Nowadays it is impossible to imagine a household without plastic products. Chairs, smartphones, pens, everything consists to a certain extent of this cheap and easy-to-process raw material. But polymers are not only used in the products. A big proportion (about 35 %) is used exclusively for their packaging. Here in Germany each of us produces an average of 210 kg of packaging waste.
At KoRo, we want to play our part in the sustainable use of our resources, so we've naturally thought about how we package our products, and you've probably already seen, that we sell most of our products in clear plastic films and bags.
These are not particularly environmentally friendly and have often been a driving force for many customers in the past. In the following, we will take a closer look at how we came to this decision and why we (at the moment) stick to plastic packaging.
WHAT IS PLASTIC ?
Composition and Production
Plastic is a collective term for a multitude of different polymers. Polymers are, as the name suggests, chemical substances consisting of many (poly-) identical, repeating parts (mer). While polymers are found in abundance in nature in materials such as silk, wool or wood, most people think of the artificial polymers of everyday life : plastics. These are produced almost exclusively from fossil raw materials such as oil and gas. In complex processes, crude oil is broken down into its constituents. These hydrocarbon compounds can be chemically combined to produce polymers that we know are indispensable in our lives.
Plastic in daily life
Besides obvious things, like drinking bottles, cans, food packaging and toothbrushes. Or other things like glasses, textile fibres, kitchen utensils, glue or cosmetics are also made of polymers to a certain extent. Take a short moment at this point and walk through your apartment and see how much plastic there is in your house.
What we are thinking about now are products made of plastic. However, these are only the products that have a direct benefit for us. Added to this is the packaging, which is intended to protect the products on the distribution and the expedition. It is usually removed and thrown in the trash. Especially in the food and beverage sector, the trend is towards fast food and convenience products. The portions are individually packed according to requirements, which further increases the proportion of waste per product. These food and beverage packages account for around 60% of the packaging volume. In addition, the growth of the mail-order business is leading to an increased demand for packaging.
PLASTIC CONSUMPTION'S CONSEQUENCES
Plastics are tough and durable, and we use them mainly for things we only use for minutes or even seconds. Ironic, isn't it? And this longevity falls on our feet. Inappropriately disposed of plastic items can last for decades or even centuries without damage. The result is an earth that literally sinks into the trash. A plastic island three times the size of Texas floats around in the Pacific and former paradise beaches are the garbage dumps 2. 0.
As hard as it sounds, the Human being is to blame. Plastic waste in the sea is the second biggest environmental problem of our time. Every year about 32 million tons of plastic are released into the environment. Eight million tons of these alone end up in the oceans of the world. Broken down, this means that 700 kg of new plastic waste pollutes the seas every second. The garbage is particularly dangerous for seabirds and fish. Birds confuse plastic parts in the sea with food, eat them and die from the residues in the body. Fish also confuse microplastic with plankton and eat it. It cannot be excreted or digested by them, remains in the body and ends up on our plates. Bon appétit!
Every year, 200 animal species fall victim to plastic waste. Those who believe that this is only a problem of the big oceans at the other end of the world are wrong. Research in the North and Baltic Seas has found plastic residues in the digestive tract in 5% of fish and it is estimated that 90% of North Sea birds have plastic in their bodies.
For those who do not care about pollution, plastics also contain harmful substances such as plasticisers. These can be absorbed by the body via skin contact and have a negative effect on the hormone balance. This can lead to infertility and other disorders for the body.
IS RECYCLING THE SOLUTION ?
The yellow bin : the key that can help us
Everybody knows the yellow bin at the front door. We are all required to separate our waste properly. In other words, plastic belongs in the yellow bin! But aluminium and tinplate also belong in this rubbish. This is the only way to guarantee that it will be recycled. About 90% of household waste is collected by waste disposal companies. 99% of plastic waste is recycled. This balance looks exemplary at first glance. Unfortunately, not everything is as perfect as it seems at first. Because recycling is not just recycling. Only 40% of plastic waste is actually recycled, (i. e. effectively reused). The rest is recycled “energetically”. And that sounds nicer than it is, because what is recycled here is merely the stored chemical energy of the plastic during the combustion to CO2 and H2O to generate electricity and heat. It's a bit like cheating and definitely not what you imagined under recycling.
But who is to blame for the recycling debacle ? It's not that easy to blame it to only one person. Recycling is difficult and cost-intensive because separating and sorting the different types of plastic is extremely long and sometimes even impossible. Because many materials consist of a combination of materials. The best example is probably the beverage carton. Here paper, aluminium and polyethylene are combined in layers to form a so-called composite material. In order to separate individual components after use, gigantic recycling machines are required. And it is expensive, which is why only a few communities can afford such a machine. Only 36 % of Tetra Paks are actually recycled. And even where plastic is recycled, it is usually energy-efficient. Ultimately, most mixed plastic packaging ends up in incinerators, although they would be reusable.
But there are also rays of hope. Take PET bottles, for example. Due to the separation system introduced by the returnable deposit, these are collected relatively pure, which enables effective recycling. 98% of all PET bottles are recycled, really recycled. 34 % will be converted into new PET bottles, 27 % into film, 23 % into textile fibres and the remaining 16 % into other products such as adhesive tape or toothbrushes. PET bottles are a prime example of how effective recycling of plastics can work.
Here at KoRo
Until then, the principle of waste prevention will apply. The overriding principle is: “Avoid, before recycling, before disposal. And this is where KoRo comes in. We have thought about how we can contribute to waste avoidance. The answer for us: bulk packs. The following table shows how we try to use so little plastic for our packaging. The comparison with packaging from the retail trade clearly shows that we need comparatively less plastic waste for our products.
Weight per 100 g
Farmer’s Snack (Abricot)
Mary Land (Nuts Mix)
Rewe Beste Wahl (Mango)
Not all plastic is the same
We have also thought, what kind of packages is the best for us? On this occasion, primarily, the output is to be considered by CO2, for the production of the packaging materials. With the investigation of the CO2 need for the production of different polymers big differences are to be ascertained. We, KoRo, use for a large part of our products block ground bag PP. As we can see in the diagram below, their production produces a low quantity, approximatively 2 kg CO2 per kg of polymer. It is the same for the material which composed the classical plastic bag like PET and PE. While there are already plastics from recycled raw materials (nylon, Zelofan, PLA). Those need this mostly many refining steps which damage their CO2 balance again and are worse for the environment. The pros are materials like PLA (poly lactic acid or polymilk acid) and paper. These are produced from renewed raw materials and at the same time they use immediately a lot or even less CO2.
Also, the water need for the production of plastics is an important growing factor. While the water is felt no restricted resource in Germany, this can look clearly different in countries with drier climatic conditions. Particularly with our times of global warming and the radicalisation walking along with it of the weather the water consumption wins increasingly in meaning. The water is used for a large part for the cooling of the production plants or the real process guidance. As it is showed in the following diagram, cuts off here PP with a water need of scarcely over 50L per kg of polymer relatively well. Here it is also good to recognise that the renewed raw materials (with the exception of PLA/paper) have a clearly higher need in comparison to traditional plastics.
If one looks at the facts, one should use either PLA, paper or PP. However, KoRo must also consider factors like handling (food safety, rules to respect…), offer and marketing. On this occasion, PP turned out to be our winner. It is easy to cover, cheap, can be welded together airtight and allows a good look at the product.
And because we were already there, we asked ourselves what represents a standard order with KoRo and how big is the impact with the CO2 footprint. If somebody buys 4 KoRo products and if he is delivered somewhere in Germany. With the click on “buying" the product packed in PP (46 g CO2) is taken, packed in the dispatch cardboard (214 g CO2) and with filler (35 g CO2) certainly stowed away. Then still fixed sealed, shipping note on it (15 g CO2) and from it goes by post up to the front door (277 g CO2). Power 587 g CO2. In comparison to the total expenses the packaging of the article less than 10% puts out. Finally, everything must be seen in relation to the whole.