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Mar 11, 2014
Verdigris Blog: PET Peeves Revisited
medium_laurel3.jpg The weekly Verdigris blog by Laurel Brunner

A couple of weeks ago we wrote about the Indian government wanting to ban PET packaging because of concerns about its stability. The blog elicited a surprising number of responses, but one from a Verdigris member, got us thinking more about it.

PET containers are recyclable of course, but there are some negatives associated with them. Not that any of the negatives support the Indian government’s justification for a ban, because PET is undoubtedly durable and stable. But these strengths are also PET’s most severe shortcoming when it comes to waste management. Packaging printers should consider this, especially if there are suitable alternative materials that would meet customer demands equally well.

Because they are so robust, PET containers don’t biodegrade easily which makes them persistent pollutants. Even though many nations have sound and proactive PET recycling policies, far too many of these containers get tossed away, especially into the sea. Harald Woerner is a senior manager at Heidelberg and responsible for environmental and sustainability management. He explains that in his view: “Marine pollution is mostly man made. It floats meanwhile all over the ocean. Eighty percent of marine debris is of plastics like PET. As those plastics don’t disintegrate over time they are rapidly accumulating. The mass of plastic in the oceans may be as high as one hundred million metric tons. Not all but lots of application of PET could be substituted by cardboard.”

PET does not biodegrade easily or quickly so it can float about in the sea for years. This obviously has an effect on wildlife and can upset fragile ecosystems. There are lots of applications where PET is valuable, but as Harald points out there are also many packaging applications which could as well use cardboard. Many pills and powders could be delivered in this way, reserving PET containers for liquids and gels.

But the most important point in this discussion is to make it easier for people dispose of PET packaging responsibly. People need to understand that dropping litter is antisocial and environmentally expensive. More incentives should be in place to encourage the recycling of PET, keeping it out of landfill and especially out of the oceans.

This is a collective responsibility but for India, the world’s largest democracy, there is plenty of scope to make a real difference. There may even be financial incentives to improve waste collection and recycling initiatives, rather than relying on an informal waste economy. Regulated, proactive disposal and management of all forms of waste is a far more worthwhile endeavour for the Indian government to consider, than pushing for an ill-advised ban on PET. Waste collection and recycling services for both cardboard and PET is a business opportunity waiting to happen, particularly in India. It is one that would promote Indian interests both at home and abroad. If its packaging printers encouraged more customers to use resources more responsibly and to recycle whenever possible, marine pollution might come down. A tidy proposition indeed.

– Laurel Brunner

Verdigris supporters who make the blog possible: Agfa Graphics (www.agfa.com), Digital Dots (www.digitaldots.org), drupa (www.drupa.com), EFI (www.efi.com), EcoPrint (www.ecoprintshow.com), Fespa (www.fespa.com), Heidelberg (www.uk.heidelberg.com), HP (www.hp.com), Kodak (www.kodak.com/go/sustainability), Pragati Offset (www.pragati.com), Ricoh (www.ricoh.com), Unity Publishing (http://unity-publishing.co.uk) and Xeikon (www.xeikon.com)


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