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12 July, 2007


Mentioning the differing recycling services offered by councils, I made the throwaway remark that "few accept plastics".  That reflects my general impression, but wasn't based on any specific evidence.

Another BBC article addresses the point, offering a little greater optimism. Acceptance of certain plastics by councils, even via doorstep collections, has drastically increased in recent years (25% of all the plastic bottles in household waste are now recycled, compared to 3% in 2001). That's to be applauded, but only as a first step – it still means 75% of plastic bottles aren't recycled, and bottles are only one class of plastic waste; the article's opening paragraph claims that only 7% of all UK plastics waste is recycled.

One thing I hadn't appreciated is the range of plastics used in everyday product packaging, which complicates recycling. I did know that margarine tubs are problematic (blended plastics are difficult to reprocess), but not that yoghurt pots are made of polystyrene, unusable in the standard bottle-recycling processes. Maybe that's something for a later stage, if it makes economic sense to establish a national network of polystyrene-reprocessing plants.

Or perhaps the proliferation of different plastics is something for the packaging producers to consider. Do we need such a wide range of plastics?
I can appreciate that some might be unsuitable for use with food, and others unsuitable for use with domestic (yet still rather noxious) cleaning products, but I suspect there could be greater standardisation. If all, say, bleach bottles were made of the same plastic, I imagine that'd generate sufficient quantities of specific waste to support reprocessing plants, whereas a few thousand tonnes (nationally) of each of 10-15 different compounds mightn't be commercially viable.
Without wishing to sound like some Green Party ascetic, I hope relatively-obscure, difficult-to-recycle plastics aren't being used for mere presentational purposes.

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