Maximpact Blog

Making Plastic Waste Disappear

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Some plastics are just lucky, they become the raw materials for artworks. (Photo by Steven Depolo) creative commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis,

WASHINGTON, DC, March 15, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – Every ton of plastic bottles recycled saves about 3.8 barrels of oil, says the Plastics Industry Trade Association, which has just launched a Zero Net Waste program to help members evaluate waste reduction opportunities and maximize landfill diversion.

The $427 billion U.S. plastics industry, employs nearly one million American workers and is the third largest manufacturing industry in the United States.

Founded in 1937 and based in Washington, DC, the Plastics Industry Trade Association was originally the Society of the Plastics Industry is still known by those initials, SPI.

The Zero Net Waste program grew out of the SPI Recycling Committee’s Emerging Trends Subcommittee, chaired by Kathy Xuan, CEO of PARC Corp, and then developed by a broad workgroup of the association’s members.

“As chair of the subcommittee and a recycler who provides zero landfill services,” said Xuan, “we feel this program will be instrumental in providing tools and resources to accelerate the industry’s pursuit of zero waste.”

The ZNW program manual is designed to enable companies of all sizes to begin pursuing zero waste in their facilities, from building the business case for zero net waste, to educating employees and offering practical guidance on finding the right service providers.

The Zero Net Waste Program isn’t just for companies looking for Zero Waste certification, said Robert Flores, director of sustainability for Berry Plastics, a global manufacturer and marketer of plastic packaging based in Evansville, Indiana.

“The accompanying manual is applicable to a wide variety of companies and provides the basics for how get started, as well as how to enhance existing programs that a company already may have in place,” said Flores.

Reducing reliance on landfills provides both environmental and economic benefits, which are being driven by many of the major brand owners in the plastics industry today, said Nina Goodrich, executive director of GreenBlue, an environmental nonprofit based in Charlottesville, Virginia that works towards the sustainable use of materials.

“GreenBlue and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition support SPI’s Zero Net Waste Program,” Goodrich said. “Providing companies the tools and resources to demonstrate leadership in landfill diversion is an important step towards reducing carbon emissions and developing a circular economy.”

In Europe, companies are working towards reducing the negative impact of plastics on the environment by contributing to a circular economy, and many are seeking funding for these efforts from Horizon 2020.

Horizon 2020 is the biggest ever EU Research and Innovation program with nearly €80 billion of funding available over the seven years 2014 to 2020, in addition to the private investments that this seed money will attract.

Making Plastic Waste Disappear

Baled plastics in Switzerland awaiting a buyer (Photo by mbeo) creative commons license via Flickr

The European Commission’s Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, ESME, manages the calls for proposals under Horizon 2020’s societal challenge, Climate Action, Environment, Resource Efficiency and Raw Materials.

The agency is funding projects under the Horizon 2020 program that guarantee a sustainable supply and use of raw materials, and the protection and sustainable management of natural resources and ecosystems.

On December 8, 2015 EASME organized a networking meeting for 21 waste-related research and innovation projects.

The meeting kicked off 13 projects selected under Horizon 2020’s “Waste: A resource to recycle, reuse and recover raw materials” call for proposals in 2015.

This year, by the call deadline March 8, the European Commission had received 333 proposals for Horizon 2020 funding for projects in the areas of climate action, environment, resource efficiency and raw materials.

A budget of about €283 million is available in 2016 for projects in these areas. In April, independent expert panels will evaluate the proposals, choosing which ones to fund.

A project funded this way is revolutionizing the secure envelope market. Inspired by EU efforts to promote products made from eco-friendly materials, this Italian initiative seeks to replace envelopes made from polluting polyethylene plastic, with paper, laminated with eco-plastic that incorporates tamper-indication techniques.

The goal of the SELOPE project is to produce at industrial scale an innovative security envelope, made from certified Forest Stewardship Council paper, laminated with eco-plastics and Mater-Bi, a biodegradable, compostable bioplastic made from plants.

By using these innovative materials, the company says it cuts its CO2 emissions, diverts waste from landfills and promotes recycling and compostability.

In the UK, Impact Laboratories Ltd. has developed a method for the cost-efficient separation of mixed polymers, using a patent pending process of vertically arranged blades oscillating to produce separation.

Developed to meet the needs of the recyclers, the process involves a low capital and operational expenditure. This opens the equipment to small and medium sized recyclers across Europe, allowing them to separate plastics which are now classed as too expensive to separate.

This adds value to the recycler, creates jobs, reduces the plastic going to landfill, and provides manufacturers with a rich source of useable recycled material at a local level.

“Our technology has the potential to make a major change in the way plastics are recycled across Europe,” Impact says. “Every unit will reduce plastic to landfill by 2,000 tonnes a year, helping Europe meet the EU goals for plastic recycling by 2020.”

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Crushed plastic bottles awaiting recycling (Photo by Lisa Risager) creative commons license via Flickr

The European Commission has adopted an ambitious Circular Economy Package.

Still working its way through the legislative process is a proposal on waste sets an EU target for recycling of 75 percent of packaging waste by 2030; and a binding target to reduce landfill to maximum of 10 percent of all waste by 2030.

It specifies simplified and improved definitions, harmonized calculation methods for recycling rates throughout the EU will be coupled with economic incentives for packaging producers to put greener products on the market and support recovery and recycling schemes.


Award-winning journalist Sunny Lewis is founding editor in chief of the Environment News Service (ENS), the original daily wire service of the environment, publishing since 1990.

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