The truth about plastic packaging

Packaging Professional magazine
20 Sep 2010
Plastic bubble-wrap packaging

Saving costs and resources are key drivers, but as technology and design techniques have advanced, so have packaging methods. Stuart Roberts, European Director of Marketing at global company Sealed Air, addresses the top five plastic misconceptions.

Plastic packs are the biggest single cause of unrecoverable waste in the European Union.

Truth – Unrecovered packaging currently accounts for no more than three per cent of all waste that goes into final disposal. In addition, because of its low weight and relative strength, plastic is one of the most energy efficient, robust and economic delivery methods available. It has a high calorific content, which allows energy recovery methods to be used efficiently if recycling is not possible.

Its only use is to promote and help sell the product it contains.
Truth – The primary use is to protect products and deliver all types of goods intact. As for secondary and tertiary packaging, such as plastic shrink wrap, pallets and crates, this serves an essential purpose in facilitating the transport of greater quantities of products at once, making the process more economic, saving energy and keeping costs down for the consumer. The right choice of plastic packaging solution can allow companies to meet deadlines and maintain their reputation by reducing the number of damages incurred during transit.

Plastics have a negative impact on the environment.

Truth – There are a number of hidden benefits that offer advantages to the environment and to consumers. Following use, the energy component can be recovered through incineration, placed in landfill, or recycled into granules that can be used to make other plastic packaging.

Increasingly, new techniques are being used to recover this material from the waste stream for use as feedstock for other products. In addition, it is lightweight, extends shelf life, ensures fresh delivery of goods and reduces the amount of waste from packaging. In comparison, it has been suggested that producing recycled paper uses more energy compared to virgin paper production, is more polluting and may make a greater contribution to climate change.

Commercial organisations don’t consider the environmental impact of their waste.
Truth – Increasingly, organisations are looking for ways to reduce the environmental impact of their operations on the environment. More and more plastic products are being manufactured using ‘pre-consumer’ recycled content. Although landfill wastage is inevitable, many companies are working to minimise the number of discards from point of sale through to ‘closed loop schemes’. These initiatives recover plastic packaging and encourage expansion of facilities that recover natural energy from the products when recycling is not an option.

Landfill is the worst way to dispose of plastics.

Truth – It is commonly believed that landfill is the worst way to dispose of plastic waste. Incineration is the least favourable option in terms of the impact on global warming, as more CO2 is emitted by burning plastics than by burning gas or coal. In some cases, landfill can be a useful option. It can be used to fill up holes in the ground, such as those caused by quarrying or disused mines. It can also be used for reclaiming land. Often it is a question of what the land is filled with and how it is then managed. On balance, the best environmental option is to invest in technology to produce high quality recycled plastics.

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