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Plastic is fantastic – if used properly

Simon Ellin

It shows how passionate peo­ple have become about plastics and recycling that 162,000 responses were received by the Treasury to its consultation on tackling the plastic problem.

It should be fantastic news that so many people are now interested since Blue Planet II was broadcast and raised the issue.

Of course, The Recycling Association had also been pushing the idea of better recy­cling through better design and collection before the TV programme. But it certainly helped to raise the profile of this vitally important issue.

In his introduction to the consultation response docu­ment, the chancellor Philip Hammond wrote that the Government will now consider ideas to use tax to encourage more use of recycled plastic in manufacturing and encourage more sustainable design of plastic items.

This is music to my ears and will be for much of the recy­cling sector. Clearly, we will have to wait until the Budget in the autumn to see how Hammond decides to use tax to improve the recyclability of plastics.

The Recycling Association is clear that the system has to be simplified, and that is one of the goals of our ‘Quality First’ campaign. This means that, no matter what the material, it should always be easy for the public to identify how a product can be recycled.

Ideally, we would like products and packaging designed using simple materials that are commonly recycled. Councils should then have as standard­ised a collection system as possible.

Somewhere in the not-so-distant future, we would like to reach the point where a label will say ‘yes, it can be recycled’ or ‘no, it can’t be recycled’ and everyone will know which bin to put the item in.

This should also lead to more recycled content being used because it will be easier to sort material – and there will be more demand for it.

Some items are by necessity single-use and the design already works well. For exam­ple, a plastic milk bottle is light and therefore efficient for transportation, easy to recycle and does not shatter into pieces if dropped.

But there are other items where the chancellor is right to consider whether they add benefit to our environment or, in most cases, cause problems. Plastic-stemmed cotton buds, plastic coffee stirrers and plas­tic straws may all potentially be banned.

However, we also should not forget what a fantastic material plastic is. I would not want to buy bleach in a paper or glass bottle. I like that plas­tic is necessary for the safety features that protect my family in the car. Or the plastic that helps to keep the food we buy fresh by making it last longer.

We have to take this fantastic resource and make it work bet­ter by designing products that are easy to recycle, and create simple collection systems that provide manufacturers with a fabulous raw material.

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