Environmental Information

The Environmental / Polythene Debate

Oscar Products supplies a wide range of both polythene and paper products to a diverse cross section of customers and is increasingly coming up against the problem of balancing economy of packaging with environmental issues.

We can supply not only food grade polythene but also recycled materials (degradable and bio-degradable), paper products from managed forests and recycled paper materials. There are considerable arguments for and against the many types of materials in use in packaging today and it is probably a good idea to put some of these facts on the table for discussion when considering the right type of packaging for your needs.

Recyclable or Recycled - a small difference in spelling but a big difference in actual meaning!
Recyclable - All polythene and paper products are recyclable - they can be either put into local authority recycle units or collection points at supermarkets where they are collected for reuse in such diverse products from black bin liners to garden furniture. The only down side to recyclable products is the end user - if they are not prepared to make the effort to recycle, the bags will end up in land fill sites or on hedgerows.

Recycled - A lot of products are manufactured from recycled polythene and paper - With paper, we have all considered the recycled toilet paper and tissues(!) and the obvious polythene products are black bin liners and the bright blue and green vest carriers seen on market stalls and car boot sales. These products are manufactured from any other form of polythene which has been regranulated and mixed with dye to form a new product. These bags however are not suitable for carrying or covering fresh food as they do not have a food grade certificate for health and safety purposes.

Oil RefineryDegradable and Biodegradable - the bags that can disappear with time!
Polythene products can be made to degrade (disappear with time) by introducing a fault into their molecular structure which causes the polythene to disintegrate over a given period of time. This can be determined by the manufacturer at the time of manufacturing the polythene material.

Degradable polythene will disintegrate over a period of time with exposure to UVA light and the general wear and tear of everyday exposure.

Biodegradable polythene relies on the organisms in soil and land fill sites to produce the reaction it needs to disintegrate.
As a result, these two types of polythene are not very popular when mixed with standard polythene products in recycling systems. They have a habit of breaking down at the wrong moment! It is now being requested that these bags are put into land fill sites or at the very least, sent back to the supermarket collection points for the manufacturers to sort.

ForestRecycled Paper or Managed Forests!
Recycled paper products as mentioned earlier such as toilet rolls and paper carrier bags can be seen to be an environmental advantage. However, it has to be taken into account that in order to collect the vast amounts of paper, process back to a user friendly product and redistribute takes an inordinate amount of transport costs, chemicals for processing and fuel to generate the vast reprocessing procedures. At the end of the day, it should really be considered whether this process has in fact saved the environment or just moved the goalposts of management!

Managed Forests - it is argued that this process of paper production is using vast quantities of virgin forests for manufacturing purposes. However, the idea behind managed forests is that an equal number of trees, if not more, are planted for every tree removed for paper production. The wood used is mother nature's finest product, does not need excess chemical conversion and invariably the transport is restricted from the forest area to the mill, without too many collection points in between. At Oscar Products, our paper products are primarily from managed forests but some of the paper carrier bags have a small proportion of recycled paper in them. The answer is to get the balance right in order to keep the environmental balance true.

Polythene Carrier Bag Tax Debate
The Carrier Bag Tax was first implemented back in the early 1990's and has been introduced to several countries around the globe. The reasons were varied - to improve the visual effect on the countryside, to minimise waste disposal in countries where the infrastructure could not accommodate recycling regimes or to raise funds to encourage recycling systems.

Carrier BagThe UK is considering such a taxation on bags, but one should consider the bigger issue in the environmental argument. Polythene carrier bags constitute just one per cent of household waste, which in itself is only one percent of the country's litter in general.
It is generally agreed that by banning polythene carrier bags, the emphasis would shift to other areas - as shops turn to other containers to assist customers take their products home. The humble carrier bag has an 80 per cent reusable life, doubling as bin liners, nappy bags and pooper scoopers - if they were not available, the manufacture of the other bags would increase and they do not carry a threat of taxation, hence as much polythene in circulation but with no restrictive penalties . This theory has been noted in Ireland where the tax was introduced recently and statistics are still being collated on use of polythene bags within the household and retail industry.

The argument for the humble polythene carrier bag goes on but a recent comment from the British Plastics Federation gives food for thought:

If all plastics packaging were made of alternative materials, the weight of packaging would increase four-fold, the volume of waste three-fold and energy consumption would double.

...the debate continues