The plastic packaging waste situation is projected to get even worse.
The world currently produces 430 million tonnes of plastic annually, two-thirds of which are short-lived waste products. A 2021 study by the University of Cadiz in Spain found that plastic packaging for takeaway food and beverages made up the majority of the waste. Given current trends, the situation is expected to get worse and production volumes are estimated. triple by 2060.
UNEP latest report Reducing plastic pollution by 80% over the next 20 years could prevent more than $3 trillion in damages to health, climate, air pollution and marine environments, not to mention litigation costs against plastic companies. I estimate that it is possible.
In particular, the report estimates that an 80% reduction would prevent 500 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually, about the same as Canada’s emissions. This change could also lead to a net increase in his 700,000 jobs by 2040, mostly in low-income countries.
We all know we need to rethink how we use plastic packaging.
We must focus on how to leverage the benefits of plastics to maximize their lifecycles and strategically manage end-of-life options for materials.
Addressing the collection and recycling of plastic packaging would make a fundamental difference in reducing our carbon footprint. However, we are still stuck on how best to achieve this.
We believe our current approach to plastic packaging recycling is one of the biggest hurdles we have to overcome.
Without a renewed focus on recycling, the industry’s circular economy efforts will have little meaningful impact.
The current definition of recycling focuses on converting materials from used products into new materials for other products. Historically, this has been recycled into less valuable products.
We now have the technical capabilities to take another big step and make a difference here. Instead of simply recycling, we need to recycle used products into high-quality materials and turn them into high-value products.
This simultaneously reduces waste and dependence on unused resources.
The conversion from recycling to re-looping requires turning used products back into products of equivalent value. Instead of recycling plastic packages to produce general-purpose resins, we reloop plastic packages into the highest quality resin possible.
This is not a play on words, but a fundamental shift in thinking.
There is a disconnect between what brand owners and retailers are currently bringing to market and what is needed to achieve sustainability goals – high-quality recycling.
This disconnection is causing confusion and chaos. Rather than spending resources on so-called green solutions that overload rather than simplify recycling, from confectionery bar wrappers to plastic-lined paper bottles, brands put what they put on the market into The emphasis should be on recognizing that it will come back. .
KPMG recently pointed out the fairly obvious fact that insufficient amounts of plastic waste reach sorting facilities. Who is the main culprit? Lack of effective presorting. While it is true that recovery rates need to be increased, simply strengthening the pre-sorting infrastructure will do little.
What we need is a return to the drawing board of plastic packaging design to really make a difference. A paradigm shift in current design guidelines for circular packaging could change recycling rates. The guideline changes I recommend allow for recycling rather than recycling, thereby reducing waste, carbon footprint and wasting valuable resources.
What do you need to reloop?
Designing your product so that materials can be reused in the same or similar product is critical to successful relooping. This should be done using existing recycling technologies in the market where the product is sold.
A further push towards closed-loop cycles for products is needed to address the issue of uncontrolled pollution and strengthen circular destinations.
Designed for relooping.
The closed-loop cycle of the product ensures a contamination-free, re-looped material circulation destination. To ensure that products are designed to accommodate multiple reloops in all manner of ways, both stabilizing and processing additives must comply with the FDA and FDA regulations on materials and additives used in food contact. It should be optimized to comply with the EFSA approved list.
Focus on monomaterials.
Single materials or mixed materials of the same kind do not degrade the properties of the recycled plastic, making it easier for recyclers. Then you can classify and treat them as if they were a single material. One such example is a lidding film that needs to be completely removable. The aluminum foil lids currently used for things like yogurt cups pose a serious problem because the aluminum foil remains on the edges of the plastic cups. This happens despite our best efforts to remove the lid before recycling. We highly recommend switching to a lid of the same polymer such as polypropylene foil.
It’s attached with glue.
Adhesives used for labels must be designed to be easily removed for recycling without leaving any adhesive residue on the packaging, as listed on the FDA Approved List. Adhesives should be selected in accordance with printing industry and FDA guidelines and should be free of potentially harmful substances.
Look closely at the ink.
Avoid printing ink directly onto plastic unless you can ensure ink removal by following an approved recycling/relooping protocol. The ink must be removed as particles, not by washing or by dissolving in water.
Every element of the package needs to be scrutinized. So I thought of pigments in packaging that could play a dynamic role in helping sorting.
Natural colors encourage recycling.
Pigment colors on packaging are used purely for branding purposes, but colors interfere with the mechanical recycling process. Natural uncolored polymers have the highest recycling value and the most diverse end uses.
If color were used to categorize packaging rather than for branding purposes, recycling would be simplified almost overnight, as we know it.
Imagine a world where all food is in clear or white plastic packaging, ensuring safe and efficient re-looping of food grade applications. This will leave pastel colors in your household and cleaning products. All toxic products can be placed in carbon black or NIR detectable black tinted packaging to ensure exclusion from food applications during recycling and re-looping.
Learn more about how to reloop plastic packaging.
Support strategies for relooping products into new, high-quality materials and applications need to be well thought out and robust.
Beginning with product design and decoration improvements to facilitate re-looping, followed by packaging classification by sequence of NIR/VIS/AI/markers.
Since the in-mold label (IML) needs to be removable, a deinking cleaning step and flake sorting sequence is required before the relooping process.
It also requires decontamination of volatiles and other molecules that may migrate.
Similarly, high performance traceability of inputs and formulations for uniformity and consistency is key to testing materials and products and avoiding resin and grade crossovers. State-of-the-art machine vision systems and artificial intelligence help identify the composition of incoming materials before and after sorting, providing critical data on the absence of contamination and the need for sorting and recycling process adjustments .
Contrary to popular belief, even adopting a reloop approach to packaging design relies on brand owners and retailers to reflect brand values and positioning, or target markets and consumers. It doesn’t mean that you should abandon a consistent visual language. However, this means extending the package design requirements to consider the important aspects mentioned above.
Solving complex recycling conundrums.
Embracing the Reloop concept with these upgraded packaging design guidelines will help brands navigate what is currently considered a complex recycling conundrum.
We can no longer expect recyclers to somehow solve all our problems. We must take a collaborative approach. This will mean widespread adoption of revised packaging design guidelines that reinforce the concept of reloop.
Packaging designers, brand owners, manufacturers, marketers and recyclers can’t afford to work in silos. Nor can we sit back and wait for the latest technology to solve all our problems.
Reloop is not a flashy new buzzword, but an urgent guide to how the world must approach everything it produces. Otherwise, we risk jeopardizing our efforts to keep our carbon footprint within habitable limits. If we avoid voluntarily changing the way we design packaging, we may have to learn how to adapt to more profound changes around the world.
Edward KosiorA PhD, he has over 45 years of plastic recycling expertise, including 23 years as an academic and 23 years in the industry. Kosior has contributed to numerous modern recycling his plant designs and patented recycling.