Most products can be recycled if enough is collected of the same grade in a clean condition and not contaminated with coatings such as inks, adhesives or grease.
With printed materials this is not always possible, unless a method of recycling called Pyrolisis is used. Not widely used in the UK, but it is a method of heating the materials to high temperatures and then condensing out the various compounds.
Some materials break down in the soil or when exposed to sunlight. Most cotton and paper will fall into this category. Plastics on the whole don’t. Some plastics claim to be but must pass EN 13432 to qualify. Always check where possible.
The best recycled content is that that has already been discarded by the consumer (known as Post Consumer Waste), this might include newspapers, packaging etc.
The higher the content the better it could be considered ‘green’
Scrap material created when the product is created is another consideration, ie is the waste at this point reused or simply discarded?
Use of Plastics
Oil and Gas are finite resources which need to be conserved. Both are used when creating plastics. Products which use a lower proportion in their composition compared to the plastics they replace are a good way of extending the resources we have left. Polypropylene is a good example of this.(see later page for better explanation of polypropylene)
PVC is one of our most valuable and versatile plastics, it can be made rigid or flexible, in any colour or finish. Unfortunately there are more problems with recycling PVC than any other plastics, mainly due to the by products given off when burning it (eg chlorine) and also it has a heavier dependency on fossil fuels in its creation than some other plastics.
Recycling has the advantage of reducing landfill and the associated rising costs and retaining the resource of the polymer.
However, there is no equivalent to the waste paper recycling infrastructure which works extremely efficiently in the UK. As individual companies and organisations must make their individual arrangements, the minimum quantities required for recycling often make this impracticable.
Large organisations who can collate the tonnage required are the best for opting for recycling.
Composting is the only option when the quantities of plastic will never be enough for recycling. This is typically where items are made for consumer use, as temporary labels or in any situation where the plastic forms a tiny proportion of the finished product.
There are three ways in which plastic can be made to decompose.
Hydro-biodegradation is most commonly associated with plant based polymers such as PLA. The disadvantage with this system is that any contact with water will start the process and PLA is extremely expensive.
Photo degradation relies on the action of the UV in sunlight to destroy the polymer chains. This is not reliable in Northern Europe and the process stops if the plastic is covered in landfill.
Oxo-biodegradation uses Oxygen in the air or soil to cut the polymer chains. This can be controlled to a certain time exposure.
This period can be varied to suit end use requirements for special orders
All three systems reduce the plastic to small fragments which can be microbially digested in the soil.
With all this in mind, the product that seems most widely recognised as a ‘green’ product is polypropylene – read on for more information . . . .
Before polypropylene was invented, the gaseous waste from oil such as propylene and ethylene were simply burned, because they were useless. Today, these gases are used to produce polypropylene, thus drastically reducing atmospheric pollution. The production process also eliminates the potential polluting of rivers, streams and lakes, due to the use of water in a closed cooling cycle.
The polypropylene used is entirely recyclable and meets the manufacturing requirements of the Environment Commission – these stipulate that there is a minimum use of natural resource, reduced emissions a long working life and optimum re-use.
There is a high demand for polypropylene for recycling purposes as it can be recycled more than 50 times without any reduction in strength. Recycled polypropylene has uses as car parts, furniture, pots and pallets separators.
As well as being the most durable and flexible material for making binders, folders and packaging, polypropylene is far more environmentally and economically sound than rival products such as standard plastics and PVC.
Polypropylene, unlike PVC, does not give off chlorine when burnt. It gives off only water vapour and carbon dioxide, which is converted by photosynthesis (chlorophyll). It is a chemically inert product. To incinerate some materials, extra fuel needs to be added. Polypropylene however, is destroyed simply by burning, because its calorific capacity is similar to that of oil. Thus incinerators economise on fuel and operate more efficiently.
Polypropylene products last much longer than those made from most similar materials. It is easy to wipe clean, hard wearing and will withstand extreme temperatures and ageing. Being more durable than alternative materials, products made from polypropylene don’t need to be replaced as often. When used for packaging, boxes and cases often have a second ‘life’. Saving cost, resources, our environment and our future.