One of the top five issues in plastics manufacturing today is the re-use, recycling and recovery of plastics – especially given the growing concern of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Located between Hawaii and California, the floating garbage patch is 4x the size of California and is comprised of 1.8 trillion pieces of rubbish.
What is concerning to environmentalists is that sea turtles are eating the plastic, and that the plastic also breaks down into microplastics, which are harder to gather up, and thus can enter the food supply. (Source)
While the article infers that plastic is the problem, the real issue has to do with a lack of consumer recycling education (and perhaps consumer indifference), as well as the lack of methods to properly dispose of plastic — especially packaging materials comprised of complex combinations of materials.
Manufacturers around the globe have begun to issue statements on what they’re doing to address plastics sustainability. Nestlé, for example, plans to make 100% of its packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025. The company plans to eliminate non-recyclable plastics, encourage use of plastics that facilitate better recycling rates, and eliminate or change complex combinations of plastic packaging materials. (Source)
The French food and dairy company Danone has also announced its plans to make 100% of its packaging fully recyclable and to “actively contribute to creating a second-life” for all the plastics it uses. (Source)
And closer to home, Gary Fox, Plant Manager of Cox Container in Troy, Alabama, reports, “Here at Cox Container, we’ve invested in equipment and processes to ensure we don’t waste any plastic converted to bottles. All scrap generated from our processes is automatically and immediately reground and reintroduced to the manufacturing work cell. Any scrap that might become contaminated isn’t sent to a landfill. Instead, it’s sent to a plastic recycling center where it’s washed and reprocessed for future productive use.”
In a response to a Plastics Today article about plastics, recycling and sustainability, Stephen Russell, Vice President for the American Chemistry Council’s Plastics Division, discussed the innovations taking place within the industry regarding mixed used plastics – which are often seen as “unrecyclable.”
According to Russell, one of the more exciting developments is the breaking down of plastics into their basic molecules. These “outputs” can then be used in a variety of industries and uses.
In fact, when Procter & Gamble searched for a recycled material pure enough to use in its polypropylene packaging – and couldn’t find one – it developed its own process to purify PP. The new technology, which removes the previous limitation on the use of recycled PP because of low quality, is suitable for use in food-contact applications and will help divert plastic headed for landfills or into waterways.
To begin your own plastics recycling initiative, free up a few workers with a Sawyer cobot or two — and then let them oversee recycling initiatives in your plant. Sawyer easily fits into your production process or work cells and will gladly take on the take on the drudgery of repetitive tasks. See how Sawyer is helping plastics manufacturers meet their production goals – visit our Plastics Factory Automation section.
About the Author
Sue has spent the last two decades marketing for emerging technologies, building new categories, and applying science to the art of marketing. It took one look at Baxter to sign on to Rethink Robotics – a human-safe robot out to change the world. When not promoting “all things Sawyer and Baxter”, she is focused on “all things food”: where to eat it, how to prepare it, how to write another cookbook about it.