Should we bury our plastic waste?

Should we bury our plastic waste?

With increasing complications regarding plastic recycling, the government’s chief environmental scientist has proposed the storage of plastic waste in landfill sites in order to deal with China’s recent ban on waste imports.

With China taking action to ban most waste imports, including 55% of the plastic waste exported by the UK (in 2016), a new solution for plastic disposal is required. Bales of used plastic bottles and other waste are now being stockpiled around the country after China’s ban, prompting a debate on how best to tackle the issues faced with plastic disposal and recycling.

Professor Ian Boyd, Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department of Environment, revealed that the recycling industry is exploring different methods to deal with plastic waste, such as burying the plastic to be mined at a later date, when it can then turned back into useful products. It is argued that this is a more desirable solution than incineration, due to carbon dioxide emissions.

Boyd told the Commons environment, food and rural affairs committee: ‘If there is one way of extinguishing the value in materials fast, it’s to stick it in an incinerator and burn it. We could be storing them until we have the innovative technologies to re-use and turn them into something more positively valued.’ Additionally, others have pointed at the £86 per tonne landfill tax and suggested that the government consider making plastic exempt to further help with the issue. 

There is opposition to this proposal however, with figures such as Jacob Hayler, director of the Environmental Services Association saying ‘It is better to recover energy from non-recyclable waste through incineration, rather than send it to landfill’. Hayler cites the government’s “Digest of UK Energy statistics”; mentioning the lower overall greenhouse gas emissions from incineration when compared to to fossil fuels. Waste used to fuel Energy from Waste (EfW) in 2016 was equivalent to replacing 2.5m tonnes of virgin fossil fuel.

There are many who criticise the efficiency of the burning of plastic in EfW, along with the fear that new incineration plants to deal with the waste may create a demand for burning waste plastic that should ideally be recycled. For now, it seems as though the government has been persuaded by this argument, with environment minister Therese Coffey telling Commons: “In environmental terms, it is generally better to bury the plastic than to burn it.”

With all this in mind, it is clearly more important than ever to become aware of your plastic waste and do what you can to help. Packaging Reuse do our bit by making recycling and reuse easier for your company, providing services that help to reduce our impact on the environment and make the world a cleaner place for everyone.