Plastic packaging has a worse reputation than it deserves. There are many reasons for this: Uncertainty or a lack of knowledge and one-sided media reports are the biggest factors here.
These factors are the reason that polluted oceans are the first thing that come to mind when many people hear the word “plastic”. Plastic packaging, particularly plastic bags and plastic bottles, is often held up as a symbol of this. Everyone is united on this point (not just representatives of the packaging industry): Packaging belongs in the bin and not in the ocean.
We need effective waste management in order to reduce littering. Every individual is therefore responsible for handling packaging waste and disposing of it correctly. Indeed, plastic itself is an important raw material that has significantly improved people’s lives over the past decades.
RECYCLING PLASTIC PACKAGING
Political groups, companies and associations in the plastic packaging industry are demonstrating that they are acting responsibly: In accordance with an EU directive, half of all plastic packaging in the European union should be recycled by 2025. This shall rise to 55% by 2030. The German plastic packaging industry is going a step further and has set itself the target of making 90% of household plastic packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025. Focused recycling can produce high-quality secondary raw materials for new packaging.
The industry’s engagement is clear to see; apart from the goals that they have set themselves, their public campaigns show that plastic packaging in itself cannot be held responsible for polluting nature. Many industry representative support projects against littering. One example of this is constituted by clean-up events, which are held to clean bodies of water, such as those held by the non-governmental organisation Clean River Project e.V.
REASONS FOR POLLUTION OF THE OCEANS
Various studies have shown that the causes behind plastic pollution of the ocean are complex and require a variety of solutions. On the one hand, over half of the plastic waste in the oceans is thought to come from the five Asian countries: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. On the other, the 2015 Global Waste Management Outlook assessment from UN Environment and the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) stated that 3 billion people worldwide have no access to controlled waste disposal facilities. Simultaneously, experts state that they believe that the level of plastic pollution in the ocean has increased due to old fishing nets or abrasion from car tyres.
THE BENEFITS OF PLASTIC PACKAGING
The benefits of plastic packaging are manifold. Plastic packaging protects food from going off, thus preventing food waste and maintaining comestibles that are vital for feeding the people of the world. They can limit the spread of disease and thus save lives. This makes plastic packaging indispensable for many food-based applications. However, other industries also require primary and secondary packaging made of plastic in order to protect their products, e.g. to stop them from becoming damaged. Plastics are lightweight, which has a positive effect on the life cycle assessment for a product. In addition, plastics can be manufactured relatively cheaply and are extremely resistant. Over the past decades, this has led to huge growth in the packaging industry’s use of plastics.
Plastic packaging can prolong the expiry date of food. Photo: Markus Winkler / Unsplash
In closed circuits, plastic packaging such as PET bottles attain 100% recycling rates thanks to being recycled and reused and therefore receive good results in life cycle assessments. Plastic packaging also produces high-quality recycled material when it undergoes chemical recycling. This material can then be used to create new packaging.
Fact check: plastic packaging
Made from organic raw materials (petroleum, natural gas, coal, renewable raw materials)
Consumption of petroleum/natural gas:
- Heating, energy generation, transportation > 80%
- Producing plastic: 4-6%
Around 1/3 of plastic produced is used in packaging.
Plastic packaging can prolong the expiry date of food
Plastic packaging for food
- Energy consumption: 2-3% during its life cycle
- CO2 emissions: < 2 %
Plastic recycling/reuse rate (in terms of basic material, raw material and energy) in Germany: 99%