This article was written by Sheena Heaton for the Parish Magazine at St Peter’s, Maney:
Know Your Plastics
A great deal has been written and talked about plastic since David Attenborough’s Blue Planet 2 showed the terrible damage being done to our oceans and marine life. Numerous articles about going plastic free or giving up one-use plastics are circulating. Now we are surely fooling ourselves if we think we can give up plastics altogether. Plastic contributes greatly to our daily lives and has many beneficial uses e.g. solar panels are largely made from plastics as are parts of wind turbines; plastics have made cars and aircraft much lighter and therefore more energy efficient; although there is too much of it, plastic packaging helps eliminate food waste.
Below is a brief explanation of the most common plastics we deal with. The numbers within the recycling symbol can usually be found on the bottom of the plastic item.
|Name & number||Main uses||Recycling situation||Additional information|
|Polyethylene Terephthalate||Drinks bottles
Food trays and roasting bags
Boil in the bag pouches
Fibre for clothes and carpets
|Most widely recycled plastic in the world.||May absorb odours from food or drink stored in it. Better not to re-use for food and not after heating|
|High Density Polyethylene||Bottles for cleaning products
Food boxes Toys
Garden furniture, Wheelie and compost bins
|Commonly recycled||No known health concerns|
|Polyvinyl Chloride||Credit cards Shower curtains
Pipes, guttering, window and door frames
|Sometimes recycled||Contains harmful phthalates.
Not for food use. Old plastic containers may have been made with PVC so avoid using for food.
|Low Density Polyethylene||Cling film, food bags
|Sometimes recycled||No known health concerns but better to avoid using cling film with fatty foods such as cheese and do not use in the microwave|
|Polypropylene||Most bottle tops
Yogurt and margarine pots
Crisp bags Drinking straws
Fabrics and carpets
|Occasionally recycled||Small amounts of plastic may be transferred to food when microwaved. Safer to use glass or ceramic|
|Polystyrene||Egg boxes Vending cups
Takeaway containers Disposable cutlery
|Commonly recycled||Various health concerns. Styrene is possibly a carcinogen|
Polycarbonate is used in bottles , compact discs and medicine containers
|Depends on type of plastic but generally difficult to recycle||Polycarbonate is derived from BPA which has been found to be a hormone disruptor.
Only buy BPA free plastics
The ‘best’ and safest plastics are . Although is widely recycled, it degrades with each recycling until ultimately is only fit for landfill.
- Some steps we can take to reduce our plastic use:
- Buy as little one-use plastic as possible
- Avoid plastic water bottles, one-use coffee cups, plastic cutlery
- Refuse plastic straws
- Take your own bag to the shops
- Buy loose fruit and veg and put it unwrapped into your bag
- Use greaseproof paper or tinfoil to wrap food instead of cling film
- Use glass, ceramic or stainless steel for food storage and microwaving
- Use a bar of soap rather than liquid; a safety razor not disposables
- Avoid wet wipes – use a flannel or cotton pads/wool
- Choose clothing made with natural fibres
- Look for recyclable sweet and chocolate wrappers or buy Pick and Mix
- Give up chewing gum (it’s actually made of plastic!)
- Take care how we dispose of plastics:
- Check out what can be recycled in wheelie bins and at the tip birmingham.gov.uk
- Recycle plastic bags plus the plastic film from magazines/catalogues at supermarkets
- Before throwing anything out check if there is a reuse or recycling option available e.g. companies who sell consumer goods must take away your old appliance for recycling – this covers kettles and toasters as well as big items; if you are not buying new, electrical items can be recycled at the local tip; most charity shops will take unwearable clothes/bedding for rags; if you are having work done on your house check what is going to happen to the old materials – there is even a scheme for recycling vinyl flooring.
- Lobby supermarkets, manufacturers, shopkeepers, utility companies, MPs. Talk to friends and neighbours about the problems and what we can do to improve things.
- Bio-degradable plastics exist – we need more investment in developing them
- Over-packaging can be reduced – Iceland are setting a target which the other supermarkets will have to follow
- Washing machine manufacturers and water authorities can develop better filtering systems to stop micro fibres from getting into the seas and water supply
- Don’t worry about being different. If people see you putting fruit and vegetables in your trolley without plastic bags it will raise their awareness and encourage them to follow your example. Staff at the checkout are quite used to it.
And here is the website for those who want to see how the Church of England put forward this idea: