Op-Ed: Earth’s Plastic Problem

Recycled plastic that has been pelletized and is ready for reuse // Photo courtesy of PakTech

Recycled plastic that has been pelletized and is ready for reuse // Photo courtesy of PakTech

Editor’s Note: Mario Serra is the director of sales and marketing for PakTech. This Op-Ed was written and submitted in direct response to an article published in our April issue—“Craft Beer’s Plastic Problem,” by Matt Privratsky. The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author.

Plastics and plastic packaging are an integral and important part of the global economy. Plastic materials, due to low cost, durability, and high strength-to-weight ratio have contributed to economic benefits for many different sectors vital to our economy, such as packaging. The plastics industry today, however, is too reliant on feedstock based on oil and gas (virgin plastic), which consumes vital resources. Focusing on the recycling of plastics not only avoids plastics from going to the landfill, but is a sustainable way to reduce the demands on finite raw materials and minimize environmental impacts, while still providing the ability to satisfy the demand. This recycling vision requires a systemic and holistic approach consisting of an overarching vision that plastic never becomes waste, but re-enters the economy as valuable recycled materials. In addition, continued and increased use of renewable and recyclable resin will decouple plastic from its dependence on fossil feedstock and huge energy consumption.

Recycling new products is not a new issue. Similar challenges were faced by many other items we now commonly recycle such as paper, glass, and aluminum. Nowadays more than 39 percent of glass is repurposed and recycled and more than 63 percent of aluminum cans are recycled worldwide. This was accomplished by worldwide recycling efforts, education, monetary incentives for the return of containers, and the realization that we all benefit through recycling.

Sustainability has always been a driving force at PakTech as we created our handle solutions. We design them to meet the rigorous requirement of consumers to be able to easily take home their favorite products. We use a minimum amount of recycled resin and energy during our manufacturing process, while still creating a carrier that is strong and robust enough to undertake the role reliably and consistently and that is fully recyclable. The PCR production process uses 100 percent less petroleum, 90 percent less energy, and emits 78 percent less greenhouse gases versus virgin plastic production. We are proud to produce carriers using 100 percent post-consumer recycled material to help prevent plastic from ending up in the streets, oceans, or landfills. By repurposing and reusing an equivalent of 81 million milk jugs per year for the production of our handles, PakTech effectively keeps those jugs out of landfills and reduces the amount of virgin resin that would be introduced to the planet by more than 10,000,000 pounds each year.

But this wasn’t always the case. Back in 2012, the majority of our products were made with virgin resin. Virgin resin has a lower melting point and is more viscous, requiring less heat to melt and less pressure to inject into molds. In short, using virgin resin to manufacture products is much easier. But we were committed to making the right choice for the environment moving forward and were dedicated to innovate and develop the technology required to evolve our production to recycled, post-consumer HDPE (known as rHDPE). Today, 90 percent of the handles we produce are made of rHDPE.

But that’s only half the battle. The greater challenge is what happens with our handles after they are used. How municipalities choose to recycle based on their technology and, ultimately, how each consumer decides to dispose of them is out of our control.

What we do know is PakTech’s handles are 100 percent recyclable and are repurposed as many useful second-life applications such as, composite lumber, pipes, flower pots, buckets, etc.; which contribute to a sustainable economy and play a part in creating a cleaner planet and a more sustainable future. The notion that our handles are not recyclable is simply not true. As a matter of fact, PakTech directly recycles and sells more than 600,000 pounds of handles and resin per year to HDPE recyclers, and there are more than 100 such recyclers in the U.S. that will actually pay for HDPE (whether virgin HDPE or rHDPE) by the pound.

It is true, however, that some municipalities moved to a commingled collection of recyclable products without first ensuring that they had the technology to automatically sort all recyclable items. Perhaps we should move back to the European model where recyclable items are placed in separate containers. The notion that a recycler would shut down their lines to hand sort PakTech handles and simply throw them away because there is no way to recycle them is just false. If sorting is the problem with current commingling practices, then hand sorting by default has corrected the problem. The step missing is the collection of all handles and shipping them to the proper rHDPE processing location closest to the recycler.

To facilitate local recycling efforts, PakTech has collection centers at each of our facilities in Oregon where end users, customers, and the public at large can drop off their handles for proper recycling. We are in the process of working with local breweries to establish more collection points at their locations. Recycle your used handles and grab a cold one—a win/win proposition. Perhaps this is the way to approach recycling efforts in other locations, through grassroot movements and initiatives, until existing automated sorting equipment is updated (as it recently was in Boulder, Colorado, where PakTech handles are prominently shown as a recyclable item).

Sustainability is our collective responsibility, so the next time you hear someone diminishing plastic, perhaps it’s time to point to our collective challenge in reducing the real issue—dealing effectively with our waste, and recycling plastic, glass, cans, and other packaging, is how we can all contribute to a more sustainable future. Plastics in general (and not exclusively PakTech handles—there are many other plastic packaging options and handles in the marketplace) are not simply a craft beer’s problem, they are everyone’s problem—albeit one with a solution. We all must do our part to collect and properly recycle all the products that are meant to be repurposed. If commingling is “convenient” but inefficient, then we must move to a better way.

For more information about starting a collection center in your brewery please contact us at [email protected] Be a part of the solution and #recycle, #repurpose, #reuse.