Why specify recycled plastic?


Sarah Mitchell of Goplastic explores how and why landlords and social housing providers should utilise recycled plastic in their projects.

The world’s annual consumption of plastic materials has increased from around 5 million tonnes in the 1950s to nearly 100 million tonnes today. European production accounts for about 57 million tonnes of this total amount.

The amount of plastic waste generated annually in the UK is estimated to be nearly 5 million tonnes, half of which comes from packaging (Source: House of Commons Briefing Paper on Plastic Waste, 2020).

Most families throw away about 40kg of plastic per year, which could otherwise be recycled. Much of this ends up in the waste stream affecting our rivers, oceans and wildlife.

Certainly there are some first use plastics which are beneficial to our communities; improving food hygiene and reducing package weight, which in turn reduces carbon emissions during transport of goods. However, other categories of first use plastics have already been banned. These items, such as drinking straws and drink stirrers can be replaced with alternative materials that are degradable.

Currently over 6.6 million tons of plastic are used globally in the recycling industry, but there is a long way to go. The UK government’s current strategy is to work toward all plastics produced being either recyclable, reusable or compostable by the year 2025.

The UK has had a system of producer responsibility for packaging in place since 1997. This has helped to drive recycling of packaging waste from 25 per cent, 20 years ago to 64.7 per cent in 2016. This system is currently being overhauled to incorporate new measures such as incentives to encourage producers to design and use packaging that can be recycled. The new system aims to produce greater clarity on materials, or types of plastic that can be recycled and those that can’t, by introducing mandatory labelling on all packaging to indicate if it is recyclable or not.

With methods of collecting and sorting plastics for recycling also improved, there is one final part of the loop to close. What to do with the plastic collected? The recycling industry, with the aid of constantly improving technology, have been developing products to give plastic a ‘second life’ and is becoming a force for the introduction of recycled plastic into many major industries.

Why specify recycled plastic products?

Recycled plastic has historically been considered ‘functional’, but with design teams on board, this material is now considered a first choice, and its benefits often outweigh the more traditional choices of timber and steel.

The splinter-free, rot-proof, maintenance-free and durable nature of this product, means that there is no need for cyclical maintenance or major replacement programmes.

WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme), gives an estimated lifespan for recycled plastic of 40 years. This results in a considerable economic benefit.

In addition, using recycled products can help organisations meet their sustainable obligations in the built environment. Schools are often part of recycling programmes and purchasing recycled plastic products helps students make sense of the recycling ethos. Here are just a few more beneficial properties of recycled plastic products:

  • Maintenance free
  • Economic
  • Extremely robust
  • Will not rot
  • Splinter free
  • Does not absorb water or bacteria
  • Hygienic – easy to clean
  • Graffiti resistant
  • Difficult to burn
  • Toxin free
  • UV resistant

Case study

It’s long been reported that bin bay areas in communal housing and shared developments can prove to be problematic for tenants and landlords alike. The volume of recyclable materials can lead to residential apartment buildings and blocks of flats having several different bins for each household. These bins have to be placed outside, on or near the premises. Access and health issues can arise if bins and their storage areas aren’t kept under control.

It is entirely apt for recycled plastic to be used in the improvement of recycling areas; what better than bin bays manufactured from louvered recycled plastic panels? The durable nature of the recycled plastic means the bays can withstand bins crashing into them. The louvered panels allow air to circulate, preventing a build-up of bad odours.

The Meir Estate in Stoke on Trent (Stoke City Housing) has specified this type of system for the past 6 years. They’ve installed 33 bin bay areas, using 560 metres of recycled plastic bin bay panels, a whopping 36,000 kgs of recycled plastic, which may otherwise have ended up in landfill.

Sarah Mitchell is director at Goplastic Ltd.