Single use plastic packaging gets a bad wrap. Or is that just another bad pun? When most think of a single use plastic, they imagine drink containers such as soda and water bottles. They are the model for convenience, but also the guilty party that gets shown as an example for pollution on land and at sea. It’s no secret that single use plastics can damage the environment and threaten public health. Single use plastics are used in multiple industries beyond the food and beverage industry. Packaging is one area that doesn’t get a lot of light on its use of single use plastic, but we’ll shed some light on it and focus on why we should fix single use packaging in the plastics industry.
Do It for the Environment
According to the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP’s) recent report From Pollution to Solution, there is currently between 75-199 million tons of plastic waste in the ocean. Beyond that there is mostly likely an equal or greater amount in landfills. In recent years between 9-14 tons of waste was introduced into the aquatic ecosystem with plastics accounting for 85% of all marine waste. Globally 335 million metric tons of plastics was produced in 2016 alone with half going to single use plastics. Drink containers are always the biggest culprit in the mix, but any solutions that can provide a benefit for their reduction can easily be translated to packaging in the plastics industry among others. So what can we do to make an impact going forward?
- Investigate Reusable Material Alternatives – There are many options to transition to reusable alternatives. These may include materials made from cotton and non-woven polypropylene, as metal such as stainless steel, or a better plastic that can be used again and again. As much as limiting damage to the environment is a good reason to transition to better alternatives, there are potential cost benefits also. Single use plastics require storage and logistics that may be reduced or eliminated by switching to reusable alternatives.
- Make Everything Multi-Use – You are probably familiar with the 3 Rs (reduce, recycle, and reuse). It’s been popularized by posters everywhere, a few ad campaigns, and it has helped progress on recycling awareness. It has evolved into the 7 Rs in recent times. It has added Repair, Regift, Recover, and Refuse. Repair indicates that materials should be able to be repaired to be reuse rather than discarded. Regift indicates passing the material on to another person or project that can use it. Recover means the materials can be upcycled to recover extra materials or energy. Refuse means that you refuse to use materials that can’t be later recovered, recycled, or regifted. In a business sense, it may be better to refuse any business contract or transaction that can’t or won’t focus on utilizing the 7 Rs.
- Design Products with End–of-Life in Mind – Most new products don’t add criteria of what happens when the product is done being used. Can it be recycled, regifted, or recovered in some way instead of completely discarded? If the answer is no, perhaps it’s time to include that as a priority to reduce the single use plastics in packaging.
- Get Social About It – Social media isn’t just for sharing memes and personal updates. It can be used to announce business decisions and find new opportunities. Futerra released a study indicating that 88% of consumers want brands to help them live sustainably. As your products and business move to a greener future, you can utilize various social media platforms to announce your intentions and list some of your challenges in doing so. It may cost more financially to move to more sustainable packaging options, but using social media may change customer habits or bring in new opportunities that can outweigh the extra financial investment.
How Do I Eliminate Single Use Packaging from My Next Project?
The path to eliminate single use packaging may not be straight and narrow. There are many factors that can hamper your intent to ‘go green’ on your next project, and you may need a mentor that can offer industry advice to achieve your long-term goals. SEA-LECT Plastics has the expertise to help with your decisions. When you’re ready to work with our elite team that produces world-class prototypes and products with a focus on sustainability, call (425) 339-0288 or email us at email@example.com. We look forward to offering support and advice on your next project. In the end, the materials and processes chosen will benefit your product design. Many resins and packaging options are completely recyclable, and for those that aren’t, there are still further options to investigate to ensure they can be of further use.
Matthias Poischbeg was born and raised in Hamburg, Germany. Matt moved to Everett, Wash., after finishing his bachelor’s degree in business in 1995 to work for Sea-Dog Corporation, a manufacturer, and distributor of marine and rigging hardware established in 1923.
In 1999, Matt took over the reins at Sea-Lect Plastics Corporation, a sister company of Sea-Dog and a manufacturer of plastic injection molded products with an in-house tool & die shop. Matthias Poischbeg is also a contributor to Grit Daily.