Only a very small proportion of the entire output of crude oil, less than five per cent, is used to produce plastics. However, the fact is that our planet’s fossil resources are limited. It is important that these raw materials are used responsibly and are reprocessed as frequently and for as long as possible in the interests of the circular economy. Recycling used plastic packaging makes this possible. What are known as bio-based plastics are made from renewable raw materials, for example from agricultural waste, and are a future-proof alternative.
Bio-based plastics are made from renewable resources. These can be waste from agriculture or the food industry, for example. Conventional plastics, on the other hand, are based on fossil resources such as oil or natural gas. Using bio-based plastics therefore conserves our planet’s fossil resources. The important thing is that the raw materials used in production do not compete with food production.
This is only true in a small number of situations. A lot of products actually rely on functional packaging. Packaging made from plastic protects products from damage during shipment, allows for hygienic storage and prolongs shelf life in many cases. You can simply try this at home: put an unpackaged cucumber and a shrink-wrapped cucumber in your fridge. You will see that the packaged cucumber stays fresh and edible for several days longer than the unpackaged one. This is true for a very large number of foods, so packaging is an important part of the fight against food waste. This is because packaging has far fewer environmental impacts than those associated with food production and food waste.
Due to its properties, this material made from sunflower seed hulls (Golden Compound green) is only suitable for certain manufacturing technologies. You couldn’t use it to make a bottle for mineral water, to give just one example. Our experts always precisely check which plastic is suitable for which product. The home-compostable material is a good choice for coffee capsules for a simple reason: the coffee grounds remain in the packaging after use. Composting the capsule generates humus.
Which packaging material is best suited or is needed always depends on the goods inside the packaging. Every product poses different requirements in regard to shelf life, protection from environmental influences and transport. Our mission is to develop the best and, at the same time, most sustainable packaging solution for the respective requirements. This could also be a paper bottle in the future. However, many products will very probably still be dependent on plastic packaging for a long time, if not forever.
There are scientific studies that prove the opposite. What are known as life cycle assessments are used to rate the environmental impacts of packaging materials. Packaging made from plastic is very light, yet it is functional. It can usually be recycled well and has less of an environmental impact overall when not carelessly disposed of in nature. This is why plastic packaging usually performs better in life cycle assessments than glass bottles, beverage cartons and metal cans.
Packaging made from plastic is very light, is unbreakable and enables the secure and hygienic transportation of products. The low weight reduces greenhouse gas emissions during transport. ALPLA works wall-to-wall with a lot of its customers in what are known as in-house plants, meaning more benefits for the environment. A lot of rigid plastic packaging can also be recycled very easily and with reasonable energy expenditure.
Plastic stands up well to comparisons with alternatives made from glass or metal. However, plastic has been caught in the crossfire because of the massive amount it has polluted the environment. It’s important to judge all packaging materials based on facts and not on emotions. Plastic is a sustainable material if it is used responsibly and then returned to the production cycle after use. The material should not under any circumstances be carelessly disposed of in nature. We will therefore continue to invest a lot in recycling and in our own recycling plants in the future.
If this were to happen, it would actually lead to new problems. Alternative materials such as glass or metal are not usually better for the environment. They have other drawbacks and should also not end up being disposed of in the environment. It is far more important to support the development of the necessary infrastructure for the collection and reuse of used plastic packaging and products on a global basis to continue developing a functioning circular economy across all industries.
Instead of calling for bans, we should be thinking about how to foster innovation. Politicians have been called on to set clear parameters so that companies can specifically invest in the right technologies and can contribute to the implementation of a functioning circular economy.
You can’t make generalisations here. A life cycle assessment for packaging materials has even shown that single-use bottles consisting of a high proportion of recycled materials have a lower impact on the environment than reusable bottles made from glass. A major factor when using reusable containers is the transport distance. Glass bottles are much heavier than those made from plastic and generate more greenhouse gas emissions when being transported. Reusable bottles are frequently transported across large distances to be cleaned, refilled and then sent back to the retailers. The cleaning process uses chemicals that are also bad for the environment.
No, ALPLA does not use any harmful substances when producing plastic packaging. Our production plants observe the applicable legal regulations and are regularly examined. The regulations for the packaging of food and drinks in particular are very strict.
Unfortunately, many countries lack a suitable infrastructure for the collection, sorting and recycling of used packaging and/or products. As a result, waste is carelessly disposed of in nature and ends up in oceans via rivers. The majority of the plastic in oceans comes from ten rivers (eight in Asia, two in Africa). This is precisely where ALPLA wants to take action and invest in recycling plants and collection systems in these regions too.
ALPLA is committed both actively and passively. On the one hand, we financially support organisations that are committed to combating marine pollution. On the other, we are massively expediting the expansion of our recycling activities around the world. We are implementing internal projects such as Zero Pellet Loss and are also contributing to raising awareness in society. Used plastics are valuable and should not be considered worthless waste. The prerequisite for this is consumer understanding and the necessary infrastructure to collect and sort the materials.
Plastic that isn’t biodegradable doesn’t decompose. In nature, it is broken down into its individual core parts over the course of many years. There are some estimates of how long it takes for this to happen. A plastic bag floats around in the sea for 10 to 20 years, and a polystyrene cup needs 50 years to disintegrate. A PET bottle disintegrates within 450 years and a fishing line in 600 years. Ultimately, packaging and other products made from plastic always need to be properly disposed of and should not end up in the environment.
Mistakenly, more and more people assume that not using plastic packaging is good for the climate. The opposite is often the case: due to bans on plastic and people not using it, other materials are being used instead that have a worse effect on the climate.
Compared to the major causes of CO2 such as transport and food production, the effect of plastic packaging on climate change is very small. The mindset of many consumers in this regard is therefore quite strange. Not using plastic bags is viewed as a meaningful contribution to a climate-friendly life, but at the same time, people are not willing to forgo their annual long-haul flight to go on holiday.
According to data collected by the European Union, 42 per cent of all plastic packaging was recycled in 2016, compared with just 24 per cent in 2005. We believe that used plastics are an excellent material. They should be sorted and recycled even more systematically. ALPLA supports this goal on a global basis with its own recycling plants and partnerships.
When developing new packaging, we apply the principles of design for recycling. Our experts make sure from the very beginning of the life cycle that plastic packaging is optimally suitable for recycling. Packaging made from composite materials or multilayer films often poses a problem. Recycling such packaging is a complex process. We already have answers to this problem too and have developed a bag-like refill pack made from HDPE that is 100 per cent recyclable.
Our goal is for all of the packaging we produce to be 100 per cent recyclable by 2025. The types of plastic we use – predominantly PET (54 per cent*) and HDPE (39 per cent*), and PP and LDPE in considerably smaller quantities – are generally very easy to recycle. There is still room for improvement in some areas: for example, if a bottle and cap are made from different materials or additives are added that could affect the quality of the recyclate. We will optimise our packaging solutions in this respect in the years to come on the basis of systematic design for recycling.
[* Figures for 2020, percentage of total material consumption]
Recycling closes the loop and prevents used plastic packaging from ending up in the environment. New packaging can be produced from the recyclate, which conserves fossil resources and renewable resources as a base material for plastics. Recycling additionally makes a significant contribution to climate protection. Recycled plastics cause up to 90 per cent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than virgin material.
Plastic waste should only be incinerated if neither mechanical nor chemical recycling is ecologically or economically viable. If this is the case, waste incineration is better than landfilling as the calorific energy of the plastics is, at least, used in the form of heat. Landfilling should be completely avoided. Recycling rates are constantly on the rise as a result of the global development of recycling plants and increasing improvements in sorting and recycling technologies.
We only use approved materials for the production of packaging. The regulations for the packaging of food and drinks in particular are very strict. ALPLA and external partners check the quality on a regular basis.
Packaging with a high proportion of recycled plastics has a lesser impact on the environment, as shown by scientific studies. This is because the production of recycled materials causes fewer greenhouse gas emissions than the production of virgin materials. This has a very positive impact on the environmental footprint of packaging with high proportions of recycled material.
There is already packaging out there that consists of 100 per cent recycled plastics, for example for mineral water and cleaning products. However, the recycling rates are not yet high enough to cover all the material needs for the production of packaging. The proportion of recycled materials in packaging is going to rise further, due in part to laws along these lines. Nevertheless, a certain proportion of virgin material will also be necessary in future.
Primary microplastics are produced by industry and are used in various products such as cosmetics and cleaning agents. Secondary microplastics come about when plastics end up in the environment and are broken down there or when clothes made from synthetic textiles are washed. Another major source of microplastics in the environment is car tyre abrasion.
According to the information at our disposal, there is no clear scientific evidence to support this at present. The sources of primary and secondary microplastics should, however, be reduced. In the case of our products, this means collecting and recycling used packaging. It should by no means end up in the environment, where it is broken down into secondary microplastics.
Last updated: November 2018
Products that have fulfilled their intended purpose and can no longer be used by the end consumer.
The processing and reprocessing of plastic waste for its original purpose or for other applications. Energetic utilisation is excluded from this.
The processing of plastic waste into secondary raw materials or products without significantly modifying the chemical structure of the material.
In the case of chemical recycling, the structure of the long chain molecules of the plastic is broken down. After cleaning and processing, the molecular fragments can be reused for plastics or other compounds. There are various procedures.
The controlled microbiological treatment of biodegradable plastics under aerobic or anaerobic conditions (with or without oxygen).
The processing of plastic waste for its original purpose or for other applications, including energetic utilisation.
Refilling or reuse of packaging for its original purpose, with or without the aid of ‘auxiliary products’ such as special refill packages.
Packaging or packaging components specially designed to be reused or rotated within a reuse system.
Packaging solutions or packaging components can be considered recyclable if they are suitable, in practice and in large quantities, for the collection and sorting of post-consumer material and for recycling processes.
Recyclate (regranulate) is created when used plastics (also known as post-consumer material) are recycled. ALPLA supports the bottle-to-bottle principle, which strives to create new, fully functional packaging solutions from used packaging or bottles. In the case of downcycling, on the other hand, the quality of the end product is lower; one example of this is the processing of recycled materials into textiles or strapping.
Biodegradable material can be decomposed under aerobic or anaerobic conditions (with or without oxygen), releasing water, naturally occurring gases such as CO2 and methane, as well as biomass. Biological (especially enzymatic) activity modifies the chemical structure of almost every type of material. It is therefore important to specify the precise environmental conditions under which decomposition is to take place. An important parameter here is the time period, which varies depending on the material. Biodegradable plastics do not necessarily have to be made of renewable raw materials (see ‘bio-based/plant-based plastics’); petroleum-based materials can also be biodegradable.
Compostable plastic decomposes through the activity of bacteria or other living organisms in water, naturally occurring gases such as CO2 and methane, as well as biomass. This must be carried out in a similar way to other compostable materials, without leaving visible or toxic residues. For a material to be regarded as compostable, it must meet certain guidelines, for which there are different standards in place depending on the country and region. Compostable plastics should be disposed of in organic waste bins and not in garden compost. See also ‘home-compostable plastic’.
Home-compostable plastic decomposes in garden compost through the activity of bacteria or other living organisms in water, CO2 and biomass. These specially certified materials decompose within a set period of time and leave no visible or toxic residues in the garden compost.
ALPLA currently processes the Golden Compound green material from the German material manufacturer Golden Compound into coffee capsules. This material is TÜV-certified according to ‘ok compost home’ and ‘ok biodegradable soil’ (TÜV Austria Belgium NV no. S0464 OK Compost Home). It can be disposed of in garden compost and decomposes there without leaving any residue. Humus is formed again during composting from the ground sunflower seed shells contained in the material.
The decomposition process of organic material through microbial digestion to produce compost. For this process, the organic waste needs to have the right temperature as well as a certain amount of water and oxygen. Compost can also be used as soil fertiliser.
Bio-based or plant-based plastics are made entirely or partly of renewable raw materials. Bio-based polymers can be obtained from sugar, cellulose or starch, for example. For ALPLA, it is important that the source materials are compatible with the food industry. Ideally, waste products are used. The use of renewable raw materials spares fossil resources and reduces CO2 emissions. Bio-based is not to be confused with biodegradable. See also ‘biodegradable plastic’ and ‘compostable plastic’.