Earth Day Turns 45

Posted on 4/21/2015 10:19:09 AM By Hallie Forcinio

I remember the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970. I thought it was a fad. I’m glad I was wrong. Forty-five years later, it’s still going strong and has helped us be better stewards of the earth and its resources.

Founded by Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-Wisconsin), the focus of that first Earth Day centered on calls to reduce air and water pollution and litter. The resulting environmental movement spurred passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts and the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

As time passed, the ever-growing flow of solid waste captured attention, and we adopted the mantra, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” By Earth Day 2000, attention turned to global warming and clean energy.

Today, the focus of Earth Day remains on climate change and a clean environment, and it’s become a time to celebrate environmental accomplishments and set new goals. In fact, some observances have expanded to a week or even the entire month of April. 

Our thinking has broadened too, and goals have evolved. Today we strive to be sustainable, an umbrella term that encompasses efforts to:

  • Reduce, reuse and recycle at higher levels
  • Replace nonrenewable resources with renewable
  • Eliminate food waste
  • Conserve water and energy
  • Embrace concepts like fair trade

One of the success stories of more than four decades of environmental activism is packaging and related adhesives. A highly visible component of solid waste and major consumer of resources, packaging is “greener” today than it was in 1970.

Reduce more

Today’s glass, plastic, metal and fiber-based packaging is lighter than ever. For example, The Glass Packaging Institute reports that most glass containers weigh less today than in 1985. In fact, 16-ounce juice bottles are 22 percent lighter, 19-ounce BBQ sauce bottles are 33 percent lighter, and 12-ounce long-neck beer bottles are 24 percent lighter.

In addition, there is an ongoing trend towards replacing heavier rigid containers with flexible packaging and downgauging it. To achieve desired properties, flexible packaging often consists of laminations, which rely on adhesives to bond layers together. Adhesives also play a role in peelable closures/seals that can lightweight rigid packaging like yogurt cups and cans of nuts, as well as peel/reseal reclosures on flexible packaging. It should be noted many adhesive formulas have transitioned to greener chemistries with low or no volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Reuse more

Reusable containers are seen at both ends of the supply chain. Reusable plastic containers (RPCs) are so popular for shipping fresh and perishable products that the Reusable Packaging Association (RPA) in Linden, VA has issued guidelines for safe use. The guidelines detail best practices for retailers, growers, and providers of RPCs. In addition to standardizing practices for washing, handling, storing, packing, displaying and collecting RPCs, the guidelines include protocols for adhesive labels to ensure the units are free of adhesive residue for each trip through supply chain. A test protocol confirms whether adhesive labels meet the guidelines.

To enable reuse of primary containers, a growing number of household cleaners are supplied in refill pouches or in concentrate form for mixing with water at point-of-use.

Recycle more

Recycling rates are rising, as is the level of recycled content in virtually all forms of packaging. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the resin used in bottles for beverages and other products, jars and thermoformed packaging, ranks as the most widely recycled plastic in the world. According to the National Association for PET Container Resources, nearly 1.8 billion pounds of PET were recycled in 2013, a rate of 31.2 percent. This is a substantial increase from 2003’s rate of 19.6 percent, particularly when one considers that the total volume of bottles collected more than doubled during that period. 

Although recycled content has been a common component in metal, glass and fiber-based packaging for decades, its use has come more slowly to plastic packaging. However, today it’s possible to source both food-grade and non-food-grade 100 percent recycled PET containers. High-density polyethylene packaging with recycled content also is available.

Although glass and metal packaging can be recycled indefinitely without loss of properties, recycled content can degrade the performance of paperboard and corrugated packaging. However, new processes help maintain the strength of structures with recycled fiber content, and specially formulated adhesives ensure a good bond and secure glue or tape closure.

Shift to renewable

Interest in shifting to renewable resources from nonrenewable has spurred demand for plant-based plastics and fiber-based paperboard, corrugated and molded pulp packaging.

Packaging is the leading application for plant-based plastics, such as bio-resins like polylactic acid and bio-based conventional resins like PET, which are derived wholly or in part from plant sources like sugar cane. Interest is so strong in bioplastics, a market study by European Bioplastics projects global production capacity will expand about 400 percent to approximately 6.7 million tonnes in 2018 from about 1.6 million tonnes in 2013.

Although seen primarily in containers, bio-based resins also are used in closures. The Select® Bio Cork from Nomacorc is made from polypropylene derived from sugar cane. The wine closure boasts a carbon footprint of zero and can be recycled with packaging marked with Resin Identification Code 4. Its first commercial user is Avalon Winery for its 2012 vintage California CAB (Cabernet Sauvignon).  

We reduce, reuse and recycle more today, and packaging materials and operations are more sustainable. However, with lower recycling rates than several other countries and heavy dependence on non-renewable resources, there’s still room for improvement.

comments powered by Disqus