Recapture & Recycling: Keeping up to date with relevant collection methods and recycling technologies, we explore how brands, consumers and government can better come together to keep materials in constant circulation.
Recapture & Recycling
The current rejection of single-use plastics has put aluminum and glass in the spotlight as a "sustainable alternative" for beverage packaging, due to the high recyclability of each material.
Both aluminum and glass are highly carbon-intensive in raw material extraction and processing, making the production of new containers much less sustainable than those in plastic.
When making the choice for aluminum or glass over plastic, you need to consider:
– How likely is the container to be collected for recycling? (what is the local recycling efficacy).
– What is the acceptable amount of recycled content in your production? e.g. aluminum containers can, in theory, be 100% recycled, but vendors often have a purity standard that rejects this.
Understanding resin identification codes (1 to 7 usually found on the underside of a product) is critical in understanding how plastic products come back into circularity. These codes indicate a materials polymer family and how difficult it is to recycle.
As a general rule, category 1&2 should be the target plastics to use for today's recycling systems.
OBRC provides consumer access to fast and convenient container returns through BottleDrop ® and container pick-up service to over 2,500 retailers. The result is recycling millions of beverage containers every day at no cost to taxpayers.
The OBRC initiative is an important example because it shows how an effective return system can be introduced without assistance from tax money, which is a significant hurdle for most US states. We believe it should also encourage brands to take a bigger part in recycling systems.
MEILO, a company in Gernsheim located in southern Hesse, sorts plastic trash from the yellow barrels in 30 repetitive sorting processes until the maximal purity of variety has been attained. Plastics are first separated according to size and then subjected to an air separator. In the following step, a near infrared scanner scans the plastics on the conveyor belt as they pass, communicating to a compressed air jet at the end of the conveyor belt which plastics are recyclable. Finally, the compressed air jet blows these materials aside. Thus, varying plastics are sorted by an up to 98% purity of variety. In addition to the three major valuable plastics, HPDE, PP and PET, four other well-recyclable plastic varieties are gleaned from the river of trash.
In this video, Norsk Hydro explains a process for recapturing and repurposing aluminum within a closed loop.
There are two important benefits to chemical recycling. First, it’s a truly closed loop. Unlike traditional mechanical recycling, the process does not degrade the quality of material and therefore does not require supplementation from virgin material after many recycling cycles.
Second, chemical recycling can handle mild contamination from food residue, dirt, etc. With traditional mechanical recycling, these contaminants need to be washed and separated, thus limiting the amount of material that is recycled and preventing a closed loop system.
Make landscape, not landfill! NYC residents can compost household food waste by simply dropping kitchen scraps at one of 70 GrowNYC Food Scrap Drop-off sites. Food comprises about 21% of NYC's waste stream. When this material is sent to a landfill it contributes to NYCs disposal costs and can create greenhouse gas emissions. When composted, food scraps and other organic waste become a useful product that adds nutrients and improves the quality of soil for street trees, gardens, and more.
Terracycle is a platform (in conjunction with Loop) that outsources waste collection, by charging a fee to collect waste and disposing of it correctly, or recycling and selling it back to the market.
Like Loop, it relies on consumers and brands to pay a premium to deal with waste, and for profit to be made. We are keeping a close eye on the success of this model in the near term!
Algramo's reusable packaging system takes the Loop method one step further (and cleaner!) by placing static and mobile refill points in neighborhoods. This allows customers to find the nearest station to refill common household products while removing the need for a courier to act as an intermediary.
Loop describes itself as a circular economy shopping platform that aims to eliminate waste through ending single-use packaging. They partner with large, household brands to deliver products in reusable packaging, which can be returned and refilled.
While it's still early days, there is more to be done to make the process economically viable and less resource-intensive in the delivery process.