There has rightly been much discussion in the media regarding single use plastics.  The issue is that once the item is used, it is discarded. The process of discarding means a loss of the original materials.  However, this loss is dwarfed by the environmental consequences of improper disposal of the single use item. I think the fact that a plastic bag has been found in the Mariana Trench has brought single use plastics to everyone’s attention.

There are two issues that are worth addressing, first, how you ensure that used plastic is disposed of correctly and secondly, how to minimise the use of single use plastics.

Disposal

If single use plastics are disposed of in a proper manner to allow proper recycling then the issue, perhaps, could be mainly solved.  The problem is that they are not disposed of correctly; if they were they would not end up in the stomachs of whales.

We have had domestic plastic recycling of one sort or another since the 1990s.  However, apparently the public still does not get it right after 30 years. This is not surprising as the recycling industry presents a totally confusing array of information on what should and should not be recycled.  For example, the REPAK website states that PET bottles are accepted by most recycling centres but you should check with your local recycling centre first. That is not clear information. The result is, in practice, that the bottle is either going to be put in the black bin or a recycling bin.  One of these may be the wrong bin.

Progress

What is needed is a clear ‘Yes it is recycled’ or ‘No it is not recycled’.  The government has recently taken some steps to improve matters recently with three new recycling symbols, (Widely Recycled, Check MyWaste.ie and Not Yet Recycled). This is an improvement but the user still has to do some research.  And of course ‘Widely recycled’ is not the same as ‘Recycled’

What is really needed is just two symbols, Recycled and Not Recycled.  That could not be clearer, there is now no room for ambiguity. Reducing the potential for confusion is an essential first step to ensure plastic gets disposed of correctly. 

The author, Bob Sutcliffe, is a director of Environmental Efficiency.  The views expressed are his personal views and not necessarily this of Environmental Efficiency.