Info about packaging waste - where and how to dispose of it

by Jamie Hunson on May 26, 2010

Packaging waste continues to be a problem for the UK, with over 6.3 million tons of packaging entering British homes every year, at a cost of around £450 per family according to the Government's Waste & Resources Action programme. Manufacturers have come under heavy criticism for producing consumables in excessive packaging with particular angst directed at the producers of Easter Eggs and children's toys, so often wrapped in multiple layers of plastic, cardboard and other materials that all end up in landfill. However the Government has responded to heavy pressure from environmental groups and international concerns and in 2009 the Environment Secretary, Hilary Benn, launched a new strategy to reduce the level of unwanted and unnecessary packaging. A key part of this was to incentivise businesses and simultaneously legislate retailers and manufacturers to play their part in reducing the amount of packaging waste - whilst also encouraging consumers to do their part by recycling what they did consume. The results of this drive have been evident. For example, food packaging has always been the nemesis of the green consumer and the days of shrink wrapped cucumbers, apples and other hard fruits in polystyrene trays and puree tubes in additional cardboard boxes are now seemingly numbered. The traditional market approach is becoming popular once again - loose items in bags, refilled boxes and jars and reusable plastic bags. Many of these companies have signed up to a voluntary agreement scheme to reduce the amount of packaging in which they sell their goods - called the Courtauld Commitment. The 'plastic bag' phenomenon has in fact become a visible symbol of the drive of retailers to play their part in reducing waste, with some supermarkets and other retailers beginning to charge for carrier bags. Marks and Spencer was one of the highest profile examples of this, with its standard carrier bags now costing 5p each and many customers being mightily annoyed by the new pricing policy! Other organisations such as the Co-operative have introduced alternative strategies - degradable carrier bags that break down far more rapidly than standard plastics and thus become less of a burden on the environment. Of course consumers have a huge part to play in this too, being the drivers behind the production of these materials. It is now believed that over 70% of household waste products are eligible for recycling - although in practice we recycle just under a third as a nation, with the rest heading straight for landfill. Plastic continues to be a problem, with many of the materials such as tubs and punnets not being collected for recycling by local schemes. Much of the plastic destined for recycling is shipped to China and comes back in other forms such as toys or plastic bags. Increasingly other strategies are being used, however, such as the use of biodegradable materials that will rot in compost, or by making containers thinner - for example lighter wine bottles and lighter plastics to cover food products. It is widely expected that these materials and approaches will be used all the more in the future as the Government and other pressure groups continue to force businesses and manufacturers to play their part in reducing waste and environmental pollution.

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Source: Writer works for a waste management company in the UK specializing in Glass Recycling
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