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Plastic Packaging and the Environment- What You Need to Know

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With the environment and the use of plastic daily gaining more and more coverage and consumers increasing the pressure on both businesses and governments to reconsider the current use of the material, we have covered a few key points and questions you may have regarding the subject.

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What is Shrink Plastic Made Of?

Shrink plastic is a thin and malleable material that is made from a blend of polymer plastics. Typically, these polymers are made from oil which has additives added to it; this allows the specific design of the molecular structure. Depending on these structures and additives, depends on which type of shrink plastic is made.

 

Can Shrink Plastic be Recycled?

Almost all types of plastic can be recycled, yet the volume of which does depends on the logistics, economy and technicality of the process.

 

The UK plastic packaging target is 57% by 2020, to help meet this target, the Plastics Industry Recycling Action Plan is being implemented. Part of this scheme is that councils across the UK will offer plastic recycling as part of the waste collection from households. Year on year, more and more plastic is being recycled rather than going to landfill. Not only is this reducing the volume of waste, but it is also ensuring that a recognised valuable resource, of which can be reused many times, is being recovered.

 

The curbside collection of plastic films is yet to meet the same volume as bottles, tubs and trays, with just 19% of local authorities providing this service. As the pressure from both consumers and businesses continues to rise and the demand for options to recycle this material increases. Recyclers will be required to invest in the technology to process mixed plastics such as shrink wraps and films, which are often considered ‘dirty’ in the recycling industry due to the print and mix of polymers.

 

How Does Shrink Plastic Get Recycled?

Shrink wrap can be recycled and formed into a diverse range of useful objects, ranging in function! The material is melted and remoulded into various forms. From rubbish sacks to fencing and water-resistant materials. The recovery of such a useful resource is vital, and the councils across the UK are beginning to recognise that if an investment is made to enable shrink plastic to be recycled, it will benefit them in the long-term when they have a valuable raw-material to reuse and sell on.

 

Is Shrink Wrap Plastic Biodegradable?

Unfortunately, and contrary to what many companies claim, shrink plastic is not biodegradable. For an object or substance to be considered biodegradable, the item must be able to be broken down by naturally occurring bacteria or living organisms, without causing pollution.

 

Accordingly, there are currently no polyolefin shrink films available which are truly Biodegradable as defined by The EU Directive on Packaging Waste (84/62/EC) nor the Harmonised Standard EN13432.

 

What is Oxo-degradable Plastic?

There are many studies which have been conducted which have found that oxo-degradable or so-called ‘biodegradable plastics’ are actually worse for the environment than usual shrink plastics. This is due to the chemical composition of the plastic. To the naked eye, these plastics appear to disintegrate and break down, but in fact, rather than decomposing, the structure of the plastic remains exactly the same, and the form of the plastic just gets smaller and smaller, making them much harder to recover. Oxo-degradable plastics break down but never decompose as the molecular structure remains the same. Rather than the plastic content of oxo-degradable being organically integrated, it is merely hidden which is actually more damaging.

 

Why Do Businesses Use Shrink Wrap Instead of Decomposable Materials?

Plastic has an array of benefits; it is waterproof, can be branded and printed on and does not allow the contents to absorb contaminants from the surrounding environments, making it highly hygienic. Not least, plastic is extremely lightweight in comparison to the alternatives which in turn reduces fuel consumption (another drain on natural resources). Plastics are also a custom fit for items as the material can be manipulated and formed around the content, allowing the bare minimum of the resource to be used.

 

Are the Alternatives to Plastics Better?

Many biodegradable alternatives to plastics are being developed, but possibly at a consequence.  These alternatives are extremely draining on the natural environment, with cardboard boxes and paper consumption worldwide causing unimaginable deforestation. Woodlands and forests are being destroyed at an incomprehensible rate, some of which have taken thousands of years to develop and are irreplaceable to humankind, yet these are considered a better alternative?

 

The recent development of the edible, milk-protein based ‘plastic’ is also controversial and faces conflicting interests. As the methane emissions, a nasty greenhouse gas produced by cattle, is estimated to continue to rise year on year and are said to be one of the biggest contributors to global warming.

 

Once you consider moving away from thin plastic you have to consider the alternatives, which are generally much more significant in their impact on the environment. Again, if you consider the total removal of packaging, the cost of storage, transport, and its associated footprint, will also be significantly adverse to the environment.

 

As alternatives continue to be developed, the team here at Kempner will be fully supportive, and we strive to be at the forefront of said developments within the packaging industry. When a conscious alternative is widely available, we aim to be pioneers of the introduction and distribution.

 

As a Business, How Can You Be More Conscious?

Putting less waste into the stream is of paramount importance to both the consumer and business, worldwide. By using as little raw material as possible, and ensuring your consumers know how to recycle the material is vital. Polyolefin shrink wrap can be shrunk around the contents, allowing the least material possible to protect the item encased. Information regarding ingredients and nutritional value can be added to the film, as well as the all-important recycling options.

 

What About Everything Else?

Plastic is in a variety of items, from clothing, furniture, houses to boats and planes, yet to form some of these items, there are other precious recourses used. How are the materials within these items being recovered? Tones upon tones of electrical and electronic equipment are ending up in a landfill, many of which have precious and rare metals within them, yet we throw them away?

 

We strongly endorse any measures that minimise the amount of plastic waste generated, and we actively promote technically developed thinner films in order to achieve this. Currently, biodegradable films are not available, despite incorrect claims otherwise, but we strongly favour recycling, either back to products or to energy. Even Biodegradability itself has inherent problems, such as the fact that conditions need to perfect for it to happen, and it itself is ultimately concerned with returning substances to the earth, whereas

recycling offers a continuous loop.

 

There is no easy answer to the worldwide plastic consumption, which has recently gained a rightful level of coverage in the media. The problem is caused not by the raw material, but by the behaviour of businesses and consumers and the collective view of the material. Plastics can be continually recycled and turned into other forms, the lifecycle is endless, and a material that is not degradable should be respected and effectively and beneficially used.


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