When it comes to transparency, the PET material formed to a crystal-clear bottle is equal to glass in every respect. On top of this, the PET bottle impresses by its extremely low weight, its resistance to breaking and also from an energetic point of view: The energy balance has been further optimized all the time so far and stands out by specific advantages during both production and transport. The break resistance of these modern containers relieves the environment additionally and may certainly be considered in the equation.
The convincing advantages of PET packaging products have been exploited especially in the highly industrialized world where much attention is also paid to correct handling of these recyclable artificial materials after their initial use. In many places, the big beverage producers succeed already now in closing the material loop completely. This may be with a bottle-to-bottle concept in the area of recycling, or the returned material is used for less critical products. Another sensible option is the supply to heat power stations for the generation of energy.
Although these new recyclable materials are handled responsibly, it is clear as well as alarming that of the present 300 million tons of recyclable plastic, approx. 32 million tons worldwide are disposed of improperly and that eight million of these find their way into our oceans. And a ten-fold increase is feared for 2025. By then the materials in question are not recyclable any more, because they are already rotting away slowly as toxic cocktails lasting hundreds of years. Due to the ocean’s movement they decompose to fatal, invisible micro particles.
In the form of larger parts, they first become a deadly trap for countless species and spoil the maritime environment. These visible parts amount to about one percent of the incorrectly disposed of plastics. The remaining 99% later end up as invisible micro particles on the seabed and directly or indirectly in the stomachs of all living creatures which feed off the sea. They thus endanger our food chain with at present only partly foreseeable consequences. Especially in case of direct ingestion by plants and animals, these micro particles can lead to suffocation, malnutrition, deformations and cancerous ulcers. Although bacteria exist which are able to absorb plastics, they cannot cope with the quantities of materials which are currently disposed of improperly by humanity. At this point one may ask whether the consequences would have been less drastic with classical packaging materials such as paper, for example?
What happened here? Industrially highly advanced countries developed a modern, artificial material of benefit to man and environment, and in a positive sense learned how to exploit it. Techniques were refined to the extent that PET bottles can be made efficiently in highest perfection. Starting from the production of PET raw materials via drying, preform moulding, blow-moulding, filling, closing, labelling and palletizing right to expert logistics all the way to the shop shelves, every segment assumes responsibility for its production step, always driven by growth and high margins. It is at the shelf, however, where the responsibility for the plastic packaging article often ends and passes on to a rather simple-minded consumer. Thanks to laws and regulations and supported by responsible beverage producers, most highly industrialized nations have very successfully influenced the end-user to automatically collect the packaging for recycling. In many countries this has led to a good understanding for the use of plastics which should on balance relieve the environment. However, the development in this direction is far from completed. Ever new draft laws for sustainability are tabled and the awareness of subsequent generations of this topic is increasingly encouraged at schools and higher-education institutes.
Regrettably, this understanding does not (yet) exist in a considerable number of countries on our planet. Our perfected technique for the production of PET bottles and the fact that clean drinking water can be guaranteed with this type of packaging in many countries of the second and third world, however, are established on nearly the whole globe, particularly in the agglomerations. Why have the consequences of improper disposal not been explained in these places? Is it because no money can be earned by this?
It is foreseeable that this omission will become a major problem for our PET industry. The regions in which correct handling of these recyclable materials was never clearly explained are largely responsible for a big part of the plastic that flows into the environment and eventually into the oceans. The people there often don’t have the faintest idea of the consequences. We all are somehow bordering the global seas which are so vital for humanity. What is the use of clean regions in a highly industrialized world if, for example, in a UNESCO biosphere reserve such as the Wattenmeer National Park (North Sea), PET water bottles from Asia are washed ashore? Based on this finding, our exemplary behaviour is essential if we want to keep using plastics as a packaging material, but it doesn’t solve the global problem of marine littering.
The internet spreads already now frightening pictures of the unbelievable dimension of this destruction of the environment – and certainly will not help our plastics lobby, even if PET is not directly in the focus due to its high density which causes billions of bottles to descend to the seabed where they are not perceived so clearly. In this way the floating polyethylene and polypropylene with their lower density become the scapegoat of marine littering – but doesn’t every closure have its bottle? At the bottom of the sea, i.e. at a depth of several 1000m, the PET bottle will hardly rot away any more because of the absence of oxygen, heat and light. It is a fact that quite intact bottles from the nineteen-sixties and later years are still found in large numbers.
In view of the urgent need to act against the present environmental development, KraussMaffei with Netstal-Maschinen AG intends to take the initiative because, in our opinion, the approaches to solutions must also come from the industrialized world. One may rightly ask why the machine manufacturers and operators of this equipment should not feel an urge to assume responsibility. The responsibility to close the gap in the global understanding for the handling of our recyclable materials? Netstal-Maschinen AG with its high-performance PET preform systems is decisively involved in the process chain for the PET bottle. Through KraussMaffei Berstorff, on the other hand, our concern also offers solutions to reprocess recycled, cleaned plastic waste into granulate. Mind you, technical solutions for the entire material cycle alone are not enough – seeing that such solutions are already now applied with success.
Renzo Davatz, CEO of Netstal-Maschinen AG, makes the following statement in this context:
“Netstal is committed to a sustainable development of the environment. Tangible proof of this are our modern PET-Lines which achieve best-of-class marks as regards the energy consumption. Those who produce with Netstal machines are doing this with today’s most favourable energy values. Netstal will attach yet greater importance to the topic of the environment and strive for a closer cooperation with environment organisations, companies and universities. We are also ready to support theses for degrees and presentations on this exciting topic of sustainability”.
The resulting attitude is essential for all involved production companies to become active and take responsibility on the basis of a mutual platform. This applies equally to governments of affected countries which must cooperate with such a platform and issue the appropriate laws.
What matters in the first step of the global change of view is communication and concrete support from the areas of equipment and production. Especially the afore-mentioned governments and populations must be informed of the facts, and infrastructures must be set up to establish the necessary logistics. Incentives must be developed at the same time.
It is clear that considerable costs will be incurred at first. On the other hand, there will be steady efficiency increases in production, and light-weighting potentials will be utilized to achieve considerable savings. Could we not invest a part of these advantages against the global misuse of plastics to achieve a global understanding of our PET material and give it a pioneering role at the same time?
These days, global rethinking concerning the use of plastic materials is a must. It is evident already now that plastics with all their consequences strain our earth and its oceans in an unacceptable manner and that the reputation of plastic is damaged. KraussMaffei would like to support the necessary change of mind with its partners and customers in good time, and above all make the complete packaging industry more aware of this topic. On its own, KraussMaffei will hardly be able to move anything. Rethinking, however, can be initiated by means of a mutual platform consisting of moderators and suppliers from the entire production chain – also across the borders of competition. We are convinced that not only our whole industry as a “family of manageable size”, but above all our environment will benefit from this. We, the PET industry, can set a good example. Depending on what our oceans and the connected nutrition chain are worth to us, the outcome will no doubt yield an attractive ROI.