Design For Recovery, Please!
One of the “it” beverages at the 79th Academy Awards, and a sponsor for the Hollywood Premiere of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” Biota’s PLA-bottled water hit the market many years ago as the earth-friendly, compostable answer to PET bottles. The core selling point: They gave the consumer the impression the package would just “go away.” (To be fair, Biota does talk about commercial composting on their website, but doesn’t really address the “where facilities exist” requirement of the new FTC-Green Guidelines.)
The real problem though, was that PLA isn’t designed to just “go away.” It was created to be a viable alternative to some petroleum-based substrates using current solar income. It also, at the end of the product’s useful life, including many rounds of recycling — could — “go away” in the controlled setting of an industrial composter.
Here is the catch: Composting facilities in the U.S. ready to accept these products are not in every market yet, and not all recyclers are ready to take-in lookalikes. This last bit became such an issue that in 2006, the Plastics Redesign Project, one of seven petitioning groups, asked NatureWorks to suspend use of PLA for making bottles until a good part of the supply and recovery chain could figure out how to deal with their impact on recycling.
The Plastic Redesign Project explained at the time, “…the two resins are incompatible, the PLA bottle poses significant problems for PET recyclers and could significantly undermine recycling’s economics by disrupting successful PET recovery programs and by losing the high value in the PET bottles it displaces.”
Fast forward: As of 2007, Biota had halted production due to legal issues not connected to PLA — though certainly the moratorium could not have been helpful, and will be a critical issue to address as Biota moves forward. In the meantime though, and perhaps taking a lesson from Biota, both Coke and Pepsi have introduced plant-based bottles that can be recycled in any current PET recycling system. No special sorting required.
Here really is the heart of the story. The recyclers asking for a moratorium on PLA bottles had no problem with PLA in general. All they asked was that producers first direct its use toward applications that aren’t commonly recycled across the U.S., like clamshells and foodservice containers, while they work toward ways of setting-up recovery systems for it, or, find ways of producing products that don’t disrupt current recycling streams in the first place. Design for recovery is the core of this idea.
On July 6, 2011, GreenBlue released Design for Recovery Guidelines for Aluminum, Steel, Glass, and Paper Packaging. This super useful suite of reports details common recovery challenges for the four major packaging materials used today, Aluminum, Steel, Glass, and Paper, in addition to offering insight on attachments, inks, coatings, colorants and how they impact recyclability and compostability.
GreenBlue notes that the guidelines were inspired by the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers Design for Recyclability Guidelines, which outline which plastic bottles are compatible with today’s recycling technologies.
As we move forward in remaking everything we do, the integral key to real progress is to pay attention and be willing to help address issues in the whole of the supply and recovery chain.
Introduced in 2009, Naked Juice demonstrated their choice to help increase demand for recovered materials, a key element in moving past one-way materials use (cradle to grave), by using 100 percent recycled plastic (rPET) in their bottles (cradle to cradle).
As they finished moving their whole line to this new bottle, Naked Juice’s virgin plastic consumption was expected to drop by 8.1 million pounds per year, saving 57,000 barrels of oil. Or in car terms, like taking 3,460 cars off of the road.
©July 2011 packagedesignmag.com
The Sustainability Update is coordinated by: Wendy Jedlicka, CPP — Jedlicka Design Ltd., o2 International Network for Sustainable Design (o2.org & o2umw.org), Minneapolis College of Art and Design’s groundbreaking Sustainable Design Certificate Program. Books: “Packaging Sustainability” and “Sustainable Graphic Design.”