Packaging printed onLow Density Polyethylene (LDPE) is changing. LDPE is the cheapest and most commonly used recyclable plastic but it takes hundreds of years to biodegrade. This is in part why various packaging print buyers are moving to alternatives and a key candidate is plastics made from potato starch instead of polythene. Oxy-biodegradeable polymers cost 20% more than LDPEs but they can be composted, which is the good news. But they pose a problem in the recycling chain because they must be processed for composting which is unlikely to happen. This is not so good. Should consumers be offered composting options or should they opt for LDPE packaging which can be recycled or incinerated to generate energy?
A couple of weeks ago we talked about the need for designers to think about the environment when planning media projects. This is especially important in the context of deinking and recycling. But it goes further than thinking about substrates, inks, energy and printing processes. Water solvents, transportation, packaging, all of them contribute to the environmental impact. Ultimately a media project’s design, including the printed components, determines a job’s environmental footprint.
Circular economies are all well and good, but it takes dialogue at many levels, not least between governments. The urgency of dealing with plastic waste was illustrated in a recent report that a small town in Malaysia has become a primary dumping ground for plastic waste. The place is being buried under 17,000 tonnes of the stuff. Some of the plastic is classified as clean and some of it isn’t and has to be processed in some other way. According to the United Nations Environment Programme “In 2015, 47 percent of the plastic waste generated worldwide was plastic packaging waste half of which came from Asia with China being the largest culprit. However the USA generates the most plastic packaging waste per person, with Japan and the European Union following.
We’ve been working recently with people from the paper industry and it’s been enlightening. The paper business has a long and lofty history: it’s hundreds of years old; it’s been a terrific earner for its shareholders over the years; and it’s been a success story for most of its history. Like most other industrial sectors the paper industry has been profoundly affected by the internet. But unlike most other industrial sectors, it’s now on its knees.
All the talk about building circular economies can seem very remote from the day to day realities of living life and work’s daily grind. It’s easy to think of creating a circular economy as someone else’s gig. But that is too convenient and ultimately a little lazy because, as we know, everyone can make a difference even if it is only a very small one. In the graphics industry making a difference starts with design and being aware of how design decisions play out in the context of environmental impact.