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Recyclability - A Baby Step

Updated: Apr 2, 2023

Advocates of Extended Producer Responsibility ( EPR ) hold the resin producers and processors responsible for reclamation and environmental damage. It's a GIGO thing.

The purer the discarded material, the easier it is to recycle.

The economic value of plastic waste is important. If the plastic costs too much to recycle, there is no incentive. Recyclers don't want glass. It's a loser not to mention the mass quantities of natural gas needed to recycle glass.

Whether pre-sorted a la nordic countries or single stream, mashed up multilayer structures are by definition a #7 which is the least desirable and not reyclable for practical purposes. The documentary Plastic China really was a game changer. China no longer is a dumping ground for mixed plastic packaging.

This graphic is irresponsible. It implies that a coextrusion of low density polyethylene LDPE and polyethylene terephthalate is recyclable.

Multilayer packaging until recently has been touted as cool by capital equipment manufacturers. Complex is cool, right ? Just ask any Mensa member. In the realm of packaging film, a common strategy to lock out competitors who only make single layer film is to sell the customer a bill of goods consisting of the need for coextrusion of several layers when a monolayer film will do. It's called the art of selling by spec.

Any multiple layer structure ( whether coextrusion or lamination ) is by definition a chasing arrow symbol #7 which is the least recyclable. By definition, it is on a one way trip to the lanfill.

Now there is a scramble to modify the polymers to eliminate layers. For example, Nova has created two grades of High Density Polyethylene HDPE which have great barrier properties which obviate the need for either EVOH or PVDC coating in most cases.

Colgate Palmolive has gone out of their way to modify their toothpaste tube to be recyclaBLE HDPE #2. They have spent a lot of money on case studies and new plates to advertise to the consumer after point-of-sale. The plastic is still made from fossil fuels.

The cap is polypropylene #5. They instruct the consumer to separate the cap from the tube and hopefully drop in the appropriate bin or single stream curbside bin. Hopefully the sorters will find the cap.

The big question is who is responsible for irresponsible disposal at end of service life ?

Polyethylene Terephthalate #1 is the most recyclable of all polymers ( actually, it is repolymerized, which is to say that it gets broken down to its monomer and re assembled ). The recycling rate is stuck at around 33%.

Visionaries for the new world order want radical changes and they want them now. Reality is there must be a transition phase. Designing products for recycling is a challenge, especially when the application requires a team of polymers to get the job done.


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