The South African PET Recycling Company (PETCO) has released a guide to recyclable packaging design that will allow plastics manufacturers to produce more recyclable products. These plastic consumables should be designed with reuse and recycling in mind, according to PETCO chief executive officer Cheri Scholtz.
She explains that it is essential for designers, packaging manufacturers and brand owners to embed recyclability into the design process so that plastic products can be successfully reused or easily processed at local recycling facilities. Designing with the environment in mind is a vital part of establishing a circular economy.
“Now, more than ever, companies failing to address consumer demand for environmental performance in product design and development will find it increasingly difficult to compete in the local and global market,” says Scholtz.
Designing plastic products with the environment in mind
One of the best ways to minimise plastic waste is to design for recycling; either by using less packaging, by using more recycled content in plastic products or by improving the recyclability of products such as PET bottles, vegetable punnets and polystyrene trays. This makes plastic products easier to process from the start of their life cycle.
“PET plastic remains a lightweight, cost-effective, fit-for-purpose material. But we must understand and utilise the value of its post-consumer waste as the economic resource it is in building a sustainable circular economy. It’s about approaching sustainability, not as an add-on or something to retrofit, but as a service integral to your product,” explains Scholtz.
The packaging should always be compatible with existing recycling technologies and collection infrastructure. Some plastics cannot be recycled easily. Other plastics are 100% recyclable, such as PET, and so these polymers should be the first choice in product and packaging design.
“Plastic packaging companies, manufacturers of packaging and brand owners are asked to review their current portfolio of PET packaging against PETCO’s design guidelines, highlight any aspects where designs could potentially be improved and implement the changes as soon as the opportunity presents itself,” encourages Scholtz.
PETCO key guidelines for recyclable packaging design
- Design plastic containers and packaging with the available recycling infrastructure (in South Africa) in mind.
- Avoid the use of polymers or components that are known to impede the recycling process or reduce the quality of recyclate, such as black pigments.
- Reduce the number of different plastics used in a product and specify those polymers that can be recycled together or easily separated during the recycling process.
- Design additional components, such as labels and lids, so that they can be quickly and easily removed and separated during the recycling process.
- Include recycled materials in the design.
- Be transparent about the recyclability of the packaging.
- Try to use plastic in its natural form, without adding colours and dyes.
- Avoid printing directly onto the plastic product.
- Avoid using adhesives directly on the body of the packaging or product.
- Show the material identification code clearly and legibly so that recycling facilities can easily identify the polymer used.
- Avoid using metal liners in plastic liquid containers.
“When designing a product, considering what happens after its demise will soon become as important as its performance. Good environmental practice requires us to use the least material to do the job required, then to reuse or recycle by recovering material or energy from products at the end of their life,” concludes Scholtz.
Plastics SA represents all sectors of the South African plastics industry. Together with our associations, we play an active role in the growth and development of the industry and strive to address plastics related issues, influence role-players and make plastics the material of choice.
Plastics SA has been mandated to ensure a vibrant and sustainable plastics industry in South Africa. The plastics sector is uniquely placed to meet the needs of a sustainable society and to deliver solutions to many challenges such as recycling, climate change, water scarcity, resource usage and energy recovery.