Recently, there has been much commentary about the “Green Fence” and one theme seems to emerge: This is an opportunity to level the playing field; an opportunity for new investments in equipment and technology. Domestically, it is an opportunity to re-evaluate policies and single stream, and it’s an opportunity to create less waste.
Having said all that, the Green Fence is not a new initiative in the U.S.; it just has a name this time. We have had several hiccups like this before when China either pushed back economically or previous leaders enforced a law banning waste from coming into their country. Yet, each time they came back, and sometimes with a vengeance like after the 2008 crash. Months ago, there was speculation that the Green Fence program would largely diminish by this November, even though it is technically a permanent law currently being enforced.
There is no doubt recyclable materials are now sought out and bought globally. However, it’s troubling that we rely on other countries to deal with our waste or problematic recycle materials. The objective should not only be about finding homes for hard-to-recycle materials, but also for advancing technologies to deal with these potentially available recyclable resources. It is the perfect opportunity for policy change. We need a change in some of our packaging standards to facilitate recyclability. We realize the packaging industry hates the term “standardize,” however, how else will materials have economic value unless there is a sufficient critical mass?
So is policy development an opportunity or is the mutual cooperation in other food products and standardization of resins to ensure sustainable recycling of packages the answer now? For example, could the refrigerated dairy companies collaborate for their mutual benefit? Are there technical reasons all sour cream, cottage cheese, cream cheese, yogurt, and butters cannot be packaged in the same plastic with the same melt flow? There may be an initial capital outlay at the machine level or adjustments made on current machines to accept a new melt flow or poly olefin change. However, there might just be a savings to the consumers of these resins. Increasing the amount of one type of prime resin may offset capital and processing costs.
We have an opportunity to create another value stream for how plastics get recycled. Less bad is not a solution nor is it sustainable. We need to look at areas in packaging where we can come together like the beverage companies did and see how we can create enough critical mass out of packaging. Hopefully, we will make an opportunity that is sustainable out of this Green Fence before it is gone again.
From: Tamsin Ettefagh, vice president of Sales, Envision Plastics