Heed the sustainability call

It's about time someone stood up for single-use plastic packaging and against bans of specific packaging materials, and formats.

Bill Carteaux, president and CEO of the Plastics Industry Association (PIA), does it in his impassioned defense of single-use plastics in a recent Plastic News opinion piece (pwgo.to/3438).

Carteaux’s not just preaching to the choir. He’s issuing a call to action. “We need to do a better job explaining our products, why they are useful and needed, and how they are produced, managed, and recycled,” he says. “Even if your company isn’t involved in straws or bottle manufacturing, you need to be involved in the discussion.”

Does he mean you need to get actively involved in discussions about bans of such products, even if you’re a packaged goods manufacturer? How about a machinery maker or a converter? I believe he does. Packaging professionals have remained uncomfortably silent for too long in the face of their critics.

It is ironic that the principal weapon aimed against packaging these days is the materials ban–the antithesis of packaging resource sustainability. Much that extends and replenishes the utility of packaging resources is dismissed or derided by our critics as self-serving. Perhaps that’s because the critics fail to understand that making the maximum number of functional items or achieving the most efficient production cycles from the available (material, energy, labor, financial) resources is a fundamental tenet of all manufacturing, including packaging.

Packaging has much to contribute in a discussion of sustainability, as the following examples–just tiny slices of what’s going on–show.

Recycled, recyclable, compostable beauty product packaging
L’Oréal’s Seed Phytonutrients shampoo is currently debuting in recycled, recyclable, and compostable “shower-safe” molded fiber bottles that are sure to win sustainability accolades, if they haven’t already. The bottles are a collaborative development of Seed Phytonutrients and Ecologic Brands, a molded fiber packaging converter.

“We use post-consumer paper now,” says Scott Schienvar, head of supply chain operations at L’Oréal. “But soon, we’ll be making these containers from our own waste paper and cardboard boxes.”

Treated with an unspecified mineral to withstand hot shower water exposure while still being recyclable, bottles are formed of two semi-cylindrical shells held together without glue via a slot-and-tab locking design. Suspended from the throat of each bottle is a food-grade recycled plastic bladder fitted with a pump-action dispenser for the shampoo. In addition to the bladder, each bottle includes a packet of organic heirloom seeds, which consumers can retrieve by opening the slot and tab lock that holds the bottle walls in place.

Becoming a net collector/reclaimer
Coca-Cola, the company that in 2009 developed the first PET bottles made from up to 30% plant-based materials and has subsequently distributed more than 45 billion of them around the world, has launched a “World without Waste” initiative to collect and recycle the equivalent of every bottle and can it sells globally by 2030. Coke’s 100% collection and recycling goal will primarily focus on bottles, cans, and caps made from glass, PET, or aluminum, which represent approximately 85% of its packaging. But it also includes packages made by other companies.

“We believe every package–regardless of where it comes from–has value and life beyond its initial use,” says James Quincey, president/CEO of Coke. “If something can be recycled, it should be recycled.”

Recycling “unrecyclables”
S.C. Johnson & Co. Inc. is processing Ziploc® bags and other post-consumer flexible plastic packaging into garbage bags to prove that it can be done commercially and sustainably.

“We wanted to show that there is an opportunity for curb side film to go into something else and be a sustainable business,” says Pamela Oksiuta, Senior Director of Global Sustainability. For the last year and a half, the project washed, flaked, and pelletized the PCR and extruded it into garbage bags.

SCJ is not alone in scavenging flexible packaging waste in quest of commercial second lives for used flexible packaging. Materials Recovery for the Future (MRFF), for instance, is a research alliance established by the American Chemistry Council (ACC) that includes several plastic resin and film developers along with Nestle Purina Petcare, Nestle USA, PepsiCo, Plum Organics, Procter & Gamble, SC Johnson, retailer Target Stores to find better ways to collect and reprocess spent flexible packaging back into commercial products for the domestic market. Nor is MRFF ACC’s only post-consumer film interest.

According to ACC’s annual National Post Consumer Plastic Bag and Film Recycling Report, (pwgo.to/3439), approximately 1.3 billion pounds of post-consumer film was recovered for recycling in 2016, a 10% increase over the previous year. ACC has been quietly tracking recycling since 2005 and reports that post-consumer film recycling has more than doubled in that period. Fully 47% of the recovered film is recycled, the rest was exported.

There are many more positive packaging sustainability stories like these. Heed the call and tell them.

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