06 Jan The beginning of the end for plastic pollution?
On Monday, Boris Johnson announced that the UK would be entering its third lockdown since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Over the course of last year, plastic pollution spiked as millions of single-use items like gloves and masks found their way to landfill.
Fortunately, Autumn of last year saw a new technology capture headlines that promises to transform how we handle plastic waste. It has the potential not only to protect our environment, but also to dramatically reduce the landfill space this waste uses up.
How would an increase in plastic affect businesses?
While many will not be re-entering offices and classrooms for several weeks, when they eventually return, the challenge of maintaining safe shared spaces will come with them.
Organisations will once again have to contend with the additional waste created by these efforts. The combined masks, gloves, sanitiser bottles, and other PPE will weighdown waste collections for some time.
As a result, outgoings such as landfill tax will increase.
Turning plastic pollution around after COVID
Polyethylene is one of the cheapest and most common plastic materials, used in everything from water bottles to grocery bags. In recent years there have been efforts to minimise its use.
Then came the pandemic, and the consequent crash of Big Oil which only lowered the price of Polyethylene further. Due to its low cost, Polyethylene is the basis for surgical gloves and medical-grade masks.
In 2020, an estimated 120 billion disposable masks were used per month globally. Unfortunately, they will end up crowding our landfills and polluting our oceans for years to come.
Thankfully, a technology developed late last year may transform how we process plastic waste. A major issue with plastic waste is that after use, its components are rarely valuable enough to justify the cost of recycling it.
But a team of researchers at the University of California have developed a cheap and quick way to convert this waste material into something of value.
The two-part process consists of breaking down the plastic into smaller pieces and synthesising those into usable materials. Among the materials created are the compounds used in common detergents, paints, and lubricants.
Even better, the second step of the process generates hydrogen and methane as by-products which engineers then use to support the breakdown of future plastics in stage one. Where once we had a cycle of overproduction and increased pollution, we now have one of self-sustained upcycling.
What can I do?
Establishing an effective waste reduction and disposal plan requires holistic thinking. The chance to improve your efficiency takes place at all stages of the supply chain. Consider how you are procuring and conserving resources like water, heat, and electricity.
Despite the added pressure of lockdown, UK climate goals have not changed, and improving our relationship with waste is an important step on that journey.
Handing off control of waste removal can save you time and effort better spent on the day-to-day of your business. Given the influx of added plastic, landfill taxes are likely to continue rising. ESS can help you keep abreast of these changes and formulate a waste strategy that takes them into account. To find out how we can help you become more efficient, get in touch.