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Blogs and articles written by Chartered Environmentalist (CEnv) and Registered Environmental Technician (REnvTech) registrants, as well as Honorary Fellows of the Society (HonFSE).

 

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Plastics and Recycling – Attitudes are Changing! - Dr Peter Matthews CBE HonFSE CEnv

Posted By Phil Underwood, 26 February 2018
Updated: 26 February 2018

Plastics and Recycling – Attitudes are Changing!

I have worked in environmental management for 53 years and I have never seen a time like this! Attitudes towards plastics and recycling are definitely changing.  

Until recently, many of my friends and relatives made relatively quick and independent judgements while deciphering what waste went into which bin. Any more detailed thinking and strategizing about this was simply viewed as “that sort of thing Peter does for a living.” But things have changed and I’m now persistently asked questions about these matters. But, to be quite frank, I’m not sure of the right answers.

The recycling information on packaging is often difficult to find, in very small print and it’s inconsistent and confusing. Which bin should the cling film that’s been soiled in use go into? Am I supposed to help solve the ‘Pringle tin problem’ by attempting to separate multi-material packaging? These are just some examples of the head-scratching that’s going on in many kitchens now.


The 25 Year Environment Plan

I was delighted to see recycling and plastics as well as many other popular issues picked up in the recently published 25 Year Environment Plan (YEP). It’s headline target of reducing avoidable plastic waste by 2042 is not the sort of commitment I would have expected a year ago. And, whilst there’s been some negative media focus on the Plan’s delayed publication, my own view is that the document is very welcome and it is comprehensive, perhaps more so for having incorporated issues that have come to the fore over the last couple of years. 

I think many initial reactions to the Plan had been given without detailed study of it alongside the Industrial and Clean Growth Strategies or perhaps because of the information-overload of this lengthy document with multiple goals and policies. Indeed, a standalone summary of these goals and policies would be helpful. 

Overall, though, I think the Plan does well to address and tie together people’s day-to-day worries and big, strategic themes. 

Media Influence

It’s interesting that the avalanche of media and public attention on the impact of plastic bags, food packaging, single-use bottles and coffee cups, straws and even tea-bags and glitter (!) is often attributed to the BBC’s Blue Planet II series, which is actually filled with images of turtles ensnared in plastic fishing nets, beaches strewn with things like discarded ropes and even a whale with a plastic bucket in its mouth. I talked about this kind of plastic waste in a previous blog, terming it ‘ersatz-plankton’ and arguing that, even with rigorous domestic litter control, there will inevitably be plastic waste that ‘leaks’ into the environment. 

We must prevent the continued ‘survival’ of these persistently problematic plastics, and I’m pleased to see the 25 YEP address their biodegradability. Seeking alternatives to synthetic plastics in the so-called ‘bioplastics’, such as starch- and cellulose-based products like bamboo fibre and cellulose micro beads, will also be absolutely crucial.  

There are, of course, many unanswered questions, such as whether such bioplastics are robust enough for products such as ropes and buckets and how easy these will be to reuse rather than recycle. Again, I’m pleased to see the 25 YEP recognise the opportunities for this kind of technological development alongside strategizing around the bioeconomy. Indeed, there are several strategies that underpin the Plan, such as on chemicals, biodiversity, waste and resources, litter and clean air. 

It seems to me, though, that there’s a missing piece in this jigsaw: a Plastics Strategy. Given how high-profile the topic is, it seems odd that there isn’t a specific strategy around it, and I advocate one. If strategies work for other parts of our green economy, then this should work for plastics. 


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Society for the Environment. 

Tags:  25 Year Environment Plan  25YEP  Bioeconomy  Blue Planet  CEnv  Chartered Environmentalist  Clean Growth Strategy  DEFRA  HonFSE  Industrial Strategy  packaging  Plastics  Pollution  Recycling  Waste 

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Forestry Without Plastic - Stuart Wilkie FICFor CEnv

Posted By Phil Underwood, 26 February 2018
Updated: 16 March 2018

Forestry Without Plastic

Chartered Forester Stuart Wilkie FICFor CEnv, Environment and Certification Manager at Scottish Woodlands, talks about forestry without plastic.

Oceans of floating plastic, images of choking turtles, a ban on all ‘unnecessary plastic’ by 2042. The world is waking up to the environmental damage caused by oil-based plastics. I believe that while government may be moving on a 25-year timeframe, public opinion will make plastic use much harder to justify, in a much shorter timescale. Witness the rush by supermarkets and coffee shops to reduce plastic use.

Can we be in the forefront, championing wood and paper as replacements for plastic while relying on the co-extruded plant bag and tree shelter? Can forestry keep its environmental credentials unless we also act?

If the purpose of these blogs is to initiate debate, let’s take a critical look at forestry’s favourite plastic products especially the stuff we let fall apart in woodlands.

The Tree Shelter

 I must admit that I cringe every time I reach the north end of the new Queensferry Crossing over the Forth. Thousands upon thousands of tree shelters have been used in the landscaping. Was there not a more sustainable alternative, a better way of doing things?

Do tree shelters really degrade to harmless products? I know of some that are over 20 years old and stopped believing degradability claims years ago. Clients are not always willing to pay for the removal of shelters, so many are left to break down into ever smaller pieces. Can we really accept that there is such a thing as a harmless flake of plastic in the environment any longer? With animals and birds found emaciated and dying having ingested a stomach full, can we as foresters really fill the food chain with plastic?

It is not about the products of chemical decomposition, but the damage the physical presence of pieces of plastic does in the environment.

Encouraged by successive grant schemes, foresters have embraced tree shelters as a panacea for broadleaf establishment, but are they? Have we become lazy in their use? Derek Patch’s article in the last issue of Chartered Forester was an interesting reminder of an all too common problem.

Surely, as professional foresters, we can come up with alternative and innovative solutions beyond the tree shelter and demand more sustainable products when we do use them. The right tree shelter, and only in the right place?

It is not just tree shelters of course. What about all those little bits of bailer twine around bundles of plants. Do your planters pick them all up and bag them?

Plant Bags

There was a time, it seems not so long ago to some of us, before the co-extruded plant bag. Trees were bee-hived or sheughed in (heeled in) prior to planting. We got by without trees in plastic bags and I think we were much more aware of plant handling. Bags are cheap, convenient, and unlike tree shelters, most bags are recovered from site. Perhaps bags are not the same environmental problem as shelters, (although many go to landfill). But we don’t need them. So, what does “unnecessary plastic” mean in terms of the government’s commitment. At what level would a plastic tax make us think again on their use?

Accept the Age of Plastic is Over

Of course, things will not change overnight but we have a responsibility here. In the short term to reduce our plastic use and to recover plastic when we do use it. The challenge for the manufacturers of plastic products is to come up with a biodegradable (preferably wood fibre) alternative. As foresters we need to challenge the accepted way of doing things, lead innovation and put pressure on our suppliers.


Photo credit: Stuart Wilkie FICFor CEnv


A blog by Chartered Forester and Chartered Environmentalist, Stuart Wilkie FICFor CEnv. For more forestry related blogs, please visit the Institute of Chartered Foresters website

Stuart's blog inspired a response blog from ICF Associate Member, Simon Place. Simon defends the current need for plastic use within forestry, but highlights the need for the use to be properly managed. Read Simon's blog here »

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Society for the Environment. 

Tags:  25 Year Environment Plan  25YEP  CEnv  Chartered Environmentalist  Chartered Forester  FICFor  Forester  Forests  Plastic  Pollution  Tree  Trees 

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