Tackling single-use packaging

Of the 78 million tons of plastic produced worldwide every year, only 14 % is recycled. Likewise glass and aluminium are recyclable numerous times without loss in quality: yet around 85% of glass bottles and 30% of aluminium cans are still thrown away. Recycling just one tonne of aluminium saves up to 9 tonnes of CO2 emissions and 95% of the energy needed to make it from its raw materials. Throwing away glass is particularly problematic as it doesn't decompose and so puts a great strain on landfills.

Zero Waste Scotland

The Scottish government will pass regulation so that customers pay a small deposit of 20p when they buy a drink in a single-use bottle or can, which they can get back if they return it to the retailer. This covers all soft and alcoholic drinks sold in PET plastic, metal or glass containers. There will be an implementation period of at least 12 months to help businesses prepare before the scheme starts for the public in July 2022. All businesses acting as a return point will receive a handling fee to cover the costs of participating in the scheme.

It is estimated that the scheme will lead to:

  • 31,000 fewer plastic bottles littered every day
  • 67,000+ additional tonnes recycled each year
  • 90% of containers included in the scheme will be captured for recycling
  • £61 million a year could be saved tackling the indirect impacts of litter
  • 4 million tonnes of CO2e emissions will be cut over 25 years.

Portsmouth University: Upcycling Plastic

Professor John McGeehan and his team at the University of Portsmouth’s Centre for Enzyme Innovation, have developed an enzyme that “eats” PET, turning it into a liquid. The liquid can then be used to make most plastic products, as well as higher-quality materials including new types of fibreglass. PET is the most common thermoplastic, used to make single-use drinks bottles, clothing and carpets and takes hundreds of years to bio-degrade, but this enzyme can shorten the time to days. The process “could drastically reduce the need to produce fossil fuels”, McGeehan says.

The fibreglass and carbon fibre that can be upcycled from the recycled plastic is 10 times more valuable than PET, which gives investors “the economic driver they need to conclude it’s worth collecting the waste”, he adds. The enzyme will also digest polyester found in clothes, most of which ends up in landfill or incinerators at present. McGeehan says about 250 firms “ranging from small companies to massive multinationals are interested in using our technology”.

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