Every summer, the UK comes alive. With the first rays of sun, the population flocks to beer gardens, beaches and parks, absorbing as much vitamin D as possible before the inevitable showers return. However, this migration creates a problematic situation for nature. All too often, groups will enjoy their time with no concerns for what happens to their waste when they leave. The sight of beer cans, crisp packets and metal canisters is becoming commonplace at beauty spots across the country. Not only does this create additional work for overstretched council budgets, but the amount of litter making its way into waterways and oceans is increasing year on year.
Plastic is a problem for Biodiveristy
A report by Keep Britain Tidy, found that more than half of the country’s parks had to pull additional resources to deal with the growing problem in 2020. With councils clearing on average an additional 57 tonnes of waste from their parks. According to a study by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), at least 8 million tonnes of plastic wind up in our seas each year, accounting for 80% of all marine debris from surface waters to deep-sea sediments.
We are failing nature, with detrimental effects. With the ever increasing volumes of waste being produced across the world, the impact on nature is profound. Marine species ingest or are entangled by plastic debris, which causes severe injuries and deaths, it is estimated that more than 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine animals die from plastic pollution every year . In addition, plastic pollution threatens food safety and quality, human health, coastal tourism, and contributes to climate change.
Accurate capture and segregation of waste will help prevent the growing issues. A campaign has been running across the UK to encourage people to take their waste home with them if they can’t find a bin. However, removing the waste is only the first stage. According to National Geographic, moving to a recycling-only strategy would reduce annual plastic leakage by 34% and would cost an additional $140 billion across the globe. Luckily, in the UK we are fortunate enough to have a robust recycling infrastructure capable of sorting and reprocessing different recyclable materials.
Bywaters, Lea Riverside headquarters is home to the largest undercover materials recovery facility in London – powered by London’s largest solar p.v. retrofit, with 4,000 solar panels affixed to its roof. This state-of-the art facility sorts mixed waste into segregated waste streams before bulking and sending each stream onwards for recycling. This is all done with the help of both dedicated staff and a series of specific machines and technologies, all designed to separate out different materials. A mixture of roll screens, near-infrared optical sorting equipment, magnets, eddy currents, and air tunnels all work to sort waste into streams and sub-streams.
Plastics, plastics, everywhere…
The same National Geographic report found that a strategy focused on reduction and substitution would yield a 52 percent decrease, but would be complicated by a lack of substitutes, resulting in a cost of up to $850 billion. However, companies are looking to break to mould. Bywaters recently partnered with Stroodles, who are looking to fight the problem of plastic pollution with their edible tableware. With the rise of Bio-Plastics, providing unrealistic expectations around how the materials will biodegrade, Stroodles products, made from wheat and water, wheat bran, biscuits or wafer, will biodegrade in the natural environment. What’s more, they pose no risk to wildlife, and could even form a tasty snack.
If bioplastics are not the answer to the plastic problem, then what is? A simple solution is to invest in reusables, whether this is carrying a reusable water bottle, taking reusable cups to the park or bringing your own metal straw out with you. Waste reduction is key to reducing environmental impact, but the biggest drawback is convenience.
Transformation will lead to changeTo affect real change, our relationship with consumable products needs to be reviewed. In their report on sustainable consumption last year, Bywaters found that more people than ever are seeking sustainable alternatives. However, the responsibility can’t just lie with consumers. Producers have a significant part to play in the transition to a plastic-free society. A new study suggests that system-wide changes in our relationship with plastic could yield an 82 percent reduction in plastic leakage by 2040, at a cost of around $600 billion. Whether governments and industries could accept and implement these changes remains to be seen.