Good Products in Bad Packaging: Part 3 – Plastic Bottle Processing

Carla Feltham 30/03/2016

Plastic BottlesUnfortunately the string of good products in bad packaging doesn’t end with yogurt or toothpaste as there many other everyday products whose packaging is a real problem. Plastic bottles are one of the biggest challenges for the recycling industry, but how so? The issue isn’t to do with the plastic the bottles are made of, as they have come a long way since the early days and are now manufactured using PET plastic which is fine, the problem is the low number of plastic bottles that make it to the recycling plant.

This time around, the problems lies not to so much with manufacturers but rather with authorities responsible for the collection, removal and recycling of plastic bottles. Not long ago, manufacturers of soft drinks and other beverages sold in plastic bottles recognised that certain types of plastic were hard to recycle and ultimately became waste which took hundreds if not thousands of years to break down naturally. In result, some of the major players in the soft drink and beverage industry joined hands with consumer and environmental organisations in an effort to come up with a new, sustainable plastic bottle that is effectively recycled. Once this was done, the situation did improve but there was more to be desired as simply not enough bottles were collected for recycling. This is where local authorities responsible for dealing with waste stepped in and introduced and imposed different rules and regulations. In the US for instance, the country being one of the largest consumers of plastic bottle beverages, the newly imposed regulations increased collection and recycling rates of PET plastic bottles by more than thirty percent in twelve months.

In the last fifteen or so years, online purchases have also become a bit of a problem for the recycling industry. The issue here is so called over packaging, or as some specialist refer to it – the Russian Doll approach. Over packaging is intended to protect an item being shipped from A to B so that buyer receives it intact. Fair enough, but this proves to be a wasteful practice as some sellers or shippers use two, even three boxes to store and ship their goods in. This is common practice of most, if not all private and commercial sellers, regardless of which online platform (web store) they use. The need to protect the integrity hence value of an item during handling and transportation is undeniable, however there are ways to avoid wasteful over packing.

Plastic WasteUse sustainable materials – these days, there are many alternatives of traditional packing and insulation materials. For example, instead of using Styrofoam to stuff empty space inside the item, the box can be filled with sustainable alternatives like corn starch pellets or sorghum which are easily composted after serving their purpose. Some larger computer and garment manufacturers have even opted for using fungus based insulation materials when stuffing hollow space in boxes of their products.  The wine industry has made a shift toward using sustainable insulation materials for crates and boxes more than ten years ago. Nowadays, most good wineries will ship their bottled product in crates and boxes insulated with recycled pulp instead of Styrofoam. The recycled pulp is a widely available material, and can be used when shipping many other products.

Last but not least there is the dreaded pizza box. Pizza boxes as well as various other takeaway food containers made of cardboard are indeed easily recycled, problem is that ninety nine percent of them are tainted with food leftovers and greasy stains, which render them useless in terms of recycling as they would lower the quality of recycled product at the end of the process.

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