There’s been a huge shift in public opinion about packaging over the past 12 months, following TV and film documentaries, and the media and political focus on packaging waste.
Traditionally, packaging waste in Europe is disposed of through landfill, incineration, export and recycling.
The ‘export option’ has been the most popular where packaging waste was exported to China, and where it was recycled and reused. However, responding to world pressure to reduce waste, China has closed its doors and no longer accepts packaging waste.
As a result the waste problem has increased significantly throughout Europe. In simple terms, there are not enough incinerators or recycling facilities to recover the material.
Packaging waste has been the centre of numerous documentaries – in particular the Blue Planet II which highlighted a survey carried out in 2016 that concluded between 8-9m tonnes of plastic waste were being dumped in the earth’s oceans every year.
What they didn’t state was that 90% of this material was deposited through 10 rivers – all in South East Asia and the Indian sub-continent. The largest polluter by far was China with 40% – 3.3m tonnes. Indonesia and Vietnam accounted for 1.2m tonnes.
All these highly populated countries deliberately dispose of their household waste in rivers and tidal waters. This is their local policy and not by accident.
What developed nations should be doing is applying pressure to these countries to stop the practice of ocean dumping. Plastic continues to be targeted by media and the public who are only hearing part of the story.
The Plastics Industry is doing everything it can to deliver a better solution. The anti-plastic approach continues to undermine the truth about packaging. Let’s highlight some of the key areas:
Aluminium, glass and paper-based products are instantly recognisable as recyclable and therefore considered more sustainable and environmentally friendly. As a result of media pressure, many leading brands have swapped plastic for these materials to appeal to the 2019 environmentally conscious consumer.
FACT: All the alternative packaging materials capable of replacing plastic such as paperboard, glass or tins all use far more of the earth’s resources and generate much higher CO2 emissions in manufacture.
A 2011 peer-reviewed study by Denkstatt compared plastic packaging polymers LDPE, HDPE, PP, PVC, PS and PET with tin plate, steel, aluminium, glass, corrugated board, cardboard, paper and fibre-cast, paper-based composites and wood. It found that if these materials were to replace plastic, then the packaging mass would on average increase by a factor of 3.6 and life cycle energy demand by a factor of 2.2 or 1,240 million gigajoules per year … which is the equivalent to 20 million heated homes.
When analysing the production energy and greenhouse gas emissions of the different packaging types, the 7 plastic packaging sectors: bottles, shrink and stretch films showed the highest overall benefit.
According to the Northern Ireland Assembly it takes four times as much energy to manufacture a paper bag as a plastic bag. It goes on to report that paper bags generate 70% more air and 50 times more water pollutants that plastic. In terms of reusability, a plastic bag can carry 2,500 times its own weight and remain strong when wet.
The plastic bag can be reused many times and is compact enough to be carried around in a pocket. It takes 91% less energy to recycle a kilo of plastic than a kilo of paper.
A paper bag is 3-4 times the weight of a plastic bag. A glass bottle 5-6 times the weight of a plastic bottle. A tin can weighs up to 8-10 times more than a plastic pouch.
The extra weight in paper bags, glass bottles and cans results in thousands more vehicle movements when plastic is replaced.
Some paper and cardboard items are believed to be recyclable and some are even labelled as such.
Dominos Pizza delivers more than 2 million pizzas a day worldwide. Its pizza boxes are labelled 100% recyclable. In theory, being made of cardboard (80% recycled and 20% FSC certified) they could be. However, any material soiled with waste (especially grease) is deemed not recyclable.
If something is contaminated or made wet or greasy it is not recyclable. The grease and liquid deteriorate the structure of the fibres of paper packaging and during the few days it takes to get to the recycler it will rot making it hard to convert.
Sandwich boxes are another example where plastic has been replaced with cardboard. Again customers assume these can be recycled. Marks & Spencer and Greggs, for example, label their boxes as ‘widely recycled’. Like pizza boxes, however, they can only be recycled if unspoilt by food. Furthermore the plastic window has to be removed.
Many of these boxes are lined with plastic (like coffee cups) making them even harder to recycle. These are examples of large contributors to the waste problem. If a plastic container were used, as long as it was cleaned properly, it can be easily recycled.
Approximately 80% of all plastics are recyclable including 100% of plastic bottles. Plastic is the perfect material for packaging – it is inert, low cost, lightweight and the least damaging of any alternative packaging raw material.
Bell Packaging, a leading supplier of recycled plastic packaging in Europe, is driving forward a number of initiatives to help people understand plastic packaging better.
In 2018 they launched a new product – Retran®. The formula to produce this product includes a minimum 70% recycled content. The recycled base comes from used plastic bottles. Yes, these are bottles used for fizzy drinks such as lemonade, cola, water or orange juice.
By collecting, cleaning, chipping and reprocessing, the material does not degrade and can be reused time and time again. To ensure Retran® can be used for food applications, a layer of virgin film is applied to the surface which enables direct food contact.
Commenting on this development, Bell Managing Director Peter Lennie said, ‘Recycled plastic has been around for a long time – however the quality of film is variable. We have worked hard with our raw material manufacturers to be able to deliver a perfectly clear film that out-performs the traditional virgin materials and delivers excellent clarity.’
‘Extensive tests were carried out with our major clients prior to the launch – all of whom have welcomed the new formulation. With no cost increase the switch is a no brainer. We have shown this to many of the High Street retailers who all agree this is the way forward.’
Not only is Retran® made of recycled plastic, it is 100% recyclable. European governments are beginning to accept that recycling is the way forward, but with the numerous variants on plastics Bell are starting a new initiative for 2019 by identifying the products that they supply will enable consumers and users to separate and direct the used plastic for reprocessing.
As Peter Lennie explained, ‘We are particularly excited with the new identification processes to enable consumers and users to see what type of film is being used, so it can be disposed of correctly. We anticipate completion of this exercise by the end of this year.’
Following the successful launch in the UK these initiatives are being rolled out across Europe and for 2019 they are now available in Spain.
For samples and more information, please contact Bell Packaging on Tel: +44 (0)1582 459292 or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is an SiE Spotlight Business Feature