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Plastics

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Facts and Figures:

  • In the EU, around 90% of plastic is made from virgin fossil fuels, while only 9% is made from recycled materials.
  • In the EU in 2018 41% of plastic was recycled, while the remainder went to landfill or incineration.
  • The creation of plastic accounts for 3.8% of global greenhouse gas emissions – almost double that of the entire aviation industry.
  • If plastic manufacturing were a country, it would be the 5th largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world.
  • Plastic can take 400-1000 years to decompose in the environment.  The exact figure is unknown.

How are plastics recycled:

  • Plastic can only be recycled a few times.  It eventually ends up being ‘downcycled’ into products like carpets, fleece clothing and building and garden materials such as decking, fencing, park benches and window frames.
  • Virgin plastics are added to recycled plastics to make them stronger, allowing a single bottle to be recycled many times. 
  • Plastic Recycling Video.

What can be recycled:

For a list of packaging that can and cannot be recycled, see this link on MyWaste.ie.

  • Here are some types of packaging that can be recycled:
    • Water bottles and plastic trays – PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)
    • Laundry liquid and shampoo bottles – HDPE (High Density Polyethylene)
    • Margarine tubs and ready-meal trays – PP (Polypropylene)
    • Guide to recycling symbols – from Repak.ie

What cannot be recycled:

Full list of what cannot be recycled here on Repak.ie.

Useful video on recycling do’s and don’t’s here.

  • Here are just some of the types of packaging that cannot be recycled:
    • Styrofoam and polystyrene
    • Coffee pods and takeaway coffee cups
    • Plastic straws
    • Toothpaste tubes (with some exceptions).
    • Soft plastic – clingfilm, plastic bags, soft plastic food wrap (with some exceptions – Lidl soft plastic and Tesco soft plastic instore recycling)
    • Crisp, chocolate and biscuit wrappers.  (See: Terracycle Ireland for recycling options)
    • Packaging that is not clean or has food residue on it.

Lids and Caps:

  • This video advises that the lids be kept on plastic bottles, otherwise they will fall through the gaps in the equipment and end up as ‘residue’.
  • Small materials (presumably bottle caps and small pieces of plastic) can fall through the gaps in the separators at the recycling plant.  From this RTE article:  “A lot of small materials known as “fines” would fall through, these are then biostablised, which removes the oxygen demand and then used for daily cover on landfills. While landfill cover might not sound like a “fantastic treatment method” it still gets considered a recovery operation because the alternative would be to use virgin materials on the landfills.”
  • Glass jar lids can be left on the jar or put in your recycle bin, according to Repak.ie.
  • Precious Plastic Dublin – plastic recycling project collects bottle caps and recycles them.

Bioplastics:

  • Bioplastics are plastics made from plant materials such as vegetable oil and cornstarch, rather than petroleum.
  • Some bioplastics are biodegradable, and some are not.
  • PET bioplastics can be recycled in the same recycling stream as conventional PET plastic. (Source).

Ocean plastic:

  • Plastic enters the ocean via rivers, discarded nets from fishing vessels, flooding events causing landfill to overflow, and trash that is left on beaches.
  • It is estimated that 90% of ocean plastic originates from just 10 rivers
  • More than 640,000 tonnes of nets, lines, pots and traps used in commercial fishing are dumped and discarded in the sea every year, the same weight as 55,000 double-decker buses..
  • The Ocean Cleanup project is currently attempting to clean up the Pacific Garbage Patch – an area of nearly 8 million square kilometres in the ocean between Japan and the American West Coast where 80,000 tonnes of plastic debris and discarded fishing nets are circulating.
  • Discarded plastic – Video.

Microplastics:

  • Microplastics are fragments of plastic less than 5mm in length.
  • They enter the environment – soil, rivers and oceans – from a number of sources including:
    • Plastic waste in the ocean which has degraded into microplastics over time. In warm ocean water plastic can degrade in as little as a year. It degrades into smaller and smaller bits of plastic which are toxic. These end up in the guts of animals or wash up on shorelines.
    • Synthetic clothing (eg. Polyester, fleece, nylon and spandex) – especially the residue from washed synthetic clothing.
    • Cosmetics containing glitter particles and toiletries (such as facial scrubs and toothpastes) containing microbeads.
    • Waste from industry.
    • Wear and tear from tyres significantly contributes to the flow of microplastics into the environment.
  • Microplastics are thought to be a threat to human health as they can cross cellular barriers, affecting the functioning of cells.
  • They can accumulate in the organs of fish such as the gall bladder, pancreas and brain.
  • Read more about microplastics..