Moves are underway to determine the most effective way to recover and recycle this plastic and who should bear the cost and responsibility for its recovery.
Whilst the newspaper or magazine itself is readily collected and easily recycled into a number of different items, not just new newspapers, flexible plastic, and packaging generally, presents more problems.
The design of the packaging may have different components such as one type of plastic adhered to another or attached to cardboard. They can’t be separated and recycled. There is understandably some resistance to reducing the amount of material in which the item is encased amongst manufacturers, whose livelihood depends on producing more packaging.
Flexible packaging in the waste stream contaminates other recyclable material – it winds around other recoverable items and jams machines at the sorting facilities. To date there has been little investment or upgrading of infrastructure by the waste companies to manage packaging. With landfill prices relatively low, compared with Europe for example, it is easier and cheaper to dump mixed material.
Whilst this is a loss of valuable resources, flexible plastic in landfill does little environmental harm as it eventually breaks down into water and carbon dioxide. That is of course if it is disposed of properly.
The ‘green groups’ advertisements and campaigns showing strangled or choked aquatic animals do not distinguish between that which is disposed of appropriately and ‘litter’ plastic which blows onto beaches or gets washed into waterways ending up in marine environments.
There is a long way to go until the recovery of plastic wrapping is of the same admirable recovery rate as that of newspaper and magazines, but given the product stewardship ethos in the industry solutions are not too far away.
It is worth noting that a wrapped newspaper or magazine still in its plastic wrapper does not get recycled even if it is placed in the yellow top recycling bin.
No-one opens the wrapper to recover your paper and so it gets disposed of to landfill as contamination. Valuable paper which could have become the next issue of your magazine is locked up in a landfill site for ever.
- Lillias Bovell is the executive director (environment), The Newspaper Works.