In an article published on October 17, 2016 in the magazine Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), Alexander Tullo discusses the debate on the benefits and costs of plastic packaging for food products.

In the last decades, the use of food packaging, particularly that made of plastic, has increased dramatically, nowadays “enveloping almost every food product we buy.” Environmental activists view the flexible plastics and the newer multilayered films as the most problematic, because they are much more difficult to recycle than the simpler packaging made of metal, paper, or glass. This presents serious waste management challenges, resulting in negative environmental impacts.

However, the packaging industry counters that the flexible plastics and multilayered structures help to ensure long-term preservation of food, at the same time being lighter and cheaper to transport as compared to metal or glass alternatives. With regard to environmental impacts, the companies are trying to make plastics thinner and the packages generally simpler, what might help to achieve a more efficient recycling. There are also new initiatives aimed at providing more efficient solutions for the recycling of flexible packaging, for example the optimization of existing materials recovery facilities (MRFs).

Yet, the companies are not doing enough, environmental advocates say, calling for further investments by the industry in support of improved recycling and other circular economy initiatives. For example, the “New Plastics Economy” initiative of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (FPF reported) calls for the development of “superpolymers” with improved properties in regard to both packaging demands and environment.

A press release published on October 17, 2016 by the European Container Glass Federation (FEVE) informed that a recent study carried out by the Italian Research Institute “Stazione Sperimentale del Vetro” has confirmed that glass is a “permanent material” that can be recycled multiple times “without any loss of its intrinsic properties” . Hence, the use of “recycled glass in a closed loop” may help to “significantly reduce the use of other virgin raw materials,” according to Vitaliano Torno, president of FEVE. Another type of ‘permanent material’ frequently used in food packaging is aluminum, with three quarters of all aluminum ever produced being still in use today, as Maarten Labberton of European Aluminium discusses in her article published on August 30, 2016 in The Parliament Magazine.

Read more

Alexander Tullo (October 18, 2016). “The cost of plastic packaging.C&EN 94(41):32-37.

Anne Marie Mohan (September 25, 2016). “Existing MRF technologies can be used to sort flexible packaging.Greener Package

Steve Russel (October 6, 2016). “Flexible plastic packaging: New research shows potential for increased recycling and recovery.ACC Blog

FEVE (October 17, 2016). “Nothing is lost: Permanent Materials at the heart of the EU Circular Economy.

Maarten Labberton (August 30, 2016). “Permanent materials: A circular economy game changer.The Parliament Magazine