Monday, January 1

The political plastic waste time bomb

The plastic waste time bomb has been ticking for many years or decades. This blog was started as a result of observations of plastic litter around Waterlooville.  Today we hear that China will no longer take UK plastic waste for recycling, some 25% of UK plastic waste in total, and why should they?

European and American companies happily exported industry to China because labour was and still is cheap, in turn British European consumers happily bought Chinese produced goods with British brand names (once produced in the UK, some in Havant), names such as Bush, Clarks, Morphy Richards and Kenwood. We exported our carbon emissions to China and then imported the products to use in our homes which inevitably became waste (partly because the products were not designed to be repaired).

A lack of action at Westminster and at our local Councils has resulted in a lack of recycling facilities and as pointed out previously Hampshire County Council has opted to reduce facilities (a political ideological decision, not one based on technological know how, science or the pseudo science of economics). Hampshire County Council have a record of banning wind turbines and approving the burning of hosuehold waste for energy.

What is wrong with plastic?

You have to distinguish between the material and the product designed to use the material.
You can view plastic as a wonder material that lasts many hundreds of years and this was how it was sold and marketed in the last 60 to 70 years, a cheap and cheerful material that can be used to make dishes, bowls, pipes, clothes, packaging and food wrap etc.

This is fine, these products would last forever wouldn't they?

Unfortunately nature and physics was ignored and of course the products did not last forever, joints break, fractures appear, threads unravel or break, babies out grow the baby products etc. So then the plastic products were buried in the ground (hidden) or burnt (causing polution and carbon emissions).

Manufacturers and governments failed to have a long term plan for the material (a typical fault of industrial economics), they didn't plan how to recycle the materials or even attempted to design recyclable products. Selling, marketing and jobs were more important and maintained a stable society for government to manage. They didn't want to take responsibility or knew they had to.

Today we know that we have to take responsibility. Plastics don't just crack and fracture, plastic threads don't just break, plastics also erode into tiny fibres and microscopic particles, they form dust that will still be in our air, water and earth for hundreds of year and we are adding to this dust as we produce more products. It isn't just waste plastic that you put in a bin that creates microscopic plastic waste, the daily use of plastic products also creates microscopic plastic particles and fibres.

Can we burn all the plastic waste?

When we burn plastic we are in reality using it as a fossil fuel like coal, diesel or petrol. We create particulate pollutants in the atmosphere and toxic residues in the furnace, we also produce carbon emissions in the same way that fossil fuels do when burnt. Climate change is already having an impact on people around the world including us in the UK, this includes migration of species to these isles following changing weather and climate patterns.

The only solutions are as follows:

1. Use no plastics or reserve plastics for very specific and essential uses (medical, military etc).
2. Use biodegradeable plastics that meld into nature after they have been used by us. This is similar to natural materials like wood, cotton, wool etc. They last just long enough to be useful and then return to nature to be used again.
3.Recycle all plastics and invest in extensive recycling facilities. Frankly if a council or Westminster is unwilling to do this then they should be legally enforcing 1 and 2.

Westminster and councils should be legally accountable for any lack of action on their part.