Updated: Jul 7, 2020
The r-Pet case
Here we are again, talking about plastic, waste and recycling, an urgent and complex subject. We have seen how the recent European regulations against disposable plastics and about the circular economy seem to move in the right direction, but we have also understood that to solve the problem we need a redesign of production cycles and important changes in the system of separate collection.
Synthetically, we can say that the management of plastics moves on three levels:
Re-Use into a new production cycle.
It is necessary to act in all 3 directions to optimize the management system.
As far as production is concerned, it is necessary to design the product in such a way that it has the longest possible life cycle and that the materials of which it is made are easily separable and reusable in order to be put back into a new production cycle.
We all need to be more aware of how to use it. To reduce consumption, one possible direction is to use virgin plastic only when it is strictly necessary and it is not possible to replace it with other materials.
Finally, with regard to the re-Use in a new production cycle, Italy is in line with the European average, reaching 40% in the recycling of plastic. Also in this case there are margins for improvement (the European target is 50% by 2025) but we must also think about how to use those materials that are considered non-recyclable and therefore can not be part of that percentage of recycling. In fact, when we usually talk about recycling we think of "theoretical" recycling and we never go into detail: many materials are unfortunately recyclable only in theory, but then in practice what happens? In Italy, of all the plastics that are collected, both flexible and rigid, about half of the total collected is waste to energy and other cement processes and this has been happening for a long time, well before China and other Asian countries refused our waste.
Let's try to figure out why.
Opposite to steel and aluminium, which are homogeneous and easy to identify, in plastic waste we find a great differentiation: in fact we have polymers that are different from each other, such as high and low density polyethylene (HDPE - LDPE), polystyrene (PS), PET and so on.
It happens that for many of these polymers we do not reach the quantities necessary to create an economically sustainable recycling chain. Take the case of PET food packaging: many people think that they can be recycled together with the bottles, while in reality the packaging has a different chemical composition that does not lend itself to being recycled with the bottles. Therefore, to date, it has not yet come to these trays to set up a recycling system because they do not reach such quantities as to make the supply chain sustainable. The only existing possibility to radically change the current system is to intervene in the design upstream of the packaging and make sure that their design is compatible with the systems for starting recycling and plant engineering present in a widespread way throughout the territory. In essence, it would be a matter of moving towards a standardization and simplification of packaging, converging towards a limited number of polymers, to make it easier to differentiate by users, sort and recycle.
Let's try now to analyze the life cycle of one of these materials, widespread and commonly used by all of us, present on our tables, in offices, in schools and where you do sport or tourism: the PET of water bottles and drinks in general. We know that also for this material the European Union, through the disposable directive, imposes minimum binding quantities in the recycled plastic content. As far as beverage containers are concerned, the minimum content of recycled PET (r-PET) must be 25% by 2025 and 30% by 2030 and the collection targets for post-consumer bottles must be raised to 90% by 2029, with an intermediate target of 77% by 2025. Many companies are already moving in this direction and have set themselves ambitious targets. The general commitment that companies have in common is to make all packaging recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025. Specifically, with regard to the recycling target, multinationals such as Unilever, PepsiCo, P&G, Coca Cola and Nestlè are planning to use a minimum of 25% to 100% recycled PET for their bottles ( by the way since 2018, the Nestlé group has been introducing water bottles in North America entirely in food grade r-PET, thus completing the process of gradually replacing PET with r-PETs started by the US brand in 2005, which has led to a 40% reduction in the use of virgin resin).
Recycled PET destined for the production of beverage bottles has always required a higher degree of purity than that used by fibre producers and for this purpose ad hoc plants have been designed and built for the production of recycled PET destined for food contact, capable of ensuring maximum decontamination of PET flakes from separate collection.
The challenge for all seems to be to succeed in making plastics a resource, as in the case of r-PET, reusable in a process of circular economy, where everyone can make a contribution to sustainable development.
Soluzioni Plastiche srl has been committed to this for a long time, making its skills and capabilities available to the recycling market of all thermoplastic materials by providing a ready-to-use plastic waste grinded and washed or a second raw material (granules or densified) of the highest quality to companies that use recycled plastic and that need it in view of the recycling targets mentioned above and is committed to the most sustainable disposal for mixed plastic waste.
Beverfood.com – dicembre 2010;
RiciclaNews - aprile 2018;
La Repubblica – maggio 2018 – Italia che Cambia - novembre 2018