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UK, EU ‘clutching at straws’ in dealing with plastic waste, says Axion Polymers

Jolly Sunshine Limited | Updated: Jul 05, 2018

As big as the plastic waste problem is, particularly in developing nations in Southeast Asia and developed countries such as China, banning plastic straws, drink stirrers and cotton swab sticks in the European Union and the U.S. seems like small potatoes. Game supply and game card sleeve and trading card sleeve and soft card holder.

UK-based Axion Polymers (Manchester), part of the Axion Group, released a statement on the issue. “In banning plastic drinking straws, coffee cups and other single-use plastics, the UK government and NGOs seem to be ignoring the really big issue—the exportation of waste plastics that are ending up in the world’s oceans,” said the statement. Game supply and game card sleeve and trading card sleeve and soft card holder.

“The actual tonnages of these minor fractions of single-use plastics are tiny in comparison to the big issue,” said Keith Freegard, Director of Axion Polymers, a Manchester-based plastics recycler. It’s a view “that is shared by other industry experts,” he added. Game supply and game card sleeve and trading card sleeve and soft card holder.

The UK traditionally exports around 450,000 tons per year of plastic packaging waste to Asia. During the first quarter of 2018, the UK shipped less than 5,000 tons to China, noted Freegard, compared with 72,000 tons that were shipped to China in Q1 of 2017. Nearly 68,000 tons were shipped to other Asian countries such as Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Sri Lanka in Q1 2018 compared with 42,000 tons in Q1 of 2017. Game supply and game card sleeve and trading card sleeve and soft card holder.

Freegard added that 82% of ocean plastic originates in Asia/Pacific countries. “If we were worried about standards of residual waste disposal in China, then we should be even more concerned about waste treatment infrastructure in these less-developed countries,” he said. “This, of course, begs the question: ‘How much of the 450,000 tons per year is actually unrecyclable?’ Game supply and game card sleeve and trading card sleeve and soft card holder.

“Sadly, I think, along with many others in this industry, that quite a significant percentage of plastic waste from the UK household curbside collection stream is ending up in rivers, and subsequently the oceans,” Freegard continued. “Rather than wasting taxpayers’ money on plastic straw consultation, what UK government should be doing is finding out exactly how much of the exported waste to all those countries is being turned into really high-grade plastic. And what is happening to the fraction that is not being properly recycled? Around 15 to 20%, I guess. Is that going straight into the oceans? If it is, we’ve got a dreadful system!” Game supply and game card sleeve and trading card sleeve and soft card holder.

Sharing Freegard’s views is Jessica Baker, Director at Chase Plastics Ltd., a UK plastics reprocessing company with more than 50 years’ experience. “Banning straws and other single-use plastics when the oceans are filling with our exported plastic is like fiddling while Rome burns,” commented Baker. “It will do very little to change the problem of plastics in our oceans.” Game supply and game card sleeve and trading card sleeve and soft card holder.

Baker suggests that the solution is to make products more recyclable and collect and reprocess them in the UK. “Exported plastics should be of a sorted, single polymer stream or format, so that overseas reprocessors do not have to re-sort it and throw out what they can’t use,” said Baker. “Only this is going to address our contribution to the problem of ocean plastic.” Game supply and game card sleeve and trading card sleeve and soft card holder.

Obviously, one of the best answers to the problem is not the minor feel-good solution of banning straws, stirrers, cups and other single-use plastic products but to implement met hods in which co-mingled plastics can be processed together into oil or used in waste-to-energy facilities. Game supply and game card sleeve and trading card sleeve and soft card holder.

An article in Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN) from May 29, 2018, by the American Chemical Society, noted that PlasticsEurope, Europe’s leading plastics industry association, hit back at the proposed ban and restrictions: “Plastic product bans are not the solution,” it said, urging the European Commission not to take shortcuts and warning that alternatives to plastics may not be more sustainable. Rather than plastics, PlasticsEurope blames the problem on lack of a waste management infrastructure and “inappropriate littering behavior.” Game supply and game card sleeve and trading card sleeve and soft card holder.

That’s something that I’ve brought to the forefront repeatedly over the past few months, but environmental groups as well as the bio-based plastics groups continue to fight any alternatives to recycling. For example, François de Bie, the Chair of industry association European Bioplastics, said, “Bioplastics can offer sustainable and safe alternatives for some of these identified products.” However, he notes in the C&EN article, “the proposed law remains vague regarding the use of alternatives.” Game supply and game card sleeve and trading card sleeve and soft card holder.

Phil Conran from 360 Environmental echoed the concerns of Chase Plastics’ Baker: “It is clear that plastics are being exported that would fail the Transfrontier Shipment Regulations quality requirements if containers were checked. One of the issues we face is a very loose export control system with little information available to the agencies before material is exported. Exporters of green list material have no legal requirement to submit documentation and, consequently, the agencies are left looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack. There is an urgent need for export regulatory reform alongside measures to address the vast amount of unrecycled plastic that make a much greater contribution to global ocean litter than these small-volume items,” said Conran. Game supply and game card sleeve and trading card sleeve and soft card holder.

Freegard concludes in his commentary that authorities should follow the price of exported plastics to accurately measure the true levels of contaminants in waste plastics leaving the UK. He points out that some low-grade mixed plastics cost a ‘gate fee’ to export, yet will contain high percentages of waste in the bales. Many exporters are simply accessing low-cost, poorly-regulated waste disposal routes in third world countries. “What we need is a much more rigorous and thorough methodology to accurately measure and quantify the split between recyclable plastics and the tons of unrecyclable waste in the containers leaving our shores,” he stated, noting that the UK is already 15 to 20 years late in reacting to this issue and turning it into an economic growth opportunity. Game supply and game card sleeve and trading card sleeve and soft card holder.

“Unless our government recognizes what dreadful environmental damage this huge waste export stream might be doing, and start to put in place some clear legislative drivers that underpin the growth of an economically viable plastics recycling industry, only them can we be truly responsible for the waste that we produce,” Freegard said. “It’s no longer good enough to export it overseas, and hope for the best. We’ve got to be seen to be recycling as much as we can through well-regulated businesses operating under our own legislative waste structure. Game supply and game card sleeve and trading card sleeve and soft card holder.

“This is so much more than cotton buds and straws. We are sending our collected plastics out of sight and out of mind. The UK government has to address this moral issue—and stop wasting time on a drinking straw consultation!” Game supply and game card sleeve and trading card sleeve and soft card holder.

Axion produces recycled structural composite girders, pilings and railroad ties from post-consumer and industrial recycled plastics. The company needs 100,000 pounds of material daily to manufacture its products. The group works with a wide range of clients within the recycling and process industries on the practical development of new processing and collection methods. Game supply and game card sleeve and trading card sleeve and soft card holder.