Just when I thought it was safe to put out the rubbish without getting belted round the head with a dustbin lid by the recycling police, news…
Those black plastic trays used for ready meals and other food packaging in the supermarkets? You know, the ones you’ve been spending hours of your life you’ll never get back these past couple of years, rinsing and scouring to avoid any lingering whiff of last night’s fish wending its humming way back into the kitchen from one of the seven recycling bins that clutter up the utility room? Yeah, well that was all for nothing. They can’t be recycled after all. Who knew?
Er, the supermarkets, for a start. Not Maureen on the deli, obviously. But the big knobs in the fancy head offices. Apparently, us plebs traipsing up and down the aisles can’t resist the black stuff. Trays in any other colour just aren’t as attractive to us, it turns out, yet curiously our preferred option is invisible to the electronic sorting machines at recycling depots, so over a billion of the darn things are burnt or sent to landfill every year, just when we all thought we were single handedly saving the world from impending doom.
It’s particularly irritating round these parts, where the local council are only on version 6 of the “what you can and what you can’t recycle” leaflet, coz it’s still all very new and confusing to us. Down in Islington, Guardian readers have been making electric cars out of their empty Persil cartons for years now, while I’m reeling from spending six months seeing how many Sainsbury’s carrier bags I could fit into a Sainsbury’s carrier bag, only to be told my selfless act of spacial efficiency was pointless, as they’re the wrong sort of plastic. “Look for the recycle logo,” they said, tut-tutting. Yeah? Well you’ll find it on most black plastic trays, so what’s that all about?
Course, you’d have thought in this day and age we’d be able to come up with a solution to colour-blind sorting machines. And you’d be right. We have. Apparently, the trays suddenly leap out and slap the sorting robots round their metallic chops when a special black pigment is added to their colour. So why the problem?
“It’d cost a fraction of a penny per plastic tray to make them recyclable with a detectable pigment,” says Edward Kosior, of recycling consultancy Nextek. “But the supermarkets and the big brand owners are saying: who’ll pay for the extra cost?”
Hear that? That’s the sound of dairy farmers gnashing teeth in unison throughout Wales and the Borders.
Even if, every week, every man, woman and child in the UK scoffed a chicken biryani that started life in a detectable black tray, the cost of the special pigment would still only account for eight percent of Tesco’s profit last year.
Oh for the days when it was all so simple. When we all had a silver metal dustbin outside the front door, and everything went into that. Although, come to think of it, how on earth did we manage to fit it all in?
A question for the editor of Packaging News, perhaps…
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