Plastic is all around us. Plastic is involved in many industries and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. This constitutes a reason to find a viable option to either reuse plastic multiple times or use a more sustainable option instead of plastic. In today’s market, there are a wide variety of options for sustainability. However, many of these options have a high cost that companies cannot afford. But, if we continue to research sustainable methods of recycling plastic, we can lower the price of these options and create a more mainstream way for consumers and companies to reuse and recycle their plastic.
One of the biggest changes to the packaging industry is post-consumer recycled content. Post-Consumer Recycled content (PCR) is the leading innovation in recycled plastic. PCR is a non-virgin plastic material. In the manufacturing process, the non-virgin plastic is mixed with virgin plastic to keep the structural integrity of a virgin plastic while using less material. When you see PCR plastic being used it is never on the layer inside of the pack or on the outside due to quality concerns with the plastic. It is most often used on the inside layer of the pack to hide the quality issues of the plastic. This plastic is either made using secondary or tertiary recycling. Secondary is limited to thermoplastics only. This is because the plastics can get re-grinded and molded into whatever structure it needs to be without losing its structural integrity. The tertiary method uses total depolymerization of plastic. It will lead it into monomers and oligomers. The company then re-polymerizes the material into what it was before. This method often has programs to get clients and consumers to give back unused plastic to get a discounted rate. Utilizing PCR can lead to less pollution of plastic material, cleaner oceans, less greenhouse gases being released, less plastic in landfills, more sustainable. However, there are some disadvantages of PCR. It Is very expensive, not very common, quality of these materials is questionable as they are all different. The big takeaway for PCR is the massive potential upside of this product. Even though it is expensive right now, as PCR rises in popularity the price will decrease. There will be many instances of innovation and change in the coming years that can make this a very viable option and I look forward to learning about the outcomes of PCR in the industry.
Consumers will continue to use the landfill for their plastic waste. Until we can make a collective effort towards PCR, we will continue to be a throw-away society with our plastic goods. Although it is very expensive now, I can see it being cheaper in the coming years when more and more people are producing recycled plastic content and selling it for a less expensive price. However, in the short term I will most likely see landfills use continue to be the leading cause of recycled content in the US. Until we take action, this will be the cheapest and easiest method to get rid of our goods.
Essay by: Hans Stelpflug
University of Wisconsin-Stout