Iain Gulland, Chief Executive of Zero Waste Scotland sheds light on a new recycling project which aims to ensure that no plastic is left behind
When it comes to unintended consequences, few examples are as dramatic as plastic.
Fully synthetic plastics are now more than a century old and in that time they have utterly transformed our world. Such is the huge range of products that make use of plastics, it’s hard to imagine a world without them.
But their influence extends well beyond our homes and offices. In the waste and recycling sector, “the Blue Planet Effect” has almost certainly become the mostused phrase of 2018. The public has been rightly shocked at the devastation being reaped upon our oceans by plastic pollution. And that crisis is not limited to the sea.
To further complicate the picture, the Chinese government has announced import restrictions on plastic waste. The UK had been shipping up to half a million tonnes of plastic to China each year for recycling – with that avenue now closed, domestic solutions become an even more urgent priority.
The huge volume of public concern around plastic has led to a flurry of action by governments at all levels. The European Commission has launched its plastics strategy, which includes a commitment for all plastic packaging on the market to be 100% recyclable by 2030. The UK government has pledged to eradicate all ‘avoidable’ plastic waste by 2042 while Scottish ministers have announced plans to introduce legislation to ban the manufacture and sale of plastic stemmed cotton buds as well as establishing an Expert Panel to offer advice on further actions on specific plastic items. These commitments are great to see but it’s going to take more than legislation and targets to make this happen – innovation will be key.
That’s why we’re proud to be supporting Project Beacon. The project combines existing and innovative mechanical and chemical recycling through three principal players (PI-Polymer Recycling, Recycling Technologies Ltd and Impact Recycling Ltd) to create a world-first Advanced Plastics Reprocessing facility at Binn Eco Park in Perthshire. Zero Waste Scotland is investing £1.7 million through our Circular Economy Investment fund – a fund made possible thanks to investment from both the Scottish Government and the European Regional Development Fund through the Resource Efficient Circular Economy Accelerator Programme Fund.
Project Beacon responds to a fundamental issue facing those of us trying to increase recycling rates. Many people are still confused about what items they can recycle. Project Beacon will demonstrate a system that enables householders to recycle all household plastics at the kerbside, part of their mission to make sure that ‘no plastic is left behind’.
The system uses new state-of-the-art separation systems to support mechanical recycling but fuses this with a game-changing chemical feedstock recycling process. This includes a patented process based on thermal cracking, which recycles end-of-life plastic
waste that typically cannot be recycled using mechanical methods – for example, mixed, laminated, black, film and even contaminated plastic waste. This new process produces a range of chemical constituents that can be used to reform new virgin plastics or other
chemical products. This has the potential to convert over 90% of all received plastics to new value-added uses. This would allow local authorities to collect ‘all plastic in one bin’ at the kerbside, removing the uncertainty many people feel over what plastics can and cannot be recycled at home. The Project Beacon facility will demonstrate a circular solution with the potential to scale up globally – if Scotland can recycle 90% of its plastic waste then so can other countries facing similar challenges.
The facility will process between 15,000 and 25,000 tonnes of plastics per annum and create over 70 new jobs. The money we have invested has been more than matched by the private sector. This is a sign that investors are convinced circular economy approaches to issues like plastic are not just good for the planet, they are potentially lucrative opportunities. I hope it will serve as a positive example to other businesses in Scotland of the exciting opportunities offered by our country’s growing circular economy.
It’s set to be an exciting time for those of us working to curb plastic waste in Scotland. The Scottish Government has also announced plans for a deposit return scheme, which Zero Waste Scotland is helping to design. With Scotland also the host nation for this year’s Circular Economy Hotspot from 30 October to 1 November, this will profile Scottish businesses action on the circular economy to an international audience, so there’s a real momentum behind transforming Scotland’s economy towards a model where things are made to last.