By Peter van Gestel
Sustainability is not always black and white!
My first interview for PromZ Vak two years ago was with Peter Westveer, commercial director of Eurobottle. Unfortunately, we have to conclude that the knowledge around plastic raw materials is still not very big among many people in the industry and the confusion only seems to increase. According to Westveer there is still a big gray area in terms of sustainability. So it’s time to meet again and to establish balance.
When I come to the business premises in Dronten I drive up where Eurobottle is located, I see a huge billboard on which Eurobottles’ own water bottle Oasus is shown with the claim “Just the most sustainable water bottle”.
That’s quite a claim… “Well one that we can make a reality”, states Westveer convincingly.
“That is also the reason why the development of this bottle took so long. The bottle is made of a biobased HDPE plastic, of which sugar cane forms the basis. In production, this results in significant CO2 savings compared to fossil plastics. Furthermore, the bottle is very lightweight, which, among other things, makes a difference in emissions from transport. In addition, the bottle is dishwasher safe so can be reused many times and finally the entire bottle is made of HDPE (monomaterial), so it can go into the regular recycling process and be recognized as such. The bottle can therefore definitely be recycled and can therefore simply be placed in the PMD container.
This brief description of the making process of the Oasus bottle, makes it immediately clear how complicated sustainability is related to plastic. The term biobased alone raises a lot of questions. Westveer explains how it works. “Bio-based is in principle renewable raw material. So plastic based on sugar cane and corn are well-known examples. The question, of course, is whether the earth is not exhausted during cultivation, how much water is used for growth, whether pesticides are used and so on. Thereafter the base is never the only material. You always need something to bind the material or to make it flexible. And the question is how ‘clean’ or healthy that material is and what it is used for. We all know about the bamboo, melamine story. Without heating no problem, but above 70 degrees (for example in a coffee cup) it is suddenly very bad for your health. Finally, do you still have the problem of recycling? In theory, almost all biobased materials are recyclable. But in practice this is only possible with HDPE, PP and PET.”
Recycling and compostable/biodegradable
When a product has the recycle logo (that triangle with the arrows), this does not automatically mean that such a product will also be recycled. In several states in America,
laws are now being prepared that manufacturers who use such a logo can be fined at the time the product is not actually recycled. In Europe it is not yet so far, so the logo is often no more than a marketing tool. The consumer thinks that the product can be put in the PMD container, while a waste processing company such as Renewi, sends such a product often directly to the incinerator. What exactly is that? According to Westveer it is actually very often a matter of time and money. “It must be financially attractive enough for a waste processor to recycle something. This is often not the case, because the offer is still much too small. And so it doesn’t happen. On the assembly line an infrared eye recognizes the plastic that has been washed and recycled. When your product consists of several types of plastics there is a good chance that your product will automatically won’t be recycled because the infrared eye doesn’t recognize it. Something similar is happening with GFT. Many products that are compostable or biodegradable cannot be in the GFT bin. They only ‘pollute’ that flow. It is true that such a product is in an industrial bio composting machine, but the processing time is far too long and therefore not profitable. In short, those products just end up at the stake. Lies a manufacturer by putting such a logo on it? You tell me.”
Maybe it’s not a lie, but it also isn’t completely honest either. Personally, I would classify it under the term “greenwashing”. And so there is more communication about products, which makes you wonder if it’s not just greenwashing. Westveer gives an example. “I recently saw a product of ABS, stating that it is for a significant part made from recycled material. The distributor and soon the end user thinks that this is made of so-called post-consumer waste. We associate this with recycled material. But that is not possible at all with this material from the legislation with regard to food safety. What seems to be happening? It is in part made of production waste from ABS that decomposes during injection molding conditions and simply reused during the production process. This has been done for years in order to be as efficient during the production process to be possible. So it is literally reuse of material,
but to call this recycling now…”
The buzzword in the sustainability discussion is LCA (life Cycle Analysis). A number of phases are distinguished here. The first phase is the creation of a product, so what does it consist of? the raw material, how is a product made, how much energy does it cost to make, what hands make it, how to transport you, take it to the market and so on. The second phase is the usage phase. How intensively is a product used? Do I need some form of energy in the meantime (for example a dishwasher to clean a bottle)? The last stage is the so-called after-life or post-consumer phase. What can we still do with the product when it is thrown away. For instance recycling, upcycling or reuse. According to Westveer, a LCA is
very important, but there are still quite a few snags. “Of course we try to be as sustainable as possible in every phase, but that is not always possible. I will give an example. We can for example, consider that it is good to use thinner plastic to be used for a particular sauce bottle. However, if it turns out that this cuts the best expiring date in half, you have to wonder if that is the case and if it is sustainable at the moment that you have to get rid of that product and throw it away. In short, there are different ways to judge sustainability so that’s not always a bad thing. How much longer the consumable part is used, the more durable a product and the less important phases one and three are. I recently saw research that had been carried out for Levi jeans. Which showed that, for example, the 501 jeans were quite durable. While the making process was not at all. But due to long-term use and despite all the washing, the product turns out compared to competitors to be very sustainable. Also because the pants are very popular with vintage stores. So it’s just how you look at something. Yet it is good that we are calculating more and more. But it is difficult to be able to properly research that user part in advance, while that has the most impact. It depends on functionality, but also the design, ease of use and so on. The better this last is done, the longer the product will be used.
Plastic not always bad
Plastic may have the association with filled-up oceans and mountains of waste, but let’s not forget that it has also brought us a lot and it can still be a ‘good’ material. It is strong, light, it has many uses and in many cases it is easy to recycle. In addition, there are many initiatives in the material field that are very hopeful. Both in the field of biobased material and in the field of recycled material. Unfortunately, no recycled material can actually be used in the food packaging industry due to food safety legislation. But a lot is happening in this world and that technical development will continue for a while.
Plastic is made from renewable, biological materials, such as cornstarch, sugar cane, or vegetable fats and oils. If the renewable raw material HDPE, PP or PET is made, it basically has the same properties like plastics made from petroleum and can therefore simply be disposed of with PMD waste.
+ renewable resource, recyclable
– use space, water and pesticides
Biodegradable (biodegradable or compost digestible plastics) Plastics that degrade under the influence of sunlight, moisture or bacteria. They sometimes contain substances that help with the degradability. They can be made from both petroleum and organic logical materials. Because this breakdown hardly ever occurs under natural conditions, I think this is not a solution for litter or plastic soup. Biodegradable plastic only makes sense for those bags
that are allowed in the kitchen waste bin. This variant does, however, perish completely and in this way plastic can help to increase the amount of compostable waste collected.
+ sometimes made from biological material
– not recyclable, pollutes GFT electricity
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