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Where should the UK send its plastic waste now?

We shouldn't !

Photo from Unsplash - Hermes Rivera

Read Vector Homes’ take on the UK’s plastic waste problem.

Over the last few years we’ve seen a lot of news articles coming out about countries blocking imports of plastic waste from the UK. Several years ago we were surprised to learn that we dump our waste on nations in Asia.


China’s banned most plastic waste imports in 2017 and other countries, including India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and most recently, Turkey have all introduced some form of restriction on plastic waste imports.


The cause of this problem is in part due to the sheer quantity we produce. The UK sits behind only the US in the quantity of plastic with around 100 kg of plastic waste generated per person per year. We generate over 5 million tonnes of plastic waste a year which far outstrips our capacity to recycle it. The British Plastics Federation (BPF) estimates that 46% of the UK’s plastic waste is incinerated, 19% is exported and 17% goes to landfill. They also forecast that in the years to 2030 we will increase our national mechanical recycling capacity by 3x (to 2300 tonnes) and significantly increase our non-mechanical recycling capacity to 300 tonnes.

Photos from Unsplash - Nick Fewings


This requires investment and we believe that this investment will in part be driven by regulation but also by a changing perception that this ‘waste’ can be upcycled in value by making products that we need to drive growth in the UK. Using novel additives to these plastics we can create building materials which outperform current materials in their thermal insulation, mechanical properties and fire safety.


Of course, the plastic waste cannot be directly converted as it contains mixtures of different plastics which can’t be recycled together, may contain impurities and non-plastic materials.


Various projects are ongoing to look at how to make these processes more efficient. The TRANSFORM-CE collaboration led by the Manchester Metropolitan University and the Holy Grail project led by P&G are notable ones, with a forward looking approach to the plastic waste problem.


Vector Homes is focusing on minimising the number of different materials used in our structures to enable more efficient recycling at the end of life and the enhancements we use mean we can maintain a higher material performance after each recycling step.


Our part in the overall picture is small but we believe that every step in the right direction counts!


#recycling #upcycling


Reading list

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/environment/2021/05/17/half-plastic-sent-turkey-cant-repurposed-say-experts/

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/may/24/uk-under-growing-pressure-to-ban-all-exports-of-plastic-waste

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jan/12/loophole-will-let-uk-continue-to-ship-plastic-waste-to-poorer-countries

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/oct/30/us-and-uk-citizens-are-worlds-biggest-sources-of-plastic-waste-study

https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidrvetter/2020/11/11/which-two-countries-produce-the-most-plastic-trash-per-person/

https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/suppl/2020/10/26/6.44.eabd0288.DC1

https://unearthed.greenpeace.org/2020/10/09/plastic-waste-uk-boris-johnson-malaysia/

https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Trashed-Greenpeace-plastics-report-final.pdf

https://bpf.co.uk/roadmap

https://www.newplasticseconomy.org/assets/doc/Holy-Grail.pdf

https://www.nweurope.eu/projects/project-search/transform-ce-transforming-single-use-plastic-waste-into-additive-manufacturing-and-intrusion-extrusion-moulding-feedstocks-and-creating-a-new-circular-economy-model-for-nwe/


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