The problem of plastic waste being washed up on beaches around the world is well known and, in fact, one study has suggested that by 2050, there might be more plastic in the sea than fish. Much of the plastic polluting the oceans has come from landfill, so anything that can be done to reduce this is welcomed by environmentalists.
Attempts to tackle the problem by using marine plastics in the manufacture of new items have been made in the past. Adidas has manufactured 7,000 pairs of trainers from these materials and Pharrell Williams has also used them in the manufacture of his G-Star RAW clothing line.
Ecover, famous for its ecologically sound cleaning products, has used North Sea marine plastics together with waste from the canals of Amsterdam in the production of limited edition bottles and has plans to use plastic from beaches in the UK for its new packaging.
The most recent company to demonstrate that it intends to tackle the problem is P&G. It has announced plans to produce a limited run of bottles for Head & Shoulders shampoo, partly manufactured from plastic waste that volunteers have collected from beaches in France. Up to 170,000 of these special edition bottles are expected to be produced by P&G, who are working with TerraCycle, a recycling business and Suez, a waste management firm.
P&G’s plans represent the largest use of beach and marine plastic ever, but Tom Szaky, CEO of Terracycle reports that it is less than 0.6% of the 29 million bottles of Head & Shoulders sold by P&G each year. However, according to P&G, the level of recycled material in the bottles is up to 25%, much higher than has been possible previously, and Steve Morgan, Recoup’s technical director, has described the initiative as a technological breakthrough. Previously, the exposure to UV has caused plastics sourced from seas and beaches to be unusable, and the degradation of the plastic means that they are not very suitable for plastic waste recycling either.
The new breakthrough also has implications for plastic waste recycling and general recycling of challenging materials in the future, once the technology is developed further.
Over the next twenty years, plastic production is expected to double, but only 14% of plastic produced for packaging is recycled. It is hoped that this figure could be increased to 70% with help from industry.
Although recycling is valuable, the director of Remade in Edinburgh, Sophie Unwin says that companies should move towards circular economy business models that mean zero waste, in order to show leadership in this matter. Although she has welcomed the innovations in product design, she says they do not mean a great deal if the company contributes to generating more waste altogether.
At the World Resources Institute, the senior fellow and director of food loss and waste, Liz Goodwin, agrees. She believes that initiatives like P&G’s to remove plastics from the seas are positive, but that more should be done to prevent plastic waste entering the water in the first place. She says that it is important to keep waste plastic in use for as long as possible before recycling it.