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Design Facilitating Recycling

Posted on March 6th, 2017 by in Chemical R&D

Coffee cup

Most of us live in a single-use, convenience-focused world. We have disposable clothing, coffee cups and cameras. Packaging is usually built to be thrown away as soon as it has fulfilled its original purpose.

This “disposable” culture is perhaps the biggest cause of plastic waste going to landfill, being incinerated or ending up in the sea. The low uptake of reusing plastics is one of the key areas being considered under the European Commission’s (EC) roadmap for its Strategy on Plastics.

Giving plastics a secondary use is one way to begin tackling the problems arising from waste plastics, which is something that needs to be considered right at the outset with thoughtful design.

While in many applications, a secondary use might not be especially practical, it’s important to pay attention to where the products (which includes any packaging or materials required for transport) we make will end up.

Design For End Of Life

For certain groups of products there are regulations (like the WEEE directive for instance) which inform how they should be disposed of. But for many more, there is only vague guidance at best.

For most things, it’s up to both those responsible for designing products and those who consume them to lead the way.

A Financial Opportunity

At first glance this may seem like just another constraint on design or additional cost to cover. But the truth is that there’s a huge opportunity here too.

There’s a good chance that over the coming years we’ll see an increase in the costs of producing new plastic (in terms of both financial costs as well as environmental costs). In turn that bring a pressure increase recyclability and reduce plastic waste. Materials and/or packaging design which either makes recycling more efficient or reduces plastic waste will be well placed to take advantage of those changes.

But in reality, that could take some time.

Perhaps the more immediate opportunity is to serve the growing market of consumer who are becoming increasingly aware of, and mindful of, their environmental impact.

Google shows that the number of people searching for terms like “plastic waste” has been growing steadily over recent years, which mirrors my own observation that culturally, many of us are waking up to the idea that the way in which we consume products can have a serious impact on the world around us. Recycling and reuse of waste seem to be on the agenda of more people now than ever before.

There is an opportunity to serve those people now, many of whom would happily pay slightly more for packaging which can be reused or recycled more effectively. So whether it’s the development of compostable packaging, or even edible food packaging, there is a big opportunity in developing innovative materials for reducing waste.


All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.

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