste management problem associated with plastic in the environment we need to turn used plastic bottles into new ones and turn old carrier bags into new ones.

Thompson has a preoccupation with plastic and plastic bottle water pollution. During his research he has tracked nine different polymer types consistent with plastic bottles all over the UK.

In most cases used plastic is made into inferior products like pallets or garden benches so the plastic is not recycled its down-cycled, he added.

This problem can only be resolved by rethinking the type of polymers and packaging used for single use applications so these products are designed for simple, efficient and relatively complete closed loop recycling. This will mean modifying and simplifying the range of polymers, additives, colourings and adhesives that are used for one-trip packaging so as to focus on the best specification to get goods safely to markets and at the same time help close the loop.

Just look at the different colours of plastic bottles in the shops and if that is not enough, consider the range of different materials used as caps, labels and adhesives. If these are combined in recycling streams then the mixture produced cannot effectively be used in closed loop recycling and down-cycling is the only outcome.

Thompson continued to say that manufacturers need to produce a traffic light system to indicate the extent to which a product can efficiently be closed-loop recycled.

Image: Dr Richard Thompson

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