Plastic is a wide range of synthetic or semi-synthetic materials used in a huge and growing range of applications such as wrapping the food, sheaths bunches of flowers, holds liquids, or used as shopping bags.
They do well in protecting consumables from being damaged, but after doing their job, they can become a problem. Many of them will end up in the environment, becoming part of the food chain as they reach the ocean and get collected in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
One of the biggest contributors to this problem is the multinational companies that rely on plastic to package their products. But the solution can also begin with these big firms.
For example, the US-based Procter & Gamble produced an estimate 1.5 billion pounds of plastic packaging, and as a response to the environmental threat, as well as to promote its public image, P&G set some sustainability goals in 2018.
Among them, they pledged that by 2030, there would be reduced use of the virgin petroleum plastic in its packaging by 50% or an estimate of more than 300,000 tons of virgin plastic will no longer be used.
In an interview with Scientific American, Jack McAneny, P&G's director of Global Sustainability, talked about the company's plans in reducing its carbon footprint, and how it will affect the company which would need new technology.
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Plastics Are Important, but Why Is It Hard to Reuse and Recycle Them?
McAneny acknowledged the use of plastics in the packaging of their products. He said that it is a valuable material because it is lightweight and perfect for protecting the product. It also requires less fuel to transport than glass and other alternatives or materials.
He also said that the quality of the plastic should be considered in reusing them. P&G scientists have developed a technology to purify polypropylene, commonly used in a lot of the caps and closures of the bottles.
There are struggles in collecting plastic caps. The collected materials are often dark, which does not look appealing when recycled and can also emit an unpleasant odor which can limit the option for reuse.
Moreover, McAneny explained that their company had developed a technique to return the polypropylene to a virgin-like state that will transform the material into much reusable plastic.
The licensed technology they are using is called the 'Pure Cycle' which involves melting first the polypropylene then dying it with colors before filtering contaminants to produce a clear material that performs like virgin plastic.
Presently, the United States' rules on recycling lack consistency and its recycling programs result in more confusion among customers as to what a recyclable and what is not.
Inspiring Customers to Recycle and Do Their Part in Reducing Plastic Use
Part of P&G's sustainability program is inspiring consumers to recycle and do their part to reduce plastic in the environment. They plan on using the 'how to recycle' label on their products to educate consumers on what products can be and cannot be recycled.
For instance, Head & Shoulders shampoo brand has worked with many partners to create a supply chain of recycled products that came from the beach. They used it to generate plastic bottles for the shampoo brand, which has a gray color compared to the current bottles seen in the supermarkets, which is white.
The aim is not only to find valuable solutions for recovered beach plastic but also to engage consumers to recycle.