Europe's creative ways in recycling

30th August 2017

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With EU plastics recycling deadlines fast approaching, Andrew Mills looks at innovation in the sector

When it comes to recycling plastics, Europe is not reaching its capacity, research suggests. Only 50% of Europe’s total usable plastics are sent to recycling plants to be used in the future, which means that the other 50% is being sent to landfill sites all across Europe and the UK. It’s not just Europe that could be doing more. Across the rest of the world, just 22-43% of all plastics are sent to be recycled.

However, attitudes towards plastic waste, and how it should be recycled, are slowly starting to change.

The EU has agreed that, by 2020, member states must recycle 45% of all plastics, rising to 60% by 2025. This initiative is set to cost between 700m euros (£632.5m) and almost 1.6bn euros by 2020. However, this cost will be inevitably offset by the long-term benefits, to both the environment and to economic engagement by the public and business.

By investing in methods and technologies that help to benefit the environment by recycling plastics and other materials, businesses are recognising the importance of recycling when it comes to the environmental longevity of our planet.

Clothing sea change

Our seas and the wildlife within them are degenerating, with causes including ocean acidification, global pollution, and plastic pollution. However, some clothing companies have now started to address the plastic pollution problem.

Sports clothing brand Adidas is looking to change the trend with its collection of sportswear made from recycled plastics derived from the sea, with items ranging from swimming shorts to running shoes. By doing so, the clothing brand is aiming to minimise the amount of ‘virgin plastics’ that are being distributed throughout the globe, and within their own supply chains.

This type of investment in recycling is an innovative and modern way of engaging the public in purchasing products that are derived from recycled materials.

Another clothing brand, Patagonia, is also aiming to reduce the amount of virgin plastics in its production and supply networks. Synthetic fibres, which make up many types of clothes, are typically not biodegradable, and therefore have low recycling rates.

Many are made from petrochemicals, with the sustainability challenges that are associated with these materials. To counteract these problems, Patagonia has recycled 82 tons of its own clothing since 2005, incorporating it into its new clothes where it can.

Greener gardens

Our gardens are naturally produced spaces that make the most of the great outdoors, so why should the materials we use disrupt these natural environments?

Many gardens feature decking made from timber, but now another option is available. Composite decking is an environmentally friendly alternative to using virgin woods from forests.

Sawdust from reclaimed wood is combined with recycled plastics from various sources – plastic shopping bags, newspaper sleeves, dry-cleaning bags and food storage bags – composite materials are created.

Using this system, an average 500-square-foot composite decking structure is typically made up of 140,000 recycled plastic bags. So anyone looking to make home improvements to their garden can do so in an eco-friendly way by reusing plastic bags that would traditionally go to landfill.

If the UK were to invest in recycling plastics in accordance with EU guidelines up until 2025, alongside other initiatives to reuse and repair old materials, we’d face an overall cost of 220m euros. However, this type of investment could create 7,500 direct jobs by 2020, and 12,000 jobs by 2025.

What’s clear is that, if Britain is willing to invest, then the benefits to both the environment and job security will grow as this investment increases.


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