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Archive for September, 2011

A taxing problem

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

The debate goes on as to whether it’s a good idea to place a tax on plastic carrier bags. Evidence seems to show that the volume of plastic carrier bags might fall when they are taxed, but that consumption of alternatives increases. According to the USA’s Packaging and Business Films Association, the result is that limited resources are consumed more quickly and more material ends up in landfill sites.

A bag tax is levied in a number of American states and there has been considerable research on the environmental effects, with many studies showing that the net result is negative through increased exhaust emissions, more congestion on the roads and more waste going to landfill.

The Republic of Ireland’s carrier bag tax led people who had been reusing plastic bags as bin liners and for collecting pet droppings to purchase heavier-gauge refuse sacks. As a result, many claimed, there was no major change in the total tonnage of plastic bags used in the country.

What’s more, manufacturers of plastic bags claim that they are less polluting than paper bags during production. Studies by Winnipeg Varsity demonstrate that plastic bag production uses only one third of the energy, results in half the pollution and needs only one eighth of the raw material required by equivalent paper bag manufacture.

Plastic bag reuse is also a strong factor in the argument. According to research by the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (defra), plastic carriers are reused by eighty percent of homes. At the end of its useful life, plastic waste can be used in several European nations for waste incineration, as the energy released has greater calorific value than coal. The plastic film industry encourages more clean incineration of waste to help reduce dependence on landfill but it must be remembered that carrier bags take up a mere 0.3% of landfill.

WRAP reveals plastics recycling breakthroughs

Monday, September 26th, 2011

WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) has revealed that it could soon be possible to recycle almost all plastic packaging waste from domestic environments. Although over 300,000 tonnes of plastic packaging is collected for recycling each year – including a large number of plastic carrier bags – more than a million tonnes ends up going to landfill sites due to the problems of collecting and recycling films, detecting and sorting black plastics and the lack of high-value markets for non-bottle plastics.

WRAP – which works in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to help businesses and individuals reap the benefits of reducing waste – has identified a type of black plastic which, unlike conventional black plastics, can be detected by sorting systems in materials recovery facilities (MRFs). In a series of trials funded by WRAP, methods have also been identified to recycle complex laminated plastics, plastic films and polypropylene (PP) – materials that would typically be destined for landfill.

The tests found that, by using non-carbon pigments in the manufacture of black plastics, it is possible to create a material that is almost identical in colour but which can be identified by the type of optical sorting equipment used in MRFs. This development, WRAP believes, could lead to the widespread recycling of the most common plastic used in packaging into high-value, single-polymer materials.

For complex laminated packaging – as used in toothpaste and cosmetics tubes – another trial has found a way to recover the layer of high-value aluminium that is sandwiched between plastics. WRAP estimates that the 140,000 tonnes of this laminated packaging in the UK waste stream has an aluminium content of around 13,500 tonnes.

A further trial has resulted in a technique that could recycle post-consumer PP back in to material suitable for food-grade applications. Further work is required, but WRAP believes this development could help to grow high-value markets for recycled PP. It could also result in significant environmental benefits as retailers begin to use it in their packaging.

Interestingly, a method has also been developed that cleans and recycles contaminated film, producing a pellet with a sales value of £400 to £500 per tonne. The cost of sending this material to landfill is currently around £80 per tonne, so WRAP says the advantages of recycling this material are clear.

Commented Marcus Gover, Director of Closed Loop Economy at WRAP, “When we first looked at recycling non-bottle plastic packaging back in 2007, we carried out detailed studies to make sure it would be technically and economical viable. We also carried out a thorough life-cycle assessment to make sure it was the best environmental option. We’re now seeing this recycling becoming a reality, creating jobs and re-invigorating the manufacturing industry in the UK, reducing our reliance on exports.” He continued, “There have been, and there are still, barriers to overcome and WRAP will continue to work closely with the industry to develop these new methods and technologies so that, in the future, local authorities can offer their residents a way of recycling even more of their plastic packaging.”

Co-op hits out at Scottish bag tax

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

The Co-operative Group has become the latest organisation in the retail sector to voice its concerns over the proposed plastic bag tax in Scotland.

Becky Toal, the group’s Environmental Programme Manager, laid out the case against the tax at an environmental committee meeting in the Scottish Parliament recently. Arguing against the proposed levy of 10p on plastic bags across Scotland, Ms Toal said that, while the Co-op backed the ethos of waste management, it feared the bag tax would have a negative overall effect on the environment and might even result in violence in its stores.

“The Co-op is committed to seeking new ways of minimising the impact of industry on the environment,” Ms Toal told the committee. “We firmly support the Scottish Executive’s desire to tackle the problem of waste and have introduced a raft of environmentally-friendly initiatives over the years to reduce the environmental impact of our trading activities.”

“The Co-operative Group and other societies trading within Scotland do not believe the current proposal is a workable solution to the challenge of minimising the environmental impact of plastic carrier bags,” she continued.

Ms Toal argued that the Co-op agreed with Scottish Retail Consortium’s view that plastic carrier bags are not a significant contributor to litter pollution. The Co-op, she explained, also agreed with the SRC that customer pressure to replace plastic bags with paper bags would undo the work of the bag levy. The SRC has argued that paper bags have a higher environmental impact in terms of production than plastic bags. In addition, as paper bags are 4-5 times more voluminous than plastic ones, more deliveries are required to get them to stores, adding to road miles, congestion and emissions.

Ms Toal also added that the Co-op feared that customers might start a backlash, with the risk of violence in stores. “Store-based colleagues would be likely to face significant customer challenge to the introduction of the levy,” she said. “The rise of physical and verbal abuse faced by many employees in the retail sector has been well charted by Usdaw in its Freedom From Fear campaign. If responsibility for communicating about the levy rests with retailers and retail employees, they would be likely to face uncertainty, at best, and annoyance, at worst, from consumers.”

Regional promotional market analysis shows the power of the South

Monday, September 12th, 2011

Sourcing City, the leading online trade sourcing and lead generation service supplier, recently published a geographical analysis of the UK’s promotional merchandise distributors, which makes interesting reading.

The overall size of the promotional merchandise market – including all types of carrier bags, among a wealth of other products – in the UK & Ireland amounts to some £715 million. Sourcing City found that distributors in the South of England account for almost £340 million of this figure – in other words, around 50% of the entire market.

Looking at the 2032 distributor companies, Sourcing City found that the average distributor size in Greater London is over double that of companies in Central England. Over 50% of all distributors with a turnover in excess of £1 million are based in Southern England, whereas around 14% of £1m+ distributors are located in the Midlands and only 18% in the North.

Greater London is the largest regional area, accounting for over £108 million, followed by Central England in second place and the Southeast comes in third with £101 million of sales.

Welsh Assembly urged to abandon bag charge

Friday, September 9th, 2011

The Carrier Bag Consortium (CBC) has called on the Welsh Assembly to abandon its plans to introduce a bag levy next month.

The CBC says that the Welsh authorities should take heed of the findings of the Environment Agency, whose report on carrier bags, published in February, found that cotton bags were no greener than plastic ones.

Wales will charge 5p for carrier bags from 1 October, with money from the charge being passed on to environmental charities rather than going into the government’s coffers.

Paul Marmot, CBC Chairman, said, “The Welsh tax flies in the face of science. Now is the time for Wales to catch up with scientific consensus instead of blindly following the greenwash. The fact is that the carbon impact of a carrier bag is so small as to barely register when measured against the overall impact of households.” He continued, “The average daily car usage of 30 miles – less than a single trip from Cardiff to Swansea – has an equivalent CO2 impact to the number of carrier bags used by someone from Wales every seven years.”

A spokesperson for the Welsh Government commented, “We realise the charge will not solve all our environmental problems but it does deliver an important message about the need for us all to lead much more sustainable lives and take better care of the world’s resources. Recent figures demonstrate that the forthcoming charge is helping to drive down carrier bag use in Wales as, while carrier bag use in other parts of the UK is on the increase, here in Wales it is continuing to fall. This is because people here know about the charge and are actively preparing for it.”

Environment and Sustainable Development Minister, John Griffiths, said, “I am proud that we in Wales are taking the lead in the UK in introducing a charge. This will ensure that people are thinking, and talking, about the problem of single use carrier bags. They are a waste of resources, a problem as litter and a symbol of the throwaway society.”

In response, Mr Marmot said, “We appeal to the minister to make a commitment to a full and open review of this policy as soon after implementation as possible and before too much damage is done in misleading consumers about the real credentials of lightweight plastic bags.”

He added, “This is an unnecessary tax on the Welsh people. It is not the time to penalise consumers when they can least afford it. Government research shows that 76% of households put their free issue carrier bags to secondary uses such as bin liners and, once deprived of this valuable resource, will end up paying for heavier duty bin liners with no net environmental gain.”