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Françoise Pardos, Pardos Marketing, February 2006


Packaging waste issue

The worry about the accumulation of solid waste was at its highest point in 1990-1994 and it has considerably quieted since. The very severe German requirements of the DSD could not be kept, and the European legislation ended up less stringent. However the waste concern has created a basic trend, with long-term effects. The durable line of concern now involves the "4Rs", reduce, re-use, recycle, recover. Probably the first reduce, and the last, recover, are the actions with the most effective long-term impact.

Reduction is part of a general trend of simplification, lighter weight, overall economy through clever concept and design. There is still room for much improvement. Yet the much denounced over-packaging is a subjective matter. It may depend whether the package is for more or less immediate consumption or to be festive, or for a gift. Packaging fast food to be eaten on the spot may seem irresponsible, while it might be argued that packaging is necessary, to carry-out, for better protection.

Re-use of packaging is probably a dead-end, to stay marginal. The attempts to re-use returnable bottles of PC or thicker PET, over many trips, for various drinks and milk, may not be more than efforts to put the clock backwards. Third life of packaging is only a marginal, but strong marketing phenomenon, packages designed to be re-used at home, mustard glasses, cigarillos flat cans, frozen meat reclosable plastic boxes, etc. Or the fresh cheese of Yoplait in cubes that can be used as toys later. Or the Belgian Mio ice cream, 120 ml portion, put into a china pot that can be later used as a candle holder. However the re-use of plastic crates for fresh produce and other foods is a very strong trend.

Recycling has had some amount of success, when the packages and the materials are grouped in large quantities on one spot and can be sorted out easily. This occurs with shrinkwrap on large distribution stores, or bottles when they are pre-sorted by the consumers. In general, when prices of virgin polymers are low, not any recycling scheme can be effective.

Recovery, whether chemical, or thermal, in "a great final fire", energy recovery to gain from the calorific value of plastics might probably end up as the best answer, after all the thinking through that went on for the last seven years, on how to cope with plastics packaging waste.

The quantity of plastics waste in Europe as a whole in 1999 reportedly was, estimated from APME, about 18 million tons, with 5 million tons undergoing recycling, of which mechanical recycling, 9 %, chemical recycling, 2 %, incineration for energy recovery, 19 %. Altogether, just about 2 million tons, or 11 % of the plastics waste, was channeled into feedstock or mechanical recycling in Europe.

For total packaging, all materials in Western Europe, from estimates given by the main countries, in line with the requirements of the EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive, out of a total of 63 million tons of packaging, all materials, 23 million tons have been recovered, as reported by Packaging Today International, March 2000.


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