Plastic is fantastic
...but we don't want it in our oceans
Brought to public attention most dramatically by the BBC’s recent ‘Blue Planet II’ documentary series, plastic marine pollution is the perhaps the biggest environmental issue of our time.
But exactly how did we arrive at this situation? Where does all that plastic in the ocean come from? And as one of the largest users and producers of plastic, what can companies like Eurocell and the replacement window industry as a whole do to play their part in reversing the ‘plastic tide’?
Miracle material or stuff of nightmares?
Plastic is so much a part of our everyday life, it’s difficult to picture a world without it.
It keeps food fresher for longer. It drives down transport costs and emissions by reducing the weight of packaging.
It’s inspired advances in the design of everything from medical equipment to clothes, electronics and furniture.
In the building trade, it’s given us new applications in cladding, insulation, drainage and, of course, doors and windows.
But our reliance on plastic has come at a cost: the sheer volume of plastic waste floating free in our oceans today.
Each year, it’s estimated another 8 million tonnes of plastic finds its way into the ocean. The vast majority of it in the form of ‘single-use’ plastic products like straws, cups, drinks bottles and carrier bags. If you find that hard to visualise, imagine a refuse truck dumping a full load of plastic into the sea, every minute of the day, 365 days of the year.
If pollution continues at that rate for the next seven years, there’ll be 1 tonne of plastic in the sea for every 3 tonnes of fish. If we can’t reverse the trend by 2050, there’ll actually be more plastic than fish.
And by then, the microplastic granules already found in much of the seafood we eat will be spread throughout the entire food chain.
People, not plastic, are the problem
Easy as it is to be overwhelmed by the scale of the problem, we have to remember none of that plastic got there by itself. Without exception, every plastic drinking bottle, straw, carrier bag, stirrer or carton that ends up in the ocean does so because somebody, somewhere didn’t dispose of it properly.
It could be one individual that didn’t take their rubbish home with them after a picnic. It could be a business or a local authority that isn’t meeting its obligations to recycle waste properly. It could be an entire country that thinks nothing of using the sea as a dumping ground for its waste.
The fact is, plastic marine debris is a direct result of human attitudes and behaviour. Change those attitudes, change that behaviour, and we can change the level of plastic in our ocean for the better.
In recent years, a flurry of new initiatives to do exactly that have been introduced at home in the UK, as well as across the world.
The plastic bag charge has seen the number of bags taken home from UK supermarkets drop by 80%; a 25-cent deposit on PET bottles in Germany has meant 98% of all bottles are returned and recycled; and a ban on toiletries and cosmetics containing plastic microbeads in the USA, UK and several EU states will drastically reduce the number of these damaging particles that are washed into the sea.
Now the race is on to integrate all those measures into a wider ‘circular economy’ in which much more plastic is recycled and reused and much less of this valuable commodity is lost to the world’s oceans.
How we're helping
As one of the largest producers and users of plastic, the PVC-U replacement door and window industry has a big part to play in influencing that process. And as the largest recycler of PVC-U in the UK, Eurocell is committed to lending its experience and resources to efforts aimed at improving recycling rates while reducing waste.
It should be mentioned that very little marine plastic debris from replacement doors and windows. This is partly because PVC-U doors and windows are the exact opposite of the single-use plastics we’ve been conditioned to think of as ‘disposable’, lasting around 35+ years before they have to be replaced.
It’s also because the industry has well developed pathways for recovery and recycling, allowing old frames to be recycled and reprocessed into new products up to ten times without any loss of quality.
On the European stage, the Recovinyl initiative works closely with manufacturers, fabricators, installers and recyclers to improve PVC-U recycling rates and increase the efficiency of the recycling process. Its aim is to see 800,000 tonnes of recycled PVC-U in use across the EU by 2020.
Closer to home, Eurocell recycling facilities are the most advanced of their kind, operating a ‘closed loop’ system for recovery, recycling and re-manufacture of new PVC-U products from old windows and doors. Altogether, it allows us to recycle the equivalent of over a million and a half frames every year.
Even offcuts and waste from the production line are recycled to produce new windows and doors. Nothing goes to waste and, more importantly, nothing is deliberately discarded to find its way into drains, rivers and the ocean.
Of course, no recycling system is 100% efficient. But by researching and trialling new methods and working with our fabricators and installers to make it easier to return old frames for recycling, bit by bit we’re getting it as close to perfect as it can be.
Repeated across the industry, across the country, across the planet, it’s those little changes - almost unnoticeable on their own - that add up to make a big difference to the future of the world we live in.
The plastic ocean is a big problem.
But it isn’t an insurmountable one, and the sooner we all change the way we think and act, the sooner we can start taking positive steps to solve it.
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