April 3, 2013

Plastic, like pasta, is just a fancy umbrella term. When we refer to “pasta” we could mean a whole host of dishes - from spaghetti with meatballs and red sauce to fettuccine alfredo with shrimp to orzo with vegetables. Whenever someone says “pasta,” we all inherently understand what that means, but when we go out to dinner, the distinction between the specific types becomes incredibly relevant. What most consumers don’t realize, however, is that plastic is like pasta. Typically, when we talk about plastic as “plastic,” it’s a non-issue, but when we’re recycling, the type becomes just as important as different pastas on a menu. 

While there is nothing inherently wrong with this basic understanding of plastic (and it’s probably ultimately helpful for the common consumer), it creates a mammoth problem for the recycling industry. Many consumers don’t understand plastics recycling and assume anything with the triangular symbol is good to go into the bin (which, to be fair, is a reasonable assumption). The issue, however, is that many residential recycling centers don’t want many of the plastics they receive - and what is or isn’t demanded depends on the complex interplay of market forces and community programs, as Don Loepp from Plastics News explains on his *Plastics Blog

So, who’s to blame? Loepp argues that it’s probably a little bit of everyone’s fault - from consumers to the plastics industry, to the government and recycling programs. And while he’s probably right, we agree with Tom Watson who guest posted recently on Waste and Recycling News, that the plastics industry is primarily to blame. It’s not the consumer’s responsibility to gain a deep understanding of resin codes or product types. That’s our job. Consumers just want to drink their soda and then do their part by putting the discarded bottle into a recycling bin. That means it’s our responsibility as manufacturers to make this process as easy as possible so we can reap the benefits of their recyclables. 

Watson suggests that “the industry needs to provide more recycling options, do much more public education about recycling, and make its products and packaging more recyclable,” but at TEQ, we’ve pioneered another solution. 

Knowing that hospitals and medical facilities produce millions of tons of waste annually, with very little of the plastics being recycled, we focused on one of the core reasons - medical personnel don’t typically recycle medical packaging because the sterile barrier systems are often multi-polymer, and they simply don’t have the time to properly sort the different plastic types. To make medical recycling easier, we created TEQethylene™, a mono-polymer sterile barrier system that utilizes a new, proprietary blend of High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) in combination with adhesive coated Tyvek®, a breathable HDPE lidding material developed by Dupont™ to make it recyclable. A simple solution to a growing problem. And it isn’t just the medical industry who can reap the benefits of easy-to-recycle packaging solutions like TEQethylene. 

What about you? Are there any innovative solutions you can think of that would allow plastics manufacturers to make recycling easier? 

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