There are some single-use plastics we just can’t avoid using – but the Race is finding ways to recycle them.
Plastics, such as shopping bags, cling film and bubble wrap are usually not welcome at local recycling plants, as they get entangled in machinery, so much of this type of household ‘soft plastic’ is sent to landfill.
Events, such as our stopover in Cardiff, can generate hundreds of kilos, which unless a special collection system is set up, also goes to landfill.
To tackle this, the sustainability team developed a partnership with RPC bpi Recycling, who specialise in soft plastic collection and recycling.
Meegan Jones, Sustainability Programme Manager at Volvo Ocean Race ensures that unavoidable soft plastics are sent for recycling.
Meegan said: “There are certain items delivered to the site in plastic that we currently have no control over such as those from pallets wrapped in plastic. We have to make sure they are collected separately from other materials onsite so that they can be recycled.
“Our ultimate aim is to send them to a recycling plant close by that re-manufactures the plastic into new products, rather than shipping it a long distance or even abroad, to an unknown final destiny.
“While we have taken this special focus on soft plastic collection and recycling, the problem is that very few events give this material the same attention and tonnes of soft plastic will be heading to landfill from event sites every day.
“If organisers are having trouble finding a destination to send their soft plastic, a good place to start is to investigate where nearby supermarkets and factories send their soft plastic.
“We are so happy that RPC bpi was not only very close to our event site, but is doing an amazing job recycling the film plastic right here in Wales, and that they were willing to support our soft plastic recycling efforts.”
RPC bpi has been recycling in the leafy Welsh Valleys’, 40 miles north of Cardiff, for over 35 years. They operate round the clock with a total of 80 people working onsite.
The company takes plastic mainly from the agricultural, construction and distribution sectors – over 20,000 tonnes in total each year.
If it’s dirty, the plastic is washed before being shredded into small pieces. It’s then melted and cut into pellets. The pellets can be used to make a range of products for households and industry.
The heavy-duty ‘plaswood’ benches they produce make perfect outdoor seating. Other products include damp proof membrane - ideal for the construction industry.
Sian Miles, General Manager of the factory, said: “We are turning a product that could end up in landfill into something that’s useful to a range of industries contributing to the development of a circular economy.
“Working with Volvo Ocean Race gives us the opportunity not only to recycle this plastic but to help promote the fact that we need to all need to make efforts to recycle more.”
The company are also in the process of trialling the first of its kind scheme with the Welsh Government and a local council to offer recycling of soft plastics to local households.
Annie Middleton, Environmental Officer for the Cardiff Harbour Authority said that the Volvo Ocean Race being in the city has helped them understand how they can identify items such as plastic film and bubble wrap at events and rather than throw them away, send them to the RPC bpi recycling centre.
“We are now dealing with plastic film recycling for the very first time thanks to Volvo Ocean Race and this is something we are really excited about,” Annie said.
“Plastic film is so light and we get strong winds in the harbour area and it can get blown into the sea and create issues in the marine environment.
“We are now using RPC bpi to take the waste away after some of the big events that take place in the city over the course of this summer. It’s a fantastic way to make something useful out of a product that, in the past could end up polluting the environment.”
Alongside the sustainability team, Vestas 11th Hour Racing has taken great steps to integrate sustainability throughout their operations, including a focus on single-use plastics. Members of the team visited the RPC bpi recycling centre to see how the process is carried out.
Vestas 11th Hour Racing Sustainability Manager, Damian Foxall, said: “ The operations of reducing our plastic has highlighted significant differences in the way infrastructures like recycling and refuse collection are available.
“For our team, focused on leading sustainability, this has given us a different set of challenges at each stopover and the VOR sustainability team has worked hard to find scalable solutions in each country.”