Beyond the Ban: Addressing the Plastic Waste Challenge in England

You might have read in the news that as of yesterday (October 1st 2023), England-based businesses are no longer allowed to supply, sell or offer single-use plastics. This joins the previous banning of plastic straws and covers a wide variety of products including:

  • Cutlery
  • Bowls
  • Trays
  • Plates
  • Helium Balloon Sticks

Banning single-use plastics is a great step because estimates suggest that 2.7 billion pieces of single-use cutlery are used across the country every single year.

Nevertheless, the ban only stops the accumulation of plastic waste from increasing year-on-year; it does nothing to tackle the already existing piles of plastic waste in landfills and floating in the rivers and seas.

While focusing on making recycling more accessible for consumers is good, the real problem is that many local recycling centres can’t actually recycle most plastics. Many of them end up burning plastics, sending them to landfills anyway, or shipping them to other countries to deal with, none of which are environmentally friendly!

What we need to do is to rethink how we recycle plastics. That means investing in ways to recycle more plastics locally and developing manufacturing processes and product lines with recycled materials in mind. But possibly most importantly, that means choosing materials that are more easily recyclable and designing products that can be broken down and recycled more easily. Black plastic can’t be recycled traditionally due to the carbon content in the pigments used to colour it.

Tidewater primarily prints with PLA; did you know PLA is not only recyclable but being made from plant starches, is compostable? But here’s the catch; most local recycling centres won’t take waste PLA from 3D printing. This is understandable, it doesn’t have the recycling mark that is legally required to take plastic for recycling – but that means most waste PLA from printing ends up in the bin, and ultimately landfill.

What we need are more facilities that can accept 3D printing waste, not only PLA but PETG and ABS. These waste materials could become new filaments. A push for recycling other plastics into filament would allow more access to PP and PET/rPET – both materials primarily used in manufacturing plastic bottles. Manufacturing needs to be as circular and sustainable as possible.