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Plant based materials and how they fix the plastic problem

Fighting against green washing "plant based packaging contaminates waste streams"

The UK Government is on a mission to eradicate PLA (made from corn) from our waste stream, in favour of a recycling based solution to the plastic problem ( this argument assumes that something made from plants is a problem).

The problem with this argument is that it works on three inaccurate assumptions, which are

  1. All materials are the same.
  2. Recycling solves the plastic problem.
  3. PLA is a problem material.

plastic-waste.jfif

  1. All materials are the same

If we look at glass, glass is a brilliant material for it's usage ( drinks taste much better in a glass bottle), glass can be recycled indefinitely along with aluminium, so these are the best materials for their usage but this assumption assumes that plastics are the same as glass and aluminium.

Let's put it this way, glass and aluminium are here for ever where as plastics are temporary solutions.

 

2. Recycling solves the plastic problem

No one wants to talk about the problem with plastic recycling, it's far more politically prudent to sell it as a success story, and there is some truth to this ( Wales is now the third highest recycling nation on earth*) but this avoids talking about the real solution, why use something that needs recycling in the first place, recycling is just recycling a problem because sooner or later we need to do something with plastics when they come to the end of their useful life.

how-many-times-can-plastics-be-recycled.jpg

So when you look at the facts, it's not such a success story , recycling is just recycling a legacy problem and eventually leads to a future problem.

Which is why we just don't understand why no one wants to talk about replacing the material, so recycling is no longer needed.

 

3. PLA is a problem material

This one surprised us when we started in 2018, as how can something that comes from corn be an issue, and yet we heard this as justification for an anti PLA attitude, and it is the view of most UK officials ( a more cynical person than I, would wonder who is advising them), so we have to deal with the legacy problem, rather than just solve the problem.

Let's look at the most common argument

“plant based packaging contaminate the waste streams as they can't tell what is a PLA and what is PET” , but this is sadly not true, it's not that they can't , it's they won't .

Outside the UK they are actively using Near Infra-red machines to sort PLA from PET, so why don't we do this in the UK ?

Money and investment is the only explanation I have.

Let's look at the benefits of compostable over recycling

If we composted all of our packaging and composted it, we could eliminate peat extraction which would reduce the UK's carbon output by an incredible 880,000 tonnes of CO2 per year, now there is a pledge for a COP event.

So the anti PLA approach of the UK Government is actually worsening the UK's carbon output caused by plastic based production and disposal.

 

 

*Wales in 2018 as the fourth highest recycling nation but current figures have Wales at 3rd of 4th but these results are not confirmed yet.

Sources

https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/natural-solutions-climate-change/peatland

https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/peatlands-store-twice-much-carbon-all-worlds-forests

https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/news/devastating-using-peat-uk-horticulture

https://www.sustainableplastics.com/news/pla-successfully-sorted-municipal-mixed-plastic-waste

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/364073818_NEAR-INFRARED_IDENTIFICATION_AND_SORTING_OF_POLYLACTIC_ACID

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