The recent Christmas season increased the demand for coloured plastics, but experts say that the opportunities for recycling these are very limited, compared with plastic recycling opportunities for clear plastic.
Coloured plastics are used for the packaging of many Christmas goods including sweets, Christmas puddings and mince pies. Typically, a lot of purple, red and gold plastic is used in the packaging of Christmas goods, but coloured plastics can only be reused in products such as pipes and garden furniture. Clear plastic, however, can be recycled into bottles or clothing, so it is far less likely to end up in landfill or being incinerated.
According to the Recycling Association’s chief executive, Simon Ellin, Christmas products could have clear packaging, although supermarkets are adding to the products packaged in in a vast number of colours at this time in the year.
Products from supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s, Marks and Spencer, Waitrose, and Tesco were surveyed recently and were noted to be packaged in black and coloured plastics that many councils are unable to recycle, since they do not have the machinery to detect them. Sweets such as Quality Street, Celebrations and Roses come in tubs made from brightly coloured plastic and the trays of selection boxes are typically made from black plastic.
However, a spokesman for Nestlé claimed that the packaging for Quality Street had been tested for recycling. According to both Nestlé and Mondelez (the owner of Cadbury), their tubs are made from polypropylene, a material that is widely recycled.
Plastic packaging is responsible for vast amounts of damage to the oceans and the wildlife that lives there. Recently, a porbeagle shark was spotted off the Cornish coast near to Land’s End by a group of fishermen. The five foot long shark had become trapped in plastic packaging which had cut into its fins and belly. The fishermen were able to haul the shark, weighing 80lb, onto the deck of their boat and free it from the strong plastic strap in which it was caught, before releasing it.
Sharks and other marine creatures can swim through the type of plastic straps that are used to secure goods on pallets. These can form a collar around the animal which is unable to swim backwards to free itself. As the animal grows larger, the plastic becomes tighter and begins to cut into its flesh. This can cause terrible wounds that can become infected and eventually cause the creature to die.
This is not an uncommon occurrence, according to marine rescue teams who frequently see sea creatures injured or trapped in waste plastic.
Former CEO of Asda, Andy Clarke, has called for supermarkets to reject plastic packaging altogether and invest in alternatives such as glass, paper, steel and aluminium. He claimed that plastic recycling has so far failed to solve the mounting problem of plastic waste and that eventually all plastic packaging will end up at the bottom of the ocean or in landfill.
Although supermarkets have been blamed for the proliferation of coloured plastic at Christmas, manufacturers and consumers also play a part in the problem.