How often have you gone for a picnic or been at an outdoors event and added your disposable plastic plates, cutlery, cups and food containers to the mountain of similar waste by the bin?
I know I have, believing I’m helping to ‘Keep Britain Tidy’ and doing my bit for recycling. I even make a point of adding such items (washed, of course) to my recycling at home.
Truth is, most of this waste doesn’t actually get recycled.
It’s estimated that six million tons of nondurable plastics are discarded every year and that every minute, one million disposable cups end up in landfills.
In an attempt to reduce this pollution, France has banned disposable cups, plates and cutlery, and decreed that by 2020, 50% of the material going into making these items has to be made of natural materials that can be composted. By 2025, it has to be 60%.
So could the UK follow suit? And should we go a step further and ban anything else that’s tricky to recycle?
Coffee cup waste
A case in point would be coffee cups from high street chains.
Much like the disposable plastic tableware France is banning, these are almost impossible to recycle. To make them waterproof, the card is fused with polyethylene, which can’t be separated out again at standard recycling plants. And with 2.5 billion of said cups being used each year in the UK alone, that’s a lot of waste being sent to landfill or to be incinerated.
Failing a total ban on such coffee cups, perhaps, as Which? Conversation community member dieseltaylor suggests, we should introduce a tax on them to encourage coffee drinkers to use reusable cups? After all, the 5p charge that was slapped on plastic bags in October last year has seen an 85% reduction in their use.
Even if our government doesn’t deem it necessary to go to the lengths that France has, maybe there’s a debate for better education about recycling?
In researching this article, I now realise that, despite being an avid recycler (and indeed, upcycler), I’ve been doing it all wrong for years.
I’m not alone, either. In a recent poll by waste management company Viridor, 64% of those surveyed said they didn’t know what they can or cannot recycle.
With so much confusion, it’s little wonder that the amount of rubbish that gets rejected for recycling has increased by 84% over the past four years. Community member, Robert Taylor, suggests clearer labelling on plastic packaging, but perhaps, like the French, it would be easier to say ‘au revoir’ to plastic plates, cutlery, cups and coffee cups altogether?
I’ve always fancied one of those posh picnic hamper with bone china plates, cups and saucers, and stainless-steel cutlery in any case.