Sue Robb of 4Children talks to Julie Laughton and Alison Britton from the Department for Education about the role of childminders in delivering the 30 hours free entitlement.
Plastic and its increasing proliferation in our lives has become a hot topic in the news recently, with the latest survey for the UK government predicting that the amount of plastic in the ocean, which is already affecting our marine life, could triple in a decade.
The so-called Blue Planet effect resulting from Sir David Attenborough’s revealing nature documentary has shone a much-needed light on the problem of plastic waste and what effect it is having on the environment. The programme, it seems, has literally kick-started a consumer war on plastic, ranging from campaigns to get supermarkets to provide plastic-free food aisles to calls for single-use coffee cups and plastic straws to be banned.
It could be one of the reasons that Eco Furniture, a Suffolk-based outdoor 100% recycled plastic furniture specialist and part of the social enterprise Realise Futures, has been seeing an increasing interest in its furniture made from a 100% recycled plastic products.
Eco Furniture uses planks made from 100% plastic materials, such as CD cases and polyethylene bottles, bags and containers, that would otherwise find themselves destined for landfill sites.
The planks we use to make our benches, tables, signs, planters, play equipment, picnic tables, shelters and log stores – in fact we can make any outside furniture product you care to think of – is long-lasting, splinter-free and weatherproof.
Which is why many customers, such as local authorities and parish councils, find them extremely suitable for use in their public and outdoor spaces. Designed for commercial or heavy domestic use, once installed our furniture is rarely replaced.
We are often asked how the planks are made from waste soft plastic items, such as plastic milk bottles and carrier bags.
We do not process the recycled planks ourselves – we make our furniture from them – but it involves washing waste to remove impurities and then shredding the plastic into small pieces. It is then ground up, producing pellets that look very much like black peppercorns.
The pellets are then heated to a very high temperature and forced into moulds, which are then cooled and removed. The plank is then ready for use and can be sawn and cut like normal wood.
According to Recycle Now www.recyclenow.com we now use about 20 times more plastic than we did 50 years ago. Using recycled materials in the manufacturing process uses 75% less energy than required for producing products from scratch.
Recycled plastic does not need retreating or repainting and comes in lots of different colours. It is crack, chip and splinter-proof, insect and animal resistant, easy to clean and less flammable than timber.
Timber expands when it gets wet and shrinks when it dries, which loosens fixings. Recycled plastic doesn’t absorb liquid as timber does. It’s impervious to fluids, including paints and it never splinters, and lasts at least 100 years.
Best of all it, when our furniture is no longer wanted, it is 100% recyclable and can be made into new planks.
Although our large factory in Ipswich is where our products are made, our furniture is shipped far and wide. We are ISO 9001 accredited, and we won the Sustainability Award for the East of England from The British Chamber of Commerce in 2013.
As well as making furniture for schools and local councils, our furniture has been installed at the leading wildlife attraction Colchester Zoo, and we also made an Anglo-Saxon long boat for the play area of the Suffolk heritage site Sutton Hoo.
A recent piece of play equipment was a 19ft long fire engine made for a primary school in Ipswich which comfortably fitted 20-plus children. We have also made play galleons, tractors and cars.
One of our longest benches at 35-metres, commissioned by a Berkshire school, was estimated to have used 120,000 plastic bags in its manufacture.
Eco Furniture trades with a social mission because it is part of a large social enterprise operating in the east of England called Realise Futures. This is another good reason people buy our products because they see the sense of buying to create social value.
Realise Futures operates in Suffolk and Essex and employs around 330 people, 30% of whom have a disability. Eco Furniture is one of several social businesses which are part of RF Works, a division of Realise Futures providing products and services alongside work placements, employment and training opportunities for those who have a disability and/or disadvantages.
When you buy from Eco Furniture you not only do right by the planet because you are buying recycled plastic otherwise destined for landfill sites, you are also helping to change people’s lives.
The team at Eco Furniture includes people who have been long-term unemployed, who have had health conditions which have made it difficult for them to sustain employment, or who are disabled and/or disadvantaged.