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How the Coronavirus has affected the Zero Waste movement

From plastic bag charges to the promotion of reusable coffee cups, these were the steps included in the action plan for the UK public to be less wasteful. That was until 2020 hit the entire world with an unexpected health crisis, the Coronavirus.

At the beginning of March 2020, Starbucks made the decision to temporarily pause the use of personal cups or tumblers in their stores across the UK, as a precaution to help prevent the spread of the virus.

Many cafes and restaurants have made the switch to takeaway and delivery services, which too comes with its effects on the environment too. With food which would usually be served on a plate, now in takeaway packaging, and food waste rising due to unpredictable ordering patterns making it easy to prepare more food than is needed leading to an increase in food waste.

If you use an online grocery delivery service from supermarkets, you may have also noticed the plastic bag charge has been temporarily suspended by the Government and is expected to end on 21st September 2020. According to the Government, the change will speed up deliveries and reduce the risk of contamination. People have also taken it upon themselves to stop using their reusable shopping bags in stores, and start using the single-use plastic bags which they can then dispose of once they have finished with them. Indeed many delivery companies like Ocado have suspended their carrier bag takeback schemes.

For many Governments and Organisations across the world containing the virus is currently a greater priority than environmental concerns. But, no one truly knows how long these temporary changes will need to last. Can the zero waste movement survive the Coronavirus?

 

   

Image of litter in bin

School Waste: Where does it all go?

It’s estimated that on average 4.2 million tonnes of good food produced by schools is wasted each year. That isn’t including any other types of waste, which we’re going to discuss in this blog. If you’d like to find out more about where food waste goes head over to our blog Food Waste: What happens when it’s collected. Schools produce such a wide variety of waste types, and we’re going to look into all of them.

Paper and Card

Paper and card can both be recycled (as long as it doesn’t have any sort of glitter, foil etc on that you would usually find with Christmas or Birthday cards, so make sure you try to pull any off before recycling). When they have been collected, they’re taken to a recycling plant where they get separated by type and grade. It then gets washed with soapy water to remove ink, plastic film, staples and glue. This then is put into a large holder and mixed with water to create “slurry” and by adding different materials, different paper products can be created from newspaper to cardboard. The slurry then gets spread into large thin sheets using large rollers. Once the paper is dry it is ready to be cut and sent back to shops. However, the paper is made up of long fibres meaning, each time it is recycled, those fibres are shortened so, therefore, paper cannot be recycled indefinitely.

Plastic Waste

Some plastics can also be recycled, once collected it gets taken to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) and plastics are sorted into polymer types, because not all plastic items are made from the same form of plastic, some are also mixed. Once the materials have been separated they get transported to reprocessing facilities to be recycled by plastic-type. The plastic will either be shredded into flakes or melt-processed to form pellets, which can then be moulded into new products such as water bottles.

Unfortunately, a lot of UK plastic recycling is exported abroad due to the labour cost and infrastructure in the UK waste industry, and while some of it is still recycled into new products it’s hard to track exactly what happens to it once it has left our borders.

Garden Waste

Garden waste gets taken to a composting site where it then gets turned into a nutritious soil conditioner. Once it arrives at the composting site any material that isn’t compostable gets removed, usually by hand, and the remaining waste is shredded, and then left to decompose. The last part of the recycling process is to screen the compost to remove any remaining contaminants and grade the material for various end uses. This process can take between 8 and 16 weeks.

Another process that is available is in-vessel composting, this is the same however is under pressure and microbes are added to the material to speed the process up.

General Waste

General waste is waste which can’t be recycled such as non-recyclable plastics, polythene, some packaging, etc. 10 years ago, This waste would have been disposed of in landfill sites but with the advances in technology and space in the landfills decreasing rapidly, it means that there are different ways that we can deal with general waste, such as recovering energy from waste. Non-recyclable products are taken to an incinerator which burns the waste and collects the gasses, the gasses produced are then treated and converted into Gas and Electric that powers your home/business.

Metals

Waste metal is segregated down into types and is sent to a furnace to get melted down into ingots, a mass of metal shaped suitably for further processing, and can be sent to manufacturers and production companies. These ingots can be shaped and moulded into a variety of products, one of the most common uses for recycled metals is packaging such as cans or even computer components.

Glass

Once glass waste has been collected and taken to be reprocessed it gets crushed, and contaminants are removed at this stage. The glass then gets melted in a furnace and moulded or blown into new bottles or jars. Glass is 100% recyclable and can be endlessly reprocessed with no loss of quality.

We can provide services for any of these waste types and will work with you to find the best sustainable solution for you.