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5R's to Preventing Plastic Pollution : #5 Recycle

Over the course of 2022, we have been exploring some the different levels of the waste hierarchy in our 5R’s to preventing plastic pollution. And so, with the end of the year approaching we come to the final step: RECYCLE.

Throwing plastic in any bin should always be a last resort, if it can be reused or repurposed or repaired, then try those first. Unfortunately, recycling plastic is not always easy for lots of different reasons, including contamination of recycled waste, mixed plastic polymers which are difficult to break up, sanitary or biohazardous waste, and some types of plastic simply cannot be recycled.

According to the OECD’s Global Plastics Outlook, released earlier this year, plastic production is set to triple by 2060. Many see this as a global problem, requiring crossborder policies and action to be take at all stages of the lifecycle of plastics, including how we deal with plastic at the end of its life.

Across the EU, less than 40% of plastic packaging is actually recycled. This does not mean we should not recycle, that is still a considerable amount of plastic being recycled. But it does mean that all parts of society need to do more to ensure that there are adequate measures in place to deal with the vast amounts of plastic we produce, and that we are all taking steps to make sure ALL the plastic that can be is recycled.

Preventing Plastic Pollution has been working with businesses, communities, and decision makers to try and evaluate the scale of the problem in the FCE region and encourage behaviour change.

This has taken on many different forms including: end of life facilities (i.e. bins) to encourage people to recycle some of the more commonly littered items such as bottles, takeaway cups and cigarette butts whilst on the move, testing out small scale closed loop recycling schemes for particular waste streams such as laboratory plastics, and working with local businesses to address the number one item of litter found along rivers and coasts, the tiny but potentially deadly cigarette butt.


A friendly whale in Plymouth 

This summer a strange creature made an appearance on Plymouth Hoe – a friendly whale made from recycled material encouraging passers-by to recycle their plastic bottles (another fierce contender in the top 10 of plastic polluting items). This eye-catching giant bottle bin was installed by Plymouth City Council and is also aims to raise awareness and make people think about how they might be able to reduce, reuse and recycle plastic in their everyday lives.

Lab plastics 

Many of our partners have been working on collecting and analysing plastic samples from river catchments in the UK and France. As the project developed questions around their own plastic use and disposal in their laboratories started to arise. Lead by Mallorie Boderiou and partner CNRS, a closed loop lab plastics recycling scheme has been trialled at the European Institute for Marie Science in Brest, Brittany. The scheme involves collecting non-sullied plastic waste, crushing down and remodelling it into new items for the lab or furniture. Find out more 

Ballot bins to recycle cigarette filters 

The UN estimates that 4.5tn tobacco filters are littered each year! On all of our litter surveys these little stubs of single-use plastic appeared in vast quantities. Many of our partners on the project have installed and trialled ballot bins to discourage littering and raise awareness of the impacts of plastic pollution in the aquatic environment. Partners Brest Métropole and Epab have also been working with a local company called Mégo! which cleans and recycles cigarette filters into ashtrays and other types of furniture for the public realm.

And, we all have a small but significant part to play in making sure our recyclable plastics make it all the way to the recycling centre, whether that is making sure the plastic we recycle at home is free from food waste or holding onto our coffee cup for that little bit longer until we find the right bin for it.