Packages and closures for packaging

Plastics for verification! A genuine plan for changes or sham activity?

The plastics industry, together with the packaging one, have recently been observing legislative changes with great concern. Both those which have already been introduced, and the information about the upcoming ones.
Most proposals sound really sensible. Each of the ideas presented would seem brilliant to a layman – recycling, slimming the packaging down, getting rid of it altogether.
Let's get down to work! As early as today!
Why, then, more and more industry voices say – it won’t work!
Is it a fight to preserve the status quo, or a common-sense attempt at assessing the actual potential against the intentions?

A holistic approach to the packaging industry, whose products are intended for the food and cosmetics industries, requires an analysis of at least a few factors.
First of all, safety!
The packaging has to ensure it, and there’s no room for compromise here.
Why, therefore, the solutions proposed are potentially dangerous?
Barrier capacity
There mustn’t be any reaction between the product and packaging!
Consequently, the plastic must be of the top quality, without any harmful additional substances, which is governed by separate regulations, such as REACH. Even if it has been produced with the utmost care, the plastic that is supposed to become the packaging must also undergo tests for heavy metals and other substances that may prevent it from being processed into a product that has contact with food.
Migration tests are repeated, when we have a ready-made packaging product.
All of them are aimed at ensuring the highest possible level of consumer’s safety.
That's the moment when the PCR comes into play!
It means plastic that has been obtained from the post-consumer waste. In theory, everything seems to be right – the packaging was manufactured according to the above-mentioned principles, so once it's emptied, it can be processed into a product with the same quality and purity.
But that last feature is doubtful.
Nobody knows how the packaging was used between it was emptied of the product and processed. There’s a suspicion about the “unauthorized storage”.
A solvent in a water bottle, lubricant in a cream jar...Unfortunately, it does influence polymer chains. Such combinations lead to chemical reactions as a result of which the material is permanently damaged with substances harmful to health.
In order to be certain about the use of that material in new packaging products, each granule of the regranulate would have to undergo detailed examinations. Unfortunately, that would be both absolutely unprofitable and so time-consuming, that it wouldn't make any sense.
Over the recent months, we’ve been told that the PCR shouldn’t be used in new packaging!
That was because of the above-mentioned reasons, but also due to the fact that what ended up in the PCR waste stream was detergent packaging, which before it’s allowed to be used isn’t treated as strictly as food or cosmetics packaging, and can contain remains of the products that could additionally contaminate the recycling stream.

While the use of recycled plastic in the food and cosmetics industry isn’t the best idea, the recycling itself is. Plastic can be found in almost every area of our life, and in the most of its applications it doesn't come in contact with food or cosmetics. Consequently, using regranulate may be a great idea!
However, there are other problems with recycling – it’s ineffectual, conducted to order, and, in most countries, really backward technologically.
Such infrastructure won’t allow achieving the limits set for using it in new products announced by the legislator.
The records of recycled waste, however, have so far been set in a very doubtful way. Rubbish was moved outside the European Union, receiving, at a relevant fee, a declaration that it would be recycled.
Over the last years, developing countries have forbidden bringing European waste to their territory, saying explicitly – Europe, deal with your rubbish yourself! This was due to the fact that the waste wasn’t recycled, and the growing heaps of domestic and European rubbish became a very acute problem.
What’s still underway is the intra-EU transportation, which suggests that e.g. Bulgaria recycles German waste. It’s hard to believe given the fact that Germany is in the recycling vanguard, being an author of innovative technologies and owner of state-of-the-art recycling facilities. Nobody has even said a word about Bulgaria in this context. Furthermore, journalist investigations expose embezzlements connected with the trade in waste and certificates on recycled rubbish.
The European Parliament has recently officially voted in favor of a ban on shipments of waste and export of plastics intended for recycling. They are, however, only guidelines that, for the time being, aren’t supported by directives.
One sad fact has come to light – the European waste recycling infrastructure built for over 30 years doesn't have sufficient capacity.
Sorting plants, incinerators, recyclers... there's a disproportionate amount of them as compared to the amount of the waste we produce.

What offers hope is chemical recycling, which is based on the assumption that it doesn’t require dividing the plastics into fractions. However, creating a network of facilities processing waste in such a way requires time and money. Apparently, we don’t have the former any more, and the latter is becoming hard to find...
By 2030, that is in seven years, all packaging must be recyclable!
It’s not explicitly said who will decide whether packaging is suitable for recycling or not. While the recycling today is a very regional matter, it's hard to believe that over a few years it will become uniform throughout the EU. In Poland, in fact only PET is recycled (approx. 30%), while other plastics undergo that process at a negligible rate. There are two obstacles which prevent an increase – first of all, there’s no infrastructure for separating other plastics from the plastics waste stream. Sorting plants, often manual ones, simply aren't able to sort out anything else than water bottles. The second problem, concerning more technologically advanced waste sorting plants, is the fact that they operate at the recyclers’ request. If they can’t sell the sorted out waste, they don’t devote time to sorting it. Scanners are set to detect those plastics for which there’s currently demand.
With such facilities, we, the producers, can create innovative monomaterial packaging whose recycling would take place smoothly, but without appropriate technical and economic support it doesn't take place. The question is whether it will take place in seven years.

Consumer! Help!
Separate, tear off, go with a bag, segregate, read more, be aware!
It’s cool to have an educated nation, as one can rely on its reasonable choices, and be sure that we are on the same team...
But consumers were already on the same team with the producer when they bought the product! They may even do it once again!
They have created the waste, are expected to have a home rubbish sorting plant, which most of us have had for a few years now, but nobody should expect them to conscientiously separate parts of packaging into the correct fractions.
At this point, it's worth emphasizing that in Poland there's no obligation to mark the plastics that have been used in a given piece of packaging, or inform which container it should be thrown into.
Consequently, today we are advised to – resign from packaging, which is to say – buy products at eco-stores – which is more expensive, farther, and leaves CO2 footprint during transportation.
That’s the moment when environmentally friendly activities become counter-productive.
The second proposal is diligent segregation of packaging or even its defragmentation, so that each element can get a chance to be recycled.
One per mille of the population will do so, but we won’t build the circular economy on it.

We should point out that the period of inflation isn't the best moment for the “green game” with the consumer. Although what was crucial in the previous years was: quality, protection of the environment and price, today the growing prices make consumers think about the price first, whereas the first two factors are less important.
Going along this line, the legislator may rely on the consumer's cooperation in the area of the protection of the environment, if money is involved. Being aware of it, conservationists from time to time bring up the topic of the mandatory imposition of a deposit fee on glass and plastic bottles and aluminum beverage cans. Although a deposit system was successfully implemented by our western neighbors approx. 20 years ago, we aren’t able to introduce it. The inexplicable unwillingness to be inspired by the well-tested solutions keeps delaying implementing them in Poland.!
A growing number of Polish municipalities, responding to problems with fuel availability and cost, wanted to invest in incinerators to provide an additional source of heat for their residents.
Paradoxically, the idea was criticized and rejected by the citizens themselves.
Burning rubbish is associated with air pollution, constant movement of lorries and uncertain profits.
Other EU countries boast that thanks to burning waste that can't be managed in any other way than landfilling, or burning it, they provide housing estates, hospitals and public buildings with heat. Unfortunately, we can only boast of growing heaps of waste in dumps.
Consequently, it turns out that even economically justified activities that would translate into citizens’ genuine savings also aren’t well perceived.
Education gaps at every level are alarming. The absence of the public dialog and willingness to present hard, both economic and environmental, evidence stokes fear and resistance caused by the incomprehension of the issue.
Contemporary incinerators emit fewer harmful substances than landfills, where plenty of uncontrolled chemical reactions take place.
Energy recovery can be even higher than that from burning coal, as the calorific value of plastic waste is higher than that of brown coal. The only actual nuisance would be trucks delivering waste. They, however, transport it to landfills, so constructing incineration plants in their vicinity could eliminate also that problem.

The challenges imposed on the packaging industry can’t be enforces without assessing the actual development of the infrastructure around it.
The circular economy, as its name suggests, is a long chain of connections and interdependences. Consequently, placing the responsibility for the smooth operation of the whole process on just one link, isn’t, unfortunately, a recipe for the success of the entire undertaking....
Plastics processors don’t aim at preserving the status quo simply because they are reluctant to changes, but because they see no hope for long-term change for the better.