NCC at Eunomia 15th Birthday celebrations

The NCC was pleased to attend the 15th Birthday celebrations of Eunomia at @Bristol last month.

The event opened with a welcome and introduction by Eunomia Director, Joe Papineschi, which was followed by presentations on current issues and research in the waste sector. Of particular relevance to the NCC were the issues surrounding marine plastics.

First up was, 'The residual waste market in Northern Europe', by Managing Director, Mike Brown, followed by Principal Consultant, Chris Sherrington, on Marine plastics: 'Where do they come from, where do they go?'. Dr Sherrington outlined that plastics in the marine environment debris is a global problem and yet 80% arises from land-based sources. His presentation highlighted Eunomia’s international review of waste management policy, undertaken for Irish government seven years ago, which looked at the impact of levies on single use plastic bags and deposit refund systems (DRS) for beverage containers. These approaches are cost-effective ways to prevent litter, with the latter incentivising high rates of return of good quality materials for recycling. He noted that Eunomia subsequently undertook more detailed modelling of the wider costs and benefits of such a scheme for CPRE, with the resulting report entitled  'Have we got the bottle?'. Other points raised in relation to litter included the importance of disamenity i.e. how the extent to which the issue upsets the public. In the case of a UK-wide DRS, it was calculated in the CPRE study that a reduction in disamenity, associated with a reduction in the prevalence of littered beverage containers, would be valued at £48 per household. However, a more recent Eunomia report on the indirect costs of litter in Scotland, for Zero Waste Scotland, identified significant impacts on property values, mental health, crime  associated with the presence of litter, and a  total local neighbourhood disamenity valued at £500m - £770m for Scotland as a whole. The implication of this finding is that the benefit to households associated with a reduction in litter due to the implementation of a DRS would be far in excess of the £48 per household assumed in the CPRE study, meaning that a DRS would provide a greater net societal benefit than had previously been realised.

Dr Sherrington's presentation went on to outline Eunomia reports on migratory species and marine debris for the United Nations Environment Programme, featuring issues of entanglement, deaths, disablement, ingestion of plastics which affect buoyancy, and the impact on migratory patterns and distance of travel. He highlighted the CSIRO 2011 marine debris survey, which showed a reduction in the number of beverage containers found littered in South Australia where a deposit scheme is in place. He also considered the impact of cosmetic micro-plastics and industry commitments to phase these out albeit only in ‘rinse-off’ products, which does not include products that will come into direct contact with the marine environment, such as  sunscreens. He also noted other primary micro-plastics sources such as marine paint, polyester fibres, and tyre dust. The toxicological impacts of microplastics have been studied by Plymouth marine lab study where they looked at zooplankton eating fluorescent plastics and the impact on nutritional value in the food chain.

Dr Sherrington finished by showing how 94% of plastics in the marine environment end up on the sea floor, which can be considered inaccessible for the purposes of removal. Only about 1% is found floating at the ocean surface, which may well seem surprising given the high profile of plans to clean up the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’. The concentration is low as well – at only 1kg per square km on average, peaking at 18kg per square km in the North Pacific gyre. By contrast, beaches contain around 5%, and importantly, the concentration on beaches is far higher than on the ocean surface, at circa  2 tonnes of plastics per square km. Moreover, beaches are, in general, much more readily accessible for clean-up than mid-ocean. All in all, losing plastics to the marine environment is not only bad for marine fauna, and potentially upstream consumers (i.e. us), but it is a waste of a resource! This made us think around the opportunities for recycling and repurposing of marine plastics, into composites.

Other topics covered were: 'Wasted talent: The challenges & triumphs of a circular designer', by Sophie Thomas, Designer, and Founder of The Great Recovery Project and former Director of Circular Economy at RSA; 'On Eunomia past and present', by Ray Georgeson Chief Exec of the Resource Association; and 'The scandal of food waste' by Tristram Stuart. Tristram is the Founder of Feedback and an award-winning author and campaigner on the environmental and social impacts of food waste.

The event concluded with a summary on 'What lies ahead' from Dominic Hogg. Dominic is the Chairman of Eunomia and a thought leader in resources. There was also a chance to sample Toast ale made from surplus bread. 

All of this certainly gives the NCC some food for thought on end of life and life-cycle opportunities of composites. If you're interested in this topic or looking to form a small consortium to look at a waste plastics project please contact: Nigel Keen, Business Support Engineer

 +44 (0) 117 370 7600