HomeIndustry InsightsDriving Sustainability: Avoiding 1m Tonnes of Plastic Waste Through Standardization

Driving Sustainability: Avoiding 1m Tonnes of Plastic Waste Through Standardization

Nearly one million tonnes of plastic packaging waste could be avoided by 2029 through the standardisation of materials, according to a waste management company in the UK.

Harnessing Material Standardisation for Sustainable Waste Reduction

"The UK Journey to Circularity" provides a structured framework applicable to specific resource streams and scalable across sectors and products. It outlines nine interventions with defined timelines aimed at reducing plastic packaging waste, requiring coordinated efforts from businesses, consumers, and the UK Government.

The largest opportunity for intervention in the plastics packaging waste stream comes with the standardisation of materials; as a result, up to 800,000t of material can be effectively recycled, rather than wasted. For significant impact to be seen in the quantity of plastics packaging effectively recycled, businesses will need to consider options for reuse and end-of-life processing in product design.

Evolution of Material Standardisation 

The concept of material standardisation emerged alongside the rapid growth of industrial production and global trade since the Industrial Revolution. As industrialisation expanded globally, the demand for manufacturing materials, particularly in plastics, soared. However, varying material standards across nations posed challenges in terms of interchangeability and compatibility. Material standardisation was introduced to tackle these issues, aiming to enhance production efficiency, ensure product quality, and facilitate international trade. This approach has garnered broad support from major industrialised nations and numerous emerging economies.

From an environmental and sustainable development perspective, material standardisation is crucial, especially within the plastic industry. Establishing standards for recycling and reusing materials is essential to mitigate environmental pollution and conserve finite resources effectively.

PET Standardisation: Driving Sustainable Practices and Global Compliance

In the PET (polyethylene terephthalate) industry, where sustainable development is urgently needed, standardization plays a pivotal role in advancing industry-wide circular economy practices.

The standardisation of PET involves specific regulations at both international and national levels, covering production, usage, testing, and recycling. 

International standards like ISO 15270:2008 and ISO 21363:2020 provide guidelines and technical requirements for recycling and reusing PET waste, emphasizing sustainable waste management and circular economy practices. European standards such as EN 15343:2007 and the EN 1186 series focus on recycling traceability, recycled content, and safety standards for food contact materials, encouraging the use of recycled PET. In the United States, ASTM D7611/D7611M-20 aids in the identification and sorting of plastics to facilitate recycling, while FDA 21 CFR 177.1630 ensures the safety of recycled PET in food packaging. 

These standards collectively ensure consistency, safety, and quality in PET production and recycling, supporting global trade and environmental protection through sustainable practices.

Urgency in Educational Initiatives and Investments

In advocating for the standardization of milk bottle caps, historically, cap colors denoted the type of milk (e.g., green for semi-skimmed), but they have since been replaced by transparent alternatives. Furthermore, there has been a decrease in color contamination within the HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene) waste stream. Ultimately, bottles and caps can now be recycled together, contributing to new food-grade plastic products in the circular economy.

Another advancement involves the widespread commercial use of PET for bottle caps and closures, achieving a 100% PET packaging solution. This development simplifies and improves the recycling of PET bottles post-consumption, promoting the PET circular economy.

Despite making progress, the full potential of the circular economy remains underappreciated. Educational initiatives are crucial for enhancing understanding among businesses and consumers of the environmental, economic, and social benefits of circular practices. Through educational advocacy, there is an opportunity to strengthen awareness of circular economy principles and practices, encouraging greater consideration of recyclability and reusability in product design and manufacturing. This, in turn, promotes the implementation and enforcement of material standardization.

Additionally, investments in research and the demonstration of best circular economy practices are equally essential. These investments provide crucial infrastructure support for new technologies and innovations, further advancing the development of material standardization and ensuring its practical application in achieving environmental sustainability and sustainable development goals.

In essence, through material standardization and the promotion of circular economy principles in the PET plastic industry, stakeholders can substantially diminish plastic packaging waste while advancing global environmental sustainability.

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