In Britain, our record for plastic recycling falls far short of that of Norway, which is one reason there is a strong possibility of the UK adopting a Scandinavian type solution to the growing problem of plastic waste.
At present, slightly more than 50 percent of plastic bottles used in the UK are recycled, compared to almost all (97 percent) in Norway. Of the 35.8 million plastic bottles that are used every day in the UK, 16 million are not recycled for various reasons. This means that Britain faces a crisis, due to the excessive buildup of waste plastic.
A recent visit to Norway by government advisors investigated that country’s recycling scheme, which is led by the drinks manufacturing industry. This has been successful in increasing the levels of plastic recycling to 97 percent, and it is thought to be likely that Britain could adopt a similar system.
The problem of plastic waste in the UK has grown worse since China stopped taking foreign waste earlier in the year. Prior to this, China had accepted around 500,000 tons of waste plastic each year from the UK.
Norway’s method of promoting plastic recycling appears to be highly cost-effective and simple. It works in a similar way to the old bottle deposit systems for glass bottles that were used throughout Europe in the past. This system was discontinued by many countries as glass bottles were increasingly replaced by plastic, but Norway transferred the deposit system to the new plastic bottles.
The deposit system works as follows. Consumers are charged a small additional amount on each bottle and this deposit is refunded to them when the bottle is returned. Bottles can be returned via a recycling machine or directly to the shop. In Norway, the charge is 1 Norwegian Kroner (9 pence) for a 500ml standard bottle and a 2.5 Norwegian Kroner deposit (23 pence) is charged on larger bottles. Recycling machines are often sited in supermarkets and they work by reading the barcode of the returned bottle. Customers are normally given vouchers in return for recycling the bottles. Shops that accept the bottles for recycling are paid a small handling fee. Funding for the scheme is partly from unclaimed deposits and the manufacturers of the drinks pay the remainder.
The working party from the UK government is expected to cite Norway’s answer to the increasing mountain of plastic waste as an effective solution that could be adopted elsewhere.
It is only in the last sixty to seventy years that the use of modern plastics has become so widespread. Almost all the plastic that has ever been produced is still in existence in some form. A study carried out in 2017 estimated that around seventy percent of this plastic is now totally useless waste that is in either landfill sites or remains in the environment.
The United Nations stated at the end of 2017 that irreparable damage now threatens marine life and that we are experiencing a “planetary crisis”.