Forbes has declared 2021 “The year of the package.” With the surge in online purchases, purely to avoid CoViD-19 infections, followed an increase in demand for packaging. The refusal of some Asian countries to accept plastic waste has (Read: Do you know where your waste actually ends up?) also (China Reconsiders the Waste Ban- Is There Hope for Recycling Markets?) popularised the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policy. This widely adopted policy shifts the management and financial responsibility of post-consumer product waste from local governments to producers.

Producers around the world are being held accountable by consumers, who are actively damning the impacts of post-consumer pollution- largely due to the non-recyclability of most packaging and products. To keep up with the growing trend of cradle-to-cradle models, corporates have gone back to the drawing board, and redesigning products for the environment: products/packaging that are recyclable, or have an alternative end-of-life use.

Financial burden or lucrative opportunity?

In the last five years, Dell Technologies saved almost $2 million from using recycled plastics in the manufacturing of more than 120 of its products.  Around 10 000 tons of closed loop plastics were used in Dell products such as desktops and tablets. Apart from its redesign, Dell has embraced the EPR principle and initiated a “take-back system” for electronic waste from both private and public entities in 75 countries, with the aim of diverting e-waste from landfill, and help companies manage the disposal of sensitive electronic waste. Dell reported that “around $63 billion of material value is lost annually from electronics not being disposed of in the right way.”

Dell Recycled Laptop Cover Ocean Plastics

Source: 3BL Media

In 2017, Dell used 8 tons of ocean plastic to manufacture protective trays for laptops. Ocean plastics are recovered from beaches, rivers, coastlines and other areas, preventing their entry into seas. By 2025, Dell aims to use 80 tons of ocean plastic annually in its packaging designs. However, they have noted the challenge of a lack of commercial infrastructure in collecting and recycling plastics before they reach the oceans.

The Global Commitment: A powerhouse of responsibility

Led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, in collaboration with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the Global Commitment commits businesses and governments to work to eliminate unnecessary plastic items, innovate design in ensuring plastic that is needed can be safely reused, recycled or composted, and most importantly, circulate products and packaging to keep it within the economy and out of the environment.

Over 500 signatories, including L’Oréal; MARS; Nestlé; PepsiCo; The Coca-Cola Company; Unilever and South African retail giant, Pick n Pay, have committed to developing circular models through its design processes.

  • Nestlé, the world’s largest food manufacturer, is investing extraordinary resources into developing non-virgin plastics.
  • Coca-Cola (Western Europe) committed to collect 100% of its plastic bottles and switch to PET (basic petroleum-based plastic) bottles using 50% recycled plastic by 2025.
  • PepsiCo’s goal is 50% recycled plastic in bottles in the European Union by 2030.

Redesigning fashion

Recycled shoes

Source: Noah Buscher

The fashion industry faced intense criticism with the throw-away culture associated with maintaining ever changing fashion trends (Waste Couture: Fast Fashion vs the Environment). Popular fashion houses are now setting the trend by repurposing waste in their clothing lines.

Spanish brand, Ecoalf, creates clothing and accessories made from recovered waste such as plastic bottles, discarded fishing nets, tires, coffee grounds and especially plastic waste sitting at the bottom of oceans.

Ecoalf

Source: Ecoalf

Katie Jones, a UK based knitwear brand, uses unclaimed material from other apparel manufacturers, turning it into eco-friendly artisanal collections that are colourful and trendy.

The blue print for recyclability by design

The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, (ISRI) Design for Recycling® initiative encourages manufacturers laid out the criteria for their prestigious Design for Recycling Award:

  • Contain the maximum amount of materials that are recyclable.
  • Be easily recycled through current or newly designed recycling processes and procedures.
  • Be cost effective to recycle, whereby the cost to recycle does not exceed the value of its recycled materials.
  • Be free of hazardous materials that are not recyclable or impede the recycling process.
  • Minimizes the time and cost involved to recycle the product.
  • Reduce the use of raw materials by including recycled materials and/or components.
  • Have a net gain in the overall recyclability of the product while reducing the overall negative impact on the environment.

Designing for collection

As Dell pointed out, whilst intentions are noble, the elephant in the room is how do manufacturers collect the recycled materials/ waste products, before it ends up at landfills or the bottom of the ocean?

The solution rests with creating a supply chain that seamlessly integrates post-consumer collection of waste from sources of generation (e.g. retailers, manufacturers, environmental clean ups) to its final destination. Don’t Waste has spent over a decade in designing value chains that support such cradle-to-cradle models, plugging the gaps that often causes leakages into the environment.

Designing for the environment is a collaborative effort involving active participation of consumers, corporates, academics, and government agencies. The benefits of redesigning products for the environment are clear: more effective use of materials, lower costs, and less waste. This feeds into improving socio-economic conditions, particularly in developing economies devastated by the current pandemic. Creating new sources of valuable material means new sustainable opportunities for long-term employment. It is a winning strategy for us all.

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Don’t Waste provides industry leading business intelligence, site management, and waste management services to Property, Retail, Commercial, Industrial and Hospitality industries. Our customers include the world’s leading property management groups. To find out more about our innovative value-added systems and services in onsite waste operations, contact:

Linus Naik- Group Manager: Sustainability & Business Development (Email: linus@dontwastegroup.com I Mobile: +27 82 552 0675).

Michael Foreman- Managing Director UK (Email: michael@dontwastegroup.com I Mobile: +44 7939 027193).

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