Article for the Dawlish Gazette 3rd November 2019. Vanessa Ryley on behalf of Dawlish Against Plastic.

When all else fails, recycle!

Although I’m very aware of plastic and try to reduce the amount of plastic wrapping when I buy food, the way that supermarkets have developed dictates that some of what I buy is wrapped in plastic. Some of this is recyclable and some is not. It’s a real struggle to buy sustainably.

How does Teignbridge deal with our waste?

See the Teignbridge website page detailing everything that can be put into the recycling boxes and bins and also notes on things they won’t accept.

All recycling is taken to Newton Abbot where it is prepared to be sent on to reprocessing facilities at varying places in the country and the income generated from the sale of the glass, plastics, cans, cardboard and paper helps towards the cost of the collection service.

Food waste is taken to an anaerobic digestion facility in Devon where it is converted into electricity and fertiliser. Plastic bags are filtered from the process and sent to the energy from waste (EfW) facility in Exeter. Waste from black bins and public litter bins is also sent to the EfW plant.

Additional recycling skips are sited in all Teignbridge car parks.

We can also recycle stretchy plastic bags of all types by taking them back to Sainsbury’s, Park Road Pets or other supermarkets as they have a designated bin. There are places locally that accept crisp packets and pens as part of Terracycle scheme.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? So why is recycling not the answer to the plastic problem?

It is estimated that only 9% of all plastic produced has been recycled. Plastic can only be recycled a certain number of times, as each time it degrades into a less useful product. Making new recycled goods out of the plastic we recycle also uses up a lot of energy and resources. There are many different types of plastic which may require different processes. This means that when the oil price is low, it is cheaper and more attractive for companies to make new plastics. We have to remember that all plastics are produced from finite fossil fuels.

There is little doubt that recycling household plastics is preferable to putting everything in with all the other waste, but we have concentrated too much on recycling rather than reducing waste. The companies that produce plastics fund campaigns in the UK and USA promoting recycling. It lets them off the hook. As a nation, we may feel that we are achieving something for the environment by recycling but we may not be giving sufficient consideration to actually reducing our use of single use plastics. According to the BBC, we export two thirds of our plastic waste, 611,000 tonnes, to other countries, whose infrastructure is usually less able to deal with it than ours. We must look carefully at changing our consumer behaviour so that we consider the amount of waste that we produce. The message is, “REFUSE, REDUCE, RE-USE, RECYCLE (as a last resort).

Next month’s article will focus on the difficulties surrounding so called ‘green’ alternatives.