Climate change and sustainable development are two of the biggest issues facing society today. It is increasingly important for companies to reduce the environmental impacts of products and services through their entire life cycle. Those companies failing to address environmental performance in product design and development will find it increasingly difficult to compete in the global market.
Packaging can be found everywhere and it not only fulfills a functional role to contain and protect a product during transportation, storage, in-store and in the consumer’s possession, but packaging has an evolved function that has an influence on the “product experience.”
It is also considered an informational vehicle, carrying details of the product ingredients, usage, storage, nutrition and price and is often referred to as “the silent salesman” due to its ability to influence consumers at the point of purchase and acts as a form of brand communication.
It’s no wonder so much effort goes into the conceptualisation, design and production thereof and continual refinement of the product. This being said, and with sustainability in mind, it’s imperative that packaging design is informed not only by technical, consumer and customer need, but by resource consumption and awareness of environmental impact. This means, that among other things, packaging should be designed to use the minimum amount of resources for purpose and once it has completed its job, the scope for recovery maximised.
Not only recyclable, but truly recycled
PETCO has made great strides in promoting the collection of post-consumer (PC) PET for recycling. This has helped to create jobs, reduce waste to landfill and minimise impact of PET on the environment. Further to this, by increasing the recycle rate of post-consumer PET beverage bottles, PETCO, its shareholders, partners and associates are ensuring that PET packaging is not only “recyclable,” but a truly “recycled” material.
With this in mind, PETCO continues to strive for tough targets. Much of the “low-hanging” fruit has been harvested and the reality is that we need very broad participation from all sectors of the industry to maintain and enhance PET’s credentials as a widely-recycled material.
One of the keys to the industry unlocking the full potential of recycling PET in South Africa is packaging design.
Too large a portion of the effort and cost put into collecting, baling, transporting and de-baling PC PET is wasted on packaging that turns out to be designed without recycling in mind. Further to this, the washing, grinding, separating, melting and extrusion processes can all be further comprised by designs that do not consider the end-of-life solution for the product.
Unrecyclables a waste of cost and effort
This not only results in a waste of cost and effort, but can render a large volume of otherwise recyclable packaging useless as well.
The principle for any packaging design to be “fit for purpose“ whilst retaining balance and perspective. Thus the goal of improving the recyclability of the packaging cannot compromise product safety, functionality or general consumer acceptance and should positively contribute to an overall reduction in the environmental impact of the total product offering.
The top ten design challenges or issues for easing recyclability are highlighted as follows:
- Choosing Material Type. Minimise the number of different plastics used and specify plastics that can be recycled together or easily separated in the recycling process.
- Material Identification. Major plastic components (container, caps, and lids) should carry a clearly visible material identifier to facilitate the visual identification of plastic types during manual separation.
- Composite Materials /Barrier Layers. Consider the use of thin layered composites carefully and avoid lightweight plastic laminates which are not cost-effective to recycle.
- Colour of Plastic. Avoid coloured plastic material as well as direct printing onto PET bottles.
- Closures / Closure Liners / Cap Sleeves / Seals. Ideally should all be recyclable themselves. Don’t use PET closures on PET bottles, ideally use PP/HDPE and avoid metal caps. Don’t use materials that have the same density, or else they cannot be sorted and removed during the flotation stage of recycling.
- Labels and Adhesives. Adhesive use and surface coverage should be minimized and be designed to completely detach from the container with the use of water soluble or hot melt alkali soluble adhesives. Avoid paper labels, labels that delaminate, foil seals and rather use polyethylene and polypropylene as preferred label materials. If possible use the glue on the label only. Avoid printing directly onto bottles.
- Inks. Avoid metal inks or inks that would dye the wash solution (bleed).
- Avoid Self-declared Environmental Claims. If it’s not independently assessed by a credible authority, don’t say it!
- Avoid additives. Avoid chemical additives, such as those that aid break down of the material or anti statics etc. and make it known that they are in the product.
- Closing the Loop. Consider the possibility of including recycled plastics in the packaging and support the recovery of plastics by providing a market for reprocessed material, increase cost savings and reduce the environmental impact of the package.
Two examples of common practices which cause recyclers to turn PCR bottles away are:
- Use PVC shrink-wrap labels. Not only are they too costly to remove, PVC has the same density as PET and is not separated during the float-separation process. Even a small amount of PVC contamination can render a whole batch of rPET unusable.
- Incorrect identification. Packaging containing additives, multi-layer composition or barriers or any other components which affect the recycling stream are still marked as with a number “1” and get included in the recycling stream, thus contaminating it.
The relationship of packaging production and recycling, by its inherent nature, continues to develop, providing exciting challenges for designers to innovate and constantly challenge the boundaries of good design, conscious design and design that meets the needs of all stakeholders in the supply chain. Design for Recyclability provides an opportunity for feedback loops and constant improvement and in this regard PETCO encourages its stakeholders to rise to the challenge and continue to innovate with their products as well as provide feedback on challenges and lessons learnt, by way of case studies that can be presented to stakeholders.
PETCO has developed a fact sheet titled PET Plastic Packaging: Recycling by Design, which is an essential guide for all those involved in development, design, marketing and procurement. The aim of this fact sheet is to encourage designers to consider recycling possibilities, provide guidelines for those wishing to make their packaging (more) recyclable and provide organisations with information to prevent their packaging inadvertently interfering with existing plastic recycling streams.