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IN FOCUS

Green enough? – Recycling and the environment in the spotlight

Johann Thim, comPETence editorial team

During the PETnology conference 2015 and 2016 we focused on the question - Are we green enough?

In the meantime, more and more international, regional or even local campaigns have been initiated.

A focus on current market trends and research results

“Are we really green enough?” For the second time, this was one of the main topics for the second time at the PETnology Europe conference 2016 in Nuremberg. This question can probably never be answered with a resounding “Yes”, but making progress on this path must be our clear aim; that was the unanimous opinion of several PET experts at the conference. Even though several projects aimed at conserving resources and protecting the environment have been implemented over the last few years, these efforts still do not go far enough. Using striking and deliberately emotive images, Jennifer Timrott, Founder of the Küste gegen Plastik (Coasts Against Plastic) initiative, and Dr Otto Appel of PETnology illustrated how enormous the volume of PET bottles, caps and other plastic waste that ends up in our oceans is. In his keynote speech, Dr Otto Appel deliberately chose to start on an emotional note and went on to ask some challenging questions: “Are we, as the PET industry, doing enough to improve sustainability by further optimising our manufacturing and logistics processes? Is it ok for us to simply accept that a lot of the PET products we manufacture so responsibly will end up in the sea?” The answers was - No, there are options and possibilities.

According to the PET experts at the PETnology 2016, the best way to significantly increase global recycling rates is to invest more in informing and educating end consumers. They must be shown in clearer terms how reprocessed plastics represent a valuable resource for the future.

The PET industry must see itself as part of the broader plastics industry and it must operate as an industry in the same way that the paper and glass industries, for example, have been so successful in doing when it comes to recycling. The PET industry must make it as easy as possible for consumers around the world to return plastic packaging to the recycling loop. This could be done directly where the products are initially bought. 

The plastics industry is increasingly coming under attack from NGOs and other quarters, with very emotional arguments being employed. It is vital that a degree of objectivity returns to these discussions. One way to achieve this is to highlight “best practices”. The whole plastics industry must demonstrate more clearly that it fully appreciates the importance of recycling and that it has the most effective technologies to establish a closed loop for plastic as a valuable recyclable material.

The ever-increasing volume of plastic waste is making the general population more and more aware of this deplorable situation and things are changing. Under the slogan BYOWB (Bring Your Own Water Bottle), the people of San Francisco are being asked to fill their own bottles with free water from public drinking fountains. San Francisco is setting a bold example with this initiative. But is it a way forward for the future? And is it the right way towards a model that can be reproduced around the world?*

Possible keys to solving the problem include continuing efforts to raise awareness of the issue among consumers and the introduction of global regulations on collection and processing rates. 

In the meantime, more and more international, regional and local campaigns have been initiated, also more and more companies put this topic on their agenda which ends up also in innovative technical and technological developements as excamples and articles on the following pages show.

*source: Global Flare, Freelance News Network, USA

1. Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Industry endorses plan to recycle 70% of plastic packaging globally

A new report - “The New Plastics Economy – Catalysing Action” - launched by the World Economic Forum and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation at Davos in January 2017, would see 70% of plastic packaging reused and recycled globally, up from today’s recycling rate of 14%. The remaining 30% of plastic packaging, equivalent to 10 billion garbage bags per year, needs fundamental redesign and innovation. More than 40 industry leaders including core partners Amcor, The Coca-Cola Company, MARS, Novamont, Unilever, Veolia, RPC a.o. endorse a global action plan, laid out in the report on plastics production, use and after-use. This new report comes from the organisations that last year calculated that there could be more plastics than fish in the ocean by 2050. Now, they outline how a solution could be reached. 

The report has been welcomed by different national and international plastics associations, such as EuPC or the German IK Industrievereinigung Kunststoffverpackungen e.V. (German Association for Plastics Packagings and Films).

All participants: 

newplasticseconomy.org

2. RPC bpi Joins
New Plastics Economy Initiative

RPC bpi recycled products has joined the New Plastics Economy, a three-year initiative involving organisations across the plastics supply chain, aimed at developing a global and co-ordinated system for plastics packaging in line with circular economy principles.

Gerry McGarry, RPC bpi recycled products’ Managing Director, says the New Plastics Economy initiative will become an important part of the group’s sustainability programme. “Everyone recognises the essential and valuable contribution that plastics have made to many different areas of our daily lives,” he explains. “It is vital that we complement the materials’ acknowledged benefits with maximising the industry’s contribution to a more circular economy. The joint purpose and commitment of the many different organisations in the New Plastics Economy initiative will be a key factor in achieving this.”

3.Unilever commits to 100% recyclable plastic packaging by 2025

Invites collective action from fast-moving consumer goods industry to be fully circular on plastic packaging

In January 2017 Unilever committed to ensuring that all of its plastic packaging is fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025 as it called on the entire fast-moving consumer goods industry to accelerate progress towards the circular economy.

Treating plastic packaging as a valuable resource to be managed efficiently and effectively is a key priority in achieving Sustainable Development Goal 12 (Sustainable Consumption & Production) and, in doing so, shifting away from a “take-make-dispose” model of consumption to one which is fully circular.

Paul Polman, Unilever CEO, said: “Our plastic packaging plays a critical role in making our products appealing, safe and enjoyable for our consumers. Yet it is clear that if we want to continue to reap the benefits of this versatile material, we need to do much more as an industry to help ensure it is managed responsibly and efficiently post consumer-use.

“To address the challenge of ocean plastic waste we need to work on systemic solutions - ones which stop plastics entering our waterways in the first place. We hope these commitments will encourage others in the industry to make collective progress towards ensuring that all of our plastic packaging is fully recyclable and recycled.

“We also need to work in partnership with governments and other stakeholders to support the development and scaling up of collection and reprocessing infrastructure which is so critical in the transition towards a circular economy. Ultimately, we want all of the industry’s plastic packaging to be fully circular.”

As part of its commitment, Unilever will ensure that by 2025, it is technically possible for its plastic packaging to be reused or recycled and there are established, proven examples of it being commercially viable for plastics re-processors to recycle the material.

4. Plastic Whale - A PLASTIC MISSION

Plastic Whale is the first professional plastic fishing company in the world. A social enterprise with a mission: make the world’s waters plastic-free and create value from plastic waste. It started five years ago with a single challenge to build a boat made of plastic waste. Today, the initiative has a fleet of six design boats made from Amsterdam Canal Plastic. The campaign’s coal is to go ‘out of business’: overfishing is a positive phenomenon in that case. The Plastic Whale keeps on calling: “With your team, department or company you can help us achieve our goal: come plasticfishing with us on the canals of Amsterdam or at the Rotterdam harbour!”

5. P&G’s Head & Shoulders Creates World’s First Recyclable Shampoo Bottle Made with Beach Plastic

Hair Care Industry First Creates Sustainable Business Model Advancing Circular Economy – 

The Procter & Gamble Company announced that Head & Shoulders (H&S), will produce the world’s first recyclable shampoo bottle made from up to 25% recycled beach plastic.

In partnership with recycling experts TerraCycle and SUEZ, this innovation will come to France this summer as a limited-edition H&S bottle available to consumers in Carrefour, one of the world’s leading retailers. This will be the world’s largest production run of recyclable bottles made with post-consumer recycled (PCR) beach plastic, and a first major step in establishing a unique supply chain that involves the support of thousands of volunteers and hundreds of NGOs collecting plastic waste found on beaches.

“We felt that the leading shampoo brand in sales should lead in sustainability innovation and know that when we do this, it encourages the entire industry to do the same,” said Lisa Jennings, Vice President, Head & Shoulders and Global Hair Care Sustainability Leader, Procter & Gamble.  “We’ve been fortunate to work with such great partners in TerraCycle and SUEZ to make this vision a reality.”

Additionally, P&G announced that in Europe by end of 2018 more than half a billion bottles per year will include up to 25% post-consumer recycled plastic. This represents more than 90% of all the hair care bottles sold in Europe across P&G’s hair care portfolio of flagship brands like Pantene and Head & Shoulders.

The project will require a supply of 2,600 tons of recycled plastic every year – the same weight as eight fully loaded Boeing 747 jumbo jets.  P&G has been using PCR plastic in packaging for over 25 years, and today’s announcement is an important step in the company’s journey to meet their Corporate 2020 goal of doubling the tonnage of PCR plastic used in packaging.  

“At P&G, we believe that actions speak louder than words. The increased use of PCR plastic across our hair care portfolio of brands, demonstrate our continued commitment to driving real change,” said Virginie Helias, Vice President of Global Sustainability, P&G. “The Head & Shoulders recyclable shampoo bottle made with beach plastic is a world’s first in the hair care category. Increasing the use of recycled plastic in the packaging of our flagship brands, like Pantene and Head & Shoulders, makes it easier for consumers to choose more sustainable products, without any trade-offs. So while we’re proud of what we’ve done and what we’re doing, we know there is much more work ahead.”

“This partnership represents an important step for TerraCycle. We are proud to be working with one of the world’s largest brands to create a breakthrough product. Creating the world’s first recyclable shampoo bottle with beach plastics is a start of an important journey. With the circular economy gaining more traction, we hope that other global brands will work with green suppliers and use their influence to drive change for the benefit of the environment.” Tom Szaky, CEO, TerraCycle.

“This partnership between SUEZ, TerraCycle and P&G represents an exciting step in the creation of a world first for consumers, a recyclable shampoo bottle made of beach plastics. We hope that other organisations will continue to partner with different providers in order to deliver major environmental changes in this industry and hopefully across other industries too. With 9 dedicated plastic facilities across Europe, Suez is already producing 170,000 tons of high quality recycled polymers.” Jean-Marc Boursier, Group Senior Executive VP in charge of Recycling & Recovery Europe, SUEZ.

6. Recycled PET-bottles become IKEA kitchen fronts

IKEA launches KUNGSBACKA kitchen fronts. They are the first kitchen fronts in the IKEA range made from both recycled wood and recycled plastic. Together with an Italian supplier, IKEA has developed a new material on the market – a plastic foil made from recycled PET-bottles.

Each year, billions of PET-bottles are consumed worldwide. Some of them are recycled as material for new products, while the vast majority become waste.

“What we do at IKEA has a big impact on the environment because we work with large quantities. By using recycled materials, we can produce more sustainably,” says Anna Granath, product developer at IKEA. 

Anna Granath is the project leader of the team that has developed KUNGSBACKA. The project started two years ago around a vision to create a more sustainable kitchen front. Together with an innovative Italian IKEA supplier, the team started to explore the opportunities that recycled material offers. The investigations resulted in the development of a new material on the market – a plastic foil made from discarded PET-bottles collected by Japanese municipalities. 

“We found a way to transform used PET-bottles into a foil that is laminated on the KUNGSBACKA kitchen fronts. The biggest challenge was to create a foil from recycled material that fulfils the same quality requirements as a foil made of virgin material. We worked hard not to compromise on neither quality nor price”, says Marco Bergamo, head of development at the Italian IKEA supplier, 3B. 

25 half-liter PET-bottles are needed to cover the black surface of a 40x80 cm KUNGSBACKA kitchen front. This is an important step for IKEA on the journey towards a more circular business. KUNGSBACKA does not only give recycled plastic bottles and recycled wood a new life, but a considerably longer life. Like all IKEA kitchen fronts, KUNGSBACKA kitchen fronts have 25 years guarantee. 

“We need to become better at using the planet’s resources in a smart way. Our ambition is to increase the share of recycled materials in our products. We are looking into new ways to re-use materials, such as paper, fibre, foam and plastic, so that we can give them a new life in a new product,” says Anna Granath.

7. Coast Against Plastics

Jennifer Timrott is the founder and chair of the “Küste gegen Plastik” (Coasts Against Plastic) association. Collecting rubbish is one of the tasks its members have assigned themselves, but they are not content to stop there: they are also appealing to industry and commerce, and with some success. The association has stepped onto the political stage in Berlin: in the Round Table on Marine Litter initiated by the German Environment Agency, the Federal Ministry for the Environment and the Environment Ministry of Lower Saxony, Jennifer Timrott and her team are contributing to the working group on land-based inputs. It is clear that the long-term goal goes much further.