The Environment and Plastics Industry Council (EPIC) introduced a product stewardship model that describes the roles of various stakeholders involved in the lifecycle of a product in minimizing the use of energy and resources, and emissions to air, land and water. EPIC has applied this model to two common plastic containers to better illustrate this point.
Take for example, a look at what efforts have been made in the plastic packaging life cycle to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over the last 10 years. If viewed in the light of all changes undertaken by all stakeholders during the period between 1990 and 2000, the results would show that the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions generated from producing one kilogram of the high density polyethylene (HDPE) resin used in the fabric softener bottle has been reduced by 10.8 per cent and the emissions to produce one kilogram of the polypropylene used in the dairy tub have been reduced by 10.9 per cent.
These significant reductions have been achieved through several initiatives undertaken over the last 10 years. For extractors, these initiatives include: improvements in vapour recovery and rerouting of vented waste gas, which reduce drilling emissions by 25 per cent; better leak detection and repair around drill cases and pipelines, which reduce emissions of smog-forming chemicals by 14 per cent; and, the implementation of various oil sands mining projects, which reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 23 per cent.
Refiners, who convert oil and natural gas into chemicals or feedstock for plastic resins, have taken advantage of improved, highly efficient furnaces. They also re-fit storage tanks and material transfer systems with vapour recovery systems, and implemented improved leak detection and repair programs.
Resin producers improve pumps, extruders and the other motors involved in the polymerization process, which result in a 25 to 30 per cent reduction in energy usage. These stakeholders also implement recovery and recycling programs for “lost” plastic pellets during the loading of trucks, warehousing, and material handling processes.
The plastic processors achieve significant reductions as well. Their initiatives — which reduce energy requirements by 40 per cent — include re-sizing extruder drives, improving the insulation on the heated extruder barrels, and installing high-efficiency motors.
Additionally, plastic processors conserve raw materials through better control over pellet loss, longer production runs, redesigning moulds to reduce scrap, and reusing trimmed plastic.
The most significant initiative by the manufacturers of PP yogurt containers was the lightweighting of the container (by reducing the thickness of the walls). Since 1993 the overall weight of the container has been reduced by 18 per cent. In addition, plastic bases and lids that are not sold are ground up and reused in the process.
The brand owners achieve further emission reductions by deciding to incorporate a minimum of 25 per cent post-consumer recycled resin in the detergent container, and reformulating the product to make it more concentrated.
Distributors encourage the shipment of full truckloads to reduce fuel consumption and emissions. They also promote reusable shipping pallets and the use of plastic stretch wrap to hold cartons of product on the pallet, which enable the shipper to use a lighter corrugated carton. Plus, the redesign of the yogurt container with a lower “stack height” allow more cups to be stacked together, resulting in a larger number of containers per pallet and per truck.
The retailers also play a part. Several insist that their house-brand laundry products are packaged in containers that have recycled content, and many others have implement recycling programs.
Finally, the consumer is also a stakeholder in the product lifecycle. Consumers have a responsibility to dispose of the empty bottle or tub appropriately. For example, if every family in Canada recycled one bottle per month, it would be equivalent to taking 1,500 cars off of the road every year.
Cathy Cirko is the director general of the Environment and Plastics Industry Council (EPIC), a council of the Canadian Plastics Industry Association.