Sustainable Plastics - May/June 2021 - 16

opinion
leading the way forward.
continued from page 15
Roadblock #1 - Archaic
recycling systems
The pathway to an efficient
circular economy is still
blocked by archaic ways of
designing products and the
mechanisms of material collection
and recycling.
To truly create an effective circular
economy we need to focus
on closing all loops to ensure
post-consumer plastic waste
is consistently and efficiently
turned back into new materials.
To achieve carbon neutrality
as well as benefit from the
properties and economics of
plastics we must increase recovery
of valuable resources,
boost recycled materials, reduce
landfill and decarbonise
the waste-to-energy industry
keeping in mind that unsorted
plastics are often a part of the
input materials.
Roadblock #2 - Poor
design-thinking in
packaging
Despite claims to the contrary,
few packaging recycling features
run very deep and those
that are bolted on are unlikely to
be clearly thought through. Efficient
recycling formulations are
few and far between.
The majority of packaging
items on our shelves have
been designed with the primary
purpose to engage with the
consumer, protect the contents
within and tell a strong brand
story. Most materials have been
designed to be processed only
once and recycling features
that minimise recycling complexity
and create closed loop
opportunities are woefully low
on the list of priorities.
Narrowing the wide range of
polymers used in packaging (to
LLDPE, HDPE, PP and PET) and
using mono-polymer composition
would also greatly benefit
the technical and economic performance
of recycling operations.
I have previously mapped out
what a 360 degree recycled bottle
would look like, from tethered,
single polymer caps to self-peel16
May/June
2021
ing labels, using widely recycled
plastic materials, careful or
no-pigment choices to clarity
on-pack recycling instructions
to ensure every element of the
package neither hinders nor
complicates recycling.
If well thought-out, a fully recyclable
pack should barely deviate
from the original design.
Cost should not even be a factor
as re-designing a pack or bottle
to be as recyclable as possible
should improve its quality and
reduce its cost.
Roadblock #3 - Absence
of food-grade rPP
Polypropylene (PP) accounts
for 20% of the world's plastics. In
the UK, some 300,000tpa of PP is
used in packaging out of a total
of 700,000tpa used. Yet currently
there is no food-grade recycled
PP available for use as recycled
content in new packaging.
PP surfaces in those 'hard to
recycle' packs such as pots, tubs,
trays (PTT) and films in food
packaging (approx. 210,000 tpa)
as well as in non-food household
and personal care products.
Which is why closed-loop
recycling of rPP to food-grade
packaging is more complex due
to the presence of non-food PP
packaging and the wide variety
of packaging formats.
Currently PP packaging is
either being downcycled into
low performance applications
or going to waste-to-energy or
landfill - thereby wasting precious
resources.
For consumer safety, the
European Food Standards Authority
(EFSA) requires that
recycled food-grade materials
can only be made from (>95%)
food packaging and that the
recycled plastic must meet the
same high standards required
for virgin food-grade plastics.
The absence of foodgrade
recycled polypropylene
(FGrPP) means that all PP food
packaging is currently made
from virgin plastics. This global
problem removes the opportunity
to close-the-loop on so
many applications.
By creating circular economy
for food-grade PP packaging
waste, the production of
virgin plastics from petrochemicals,
in turn reducing CO2
emissions and diverting waste
from both landfill and lower
quality plastics.
To illustrate, the production of
one tonne of recycled PP saves
approximately 1 tonne of CO2
emissions. If the UK meets the
30% recycled content target
for food contact PP packaging
alone, it will create annual savings
of 63,000 tonnes of virgin
PP and the equivalent volume in
CO2 emissions, which equates
to planting 1 million trees.
Retailers and brands seeking
to meet the 30% recycled material
target by 2025 and avoid
the UK's plastic packaging tax
of £200/tonne from April 2022
would see immediate benefits
and we already have the cutting
edge technology to identify,
sort and decontaminate
post-consumer plastic waste to
achieve this.
Roadblock #4 - Sorting
is not sorted
Whilst some discussions
around innovative sorting technologies
have started emerging
it is vital we take a holistic
approach to the outcomes of
recycling technologies remembering
that the majority of sorting
is based on Near-Infra Red
spectroscopy; otherwise we will
create multiple sub-categories
of packaging in response to the
perception that sorting will have
the capacity to create narrower
fractions of materials. While this
is generally helpful it reduces
the recycling productivity and
efficiency. At which point the
economics will diminish and
issues of cross-contamination
will increase.
As a consequence the likes
of powerful UV-fluorescent
markers (POLYPRISM) or digital
markers that identify and
separate food-grade packaging
will only have an impact if we
continue the journey to decontaminate
and turn the well-sorted
post-consumer plastic waste
back into high quality recycled
mono-polymers that can be reused
in new products.
High performance decontamination
technologies that have
been shown to remove all possible
contaminants to very high
levels to ensure compliance with
EFSA and USFDA food-contact
are required to deliver the penultimate
stage of recycling.
Roadblock #5 -
Half the solution
Taking a holistic approach to
recycling that combines sorting
with decontamination is instrumental
in closing the loop on
the likes of PP and other plastics.
However, this requires all
packaging to be designed for
optimum recyclability, otherwise
the next cycle quality will
be compromised and may be
expensive to operate.
As the case with Coca Cola's
paper bottle goes to show, only
simplifying packaging will result
in simpler recycling equipment
and lower processing costs.
Plastic as a carbon
saving industry
The entire recycling ecosystem
is undergoing a fundamental
transformation spurred
by a growing demand for high
quality post-consumer recycled
materials. Achieving the BPF's
mission for a cleaner, more
sustainable future is possible
so long as we have a clear set
of unified design for recycling
guidelines, consistent collections
and material quality standards
to mark the end of this
shameful discard era.
As Paul Davidson, Smart
Sustainable Plastics Packaging
Challenge Director at UKRI recently
pointed out, the plastics
sector will only have one shot at
turning things around, and that
time has come. Let's turn the
plastics industry into a carbon
saving industry.

Sustainable Plastics - May/June 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Sustainable Plastics - May/June 2021

Contents
Sustainable Plastics - May/June 2021 - Cover1
Sustainable Plastics - May/June 2021 - Cover2
Sustainable Plastics - May/June 2021 - Contents
Sustainable Plastics - May/June 2021 - 4
Sustainable Plastics - May/June 2021 - 5
Sustainable Plastics - May/June 2021 - 6
Sustainable Plastics - May/June 2021 - 7
Sustainable Plastics - May/June 2021 - 8
Sustainable Plastics - May/June 2021 - 9
Sustainable Plastics - May/June 2021 - 10
Sustainable Plastics - May/June 2021 - 11
Sustainable Plastics - May/June 2021 - 12
Sustainable Plastics - May/June 2021 - 13
Sustainable Plastics - May/June 2021 - 14
Sustainable Plastics - May/June 2021 - 15
Sustainable Plastics - May/June 2021 - 16
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Sustainable Plastics - May/June 2021 - 33
Sustainable Plastics - May/June 2021 - 34
Sustainable Plastics - May/June 2021 - Cover3
Sustainable Plastics - May/June 2021 - Cover4
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