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Posts Tagged ‘plastic’

EU-wide plastic bag ban divides opinion

Friday, February 24th, 2012

Experts are warning that proposals for an EU-wide ban on plastic carrier bags should be based on evidence and not simply political pressure. A ban may form part of proposals to be unveiled next month by the European Commission in its green paper on plastic waste. Many in the plastics industry fear that the document may bow to public opinion expressed in a recent consultation, in which 70% of respondents voted for an outright ban.

In the UK, an e-petition launched very recently to banish plastic bags has already attracted some 650 signatures and is backed by a number of high-profile figures. If the petition reaches 100,000 signatures, it will secure a debate in the House of Commons.

Many industry pundits argue that a ban will lead to an increase in use of alternatives to plastic bags, many of which are more damaging to the environment. Paper bags, for example, use the same amount of oil to make as a plastic bag, but are considerably bulkier to transport, adding to transport miles and increasing carbon footprint. It is also feared that banning single-use carrier bags will lead to people buying plastic bags – instead of simply reusing their grocery bags – for their compost, kitchen refuse and dog waste. Long-life bags such as cotton shoppers need to be used a number of times before they have a lower environmental impact, so it is a question of changing people’s behaviour.

Most retailers object to a ban, preferring a voluntary approach as in France, Germany, Portugal, Hungary and the Netherlands, where retailers have begun charging for plastic bags voluntarily. Italy implemented Europe’s first outright ban on non-biodegradable plastic bags at the beginning of 2011. Denmark, Ireland and Bulgaria charge a plastic bag tax, while Belgium applies a fee that goes straight to a plastics recycling firm.

Northern Ireland to impose carrier bag tax next year

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

A tax on single-use plastic carrier bags of 5p is planned in Northern Ireland in 2013. The announcement was made last week by Environment Minister, Alex Attwood, who said that the tax would rise to 10p by April 2014. The proposals now have to go before the Northern Ireland assembly for approval before becoming law. Under the plans, there will be no charge for multi-use bags in 2013, although they will cost 10p the following year.

Mr Attwood commented, “There is no doubt that carrier bags are a scourge on the environment. Evidence from other countries demonstrates that a bag levy is a simple and effective means to reduce substantially the negative environmental impact of carrier bag consumption. A proposed 10p levy on single use carrier bags and lower cost reusable carrier bags can bring about significant environmental improvement. However I recognise that consumers will need time to change their behaviour and adjust to bringing their own bags when they shop. I therefore propose to discount the charge to five pence in the first year, when the levy will only apply to single-use carrier bags. This will ensure a phased approach to charging.”

The plans are being opposed by some sectors of the business community in Northern Ireland. In an interview with the BBC, Glynn Roberts of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) said, “We are concerned that this is a tax on hard-pressed working families and will add to the burden of red tape, particularly for small shops who will become tax collectors for this new scheme. It’s unclear if it is intended to discourage plastic bag use or if it is a revenue raiser. It has to do one or the other – it can’t do both.”

The move follows a similar tax implemented by the Republic of Ireland in 2002 – which now amounts to 22 cents (18p) – following which usage of plastic bags in the Irish Republic fell by 90%. A similar scheme was recently implemented in Wales and has also significantly reduced the number of bags issued at the tills of retail stores.

Many environmentalists see the move by the Northern Ireland Executive as adding further pressure on David Cameron to introduce similar legislation for England. However, the efficacy of plastic bag taxes has been repeatedly called into question, as evidence from around the world suggests that their introduction results in rocketing sales of bin liners, suggesting that the genuinely ‘single-use’ carrier bag is a rare item indeed.

Plans for ‘compostable’ plastics at London Olympics

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

Amid claims that the London 2012 Olympics will be the greenest in the event’s history, an environmental organisation is hoping that plastic packaging used at the event that is not recyclable will be made from compostable materials.

The NNFCC, the UK’s National Centre for Biorenewable Energy, Fuels and Materials, has agreed to act as an advisor to the Olympics Delivery Authority and London Organising Committee on how renewable packaging can be used at the event. The organisation is helping to create a supply chain for bio-based packaging at the London Olympics and will ensure that materials used comply with European Standard EN13432 (the requirement for packaging recovery through composting and biodegradation).

The NNFCC said this certification would mean that non-reusable, non-recyclable packaging should be suitable for ‘in-vessel’ composting or anaerobic digestion. John Williams, the NNFCC’s Head of Materials, said the body wanted any plastics used at London 2012 that were not recyclable to be made out of certified compostable plastic. The NNFCC is promoting the certification scheme for compostable materials through its UK Renewable Packaging Group, while “raising awareness of the benefits offered by more sustainable materials to key players in the packaging supply chain”.

Mr Williams conceded that the scale of the Olympics venture would be relatively small but added, “2012 is a perfect way to show how waste can be dealt with.” The NNFCC is working with a number of retail brands – including the fast food chain, McDonalds – in the run-up to the event.

Here at the Corporate Carrier Company, we take environmental concerns seriously. As standard, all of our polythene bags are produced from biodegradable plastic. They are also produced in the UK, minimising transport miles. All our UK-produced laminated paper bags are manufactured with paper from approved sustainable sources and the inks used are made from vegetable dyes, making them an eco-friendly option. Whilst we have the option to import bags when longer lead times allow, the vast majority of our laminated paper bags are produced in the UK, minimising transport miles. Of course, our twisted handle paper bags are 100% biodegradable, while our cotton bags are produced from natural, unbleached cotton.

Unilever partners local council for recycling initiative

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

Fast-moving consumer goods giant, Unilever, has announced plans to work in partnership with Torbay Council in a pilot project for mixed plastics recycling. This is the first time Unilever has worked with a council on such a scheme and its decision has been commended by the Waste and Resource Action Programme (WRAP).

The name behind famous household brands such as Wall’s, Flora, Persil, Dove and Knorr will support the council’s new mixed plastics recycling initiative. From December, the 60,000 households in Torbay will be able to recycle their mixed plastics by adding them to their weekly refuse collection, to be sorted in transit. Materials that previously went to landfill that will now be recycled include margarine tubs, noodle pots and ice cream tubs.

Torbay Council’s Executive Lead with responsibility for waste disposal and recycling, Councillor David Thomas, said, “It is thanks to the fantastic efforts of Torbay residents that we have increased the Bay’s recycling rate to 45 per cent. We are aware they would also like to recycle plastics and other items, and we are really pleased that our joint venture company, TOR21, has been able to find outlets for these items. We are also extremely grateful to Unilever for their support for our latest initiative.”

Commenting on behalf of Unilever, Louis Lindenberg, Global Packaging Sustainability Director, said, “Sustainability is at the heart of everything we do at Unilever. In the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, we made a global commitment to halve our environmental impact by 2020 across the life cycle of our products, incorporating a pledge to increase recycling in countries all around the world, including the UK. This project with Torbay Council is a great example of our commitment in action and our way of helping consumers to do their part for the environment.”

About a million tonnes of non-bottle plastic packaging are disposed of by households each year in the UK. With this new programme, Unilever and Torbay Council are demonstrating how this type of packaging can be collected and recycled effectively into valuable resource streams.

Collections sold to pay for funeral of ‘bag lady’

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

Family, friends and neighbours of a collector affectionately known as the ‘bag lady’ are planning to auction off her property to pay the costs of her funeral.

Carol Vaughan, who died recently at the age of 67 at her home in the Black Country’s Great Barr, had amassed a collection of more than 35,000 carrier bags, as well as 600 biscuit tins, 850 mugs and a Guinness World Record-breaking number of soaps. She had became a local celebrity and even recently appeared on ITV’s Daybreak programme, in the show’s ‘Collectorholics’ feature.

Despite her tendency to hoard unusual items – including also ashtrays, watches, cuddly toys and beads – she was not given to collecting cash and the executors of her will claim that there is no money to fund her funeral. Hence the sell-off of the thousands of items that she has collected over the years.

Carrier bag collector passes away

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

A prolific collector of carrier bags who was known affectionately as ‘the bag lady’ has died at the age of 67.

Carol Vaughan of Great Barr in the Black Country had amassed a collection of more than 35,000 carrier bags over a number of years. It wasn’t just bags that took Carol’s eye, however; she also made it into the Guinness Book of Records for having the biggest soap collection, as well as collecting over 600 biscuit tins and 850 mugs. Incredibly, all the items were kept at her rather modest home in Dunedin Road, where she passed away.

Carol recently had a brush with fame, appearing on ITV’s ‘Daybreak’ in its ‘collectorholics’ slot, where she talked about her love of collecting. Tributes have been paid by numerous friends and neighbours, who told how she could “light up a room”.

Winnipeg’s recycling off to a flying start!

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

Many people reuse their carrier bags in inventive ways – as kitchen bin liners, somewhere to put a wet swimsuit after a dip and, of course, for collecting the inevitable when taking Fido for walkies. The ‘Take Pride Winnipeg!’ campaign takes the prize for inventiveness, however, with its recently launched programme that encourages students to collect plastic bags plastic bags for recycling into frisbees.

Dubbed ‘Bag Up Manitoba’ – after the province in which Winnipeg is located – the campaign will run during October at primary schools throughout the area. When originally launched in 2008, the programme included only schools in Winnipeg but the goal this year is to collect half a million plastic bags from 150 schools. ‘Take Pride Winnipeg!’ – a non-profit organisation committed to inspiring civic pride, raising public awareness and promoting citizen responsibility to make the city cleaner and more beautiful – is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

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.”

Carrier bag report removed from EA website

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

Mystery surrounds the decision by the Environment Agency (EA) to remove an influential report from its website. The long-awaited report – which was scheduled for publication in 2007 but did not actually appear until February of this year – was removed from the EA website on 12 April due to ‘a legal query’. Its publication had been broadly welcomed by the packaging industry, as it concluded that cotton bags were actually no greener than plastic bags.

An EA spokeswoman recently told the website packagingnews.co.uk, “We removed the report on the Life Cycle Assessment of Carrier Bags from our website after we received a legal query regarding it. We are making some minor changes to provide clarification on technical points but, at this stage, do not expect the conclusions to change. We plan to publish it again very soon.”

The EA has not revealed the nature of the legal query, nor the identity of the organisation or individual who raised it. The report shows that HDPE bags are almost 200 times less damaging to the environment than the cotton bags favoured by green campaigners, and that they have less than one third of the C02 emissions of paper bags. Thus, in order to offset the small impact of each plastic bag, consumers would have to use the same cotton bag every working day for a year, or use paper bags at least three times before binning or recycling them. Critics of the report, however, have pointed out that its findings totally ignore the effects of plastic bag litter. All this comes at a pivotal moment, as the EU is considering a Europe-wide ban on single-use plastic bags as part of its plans to reduce the impact of plastic waste.