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Plastic pollution – is there a simple solution?

Plastic waste

Plastic pollution - what can be done?

We've posted previously about the packaging options available to us. Packaging decisions are often complex; it's not just about the suitability of a material for its intended purpose, other factors come into play. Cost is undoubtedly a major one. Now waste and recycling is (rightly) in the media spotlight. Almost every decision has an impact and most of those may not be immediately obvious.

Dri-Pak pays a tax on ALL the materials used in its products under 'Packaging Waste Regulations', which is intended to be used to fund recycling. The majority of our products are packaged in recycled cardboard, which can in itself be recycled. But liquids like white vinegar and liquid soap need to be packaged in plastic. Glass would not only increase production costs, it would increase transport costs due to the weight and there would be more breakages and associated clean up expenses, contamination of other products in transit etc. 

It would seem relatively straight-forward to say that 'we should recycle more'. In practice however, it's a complex situation:

  • Although some plastics can be recycled, some can't - either because of their composition or because facilities do not exist. For example, although a plastic bottle can be recycled, the cap usually isn't, because of a lack of facilities. Even if the customer discards the cap, there is often a tamper-evident ring left on the bottle neck that's difficult to remove. Do we remove the tamper evident caps? Does the customer try to remove it, possibly risking injury, or does the recycling centre remove it? Which leads us on to...
  • Who sorts the recycling? This process has a manual element to it. The outputs are not commercially viable and in the UK we simply can't cope with the current levels of recycling. As a country, we have historically exported waste to countries like China for sorting and recycling, where labour is cheap. There is of course an environmental impact involved in transportation, but now China is banning this practice anyway.

At the moment, single use plastic is under the spotlight - particularly drinks bottles and disposable coffee cups but no doubt the scope of the discussion will increase to multiple use products, like cleaning products. Society needs to re-evaluate its 'consumption' patterns; that may be on a personal level (do you really need to buy a bottle of water when the tap water is just as good and could be put into a drinks bottle for use outside the home?) or at a national level? Can consumers be incentivised to switch, either by taxes like the plastic bag tax or by forced retailer 'deposit back' schemes? 

Dri-Pak's position

At Dri-Pak, we take our environmental responsibilities very seriously and welcome any initiative at a micro or macro level that follows the mantra of reduce, re-use and recycle. But this has to be a top-down approach, it's rare that manufacturers will unilaterally be able to make such a decision. Most packaging change initiatives will involve increased cost, because those that reduce costs are already likely to have been implemented. Retailers are loathe to accept any packaging changes that incur costs for the consumer. So even if a manufacturer like Dri-Pak tried to opt for a 'greener' packaging solution, it's unlikely that a retailer would accept the increased cost. They are actively trying to drive DOWN costs from manufacturers. The rise of the discounters has undoubtedly moved the market towards lower prices (as a proportion of household expenditure).

Eco-packaging is a laudable goal, but often has to be paid for and the 'cradle to grave' impact considered. For example, does compostable plastic release CO2 that has been locked away in oil for millions of years? Some plastics are plant based but tend to have a higher initial cost. Hopefully technology can play a part in bringing innovative solutions; scientists discovered that old plastic bottles can be used to make fleeces and they will undoubtedly discover alternative uses for waste plastic. It mat be that if it can't be economically recycled, it can be used to create electricity and heat. It's not ideal, but if it means that less coal and oil is burned, then the OVERALL environmental impact can be reduced ie the lesser of two evils. Watch this interesting video on CHP.

However, at the end of the day, the buck has to stop at the customer...or the tax payer! 

We'd welcome your comments and suggestions. Feel free to comment below or join the chat on our Facebook page

31 thoughts on “Plastic pollution – is there a simple solution?

  1. UPDATE 17/1/18 – What a bold move by Iceland. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-42692642
    The more retailers realise that customers want change, the more they will respond. There may well  be some short term cost increases but as the demand for alternatives and more environmentally friendly plastic alternatives, the more industry will achieve some economies of scale.

  2. Yes, the Soda Crystals do soak up moisture so that would mean that it is a wet product, in a way, so the plastic bag it comes in is essential. However, I would like to be able to recycle the bag. There is no instruction on the bag, one way or another, to tell us about recycling it. How long does it take to decompose, in landfill?

  3. I’ve also been thinking about the spray bottle refill idea suggested by many others above. I can see the difficulty you point out, but would the online retailers who stock your products (many of which specialise in eco-friendly cleaning products) have the same objection? Or would it not be cost-effective to produce refills only for sale online? Perhaps we need to put consumer pressure on the big retailers to change their policy.

  4. Wow an excellent post – what a brilliant initiative to ask customers what they want and what they’re prepared to sacrifice to get it. I haven’t digested in total yet but it’s certainly started a debate in our house. Please don’t give up; keep the conversation going!

  5. Go back to the old days…..When all the things the shop was selling to us the customer was in paper bags…
    These days the paper bags could be nice and STRONG,,and when finished at the end of the day could be thrown into the bin and decay like news papers..or even made to reuse again….Unlike PLASTIC OF ALL sorts that will not decay..
    I am from the OLD DAYS when every thing was put into paper bags..

  6. Hello Dripak – really good to see you’re taking the new cutting out plastic policy so seriously. I wish all shops were like you. I’m trying to search for a non plastic washing up bowl. I’ve tried enamel washing up bowls and they don’t work – any suggestions?

  7. I think the trigger part of the bottle could be optional as most of us have spares we throw out when we get a replacement bottle this would save on plastic and a recyclable cap could be used instead

  8. What has happened to paper bags? Start small supermarkets, and remove the plastic bags which are put out for loose products. Any change however small could make an impact.

  9. Why not set up local outlets (existing retailers / stores?) to stock your products in bulk (i.e. 250 litre drums), then retail to the public by dispensing into customer’s own containers? You would eliminate the transport costs for glass and remove most of your costs in taxes, disposal, spill clean-up whilst in transit. Not a new idea; the Rochdale Pioneers thought this solution up in 1810, and it worked splendidly for them.

    1. This sounds like a fantastic ‘grass roots’ idea and we were approached by a start up Lindon company to do this….but we’re not aware that it ever got off the ground. There are issues such as traceability and safety. Of course, we don’t have the funds or experience to set up such outlets (we’re simply a manufacturer) but we’d be happy to supply such establishments if the logistics worked and the retailers could get around the ‘red tape’.

      1. Yes…we have tried. But of course if customers requested that they stock our products, they’re more likely to be receptive. Thank you for your support.

  10. Cleaning products (from all manufacturers) tend to be in single use packaging. Why can’t retailers buy in bulk so that customers can refill the bottles they already have?

  11. I use Dri-park soda crystals extensively for household chores. Is it possible to package them in cardboard rather than plastic? Thank you.

    1. All our dry products are packed in cardboard. Soda Crystals are a WET product so need to be in a plastic bag. Even when they were sold in a cardboard box, there was a plastic bag inside.

  12. Sheffield Council burn a lot of waste which provides heat for many buildings. Litter laws should be enforced with heavy fines. It would pay to employ wardens to enforce litter dropping. In some areas of Sheffield the streets are a disgrace due to the local population not caring about their environment. NB politicians should visit these areas.

  13. Hi
    I use a lot if white vinegar for cleaning and laundry and often wondered if it would be more eco friendly to supply it in a refill carton much like the carton some wines are supplied in or even a gallon plastic one

    1. Regarding the comments about offering refill bottles, without triggers etc – this is on the surface, eminently sensible and something we would be in favour of if demand was sufficient….but…retailers will not accept it. They will not stock two of essentially the same product. There is extreme pressure on what they call SKUs (stock keeping units). Because the major multiples have been struggling in recent years, they are REDUCING the number of lines they stock. The really big companies like P&G and Unilever may have the power to insist that they stock a standard line and a refill, but it will mean that another line would have to be dropped…and that often means dropping lines from smaller manufacturers like Dri-Pak.

  14. l use your soda crystals and feel that the un-recycleable plastic packaging could easily be replaces by a cardboard box as used by detergent manufacturers. This could be recycled with kerbside collection or composted in my garden compost bin. I doubt this would cost more but if it did l would pay an extra 1p or 2p per pack. The only way to reduce and hopefully wipeout plastic packaging is for government to introduce punative taxes on the manufacture of plastic which would force companies to look for more cost effective solutions.

  15. Can you not try selling just the bottles with a silver foil placed over the top of the bottle, at a cheaper price to encourage people to keep the existing top/spray nozzle from an old bottle? This can just be kept & reused time & time again?
    That’s one way you could do it, which would mean less waste.

  16. I buy white vinegar in glass bottles from Waitrose. I buy bars of soap. I use Dri Pak cleaning products. Soda crystals go hard when opened even when packed in plastic, so just put them back in cardboard like your other products. I need disinfectant but Dettol changed from glass bottles so plastic, so I don’t buy it.

  17. Why not move to offer refillable bottles? Splosh are doing this to great success. The customer buys a set of plastic bottles that are then refilled resulting in far less plastic waste. Or even selling refil bottles which are the same as the regular bottles but with no trigger spray included, so the old plastic bottle is recycled and the trigger spray which can’t be recycled gets used again

  18. I understand that “plastic” can also be made from various plants such as corn (The packing beads for example) and is therefore totally biodegradable and can be composted. No need to use oil, no need to recycle and no need to wait 100s of years for it to break down Have you investigated whether this is an option for bottles ?

    1. This is something that has merit but for now, they are more expensive. Also, the counter argument is that it diverts agriculture from food production (just like bio-diesels), so the ‘big picture’ solution isn’t that simple.

      1. Not only are you bothering to reply to your customers’ feedback, for which thank you, but your intelligent, helpful, non-evasive responses show that you are actively considering this vexing Q. Excellent!

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