Talking Plastic With Our CEO James Capel

talking plastic with CEO James Capel

You can’t escape the hundreds of news stories and television programmes that have been published recently about plastics. How the use of the material is increasing, how much damage it causes the environment and wildlife, both on land and at sea.

You can’t escape the hundreds of news stories and television programmes that have been published recently about plastics. How the use of the material is increasing, how much damage it causes the environment and wildlife, both on land and at sea.

Early in 2018, China stopped accepting numerous types of imported waste including low-grade paper and plastic. This caused and is still causing a huge problem for countries all across the world. But, can we make a change and if so, where does the responsibility lie and what are the possible outcomes?

Simply Waste Solutions’ CEO, James Capel, has given his opinion on plastics, how it should be treated and its future.

How has China’s plastic import ban affected the waste industry?

The import ban has caused some really big issues in the sense that it’s highlighted the complete lack of reprocessing infrastructure both in the UK and in Europe, and that has shone a light in terms of how the general public view what happens to their waste. It’s all of a sudden become an issue. I don’t know that people were fully aware of what was happening with their waste material being exported to China, but I think it presents us with a new and a big opportunity.

What do you think is the main problem with plastic?

There are a number of problems with plastic, I think the material itself is fantastic and has been used in exactly the right way. It’s completely durable, it has lots of different properties which can be applied in lots of different ways and it has transformed the 20th and 21st century in terms of how we live, but there are consequences and the mixture of polymers has grown and it has become more of a problem and complex in terms of how we deal with those. Many of them can’t be mixed together to be reprocessed, lots of them, however, are mixed together at the point of design so they become very difficult to separate at the point of reprocessing. I think there’s a number of issues that are created as a consequence.

Waste companies are too late in the plastic lifecycle to make a change. Who do you think is responsible for change?

Everybody is responsible for change through the whole supply chain. I think it really starts with a design and ensuring that we’re not creating ourselves or somebody else a problem further down the supply chain in terms of handling it and ultimately reprocessing and recycling it.

There’s not enough consideration given at that design point, but I also think that as a society we don’t understand; what bin it needs to go in, why there are different types of plastics, or why we would use certain plastics over other types of plastics or packaging.

A level of consistency emanating from the waste stream would make things so much easier to understand so I think the problem is fewfold, but the responsibility is really on everybody in the supply chain to try and to get to grips with it. I think the problem with the supply chain is, it’s passed to somebody else and it’s the next person’s problem. The import ban in China and the ocean plastics and river plastics that’s really shone a light on the issue and the problem is now working its way back up the supply chain.

Do you think businesses are making smart choices regarding plastic waste?

I honestly don’t think businesses fully understand what they’re throwing away. I think again it comes back to a lack of education and you can’t blame people for not understanding the different properties of polymer types.

It’s only in the last ten years that as a waste manager, a waste professional, somebody that’s been in the industry has had to get involved and actually understand what plastic means for people. So I can’t blame people for a lack of understanding but it’s upon everybody to attempt to make a difference and businesses are frankly not incentivized at all to do anything more with plastic other than a rudimentary sortation, potentially a mixed recycling bin, that type of thing, but I think there is now a much bigger responsibility on businesses and the big brands, the people that are putting this material onto the market – it’s upon them to help find solutions.

What do you think is the future for plastics?

I think ultimately there will have to be less of it. I think that’s almost certain but what we replace it with becomes another question.

I think that the amount of polymer types may end up becoming slightly more limited and that composite materials will be less prevalent. I think there’s a move to simplify what we’re using. First and foremost, I think the important thing would be to reduce the amount of plastic that we use because we’re now at a point where perhaps because it’s cheap and it’s plentiful that it’s being used for things that it doesn’t necessarily need to be used for.

Do you think the government is doing enough?

I don’t think the government is doing enough, although I think that it’s very easy to blame governments for problems that we have in society.

I don’t think that it’s down to them 100%, but I do think that there are certain leavers they can pull that will spur people into life to help deal with the issue. I think that they could be doing more on the world stage to help governments in other parts of the world particularly in poorer countries help get established meaningful waste and resource processes and to prevent pollution.

What more should the government be doing?

I think the government could create a legislative framework that encourages recyclable material to be put into new material to be put on the market, perhaps a taxation system, that would encourage much more recyclable material, they could also help with creating more infrastructure.

We do have some difficulty as an island nation finding the space for all of this activity {hence often shipping it abroad} and therefore we do run into a parochial type of behaviour where people are nervous about “waste companies” moving into certain territories, heavy vehicles delivering, that type of thing. So there is an element of planning and the regulatory permitting system that is overly bureaucratic currently standing in the way of progress that could be simplified and perhaps even incentivised to help create some of the infrastructure and subsequently create jobs and economic prosperity.

Should all plastic packaging be treated the same?

All plastic packaging can’t be treated the same and that’s ultimately the main problem. The terminology ‘plastic packaging’ is a generic term but it is essentially a whole host of different types of materials all brought together and I think that is part of our issue – the complexity of it. As a society we don’t understand that plastic packaging is actually made up of various different components and therefore once we understand what we mean by plastic packaging, I think we have a better chance of being able to deal with it.

What do you think the waste industry should be doing about plastic waste?

We certainly need to be thinking differently, we need to be moving away from that linear waste model to a more circular model, everyone keeps saying that, very easy to say much more difficult to do in practice. That requires an element of heading into the unknown, so I think we need to be slightly more ballsy about our decisions, we definitely need more infrastructure around the whole reprocessing topic but really what we also need is more collaboration.

The Simply Cups scheme that we’ve been part of is an excellent example of collaboration in the sense that; we’re collaborating with designers of material, PhD students that have created new types of polymer, us as the collection company, other people assessing behaviour change such as Closed Loop Environmental. That’s a collection of people coming together and a collaboration to bring something to life. Something innovative, something new!

I think the waste industry is not typically used to conducting itself in that way. I think that lots of waste companies were born originally in the early part of the 20th century coming from landfills so if they owned a landfill they controlled to market – there was no collaboration. I don’t think many of them are used to or even comfortable with collaborating with people across sectors to help deliver solutions. Being a much newer waste company, I think we are different in that sense and therefore I think that’s something that needs to be encouraged.

What is your future predictions for plastic waste?

My future prediction for plastic waste or at least what I hope is that, we consider more in the designing process of whether those plastics are actually necessary. We need to have in mind that once plastic is put on to the market there is a very good chance it’s going to be around, more or less, forever unless we’re able to capture it. So, I think that there ultimately needs to be less of it and the material and systems to reprocess need to have less complexity about it.

What changes are Simply Waste Solutions making to accommodate these issues?

Simply Waste has always been at the forefront of innovation and one of the things that we’re very proud of is being first to market with the paper cup collection and recycling System. Cups are a composite packaging that contains plastic and we really have learned a lot from that process over the last 4 years.

We would like to apply our knowledge in a broader sense, to a broader range of materials to help educate people about the individual properties, help them extract them from their waste streams in an efficient way, collect them in a separate fashion keeping the value in the material and making sure that that material is put then into something of value that potential customers can buy back, so a full closed-loop environment.

What are Simply Waste Solutions doing to help businesses with their plastics?

Simply Waste are helping businesses better understand the waste material that they produce; what can be done with that material, finding homes for that material that are suitable, that are driving value and not necessarily just bailing and shipping it off to a non-descript town in China and hoping that something positive will happen to it and it wont be littered in one of the worlds rivers or oceans
We’re actually much more about; finding a home that’s transparent, creates value, keeps the material price high, that our customers fully understand and have traceability for all of that material.

Well there’s our CEO’s thoughts on plastics, what are your thoughts?

If you would like to have your waste collected by a company that offers full transparency to all its customers call us on 03330 433 033, email or via live chat on our website.