In our industry, there is a wide range of options to consider for an environmental policy.
Most products are suitable for recycling. But only if enough material is of the same grade in a clean condition. And is not contaminated with coatings such as inks, adhesives or grease.
With printed materials this is not always possible. Unless there is the use of a method of recycling called Pyrolisis. 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 material already discarded by the consumer (known as Post Consumer Waste). This might include newspapers, packaging etc.
The higher the content, the better consideration for being ‘green’.
Scrap material created duration construction of a product is another consideration. E.g. is the waste at this point reused or simply discarded?
Use of Plastics
Oil and Gas are finite resources which need conserving. Both used when creating plastics. Products which use a lower proportion in their composition compared to plastics are a good way of extending the resources we have left. Polypropylene is a good example of this (see further info below for an explanation of this).
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. As well as retaining the resource of the polymer.
However, there is no alternative to the waste paper recycling infrastructure. Which already works extremely efficiently in the UK. Individual companies and organisations must make their individual arrangement. Therefore, the minimum quantities required for recycling often make this impracticable.
The best option for recycling are the large organisations. They can collate the tonnage required.
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 decompose.
Hydro-biodegradation is most commonly associated with plant based polymers such as PLA. The disadvantage with this is that any contact with water will start the process and PLA is very costly.
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 landfill covers the plastic.
Oxo-biodegradation uses Oxygen in the air or soil to cut the polymer chains. This is controllable to a certain time exposure.
This period can vary to suit end use requirements for special orders.
All three systems reduce the plastic to small fragments which can be microbially digested in soil.
With all this in mind, the product that seems most widely recognised as a ‘green’ product is polypropylene.
Before the invention of polypropylene, the gaseous waste from oil such as propylene and ethylene were simply burned. Because they were useless. Today, these gases 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 it meets the manufacturing requirements of the Environment Commission. These stipulate there is a minimum use of natural resource. As well as reduced emissions, a long working life and best re-use.
There is a high demand for polypropylene for recycling purposes. It allows for recycling more than 50 times without any reduction in strength. Recycled polypropylene has uses as car parts, furniture, pots and pallets separators.
It’s the most durable and flexible material for making binders, folders and packaging. Polypropylene is more environmentally sound. Especially when compared to 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. Converted by photosynthesis (chlorophyll). It is a chemically inert product. To incinerate some materials, it requires extra fuel added. Destroying Polypropylene is a simple process, 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. It is 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.