2 September 2019
By The KLH Team
Refuse or Refuse?
‘Single-use plastics’: a buzzword, crowned ‘word of the year’ in 2018, synonymous with global public outcry. The commercial benefits of plastic are undeniable – it's cheap, lightweight and durable. Yet since plastic hit our shelves in 1950, only 9% has ever been recycled, with the rest loitering in hedgerows, landfills and the ocean. How much is our extreme ‘throwaway’ culture the responsibility of the consumer? Can personal action make a difference, or do the issues we face with plastic surpass consumer responsibility, and must instead be placed into the hands of government and businesses?
What can KLH do?
Twice a month, on a Monday, KLH have a team lunch – yet this opportunity to reconnect to our fellow KLHers has always left a slightly sour taste with the resultant over-flowing rubbish bin. This week we decided to take matters into our own hands and challenge ourselves to reduce unnecessary plastic packaging – taking a brave step away from our usual Waitrose favourites, with its small mountain of plastic packaging that is used and discarded within just 30 minutes (but continues to outlive us by over 5 times). This week we visited a locally owned Greek deli that served straight into our tupperware boxes, and was easily on par, or better than its supermarket equivalents – both in taste and in price.
A study found that virgin PET plastic, the same resin that makes up our Waitrose food packaging, generates 2.15kg CO2 equivalent per kilogram of plastic. For KLH, going packaging free for our fortnightly lunches could save about 2kg of plastic a year. That’s the same as a 23 mile car journey! It is clear that ‘Refusal’ is key to living a carbon conscious lifestyle and must precede the other three ‘R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
Is Recycling still the gold standard of responsible consumption?
The recycling processes of single-use materials are not created equal. At first glance, glass is a 100% recyclable material, however the carbon emission savings during its re-processing into another glass product is less than the equivalent for plastic. In terms of carbon emissions, plastic is arguably the ‘lesser evil’ in the case of single-use recycling specifically. However, measuring our environmental impact as consumers is complex. We leave footprints in not only carbon, but also in marine and terrestrial pollution.
There is a strong case for a circular economy approach: recycling is a key component in reducing plastic’s environmental impact – with research showing that the recycling of plastic can save 30% of the carbon equivalents emissions from primary production. However, out of all the plastic packaging waste each year, only 14% is recycled, and of this only 2% is effectively recycled. The rest is recycled into lower value applications and ‘lost in process’. The single-use plastics that we see littering beaches, injuring sea life and poisoning oceans, is symptomatic of both personal negligence and poor waste management systems.
We have to tackle systematic failures through our work at KLH but also make responsible personal choices. Each team lunch will now see us queuing up at different delis, tupperware in hand, to share a laugh with the locals and find our new foodie favourite.