This year’s Global Recycling Day, 18 March 2019, coincides with the highest ever levels of consumer concern about packaging waste and plastic packaging specifically.
At the same time, the UK’s bottled water sales are reported to have topped £3bn, the hot summer of 2018 boosting consumption by more than 7% to 4.2 billion litres, according to a report from food and drink expert Zenith Global.
It has also predicted a continuing upward trend in the consumption of bottled water up to 2021 – the same year that global consumption of plastic bottles is set to top half a trillion. It is a trend that will perhaps surprise many, given the scrutiny which plastic packaging continues to be subject to and rising awareness of the problems associated with waste packaging leaking into the environment.
So now more than ever, packaging designers and manufacturers must ensure their packaging is easily recyclable. This applies not just to plastic bottles but all forms of plastic packaging.
Published by Recoup in consultation with experts in the plastic packaging and recycling industries, Recyclability by Design offers advice on the design of plastic packaging to facilitate recycling.
Packaging should be designed to satisfy technical, consumer and customer needs in a way that minimises environmental impact. This means that packaging should be designed to use the minimum amount of resources for its purpose and, once it has completed its job, the scope for recovery is maximised.
In compiling its guidelines, Recoup found that there are a number of reasons why some plastic packaging items such as tubs and pots are not recyclable, including users or specifiers wrongly believing that they are already using ‘more recyclable’ polymers.
In addition, the fact that there are more polymers that are technically recyclable than are currently collected kerbside for recycling in the UK is a source of frustration. This is particularly the case for the packaging manufacturers, who have technical knowledge of recyclability but no control over what is collected or recycled.
Nevertheless, small alterations to packaging design can make a big difference when it comes to recyclability. For example, monopolymer use and minimising the use of adhesives and coloured ink also makes plastic easier to recycle.
The objective is not to challenge the manufacturers or to stifle innovation, but to ensure that all stakeholders are working towards alternatives which are suitable for the current recycling collection and reprocessing infrastructure.
The most effective means of improving plastic packaging recycling performance, and preventing plastic packaging from leaking into the environment, is to ensure manufacturers design for recyclability and label products clearly to help consumers dispose of used plastic packaging in the appropriate bin.
Stuart Foster is chief executive of Recoup