At last everybody is talking. Thankfully the world is waking up to the environmental debate. Starting with plastics in the ocean we hope this is going to spread to be a fuller, more comprehensive and in-depth conversation about the environment and sustainability, which will at last see people take look at this issue with the seriousness it deserves.
Perhaps now, more than ever, the graphic arts industry, have the greatest opportunity to put across our environmental ethos and show how making a simple change to paper-based communications, paper-based packaging, and paper-based alternatives, can help the environment, by not only lessening the consumption of unsustainable resources, but also through the positive effects of planting and growing more and more trees, using a product that is quickly and easily recycled and reused, and working with producer companies that put the environment and sustainability firmly in the centre of their businesses.
A heartfelt ‘thank you’ Sir David! Since the wonderful Blue Planet, with our national hero David Attenborough, highlighted the huge problem of plastics in the seas – and the terrible environmental impacts that this is having – the whole world is taking notice of this problem. Thank you, Mr Attenborough.
Of course, this is something that all Earth Island’s magazines – Print Solutions, Packaging Solutions, and of course Green Solutions – have been writing about for some years. Yet, what is needed is a public and respected figure such as David Attenborough to connect with the general public and all of a sudden it is big news – and we really couldn’t be happier!
It is estimated that 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic have been produced since the 1950s. Research indicates that without urgent action to cut demand this is likely to be 34 billion tonnes by 2050. By which time, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish! That is not just a throwaway statistic. That is absolutely earth shattering – in more ways than one!
The ‘cut plastics’ message has been bolstered by the government’s own 25 Year Environment Plan, where ‘avoidable plastic waste will be eliminated by the end of 2042’. Yet, 2042 is a long way off, and by then, if we do nothing now, the earth will have been impacted so badly that we will have gone past the point of return. We need to act now – in 2018 – not in 2042. We need to act today. We need to act fast. And, we all need to take responsibility for our actions at home, at work and at play.
Keith Taylor is Green MEP for the South East and a member of the European Parliament’s Environment Committee. In response to the government’s announcement, he said: ‘Theresa May rightly identified the scourge of plastic pollution as one of the most urgent problems facing Britain and the planet. Sadly, however, the announcement of the 25 Year Environ-mental Plan provided scant detail of any policies the Government hopes to implement to actually tackle the issue. The Prime Minister also completely failed to acknowledge that to have any hope of winning the fight against a plastic pollution problem that has no respect for borders, it is essential Britain works closely and collaboratively with its neighbours.’
The government has already extended the 5p plastic carrier bag charge to all retailers in England. To date, we have used nine billion fewer plastic bags as a direct consequence of introducing the charge to inject new funding into plastics innovation through a bid into the government’s £7 billion research and development pot. This is great, but why it does not simply outlaw plastic bags completely and allow the use of sustainable and biodegradable paper-based bags is beyond me – but that is a rant for another day!
And, why is this research money going only to ‘plastics’ innovation? What about some government funding for more sustainable alternatives such as paper or paperboard? Our papermaking industry in the UK has been in decline for decades – not due to lack of knowledge and skills, but mostly due to past governments turning a blind eye to the problems of running a competitive industry in a European market. Yet, the few mills that we now have left are at the pinnacle of creative innovation – and all are hugely successful in their environmental work, pioneering and leading the world on processes such as one use coffee cup recycling.
But, to come back to the oceans. In the UK alone, during its recent Great British Beach Clean Up, the Marine Conservation Society found 718 pieces of litter for every 100 metre stretch of beach surveyed, and of this rubbish from food and drink made up at least one fifth. Prime minister Theresa May said, ‘This truly is one of the great environmental scourges of our time. We must reduce the demand for plastic, reduce the number of plastics in circulation and improve our recycling rates. To tackle it we will take action at every stage of the production and consumption of plastic.’
So, a call to arms for all of us? Well, we have heard from many environmental organisations about the problem. We have seen many schemes – from school children cleaning up beaches to free water refill stations and the ‘ditch plastic straws’ campaign – calling for a reduction in plastics. Many of these fine people have been kind enough to mention that there is an alternative to plastics – paper based products, which are biodegradable, sustainable and more eco-friendly.
Committing – Research by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has found that the equivalent of one dumper truck’s worth of plastic enters the oceans every minute, and by 2050 it forecasts there could be more plastic (by weight) in the ocean than fish. Today, only 14% of plastic packaging gets collected for recycling.
Big brands are already committing to reduce their plastics. This is a massive opportunity for packaging producers and designers who can offer more sustainable options like paper.
Unilever, for instance, has called for the consumer goods industry to step up its efforts to tackle the mounting challenge of ocean plastic waste and create a circular economy for plastics.
One year after Unilever made its commitment to ensure 100% of its plastic packaging was fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, CEO Paul Polman welcomed news that ten other companies have made similar pledges. These include big names such as Amcor, evian, L’Oréal, Mars, Marks & Spencer, PepsiCo, The Coca-Cola Company, Unilever, and Walmart. Other brands such as McDonald’s Waitrose, Tetra Pak and Iceland have also made commitments to reduce, or completely eliminate plastics from their supply chains.
Unilever’s CEO Paul Polman said, ‘Addressing the issue of ocean plastic is a shared responsibility – all stakeholders in the value chain must work together in partnership to find effective solutions. However, there is no doubt that the response from the consumer goods industry will be amongst the most critical in determining the speed at which positive change takes place. We are at a critical juncture.’
Unilever has made good progress on reducing its waste footprint. Since 2010, the waste associated with the disposal of its products has decreased by 28% and the weight of its packaging has reduced by 15%. The company also stopped sending non hazardous waste to landfill from its manufacturing sites in 2015. But Unilever is just one brand owner who will have to replace its plastics with alternatives. It is estimated that the companies who have signed up to date influence more than six million metric tonnes of plastic packaging each year.
Nearer to home, the BBC is also introducing a three step plan to remove single use plastic from its operations by 2020. Plastic cups and cutlery will be scrapped by the end of 2018, ending the use of around two million plastic cups used by visitors and staff across the BBC’s sites a year. Several sites have already begun to remove plastic cups from kitchens and replace with glasses wherever possible. This will be rolled out to all BBC offices. Plastic containers will be removed from canteens by 2019 starting with a pilot in Salford, where the company is trialling a coffee cup recycling scheme.
The BBC aims to be completely free of single use plastic across by 2020. Discus-sions will take place over the coming months with current suppliers and services to assess when further changes can be introduced, cutting the amount of single use plastic in other parts of its operations such as coffee cups, packaging of products it buys and catering on location. The company also states that any new contracts which come up for tender will also include the requirement to cut single use plastic.
Following on from Blue Planet II, BBC One has commissioned a 90 minute special with science and wildlife presenter Liz Bonnin setting out to reveal the full scale of the world’s plastic problem and explore ways in which science can offer a solution. Tony Hall, BBC director general, said: ‘Like millions of people watching Blue Planet II, I was shocked to see the avoidable waste and harm created by single use plastic. We all need to do our bit to tackle this problem, and I want the BBC to lead the way. Scrapping throwaway plastic cups and cutlery is the first step, and with our plan, I hope we can have a BBC free of single use plastic altogether.’
Just don’t make them! If we all banned plastic bottles from the workplace, the UK would save 3.9 billion bottles from being produced by 2020. The saving would amount to 156,000 tonnes of plastic a year. These are the findings of office provider Desk.co.uk which is spear-heading a campaign to have all single-use plastic bottles outlawed by 2020.
Jonathan Ratcliffe, the spokesman for the company, commented: ‘Thirty per cent of all plastic drinking bottles are used in the workplace, that works out at a staggering 3.9 billion bottles a year in the UK being made for what purpose? What is wrong with using a glass and a tap for crying out loud!’ He continued, ‘You have people sitting at work drinking from single-use plastic bottles when a walk to the kitchen to refill a glass would help cut over 156,000 tonnes of plastic from being produced in the first place.’
According to RecycleNow statistics, Britons get through:
- 480 plastic bottles a year per household.
- 35 million plastic bottles per day nationally.
- 13 billion plastic bottles a year nationally (2016).
According to BusinessWaste.co.uk, the biggest saving that can be made in terms of energy is not producing things in the first place, and like the smoking ban, UK lawmakers have to take enforce such a change.
It has been revealed that 44% of plastic bottles do not get recycled by households, the fears are that businesses throw even more than that away.
‘Recycling plastic is well and good, but if we didn’t make the things in the first place it just wouldn’t be an issue,’ said Jonathan. ‘There is a huge push by office providers up and down the country to reduce both waste and energy consumption and we need help. We need the government to step in.’
Recent years have seen a huge increase in the amount of offices using water fountains – but even these aren’t without their environmental impact. Plastic cups, the water fountains and the water bottles themselves are all plastic and cost resources to move around.
The Mayor of London has announced a plan to build a network of water fountains in London in a push to reduce our love of one use plastic bottles, whilst many shops such as Neal’s Yard, supermarkets, and malls are now switching on to the ‘refill station’ initiative, whereby a ‘tap’ is provided for shoppers to refill reusable water containers for free. ‘We are 100% behind Mayor Khan with his efforts to totally discourage bottles, however his plans simply do not go far enough for us. We would like to see a policy towards phasing them out altogether,’ added Jonathan.
Louise Green, head of sustainability at Neal’s Yard Remedies, said: ‘We already have sink stations with taps on the shop floor of many of our stores so it made sense to allow people to fill up when they drop by. We want to offer people a convenient way to stay hydrated so they don’t need to keep buying plastic bottles and contribute to the global issues around plastic waste.’
This issue will continue to be debated, but we really need to ensure that we do more than ‘talk’. Action is needed and it is needed now. Thankfully, there are alternatives – many of which come from our own industry. We really do need to shout about it more though, otherwise the world will continue to scratch its head and say, ‘what on earth will we do if we don’t have plastics’ and governments will continue to pump billions into plastics research.
We really do need to make this a cohesive, coherent and concerted effort to spread the love, and the truth, about paper based products further. Now is our time, and we would be foolish to miss this amazing opportunity.
Additionally, did you know…
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has awarded VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland for a packaging solution made of.
VTT is one of the five prize winners, between whom the foundation splits a one million dollar prize. The new material can extend the shelf life of food, while also reducing food waste and the worldwide microplastics problem.
As material, cellulose is safe, renewable, recyclable and compostable. VTT developed a compostable and lightweight packaging material by combining cellulose films with different, but complementary properties.
The plastic like packaging material is suitable for dry and greasy products, such as nuts, cereals, coffee, condiments and raisins. The greatest benefits can be reached when the material is used for packaging products with a long shelf life.
In terms of properties, the material is highly competitive or in many cases even better than the currently available biodegradable bio-plastics. With minor modifications, it can be produced with existing production machinery. Optimisation of cellulose layers produces excellent packaging properties.
The packaging can be produced by combining cellulose films with different properties. The flexible and transparent lightweight material protects the product from atmospheric gases and humidity. It also forms a barrier against the grease or mineral oil in the product. The package can be sealed by heating.
‘By optimising the layer structure, we can improve the technical properties and reduce the amount of materials used. If the package was manufactured of one cellulose based material only that would meet all the requirements for a good packaging material, the package would be very thick and heavy,’ said Ali Harlin, research professor at VTT. He estimates that the packaging material can be commercialised within three to five years.
On 15 August 2017, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation announced a prize aimed at seeking new materials to solve the global micro-plastics problem. The matter is urgent: it has been estimated that every year more than eight million tonnes of plastic waste ends up in oceans.
‘In a New Plastics Economy, plastics will never become waste or enter the ocean in the first place. To get there will require new levels of commitment and collaboration from industry, governments, designers and start ups. I hope these innovations will inspire even more progress, helping to build a system in which all plastic materials are reused, recycled or safely composted,’ said Dame Ellen MacArthur.
Also, did you know…
A new collaborative initiative will help turn the tide on the UK’s growing issue of plastic waste – if all of the plastic bottles that are not collected for recycling in the UK each year were placed end to end, they would go around the world 31 times.
The ambitious UK initiative will involve collaborative action and commitment by businesses, industry, governments, local authorities, NGOs, media and society at large, to re-define what is possible and create a plastic system that works – a circular economy where plastic is valued and never becomes waste.
The initial focus will be on plastic packaging and will aim to:
- Eliminate unnecessary and problematic single use plastic packaging.
- Make sure all plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable.
- Significantly increase the collection and recycling of plastic packaging.
- Increase recycled content in plastic packaging to drive demand for recycled material.
- Impassion and enable citizens to play their part in reducing plastic packaging waste and litter.
The holistic initiative is currently in development by sustainable production and consumption experts WRAP, and is a joint partnership with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
Marcus Gover, CEO at WRAP, said: ‘So far the solutions to plastic waste have been piecemeal. I am pleased to be leading this holistic initiative which will transform the UK’s plastics system. Working with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, we will bring together every ‘body, business and organisation’ involved in the lifecycle of plastics to make the move from a throw away culture to one where resources are used over and over again.’
Dame Ellen MacArthur said: ‘Creating a circular economy for plastics amounts to a huge opportunity for the economy as well as providing a longer term benefit for the environment. Achieving it will require close collaboration and significant commitment from industry, government, and society at large. We are delighted to work with WRAP to help unleash such collaboration here in the UK, as a first national implementation initiative of our global New Plastics Economy initiative.’
And, did you know…
A new technology could dramatically increase recycling rates, as people should be able to recycle plastics in their own homes, and new build houses should come with the technology ready installed. That is the view of a major British waste and recycling company which says the technology already exists to allow plastics to be either pelleted or turned into useful items.
BusinessWaste.co.uk says that while the technology isn’t suitable for every home, it is a major step toward making the UK a 100% recycling economy. ‘We are very much at the ‘early adopters’ stage with this concept,’ said BusinessWaste.co.uk spokesperson Mark Hall, ‘but this has the potential to grow very big indeed.’
Most plastic recycling is done by big companies and involves collecting waste plastics from homes and industry to be shredded and processed. The new process has been developed to allow domestic plastic shredders, much like household kitchen waste disposals. Householders will be left with sorted pelleted plastic waste, which they can either sell back to companies, or use for their own purposes.
Mark foresees a future where householders can just toss unwanted plastics down a chute in their kitchen, and it is shredded and collected ‘behind the scenes’. The potential for the technology is enormous. Mark added, ‘It is literally shred and forget, and the plastic pellets are just taken away.’ But for those who want to take the entire concept to its logical conclusion, waste plastics can be shredded and converted into other plastic products in the home.
‘Plastic pellets are easily converted into the ‘ink’ for 3D printers, and from there, the sky’s the limit,’ said Mark. People already experimenting with everyday household plastic waste say they are turning it into plates, bowls, cups and other items.
With BusinessWaste.co.uk campaigning for a society which recycles its waste as much as possible, the idea of in-home plastic shredding and re-use can only be a good one. ‘We are heading toward a no waste society where everybody’s involved with recycling,’ said Mark. ‘Not everybody has bought into the concept, but there are enough on board who see a future that keeps industry costs down by constant recycling of materials.’
But worryingly, the scary truth is…
- It is estimated that more than eight million tonnes of plastics are dumped in the oceans each year.
- Worldwide, more than one million plastic bags are used every minute.
- More than one million plastic bottles are sold per minute worldwide.
- The production process to make a bottle of water, takes six times more water than that contained within the bottle.
- It can take between 500 and 1000 years for plastics to degrade – if it ever does! That means that the majority of plastics ever produced, still exist on the earth or in the oceans.
- Plastic debris causes the deaths of more than a million seabirds ever year, as well as more than 100,000 marine mammals.
- The plastic debris also gets into food – like shellfish – so you may well be ingesting it too.
- The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is more than twice the size of Texas, with plastic pieces outnumbering sea life six to one. This is the largest of these so called ‘gyres’, but there are four others which are growing.
- Plastics will outweigh fish in the ocean by 2050.
- The cause of all this pollution and environmental degradation? Us!
It’s time to put this right and for the paper, print and packaging industry to make sure it’s creativity and sustainability is known by all.