Plastics, packaging and products caught in the Made in Britain Twitter net: 13 May 2021

EVERY Thursday at 1pm Made in Britain hosts #MadeinBritainHour on Twitter. During that hour Made in Britain asks questions of its 21,000 followers and the results are fascinating. Previously this information was enjoyed by the audience at the time and then left to drift away in the Twittersphere, rarely read again. So, we have decided to capture some of the best comments and re-present them for a new audience and easy reference. Some of the responses have been edited but most have been left in their casual Twitter style.

This week we look at plastics, packaging and products.

Question one: What are the barriers to manufacturers using recycled plastics in their products and packaging where possible?

Response: One of the barriers is the stigma associated with plastic - 18 billion pounds of plastic flow into the ocean per year - the UK discards 2 double-decker busloads of plastic waste every 30 seconds - 9% of plastic produce is recycled (circa 2019). Environment Secretary George Eustice - "Tackling plastic pollution lies at the heart of our efforts, and we have already taken steps to ban microbeads, cut supermarket sales of single-use plastic bags by 95% and prohibit the supply of plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds."

Made in Britain: So "plastic" has a bad name, or "single-use-plastic" has a bad name?

Response: I think the two often get confused with one another, and so results in a negative image for plastic in general

Made in Britain: Sometimes plastic is the best material for the job? and that gets overlooked by some do you think?

Response: Definitely. See our recent webinar on the demonisation of plastics hosted by @StaffsBIC 

Made in Britain: Thanks for this, we will all take a look after the session. I like the word "demonisation"

Response: Its a really informative webinar with contributions from @RecyclingAssoc @AddmasterCEO @CromwellPoly @plasticITltd

Response: The plastic is not to blame, it is what people do with it after use that is the problem. Plastic has enabled many advances in product design and functionality. Pollution is the issue. Personally, I prefer metals, glass and wood!

Response: That very much sounds like the 'guns don't kill people, people kill people' argument. (for devil's advocate's sake)

Response: I have to agree with you there Luke as I also agree with Nigel on the behavioural issues people have around the world

Response: For fear of contradicting myself, people will always be the issue. But does that mean plastics are good? Are they a sustainable product?

Response: As a Metal Spinner, we will also argue the point that Metal should be used over plastic when possible. - its more sustainable and more commonly recycled - i.e. cans contain on average 68% recycled materials compared to just 3% in plastic (USA, circa 2019)

Response: Yes, we have established the recycling of metals since they were discovered and first smelted in the bronze age. Plastics are still in their infancy. Go Metal! 

Response: There was the argument for plastic straws, which people with disabilities require for various reasons. Unfortunately alternative straws i.e. paper weren't suitable for them

Made in Britain: Not sure on your views but paper straws need a bit of work on them, its possible to make them more smooth but its costly?

Response: I will hold my hands up and say I prefer plastic straws over paper. I don't like drinking paper-mache. Alternatively, there is always metal straws which we looked into manufacturing ourselves (can't compete with China prices though)

Response: Metal straws are certainly better. Same goes for the "wooden" spoons you get to eat your yoghurt at a certain shop that has a food section. They are so rough it makes the eating experience less pleasurable.

Response: Metal straws can also be cleaned and reused which is always important in the fight against waste pollution

Made in Britain: Do you have any idea what sort of % of recycled plastics do come from overseas? maybe @ExcellMetalSpin has that data to hand?

Response: As a country are we doing enough? Especially when we export our plastic waste like this instead of addressing the problems by recycling it ourselves

Response: That's a very good argument. It does ask the question, what is sustainability?

Made in Britain: Does a product having recycled plastic as part of it affect your buying decisions?

Response: As a preference recycled plastic would be best. But it would also depend on where it came from. We wouldn't, for example, buy recycled plastic from overseas if there was an alternative locally available

Response: Recycled plastics can sometimes be more costly to manufacturers due to the various procedures undergone in order to re-process it. It can also present some key issues in aesthetics, strength and durability. 

Made in Britain: Therefore it is suited to a limited amount of applications? how does strength compare and is it possible to make recycled plastic stronger?

Response: Exactly! Fillers can be utilised as a potential method of improving some characteristics, however, the final result is often nowhere near the level of virgin plastics.

Response: and the addition of more materials into the recycled plastics may reduce the positive environmental impact of using it in the first place? and increase the cost?

Response: It's important to consider the purpose of the material. If a product can be continuously re-used then it avoids the cost of needing to be recycled; an environmental and economic win. Additives such as @SteriTouch are a great way of extending the useable lifetime of a product

Response: Cost is a big factor, the pros of single-use plastic are that it's cheap. Some people simply can't afford recyclable plastic, some people choose not to.

Made in Britain: Any guide as to how much more expensive it is? This must raise the question also about where it comes from?

Response: This article may be outdated but this is the one that springs to mind: but according experts recycled plastic in some cases can be over £50 more expensive per tonne!

Made in Britain: More expensive and a lower grade? probably explains a large barrier to its use?

Response: Exactly, particularly with start-ups and small businesses who struggle to justify the price differences.

Response: Plastic is made with many additives for required properties. Recycling mixes them up, giving a plastic of unknown properties that may not be suitable for the task. Dyes in the plastic will also give a poor colour outcome hence Black is added to make Jazz.

Made in Britain: that's interesting Nigel. So it is low-grade plastic that wouldn't conform to any standards? is it possible to make it conform?

Response: Not really as the cost of analysis the waste to make the adjustments would make virgin cheaper. Best solution is burn it for heat and electricity production. Invest in clean furnaces. This may reduce electricity shortages that will be hitting us by 2030?

Response: We are currently looking at mixing ground recycled with new injection moulded parts. At present it is recommended that we can only add 20% reground plastic to virgin granules. Anymore than this and the parts may mechanically fail.

Made in Britain: That's sort of similar to what they're doing with aviation fuel - blending and perfecting the blend rather than going 100% for one - small steps

Response: Yes it will be an iterative process, hypothesis, implement, test and review. Improve and cycle again

Response: There is certainly stigma attached to plastics & every plastic now gets labelled as 'bad' by those who choose to greenwash views for their own agenda. The costs can be prohibitive too. On the whole plastic is now a dirty word that most are trying to distance themselves from.

Made in Britain: Sometimes it is the best material for the job?

Response: It can be yes. As with everything it depends on requirements. Our coatings have been specially formulated to enhance plastic(s) & increase their useable life span.

Made in Britain: There's a theme thats developed over a few weeks here. One is to use "less" which helps the environment (wash your jeans less came up last week) the other is to make things last longer - your example today

Response: Totally. We need to manufacture better quality products that last longer, can be repaired easily or disposed of cheaply at their end of life and try to consume less over our lifetimes. Easy to say...

Response: And example is plastics pipes which use less energy to produce than concrete or iron and since lightweight they save on transport costs and emissions in the building industry. Furthermore, the replacement of Victorian pipes in London, with new plastic pipes reduces leaks and saves significant amounts of water with consequent savings in the energy required to process and pump the water.

Made in Britain: The overall impact is something often overlooked. @NigelTPacker mentioned something to me earlier today about a move many years ago away from packaging in metal/wood because of the weight. Its the overall impact that needs to be measured.

Response: We tried to replace some of our plastic packaging with a biodegradable alternative but found that it wasn't suitable. The colours were dull and our clips actually poked holes in the bags. If anyone knows a good supplier let us know!

Made in Britain: What does the term "biodegradable" mean? over what period of time and where does it have to go to degrade? 

Response: Actually, good point, I think it's probably 'compostable' we should be looking for - made out of plants or other natural materials that won't take a lifetime to degrade

Response: We looked into buying shipping bags for folders etc. Compostable, biodegradable etc but some say don't put on your compost heap and don't put into recycling... so what do you do?

Response: Different types of plastic are often combined in manufacturing processes, which makes recycling them much more difficult. Many products are manufactured in ways that make the plastic content difficult to separate & then recycle. 

Made in Britain: Is this something designers can work on and make products easier to be recycled at end of life? In building products the standard of materials must be very high making use of recycled plastics more challenging?

Response: Absolutely they have great versatility and combine excellent strength to weight ratio, durability, cost effectiveness, low maintenance and corrosion resistance which make plastics an economically attractive choice throughout the construction sector.

Made in Britain: and as a few people have said here today, so long as it is re-used, recycled at its end of life then it is the best material.

Response: More needs to be done around the development of new value chains and practices across all phases i.e. deconstruction, sorting and recycling.

Question two: Are bioplastics a realistic alternative for some products/packaging and will this become widely adopted?

Response: The largest issue again with bioplastics is cost. From cultivation to conversion it can be a major factor that influences decision making. Whilst many companies may wish to utilise them in a bid towards sustainability, sometimes it may not be feasible to do so.

Response: I genuinely think we'll win the war on plastic and bioplastics will be a part in that. Currently, there is a lot of confusion in the name, even some bioplastics aren't biodegradable and they also take a lot of fossil fuels to produce

Response: Bioplastics are very complex. There are also development in bio enzymes and bacteria that will consume plastics and reduce them into harmless components. Everything is in early stages of development there is hope.

Response: We have done lots of R and D on new plastics, very encouraging

Response: Gill, that sounds fantastic news. Keep pushing forward, the answer is there

Made in Britain: Would that mean they'd require a different form of recycling? new industry?

Response: Probably things such as digesters for methane production. There would also be other waste products that may contribute as biofuels or hydrogen extraction. 

Made in Britain: I'm sure there are many working on this? or are they focussing on making the product first?

Response: There are many academic articles on the web as well as news reports. I think it will take some time before there is a flourishing recycling industry as good as the metals and glass recycling sectors

Response: Initially bioplastics will definitely be cost prohibitive and therefore limit adoption on a wider scale.

Response: I think this is an area which needs clarity and also education within the market. It is too easy to get lost in a lot of terms which the market mixes up in their meaning too

Response: A good article on this Pros: - made from raw plant materials (renewable/sustainable) - 75% lower carbon footprint than that of PET/PS alternatives. Cons: - contaminates plastic recycling streams - won't biodegrade in landfills - arguable encourages people to litter more

Response: Yes, but not quite yet!

Response: As with most things, in time, when the costs reduce as the production process is improved. But I fear that until then the cost will be too prohibitive for most.

Response: Soya / cane / palms farming for plastic is driven by margins & has caused problems with destruction of the natural habitat. Plastics made from ethylene or propylene from plants are the same as those from these products from crude oil & have the same problems of biodegradability.

Response: I wonder how many people would consider the natural habitat destruction?

Response: Part of the recycling problem is the reclamation of waste plastic (esp. micro plastics). Attention is being given to mining landfill (developed countries have better landfill sites, with a concentration of the plastic materials we need).

Response: Yes. Questions of cost are always chicken & egg; unit costs always fall when demand rises & production is scaled up. Focus on areas of greatest need. Flexible film is almost unrecyclable. MarinaTex would be an excellent replacement but it's not in scale production yet.

Made in Britain: Which countries are leading the way in the design and manufacture of products such as this? and on a scale that brings unit costs down? 

Response: This is a vast subject area and does depend on the product discussed. I am certainly not an expert in all aspects of this area although we can research this, but I am very interested in learning more.

Response: BASF, eg, has been actively looking at non-conventional feedstocks, inc. CO2 for foam rubber. They'd hoped to have commercialised it by now; keep watching the skies! Various Cos & countries are trying different things; I'm writing an article about it. Keep eyes on Oz & China.

Response: Supermarkets seem to be the ones deciding. They have actually said NO PLASTIC! This year, in any form or shape especially for packaging 

Response: Sometimes there is no alternative?

Response: Yup !

Question three: Are customers/procurement/government giving proper consideration to the recycled plastics components of products (where applicable) or is price still the major driver?

Response: I think price could possibly be a consideration alongside 'length of use'. Going to a party with hundreds (I'm not that popular Face with tears of joy) of people? More than likely to buy paper plates & plastic cups unless you're rich enough to buy hundreds of new plates and ceramic cups for example

Response: There are a number of high-profile campaigns and initiatives, especially with COP26 being held later on this year. Price will generally be a strong driver with customers, while corporates will look to purchase according to their agendas inc. ESGs, & corporate responsibility

Response: The one thing I'm sure everyone here can agree on, ban plastic 'pint' cups! Pints in a glass will always be better

Made in Britain: They did change them slightly at sports events where you can buy a plastic pint cup for a £1 and either return it at the end for your £1 or keep it. We've still got 2 that the kids use from 2 years ago (for squash not beer I must clarify)

Response: Many may consider absorbing the extra associated cost as society continually ventures towards becoming 'carbon neutral' and 'carbon negative'

Made in Britain: We'll pick up carbon neutral and negative in another session in the coming weeks. Lots to discuss around that.

Response: Is this the correct way forward? Now we are aware of the issues, how do we mitigate the problem. Should we be using plastic in everything? We did well with metals and glass with an established circular economy as recently as the 1980s.

Made in Britain: Is it just the ocean plastic issues that have tarnished the name of plastic?

Response: When something new arrives as a "wonder solution" everyone tries to find uses in all parts of society. It can take years before consequences are seen. Uranium is one that comes to mind. Still used, but have more respect for the affect they have

Response: I think price is still and will continue to be the main driver. Rightly or wrongly, no matter what your views it comes down to what you can afford to do, both as a company and as an individual

Made in Britain: Do you think that is the same across the World?

Response: For the majority I think it is the case, yes.

Response: #circulareconomy & plastics is going to be an area of subsidisation & investment over the next few decades, so I took a look at the topic in a recent blog (…). Recycling by pyrolysis is energy-intensive & other methods may not be 'closed loop'.

Question four: How do British manufacturers compare with other countries regarding the use of recycled plastics in products?

Response: Interesting question and I wonder if there are global rankings that get collected by organisations about the various product sectors, since they are all different?

Response: Not sure how much 'used' but in terms of countries that recycle the most is; 1) Germany - 56.1% 2) Austria - 53.8% 3) South Korea 53.7% 4) Wales - 52.2% 5) Switzerland - 49.7% 

Made in Britain: There are loads of interesting questions that we probably don't have the answers to. Where does the recycled plastic come from? which countries export/import the most? that would tell us a lot

Response: I know that the UK, Japan, USA and Germany accounted for 46.1% of the world trade flow of plastic waste (7.8M tonnes) Before the China plastic import ban they were the largest importer and producer in the world. 70.6% was buried or mismanaged causing serious environmental issues

Response: This website has a feast of information on recycling. UK is 10th in Europe as of 2019 and Wales is 3rd in the world for recycling rates per household. Lots on how much we recycle but nothing about what is done with it.

Response: That's quite a consideration. We recycle X% - where does it go?

Response: Land fill! and exported.

Response: It keeps changing but we in the West do a lot more than the Far East which is the preference for buying as it is cheaper!

Join Made in Britain on Twitter at 1pm every Thursday for #MadeinBritainHour. We engage with everybody, members and non-members alike (some of whom become members as a result). Hopefully, see you there.

This page has links to all the previous Twitter conversations we have 'caught in the net': CLICK HERE.

By Made in Britain 5 months ago | Made in Britain news

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