“Request” May Be A Key “Re” To A More Circular Packaging Economy

The “Re” words are prominent in the sustainable movement and key to a move toward a more circular economy. 

 In brief:

  1. Reduce: Use less whenever possible
  2. Reuse: Keep existing products in use longer
  3. Repair: Continue use of product through minor repairs and module upgrades
  4. Remanufacture: Through the use of an existing product, re-furbish products to an “as new” condition.    
  5. Recycle: Breakdown raw materials to elemental forms to create new products

The first four “Re” options focus on the product itself and seek to elongate the life of the product. The recycle option is material focused and seeks to capture the raw material for the making of new products. The value retention of the product is lowered as we go from 1 to 5 and the energy it takes to create something “new” increases as we go from 1 to 5. Recycling is thus the least attractive option. In recycling, the product loses much of the energy it took to originally create the product itself. It also takes a lot of energy to make something else from the elemental components recycling often forces it to become. 

Each of the “re” options is looked at through three general environmental challenges.

  1. Resource use (Does the “re” option used reduce the need for new resources?)
  2. Waste (Does the “re” option used reduce waste?)
  3. Environmental Pressure (Does the “re”option used reduce the overall effect on the environment—GHG Green House Gases)

All of the “re” options attempt to do all of the above but the degree of applicability is highly dependent on the product itself. For example, a bulldozer is re-used to the point of repair and/or re-manufacture (when repairs become too much) whereas a plastic bag has a different “re” path. Plastic bags are what we at Clear View Bag manufacture and is the focus below.

Plastic bags have a role in our economy. Elongation of food shelf-life, transportation of products and storage of goods are just a few of the key roles plastic bags serve. Plastic is relatively cheap to make which is the key driver to its prominence in our society. We can reduce the amount of plastic bags we use (plastic bans around the globe are increasingly put in place) and we can reuse the plastic bags we buy for a secondary purpose at times. We cannot repair plastic bags and we cannot re-manufacture them. Both of these options are not economically feasible. Thus we are generally left with the recycling option at the end of a plastic bags short life. 

Present day collection systems for plastics bags are not as robust as systems for products like bottles, cans and paper. Also, recycled plastic material itself has some limitations when compared to virgin resins. That said, recycled content plastics bags are available. Recycled content bags in some cases can deliver the same or very similar performance to its “new” counterpart. “Requesting” recycled content material may be a key driver to a more circular packaging economy. Consumer driven requests for any of the “re” options can help drive to a more circular economy that uses less resources, limits waste and puts less pressure on the environment overall.   

When we “request” more durable/ robust products that have a modular, simple design, we support the demand for more reusable and repairable products and move more toward a circular economy.   

When we “request” machines, appliances, cars etc that have been re-manufactured, we are eliminating the need to find new resources and expend energy in making “new” items. Using what we have and re-furbishing  “as new” is a circular economy principal.

When we “request” recycled content materials, we support the demand to use existing raw materials to create products. We support elimination of the energy needed to use and find new raw materials. The key in this demand for recycled content materials from the consumer is the simultaneous need to support the recycling industry. 

Without consumer demand…..

  • retailers will not demand recycled content products from manufacturers
  • manufacturers will not demand recycled raw materials from suppliers
  • raw material suppliers will not demand recycled material from recycling companies
  • in the end recycling companies will have nowhere to send their collected recyclables

A lack of demand leaves recyclers with no place to send their collected materials. This issue has gained added attention in 2018 when China drastically reduced the recyclables they were previously importing.   Recyclers around the world are struggling to find new places for the accumulating recycled materials.

Request is a key “re” for a more circular packaging economy. Requesting recycled content will help support the recycling industry to put back in use raw materials the system already has. The hope is a rise in demand will provide additional funding for needed areas of growth that includes better technology in sorting and better cleaning of recyclables. This will allow the recycled content material to increasingly look and act like “new” in more and more applications.

We are proud to support the recycling industry and will seek more recycled options as we move along. The two film options we currently have stocked for order since January of 2019 are….

  1. White post-consumer FDA recycled content material. Post Consumer Recycled Content (PCR) takes waste from the consumer waste stream and recycles it into usable material. The material acts like virgin material and in most circumstances offers as a very comparable alternative.    
  2. Clear post-industrial FDA recycled content material. Post Industrial Recycled (PIR) content takes scrap material from the extrusion process and incorporates it into the making of new materials. The recycled content material strictly comes from extruder based in house processes. In most cases, the PIR material is a close substitute to the virgin material. 

There is another side to these “re” options for packaging which is material not created to be recycled but created to be composted. More will be written about in blogs to come.

Listed below are some suggestions for those interested in learning more about the “re” options and the circular economy.

  • Delft University of Technology offers online courses about this topic. I recently completed “Engineering Design for a Circular Economy”. This is a very good course that can be completed at your own pace.  Delft University of Technology Certificate
  • Terracycle is an innovative recycling company showcasing easy ways to recycle everyday items. terracycle.com/en-US/

Many thanks. Be well.

Trent Romer

Written by David Pugliese