Simply put? Because your scrap plastic isn’t “waste”. Calling it “plastic waste” before the material has had a chance to be reprocessed and repurposed is hardly the best place to start, but there are better reasons to switch from a waste management solution to a plastic scrap solution than just semantics.
There is a fundamental problem with how businesses and consumers see plastic – as something that is thrown away, never to be seen again except in our oceans, where it resurfaces as a problem material. But we are looking at it from the wrong perspective. Plastic is a valuable commodity and an excellent material that can be used again and again. Yes, there is a need to simplify the types of plastic manufactured at source, but there is no shame in valuing its fantastic properties.
At the end of the manufacturing process, we have a legacy issue – many businesses still default to waste management firms that will provide a compactor, skip or bin, that you’re incentivized to keep filling up, perhaps under the impression there is no market for your scrap. These elements contribute to the culture of sending top quality scrap materials to landfill or energy burning.Those solutions do not allow you to create commodities from your material and play an active role in the circular economy or provide detailed traceability of what’s happened to your product.
While waste management firms have a long-standing history successfully servicing many industries, they are, in their simplest form, experts in logistics, and the business model profits via transport and disposal fees. They collect waste moving it from one point to another, in some cases that may be appropriate, but rarely for a plastic manufacturer.
However, waste management cannot continue as the exclusive solution when there are growing public demands for both supply chain transparency and higher volume of recycled plastic A more appropriate strategy is to leverage the service of waste management firms where necessary and implement them alongside other specialist services. As the name suggests, they are specialists in managing waste, not experts in the recycling or the reprocessing of plastics. Very few waste management firms possess the knowledge or facilities to be able to reinsert the material back into the supply chain and those that do, are largely focused on Post-Consumer waste, rather than Post-Production.
Earlier this year, the University of Georgia predicted that by the year 2030, 111 million metric tons of potentially recyclable plastic will be disposed of in landfills, while a previous study in 2015 calculated that eight million metric tons of both post-consumer and post production plastic ‘waste’, enters our oceans each year, not only killing wildlife, but also entering the food chain.
If you were placed on the spot, and asked what happens to your post-production scrap once it has been collected by your waste management firm, could you confidently answer? How assured are you that your plastic scrap, that can be recycled, isn’t being sent to landfill, energy or elsewhere? Are you using a waste management firm simply because you aren’t aware of the alternatives?
DEFRA recently published a 25-year Environment Plan states its ambition to eliminate avoidable plastic waste by the year 2042, and the supply chain quickly began to respond to some of the challenges by signing up to the voluntary UK Plastics Pact agreement, but there is more that can be done at both ends of the supply chain. But this requires behaviour change.
While this can be partly blamed on the closure of the Chinese and Malaysian markets, it is also because there is a lack of accountability, and a lack of emphasis on building a plastic recycling infrastructure, including a focus on segregation at source. This rings particularly true where waste management is concerned, as the scrap material continues to be treated as waste.The first step to understanding that waste management firms aren’t the only provider you should be partnering with, is by recognising that your scrap, or post-production plastic, isn’t waste. It’s a high-value commodity that can be inserted back into the supply chain, and its lifecycle should be managed effectively.
Sooner or later every industry is going to be required to demonstrate how it is effectively responding to the plastic crisis. You have the opportunity to get ahead of the game and become transparent with your processes now.
Earlier this year we ran a survey, that delved into the concerns felt by those in the plastics industry, including sectors such as blow moulding, thermoforming, textile product, bottling and FMCG and sheet extrusion. It became clear that there is a distinct lack of transparency and traceability being provided by waste management firms.
Along with satisfying customer demand for the volume of recycled content in products, providing transparency to customers with regards to what happens to plastic scrap was the top concern. But the issue lies in the fact that nearly 29% of respondents admitted their current ‘waste’ solution doesn’t offer an adequate level of traceability, while over 40% reported that they don’t know, or trust what their current waste processor is doing with the scrap that they produce.
When you consider that waste management isn’t a recycling solution, it’s unreasonable to expect them to have the ability to provide the required or adequate level of traceability. Inadequate reporting from waste management firms is a known issue in the industry - they are unable to provide the level of detailed information, making meeting compliance and audit requirements, a challenging task.
Further to the issue of reporting, there is also the subject of destruction of sensitive data, branded products or those products with sensitive IP - particularly relevant but not exclusive to the card manufacturing industry, and the consultancy element missing. Does your waste management firm possess the knowledge and expertise when it comes to plastic recycling to be able to provide guidance on recovering more of your recycling, reducing wastage and making your products more recyclable?
The truth is that if you do not have a clear and transparent answer from your waste management firm as to how your scrap plastic is being dealt with and where it is ending up, you could unwittingly be contributing to the wider problem. With us, begin to view recycling as an integral part of the supply chain, not a separate entity. Plastic is a resource and a commodity that can be worked back into the supply chain.