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Classify plastics by use to reduce waste

Waste plastics could be categorised according to their use so that targeted actions could be developed for each type towards the goal of eliminating avoidable plastic waste by 2042.

A joint report by the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM), the Environmental Services Association (ESA), the Resource Association and WRAP said the different environmental impacts of each category meant individual approaches were needed within an overall policy framework.

In Eliminating Avoidable Plastic Waste by 2042: A Use-Based Approach to Decision and Policy Making, based on research carried out by Resources Future and Nextek, examples were given of how plastics could be placed into these categories:

  • Small format – very short use phase (less than one day): cotton buds, plastic stirrers
  • Medium format – very short use phase (less than one day): disposable cups, takeaway containers
  • Short use phase – (up to two years): food and cosmetics packaging
  • Medium use phase – (between two and 12 years): car parts, electronics
  • Long use phase – (more than 12 years): cladding, window frames

Using these categories would, the report said, focus attention on the impacts of different products and allow actions throughout the supply chain to encourage sustainable design and production choices and stimulate demand for secondary plastics.

The report said that extended producer responsibility had “significant potential” to be developed into a framework to underpin the additional reprocessing capacity, market uptake and consumer communications needed to close the loop on plastics. There should also be more attention paid to non‐packaging plastics.

It called for “a much clearer roadmap for bioplastics” which, it said, if left unchecked could also have “a significant detrimental impact on current plastics recycling”.

CIWM chief executive Colin Church said: “The nation has to find a way to address public concerns about marine plastic pollution while at the same time recognising the role of plastics in modern society. This report helps to clarify some of the decisions we need to make in the forthcoming resources and waste strategy.”

Jakob Rindegren, recycling policy adviser at the ESA, said: “The ongoing debate on plastics has given significant momentum to interventions that seemed unthinkable only a year ago. However, while maintaining this momentum we need evidence‐based decision making in this highly complex area.

“This report contributes to the evidence, and reinforces the ESA’s view that producer responsibility and demand for materials are essential components that should be at the heart of the upcoming resources and waste strategy.”

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