Last month saw the opening of PlasRecycle’s plastic bag processing plant, the first of it’s kind in the UK. Based in Woolwich, South East London, the plant is a really big step towards solving the problem of what to do with recycling lower-grade plastics in the UK.

Plastic bags have been a real problem for recycling groups, for many years. Every effort has been made to encourage the public to reuse their old bags, but still the problem exists. They’ve even become a political issue! Deputy PM Nick Clegg recently announced a 5p levy on plastic bags at leading supermarket chains from 2015. According to the Financial Times, Mr. Clegg said, “plastic carrier bags blight our towns and countryside. (They’re) scattered around streets and rivers, killing wildlife and costing taxpayers millions of pounds to clean-up.”

9 billion carrier bags are used in the UK each year, the equivalent of 150 million per week. Most of these end up in landfill sites, where they take years to break down and contribute to the harmful methane gas. Others end up amongst the litter in British towns and cities, making parks and gardens look untidy and even killing small birds and mammals.

When plastic bags are recycled they are usually sent to China for processing, an act which creates a huge carbon footprint in itself.

However, as the Chinese introduce restrictions on the import of low-grade plastics from abroad, and the UK government begins to impose a heavy landfill tax on councils who continue to use landfill sites, there has been a need to find ways of recycling carrier bags on British soil.

Which is where PlasRecycle’s new plant comes in!

The new facility in Woolwich is capable of handling up to 20,000 tonnes of carrier bags and plastic film, a year. The plastic gets broken down and used to make more plastic materials. The plant currently employs 20 members of staff, but when it’s at full capacity that number should increase to 32.

According to the Financial Times, the plant has been backed by the Foresight Group, who helped raise the £10.7 million needed for it’s development. There are already plans to build another plant in the North of England.

This is a fantastic leap forward for the recycling industry, as it now means that harmful products, which cause untold damage to the environment, can be recycled, here in the UK.

For now, our advice is to re-use your plastic bags or choose an alternative – rucksacks, biodegradable paper bags, canvas or fabric, or even a wicker basket!

We can all make a difference to the planet, with just one small change. Write to your local council to encourage them to recycle the plastic bags they receive properly, so that they’re not cluttering up your local high street or spoiling your local park.

The Woolwich plant is a positive step in the right direction. Fingers crossed the idea will spread across the rest of the UK!