Why this is a Good Gift
Just as you might sponsor a goat or a toilet in the 3rd world, sponsoring our campaign to remove plastics from remote UK beaches is a great idea, and a perfect gift for any lover of the natural world.
But we will now justify our offering to you. It is not just a random offering, it is a science lead initiative.
The Beach Clean
We hear a lot about microplastics, so why are we picking up big chunks of plastic from beaches?
Microplastics are small particles and fibres composed of plastic that are clogging our oceans. There are trillions of micro plastic particles in our oceans, but they come from two main sources:
Primary microplastics are the ones that enter the oceans and seas when they are already microplastics. Over 50% of these primary microplastics come from two sources: Vehicle Tire Particles, and synthetic fabric fibres from washing clothes.
Secondary microplastics enter the ocean as large items, but then break down. An example might be an empty pop bottle rolling up and down a beach, with small pieces of micro plastic breaking off, and being released into the ocean. We have estimated 77% of microplastics are secondary microplastics.
What Scientists Say
In the paper "Microplastics in the marine environment" Anthony L.Andrady explains:
"Recognition that microparticles (and therefore also nanoplastics) are most likely generated on beaches underlines the importance of beach cleaning as an effective mitigation strategy. The removal of larger pieces of plastic debris from beaches before these are weathered enough to be surface embrittled can have considerable value in reducing the microplastics that end up in the ocean. Beach cleanup therefore can have an ecological benefit far beyond the aesthetic improvements of the beaches, and by reducing microplastics, contributes towards the health of the marine food web."
In a nutshell, plastic on beaches is in urgent need of removal before it breaks down into smaller harder to deal with microplastics. Plastic breaks down on beaches far far quicker then out at sea, or when underwater.
We record every step of the process. We share all of our information publicly. You can see where we found the plastic, what type it was and where it ends up (disposal).
The Plastic does not leave our care until it arrives at the licensed waste transfer transfer station, where we have a specific contract to ensure disposal at an energy from waste plant. When it's gone, it really is gone.
Burning It . . Really?
Yep. And here is why.
Not All Plastic is Recyclable
Plastics labelled "7", even if they have a recyclable symbol, are very rarely recycled. The composition is uncertain, and they cannot be mixed together and recycled as the "chemistry" wouldn't work. There are all types of plastics on beaches, most are not labelled! Estimates suggest 91% of plastic is not recycled.
Recyclable Plastics don't get Recycled
Sometimes recyclers can be deceptive. They claim to recycle when in fact they export or incinerate. . .or both. We could neatly sort, and bale our plastics, and then it could be exported to Malaysia and end up back in the ocean, or burnt in a heap. See Hugh's War on Waste.
There is Too Much Plastic
A typical person in the UK produces 1.1kg of waste a day. That means we have approximately, 70,000 tons of waste to dispose of every day in the UK.
How much of this can be recycled. Not all of it. So we have an ever growing pool of waste and rubbish that we need to keep on top of. If businesses wanted plastic to recycle they are spoilt for choice.
40% Goes to Landfill
Whilst 25% of plastic is currently incinerated in the UK, 40% goes to landfill. Why add to this figure? Denmark have banned landfill, all of their waste is recycled or goes to energy from waste plants (EfW).
Does Burning Release Carbon Dioxide
Yes it does. But we still rely on fossil fuels for energy at present, and the energy generated at an EfW plant (an incinerator that also generates heat and or electricity) can be used instead of "virgin" fossil fuels being burnt.
It is a Comparatively Clean Option
EfW facilities are fitted with advanced technologies that control and monitor emissions. A major part of the plant infrastructure is the air pollution control technology. The extent of 24 hour a day air emission control technology coupled with stringent environmental regulations means EfW facilities are designed and operated to have no significant impact on air quality or health.
In the UK, Energy from Waste Plants will have Emission Limit Values (set by the Environment Agency) these are carefully set based on a very mature set of risk assessment tools.
Tolvik Consulting have recorded year on year reductions in Emissions from EfW plants across the UK. For "worrying" pollutants such as heavy metals and furans, monitoring shows result 8 to 10 times lower than allowable (ELV) concentrations.
If we compare this to burning the plastic in a heap, somewhere in the developing world. Or burying it. Or virtually any other method, then you can see why burning the plastic we collect, in an energy from waste plant, is we consider the most reliable option.