Sustainability: The key to an environmental future
During last week’s Budget speech, Chancellor Philip Hammond announced government proposals to call for evidence on how taxes could help tackle the issue of packaging waste and in particular, single-use plastic.
Part of the Government’s 25-year environment strategy, the latest proposal will follow the levy on plastic bags which has seen 9 billion fewer bags used since the 5p charge was introduced. It is believed the Chancellor will ask scientists, manufacturers, and retailers to submit detailed reports to the Treasury in the New Year.
As the government looks at taxes and charges to help prevent pollution and protect the planet, the new proposal is expected to take into account another government consultation on deposit return schemes aimed at drinks containers, according to the finance ministry.
Mr. Hammond commented, “Along with the Environment Secretary, I will investigate how the tax system and charges on single-use plastic items can reduce waste”. He added, “I want the UK to become a world leader in tackling the scourge of plastic”.
The chancellor referenced the BBC series Blue Planet II which showed a dead baby pilot whale being dragged along by its mother. The programme appeared to suggest the cause of death was due to poisonous plastic, a claim made without supporting evidence.
Although rarely reported in the media, many within the plastics industry are already initiating rigorous and robust best practices and there are a number of contributing factors to this on-going problem backed by research data that reveals some interesting figures.
Research indicates that 80% of the plastic found in the ocean is said to have come from land-based sources, with the remainder the result of water-related activities.
Land-based sources can include landfills, rivers and floodwaters, industrial outfalls, discharge from stormwater drains, untreated municipal sewage and general public littering of coastline beaches. Water-related marine litter can be the result of activities from the fishing industry, shipping, offshore mining, and extraction as well as illegal dumping at sea and discarded fishing gear.
A number of reports suggest that discharges of plastic are spread around the planet from the 192 countries with coastal borders, with as few as 20 countries accounting for 83% of the mismanaged plastic waste entering the ocean.
According to the British Plastics Federation (BPF)*, research shows the largest source of leakage of plastic items into the oceans is from a small number of Asian and Pacific Rim territories, namely China, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Egypt, Malaysia, Nigeria and Bangladesh.
Other research shows that 88% - 95% of plastic in the ocean comes from just 10 rivers, none of which are in Europe. Indeed, The Ellen MacArthur Foundation^ backed up this data by stating that 98% of the litter in our oceans emanate from countries outside Europe and the United States. This clearly illustrates that some of the problems may well stem from territories without adequate waste systems in place.
Although the plastics industry is often portrayed in the media as the main culprit for this environmental problem, it is widely regarded that plastic and other items mainly enter the environment due to a combination of irresponsible behavior or a lack of appropriate waste infrastructure.
For example, the United Nations estimates that at least 2 billion people worldwide still lack access to solid waste collection, with the BPF adding that consumers should be provided with the opportunity to do the right thing with easily available developed waste infrastructures to help alleviate the ongoing problem.
The BPF went on to reinforce this by pointing out in a recent statement that too many people are left relying on dump sites, often located near oceans or waterways, and as a consequence, it is inevitable that plastic leakage will occur.
Many believe that improved waste infrastructure services along with responsible consumer behavior through education and awareness could go somewhere towards solving a number of the current issues.
Earlier this year at the Hamburg G20 Summit, a Marine Litter Action Plan was proposed and welcomed by the World Plastics Council†, who commended the various states for their commitment to substantially reducing marine litter and its impacts by 2025.
The Chairman of the World Plastics Council (WPC), Abdulrahman Al-Fageeh said, “The global plastics industry is already working with leaders in regions where ocean plastic inputs are highest, to ensure that waste management infrastructure is a priority. We look forward to sharing knowledge and expertise with G20 leadership”.
The G20 Marine Litter Action Plan states;
Realising the global nature of the challenge of marine litter, we will work together to promote and initiate measures and actions at local, national, and regional levels to prevent and reduce marine litter. We recognise that the lack of effective solid waste management, wastewater treatment, and stormwater systems, coupled with unsustainable production and consumption patterns, are primary land-based sources and pathways of marine litter.
There is swelling scientific consensus, backed by the plastics industry, that the development of integrated and sustainable waste management infrastructures in rapidly emerging nations where there is a lack of such systems needs to be made a priority in order to tackle growing global ocean litter issues.
Joe Maynard, Managing Director at Spectra Packaging said, “We believe there is urgent need for collective responsibility when dealing with packaging and its environmental impact. Finger-pointing and singling out is simplistic and makes good copy for the headline writers, however, there have been a number of claims recently that lack any supporting evidence. There needs to be an understanding that sustainable measures are already being taken by most suppliers and often the cause of the problem can lay elsewhere. The key is to identify the source of the problem and help”.
In Spectra’s case, the company takes its environmental responsibilities very seriously.
On-going initiatives coupled with robust sustainable practices play a huge role. The company has been actively promoting and supplying biopolymer and post-consumer recycled alternatives for a number of years with many of their customers taking up the offer to go green. Moreover, the UK based converter continues to initiate a raft of in-house measures to operate responsibly, all from their purpose made manufacturing plant which is designed and built to create minimal environmental impact on its surroundings.
Spectra’s purpose built factory includes controlled release surface water for flood prevention by way of two retention ponds, both of which are now full of wildlife. Additionally, the company has installed a naturally draining car park to also minimise potential flood issues.
Other measures taken to ensure the building worked harmoniously with its environment, was the planting of over 600 trees, all regularly maintained on the firm’s large rural site. Local wildlife has also been considered with on-site bat friendly lighting installed outside.
Inside the factory, Spectra have instigated a number of measures too. For example, energy efficient lighting has been installed, with auto lights fitted throughout, including auto dimming lights for external walkways. Furthermore, power factor corrections have been put in for all incoming electricity ensuring Spectra maximise their supply.
The building itself has excellent insulating properties too, with the addition of point of source water heating pumps, which keeps hot water at a lower temperature to reduce energy. Additionally, the smaller tanks mean less water is being heated and heating at source means no loss of heat and energy through lengthy pipework. A free air cooling system has also been integrated into their process water to take advantage of ambient air temperatures throughout the building.
The impact of the manufacturing process itself has also been closely considered. For example, Spectra utilise on-site granulators, re-using the waste when possible before recycling unwanted products back into the recycling chain. Additionally, variable speed compressors are also used to only produce what is required and the very latest state-of-the-art Servo Drive technology has been introduced in all machinery for greater energy reduction.
As well as all the environmentally friendly measures for the factory, Spectra have also ensured that all their supplied packaging, such as cardboard packs and boxes, are made from recycled materials.
Joe went on to say. “Spectra is proud of its environmental ethos. The measures we take are far-reaching, ingrained within the fabric of the company and done without passing on costs to our customers. Our staff respect our green aims and participate in those measures without a second thought. From disposing and managing waste materials to simply using appropriate waste bins for discarded paper, it comes naturally to us. I truly believe that If the will is there, it can be done, Spectra is proof of that”. He added, “Although we continue to instigate a number of environmental measures, we are fully aware that there is still much more for us to look at”.
It is widely accepted that most plastic produced does not end up in the environment or indeed the oceans, however, more work needs to be done to increase the amount that is actually recycled. Consumer plastic usage has rocketed over recent years and it is recognised that recycling systems and technologies need to keep pace.
Despite recent negative press, the benefits of plastic cannot be underestimated. This incredibly versatile material continues to play an indispensable part of everyday human life with of a boundless range of advantages - the key is how we can sustainably harness the power of plastic without damaging the environment.
Global growth in the use of plastic is due to a wide range of factors. Relatively inexpensive to produce and extremely versatile, plastic is lighter in weight than competing materials and as such can reduce fuel consumption during transportation. Durable, resistant to chemicals, water, and impact, plastic is ideal for safety and hygiene properties in food packaging. However, plastic is a valuable resource and should be collected so we can recycle it into new products or reclaim the energy
Joe said, “As a responsible supplier, we openly welcome the debate on single-use plastics. We support any measures that will minimise the environmental impacts of plastic and will continue to actively provide environmentally friendly alternatives whilst manufacturing responsibly with rigorous waste management and recycling measures”.
*The British Plastics Federation is the most powerful voice in the UK plastic industry with over 500 members across the plastics industry supply chain, including polymer producers and suppliers, additive manufacturers, recyclers, services providers, end users, plastics processors and machinery manufacturers, representing over 80% of the industry by turnover.
The BPF promotes the interests of its Members principally through its four Market Sector Groups and its many common interest Business Groups. The BPF Central Expert Committees address industry wide concerns including Environment, Fire, Product Safety and Industrial Health & Safety.
^ The Ellen MacArthur Foundation was established in 2010 with the aim of accelerating the transition to the circular economy. Since its creation the charity has emerged as a global thought leader, establishing the circular economy on the agenda of decision makers across business, government and academia.
† The World Plastics Council (WPC) is an organization comprised of executives from leading companies that produce plastic resin. The WPC provides a platform for member companies to efficiently address common issues, and to have a common voice on issues with global reach. The WPC was first discussed during an industry trade fair in Dusseldorf, Germany in October, 2013, and was officially launched at a subsequent meeting in Dubai, UAE in November, 2014.
The WPC will work to promote the ethic of sustainability and the responsible use of plastics; represent the global plastics industry to other stakeholders; coordinate and unite efforts to achieve practical solutions; and share best practices from across various regions. The WPC does not replace current national or regional plastics associations, and it will focus its attention on issues that are global or at least multi-regional.