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Tetra Pak launches first plant-based bioplastic packaging

Tetra Pak, the multinational food packaging and processing company, has become the first business in the industry to use plant-based bioplastic packaging. These polymers are created from sugarcane and form part of Tetra Pak’s commitment to follow ethical and responsible business practices, called the ‘Planet Positive’ initiative.

 

This initiative encourages industry stakeholders to take a closer look at sustainability, the low-carbon circular economy, recycling and reuse. It aims to make stakeholders think about the carbon impact of raw materials and manufacturing. 

 

Tetra Pak lowers carbon footprint

 

The use of bioplastic packaging will also lower the company’s global carbon footprint. “We’ve seen a growing trend of consumers wanting to do more for the planet, and they look to brands to help,” says the Tetra Pak vice president of sustainability, Mario Abreu.

 

The bioplastic packaging is certified by Bonsucro – an international not-for-profit organisation that aims to promote sustainable sugarcane by reducing the environmental impacts of sugarcane production. 

 

“Today, 91% of consumers look for environmental logos when shopping, and Bonsucro Chain of Custody Certification can be used to communicate credible information to consumers, thereby helping our customers differentiate their products,” explains Abreu.

 

Plant-based bioplastic packaging is fully traceable

 

According to Tetra Pak, the new bioplastic packaging is fully traceable to their sugarcane origin. “We see plant-based materials as playing a key role in achieving a low-carbon circular economy. In the future, all polymers we use will either be made from plant-based materials or from post-consumption recycled food grades,” states Abreu.

 

The use of plant-based materials such as bioplastics, instead of oil-based plastics, can help packaging manufacturers to lower their carbon emissions. These plant-based polymers are created from sustainable and renewable sources. They also help to support the agricultural sector in South Africa, especially local sugarcane plantations.

 

The sugarcane-based bioplastic is supplied to Tetra Pak by Braskem. “We have been working with Tetra Pak for more than 10 years, and Bonsucro Chain of Custody reinforces the Responsible Ethanol Sourcing Program from Braskem with the assurance and traceability of the entire sugarcane value chain, all the way back to the growers and mills,” explains Braskem renewable business leader Gustavo Sergi. 

 

Bioplastics are an emerging alternative to traditional plastics and are gaining popularity worldwide. Currently, the use of bioplastics is quite low and there are no established waste collection and recycling centres for these plant-based polymers. However, they can be recycled alongside their traditional counterparts – bioPET can be recycled with PET plastics. The more multinational companies that turn to bioplastics, the quicker these products will be refined and perfected.

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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.

For more news, updates and information on the South African plastics industry, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

Bioplastics are not the same as biodegradable plastics

When it comes to plastic alternatives, there are two materials that consumers are likely to encounter; bioplastics and biodegradable plastics. These are separate products that are often confused. People think that bioplastics and biodegradable plastics are one and the same, but in reality, they are not.

Both of these materials are fairly new developments that are growing in popularity around the world, as well as in South Africa. They are both marketed as alternatives to traditional plastics and are used in similar applications. However, that is where the similarities end. The differences between bioplastics and biodegradable plastics are outlined below.

What are these materials made from?

Bioplastics are not just one single material but comprise of a whole family of materials with different properties and applications. “Bioplastics” refers to plastics made from plant or other

biological materials – it does not speak to the biodegradability or compostability of the

Product. Bioplastics are made from corn, sugar cane or starch. They have the same characteristics as oil-based plastics but are made from renewable sources.

Biodegradable plastics, on the other hand, are made from fossil fuels such as oil. In theory, they can be degraded by biological processes. However, many so-called biodegradable plastics do not decompose as intended in the natural environment. Biodegradable plastics are not always bio-based (made from plants) and bioplastics are not always biodegradable.

Why use bioplastics?

The main benefit of bioplastics is that they are made from naturally-occurring and renewable materials. They reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and oils which also helps to lower carbon emissions. Bioplastics can be made from genetically modified plants or from natural feedstock – neither of which are food sources for humans. These resources can be regrown every year, unlike oil and fossil fuels.

Another advantage of bioplastics over biodegradable plastics is that they can be recycled with conventional packaging waste. Bioplastics can be processed at a recycling facility in the same way as regular plastic, whereas biodegradable plastic must be separated from the waste stream and processed separately.

Bioplastics are perfectly suited to mechanical recycling. On the other hand, biodegradable plastics must be sent to an industrial composting facility where they can take up to three months to decompose. Manufacturing bioplastics is a fairly complicated process and quite an energy-intensive operation, but as the technology develops and further tests are completed, we could soon see plastic products being made from green resources.

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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.

For more news, updates and information on the South African plastics industry, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

Plastics are the future, but not plastic waste

Plastics are invaluable products that make our lives easier. A world without plastics would be hard to imagine – we use them every single day of our lives. The TOMRA Leads conference, which recently took place in Bulgaria, was attended by plastics industry stakeholders from around the world. 

The event investigated all aspects of the plastics value chain, including the advantages and disadvantages of sustainability initiatives and waste collection systems as well as the need for a shift towards a circular economy for plastics. Plastics manufacturers are already searching for long-term solutions to plastic waste, but every citizen and government department also needs to play a role by disposing of plastic waste properly and ensuring that adequate waste collection systems are in place.

South Africa has some of the highest mechanical plastic recycling rates in the world, compared to Europe and many other developed countries. South Africa has an input plastic recycling rate of 46.3% – we recycle around 352 000 tonnes of plastic into new products every year. 

The future of plastics starts with decisions today

Dr Volker Rehrmann, head of business at Area Sorting Solutions and guest speaker at the TOMRA Leads Conference, shares his solutions to the global problem of plastic waste. “First of all we need to collect more plastics and bring it into the recycling stream,” he says. 

“A big problem is leakage, and really most of that comes from South East Asia and Africa. We need to focus on those areas where there is no proper collection system. We can achieve a lot there,” he explains. Only 64% of South African households have access to municipal waste collection services.

“Take this message with you; it is not a problem to recover plastics from waste that is going to landfill. It can be done,” he says. The future of plastics lies in creating a circular economy.  Recycled plastic waste needs to be seen as a raw material that can be resold to the market to be used in the manufacture of new products.

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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.

For more news, updates and information on the South African plastics industry, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

Plastics SA aims for zero pellet waste

Plastics SA is working with plastic manufacturers to ensure that there is zero pellet, flake and powder loss. The industry will drastically reduce the chances of these small plastic particles ending up in the environment by minimising the loss of pellets and flakes in plastic factories. Reducing the volume of plastic in the environment is a core mission of Plastics SA and the industry.

Plastics SA has signed a global declaration of commitment to protect the marine ecosystem from the effects of plastic pollution. In addition, the organisation has joined an alliance of industry stakeholders that have one common goal; to prevent and eradicate plastic waste in our oceans, rivers, land and public spaces.

Spilled plastic pellets can be washed away in the rain and end up in sewers, rivers and the ocean if they are not contained on-site. They need to be swept up and contained to prevent them from blowing away in the wind or being washed into the environment.

Every employee will play a role

This drive for zero plastic pellet loss has been called ‘Operation Clean Sweep’. “When we re-launched Operation Clean Sweep in South Africa as one of our product stewardship programmes last year, our call went out to every segment of the plastics industry – to implement good housekeeping practices,” explains Plastics SA executive director Anton Hanekom.

“We need the commitment from everyone to help protect the environment and save valuable resources,” he says. This includes every single employee in the plastics industry; if true zero pellet waste is to become a reality, then plastics manufacturers will need help from every member of the workforce.

Employee education is an important part of Operation Clean Sweep. Workers are being trained and taught how to handle and dispose of spilled plastic pellets correctly. Simply placing them in a bin and sending them to landfill is not a viable solution. The pellets need to be cleaned and reused or sent to a recycling facility if they are badly damaged.

Plastic pellet waste is detrimental to business

Plastic pellet waste is bad for manufacturers, besides the negative consequences of escaped pellet loss on the environment. “Eliminating pellet, flake and powder loss is not only beneficial for the environment, but also for business performance,” says Hanekom. Pellets can pose a threat to employee safety.

If an employee slips on any small plastic beads on a factory floor, it can result in injury, absenteeism and extensive medical costs. Plastic manufacturers can face legal action and medical compensation if an employee slips on loose plastic pellets, which is why they need to be cleaned up and contained at all times.

Wasted plastic pellets also have economic disadvantages for the industry. “By ensuring that raw materials are not wasted, businesses can improve their bottom line, increase efficiency and leave a lasting legacy for future generations by helping us turn the tide on marine litter,” states Hanekom.

Managing spilled plastic pellets is a priority

While the plastics industry works towards minimising its environmental footprint, controlling waste at the source is a vital process. Managing spilled pellets and waste at plastic manufacturing facilities is a core focus for Operation Clean Sweep.

“While our ultimate goal is to help keep plastic pellets, flakes and powder out of the environment, these efforts can also help improve relations with stakeholder groups and community organisations that expect the industry to minimise its environmental footprint,” explains Hanekom.

Plastic manufacturers can improve their reputations by tackling waste and pollution at the source – in their facilities. Managing this waste and taking an active stance against pollution will also help to improve investment opportunities for plastic manufacturers. Small acts such as cleaning up spilled pellets and recycling waste will help to save the environment and prevent further problems in the future.

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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.

For more news, updates and information on the South African plastics industry, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

PlasticFreeJuly and what it means to Plastics SA

Plastics SA and the entire industry supports a world that is free from plastic waste. This is the premise behind #PlasticFreeJuly – a global campaign that aims to raise awareness of single-use plastics and the problem of excessive plastic waste in the environment. For the past 25 years, Plastics SA has encouraged reuse, recycling and proper disposal methods for plastic waste.

The fact is that plastics are a valuable commodity. It would be impossible to live a normal life without them. We use plastics every day, whether consciously or unconsciously. “Plastic is an integral part of our modern lifestyle. Strong and versatile, plastic exists because we want convenience at a low price,” says Plastics SA executive director Anton Hanekom.

“It keeps our food fresh, ensures food safety, gives us tamper-proof medications and the list continues. If we were to remove it from our lives, we would have to get rid of almost everything we wear, live in, or work with. The challenge lies in preventing plastic from ending up in the environment after it has been used, and making sure that it is properly discarded so that it can be recycled into a multitude of different new products,” he explains.

The plastic manufacturing industry and its stakeholders do not like to see plastic waste in our rivers, oceans and public spaces – especially during #PlasticFreeJuly. “Our message has always been – and will continue to be – that plastics are too valuable to waste. We have been working relentlessly to raise awareness of the dangers of plastic pollution as part of our drive to see a world without plastic waste,” says Hanekom.

Plastic production and environmental protection can work together

The production of plastic products and the need to protect the environment from pollution can both work at the same time. One does not need to mean the demise of the other. Over 60 000 South Africans are employed in the plastics industry, making it a vital sector of the economy. The country currently has some of the highest plastics recycling rates in the world.

“During 2018, South Africa converted more than 1.8 million tonnes of polymer into plastic products. During the same year, recycled plastic waste tonnages increased by 12.2% – giving South Africa a collection rate of 46.3% and making us a world leader in mechanical recycling,” explains Hanekom.

Environmental protection starts with proper waste disposal methods, which is our core message this #PlasticFreeJuly. Littering and illegal dumping are some of the biggest causes of plastic waste in the environment. “We could start by improving waste infrastructure so that more waste is recovered and prevented from entering the environment,” he suggests.

Plastic products should be reused as much as possible

Plastics SA is an advocate for reusing plastic products. The majority of food packaging, containers, beverage cups, and clamshells are sturdy enough to be reused multiple times. Even so-called single-use plastics such as shopping bags and straws should be kept and reused. South African shopping bags are regulated and manufactured to a thickness of 24-microns – almost double the thickness of plastic bags in most foreign countries. 

This means that these ‘single-use’ products are strong enough to be reused several times, and cost a fraction of the price of cotton alternatives. To add to this, plastic shopping bags are fully recyclable. “To date, the fillers in plastic carrier bags have been removed, producing fully recyclable plastic bags. In some cases, 100 % certified recycled plastic material is used, making them more recyclable and creating a win-win situation for the environment,” Hanekom explains.

#PlasticFreeJuly should be about sustainability

While being a noble cause, #PlasticFreeJuly should encourage sustainability rather than a boycott of plastic products. Recent research around the negative consequences of banning plastics has been compounding around the globe. One such study published by the University of Plymouth’s International Marine Litter Research Unit found that biodegradable plastics rarely break down in the ocean as intended.

The researchers suggest that labelling these ‘eco-friendly’ products as ‘biodegradable’ is misleading and could actually promote littering. Consumers may dump their biodegradable plastics in the belief that they will break down when this is not often the case.

Similarly, research conducted by Denmark’s Ministry of Environment and Food found that cotton shopping bags need to be reused 7100 times to have the same cumulative environmental impact as conventional plastic shopping bags, which are far cheaper and more energy-efficient to produce. 

#PlasticFreeJuly should, therefore, focus on sustainable practices with plastic products rather than an outright ban. “As waste collection improves, we see improved recovery models and the development of a circular economy. The solution lies in addressing our wasteful model of consumption by changing negligent human behaviour and embracing recycling. All it takes is a little willpower from everybody concerned,” Hanekom concludes.

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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.

For more news, updates and information on the South African plastics industry, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.