The UK recycling industry is facing a disaster in the wake of China placing a ban on the import of all plastics wastes. There have been many views and opinion cast as to alternative measures we can take – but are we moving fast enough? We are already seeing a build-up of rubbish at recycling plants around the UK bringing chaos to councils.
Should China have an obligation to recycle our plastics given their dominant position in global manufacturing? China took back millions of tonnes of plastic rubbish every year to feed the manufacturing of products we use every day. Britain sent back approximately two thirds of our plastic scrap exports to China. Did we therefore become too reliant and abuse the system? It is said that that the plastic waste we returned was contaminated and as such there was little choice but to either burn or send to landfill a portion of the waste returned.
There are an array of facts and opinions. We could look to other countries to accept our plastic waste or we could look to be smarter our own recycling methods. This is however costly and will take time.
In 2018 perhaps the answer starts with the design of our packaging and the use of alternative materials? It is an interesting challenge given the vast array of uses plastics has in our packaging and across a multitude of industry sectors. Aesthetics, functionality and fundamentally being fit for purpose are common place factors. But we must also consider the abundance of raw materials that can keep pace with market need.
Is this an issue we have invested enough time finding a solution for and when will we find the golden solution? Certainly design leaders are aware and have been working with leading brand owners to develop initiatives that tackle environmental and sustainability issues. Consumers are more aware and concerned as to the chemical make-up of products and the effects these have on the environment, personal and family health. The appetite is there as such but it is now about finding the solution and this starts with the design process.
Are we doing enough in higher education to prepare our designers of the future for real life challenges they will face in the commercial environment? We have some brilliant minds that come out of higher education courses including product, graphics, textiles, engineering, print, to name but a few. Perhaps if we do more to approach sustainability issues at grass root level we will be able to influence the industry mind set for the future?
There are many other economic, political, infrastructure, and manufacturing issues to address however we need to start somewhere…don’t we?