"The first obstacle in the way of plastic recycling is communication", the correspondent representing Brunel University and nextloop in the UK wrote this article on the views and work of Professor ed kosior of nextek and nextloop and Dr. Lesley Henderson of Brunel University in London.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's recent comment on the "impracticability" of recycling waste plastics may further complicate the situation of the plastic recycling industry, which is already facing many challenges. In response to a question before the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (cop26), the British Prime Minister said that recycling "is not the answer to the threat to the global oceans and marine wildlife".
The consequences of this view have triggered fierce comments from supporters and opponents of the plastic recycling industry.
Prime Minister Johnson's first statement said that recycling waste plastics "will not work". Obviously, this is not the case, because there are data indicating that plastic recycling is playing a role in the UK and the EU. Last year, the UK recycled 67% of plastic packaging, which is close to the goal of recycling 70% of all packaging materials by 2025.
However, when the prime minister said that "the idea that British society can use recycling to solve the problem of plastic pollution is wrong", he was right. The UK has used and will continue to use more methods to solve the problem of packaging, and try to use reusable packaging instead of "use and discard" disposable packaging.
On the bright side, many alternatives are emerging, such as packaging reuse, fillable packaging, recycling carbon containing materials and innovation in energy recovery, focusing on solving this problem.
However, there is no "simple and crude" way to help us avoid the cost of the global environment. For more than 60 years, commercial organizations have told us that the price of plastic is very cheap, and it can be directly thrown away when it is used up.
This is one of the main obstacles for us to solve plastic waste, and the other is that it is unclear who should be held accountable and what simple strategies will have the greatest impact.
According to Dr. Lesley Henderson, head of the sustainable plastics research team at Brunel University in London, we must develop a more systematic waste treatment method. As an expert in social work and social change, Leslie believes that we cannot achieve continuous innovation without a more comprehensive understanding of how and why consumers interact with specific plastic products and how they manage plastic waste in their homes.
Dr Leslie is currently conducting research in the UK and Europe to better understand how people use plastic packaging. She is developing an analytical map of public knowledge and cognition, including perception, behavior and emotion, in order to identify drivers and misunderstandings.
Recycling is not only a matter of solid waste disposal, but also involves identity and emotional participation. In her view, now is the best time to solve the problem of recycling, because the increase in the amount of plastic waste during the epidemic also brings new challenges and potential new opportunities.
She pointed out that if we seriously consider the transition to a circular economy, we need to study the damage caused by the epidemic and understand whether people have changed their behavior patterns and began to retain and reuse plastic packaging. Given the impact of the epidemic on household budgets, we also need to understand the possible impact of the epidemic on consumption decisions.
Dr Leslie's research was co funded by NERC and the intelligent sustainable plastic packaging (SSPP) challenge of the UK research and Innovation Agency (ukri). She said that the role of communication is crucial here. As she said, "the media has played a vital role in bringing the public and policy makers' attention to the plastic pollution crisis. If we want to build on this, we need to correctly convey the message. We see from other issues, especially in the field of public health, that the media can help normalize certain behaviors and bring about social change."
The British Prime Minister's comments may contribute to the view that there is no point in making small changes in the way people use and deal with plastics in their daily lives. "I learned from my research that consumers are often overwhelmed by a lot of information about waste plastics and recycling. For example, there is a lot of confusion about plastic recycling - not everyone knows what" disposable "means or what" biodegradable " The danger of this is that if the message is not clear and unified, people will only feel powerless, which may lead to boredom and inaction, even though the original intention is good. "
From the perspective of Professor ed kosior, society seems to lack "overall situation" thinking. For example, it is an undeniable fact that plastics play a key role in preserving food. If these food deteriorate or are polluted, it means a lot of carbon footprint loss. However, having said that, we do need to significantly reduce our dependence on disposable plastics. This is where collection and recycling play a vital role and need to be expanded.
Governments all over the world urgently need to first establish an effective solid waste management system, and then recycling enterprises can collect renewable resources for multiple reuse. Brands are also primarily responsible for whether their packaging is effectively recycled to the correct level, not just in theory. In addition, local governments should eliminate and prohibit the production of many disposable plastics that are obviously discarded all over the world.
As Dr. Leslie pointed out, media coverage can play a central role in recycling. Media coverage helps shape an environmental context that promotes recycling. For example, by establishing a clear link between plastic recycling, food security, marine plastics and climate emergency mitigation, it can successfully attract high public attention to environmental issues in the climate conference.
Recycling is crucial if we want to minimize the production of primary plastics - in fact, by reducing the production and disposal of primary plastics, we can save 1 to 1.5 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per ton of recycled plastics.
Dr. Leslie hopes that her research will help the public better understand the difficulties in achieving recycling goals and provide lessons on how to develop more effective, communication based interventions.
Manufacturers have the opportunity to develop sustainable alternatives, and we need to define how to reconfigure each link in the plastic packaging life cycle so that people can better interact with waste plastics and manage the use of all packaging materials.
Last but not least, all innovations should be based on scientific indicators of carbon emissions rather than marketing capabilities for consumers.