03 Aug How to dispose of plastic waste responsibly
At Wearth, one of our core values is Zero Waste. Where possible, we urge people to step away from plastic use altogether, particularly single-use plastic. However, if you’ve got plastic to dispose of, how do you dispose of it responsibly?
What’s the problem with plastic disposal?
Often when considering how to dispose of plastic, people turn to the concept of recycling. Yes, there’s some good in plastic recycling and we’ll get on to how to do this responsibly later in this article. However, recycling isn’t enough.
A plastic bottle takes 450 years to decompose. Some plastics take up to 1,000 years. Yet in Europe, only 32% of plastic is recycled. In some ways, we can feel good about plastic recycling. In the UK we now recycle over 370,000 tonnes of plastic bottles each year, compared to just 13,000 tonnes in 2000. But that’s not the full picture when we realise that we use around 20 times more plastic now than we did just 50 years ago. Indeed, in the UK, we produce around 76 kg of plastic waste per person per year.
Programmes like BBC’s Blue Planet 2 series may have highlighted the issue of plastics in our world’s oceans. But we still clearly don’t know enough about how to safely dispose of plastic, or how to make changes to our plastic waste overall.
How to dispose of single use plastic
Firstly, we need to understand more about how to safely dispose of single use plastics. The good news is that nearly all UK local authorities offer recycling facilities for single use plastics, such as plastic bottles. You can use the Recycling Locator to find out how your council collects.
However, just because an item of single use plastic says it can be recycled, it doesn’t mean it will be. It will depend on your local council. It also depends on the economic and logistical factors involved. Recycling, generally, helps to reduce the environmental impact of single use plastic – but the recycled plastic pellets need to be in demand.
Plastic bottles – if they end up at a recycling plant – are amongst the easiest products to recycle. We’ll come onto responsible ways to ensure plastics get recycled shortly. However, what about other single use plastics like plastic straws and plastic bags?
How to properly dispose of plastic straws
Plastic straws cannot be recycled. Therefore, they must go into general landfill. The safest way to prevent pollution from plastic straws is to simply not use them. You can still use straws; just opt for reusable options like these stainless steel eco straws or disposable biodegradable wheat straws.
When considering how to dispose of plastic straws, always securely place them in your general rubbish. Straws easily blow away from picnics and beaches, so make sure you take them home with you, if you must use them.
Where to dispose of plastic bags
Knowing how to dispose of plastic bags is harder. You should be able to return them to the relevant store for recycling as only a handful of local authorities offer kerbside recycling for plastic bags. Again, the best solution is to avoid plastic bags altogether and choose alternatives. We’re doing better at this since the introduction of the plastic bag charge in 2015.
How to safely dispose of plastic which can be recycled
Just because a piece of plastic says it can be recycled, doesn’t mean it will be. There are things in your control which can increase the chances of a recyclable piece of plastic actually making it into a recycled plastic product.
Primarily, you need to remember to wash and dry plastics before sending them to be recycled. Food and dirt remnants instantly eliminate an item from being recycled. Make sure you follow your local authority’s recycling requirements.
Nonetheless, a piece of plastic can only be recycled 2-3 times before it is no longer suitable for being recycled. It will also be mixed with virgin plastic material to improve its quality. So, even though recycling is better than not, it still has its limitations.
What about plastics which can’t be recycled?
We are sometimes asked about specific items, such as how to dispose of plastic hangers. You will need to make a decision based on the individual item. For example, in the case of coat hangers, some can be recycled, and some can’t. In the first instance, try to ensure they are reused, for example by giving them to a charity shop.
Then check out the recycling symbols which you should see on a piece of plastic before deciding what to do next. If a piece of plastic definitely can’t be recycled then you will need to ensure that it safely ends up in your general rubbish. Whilst this will still send the piece of plastic to landfill, it will at least ensure it doesn’t end up in our rivers or oceans, or harming wildlife.
The simplest solution is to avoid plastic for new purchases
As you can see, disposing of plastic responsibly is limited and difficult. The best decision you can make is to head towards a zero waste lifestyle, where your usage of plastics is limited. Unlike plastics, metal (such as aluminium) and glass can be recycled over and over again without needing virgin materials to be added, or without losing their quality.
That’s why, amongst our zero waste products, you’ll find that items are often made of metal or glass. Sustainable wood items, such as bamboo, are also ideal because these are biodegradable when they reach the end of their life.
Products which are typically made of plastic are increasingly available in metal, glass or sustainable wood. For example, you can find bamboo toothbrushes, reusable coffee cups, and glass bottle washing up liquid, amongst plenty of other household things too.