Everything about plastic
Plastic: A special material
Plastic probably doesn’t strike you as something special. But there isn’t any other material that is so strong and so light. And that protects valuable things so well, even though you can see right through it. And then plastic also lasts a really long time.
Strong and light
Because plastic is strong and light, it’s ideal for production and transit. What’s more, you don’t need that much of it in relation to the product that you want to protect, particularly when compared to other packaging materials.
Plastic is the perfect barrier protecting the packaged product from external environmental factors. Plastic is a material that protects products against damage from oxygen, CO2, and other airborne agents. That means that things keep well for a long time.
Plastic lasts a long time. However, plastic waste is often still stored underground or incinerated, or worse, it ends up in the environment. By making it into a resource again, plastic can be used anew, over and over.
There are many different types of plastic, each with its own special characteristics, suitable for various different uses. There’s choice enough, therefore, for protecting numerous different kinds of products (and: to be attractive while doing so!).
In comparison with other packaging materials
It’s clear what the advantages are with plastic…
Collection and recycling
Luckily, the waste disposal system of the Netherlands functions relatively well, and most materials are properly recycled and re-used as new resources. Recycled plastic can also be used as a new resource, but currently the market is not making sufficient use of this. The techniques for recycling waste plastic are developing rapidly and getting better every day. It’s now up to producers and consumers to start choosing recycled material instead of new plastic. For a sustainable circular plastic chain
The estimated degradation of materials in nature
- Cardboard drink or milk carton: 2-3 months;
- Soda cans of aluminium: 200 years;
- Plastic: 500 years;
- Glass jars and bottles: 1-2 million years
The degradation of these materials will take months or years. The more important it is that our waste is collected properly, so that it will not roam around in nature for years.
Plastic packing, like cardboard packaging, has a relatively small carbon footprint. Plastic packaging is light and thin-walled. Only a little of the material is necessary, and also not much energy is needed for production and transportation per package. That means that plastic packaging’s CO2 footprint is quite a bit smaller than, for example, that of glass packaging.
At ‘Milieu Centraal’ you can find more information about the environmental impact of different packaging materials.
A sustainable choice?
Would you like to know what the most sustainable choice is for your product? That depends completely on the properties and storage life of the product that you want to sell, transport, protect and/or prolong the usability of.
It would be really great for plastic if, in the future, we could make sure that plastic didn’t end up in the environment any more, and if we could clean up the plastic that is there now. In addition to that, it would also be great if more and more companies and consumers were to choose recycled plastic instead of non-recycled plastic. That way plastic waste becomes valuable again, and plastic becomes the more sustainable choice.
It’s time that we start looking at plastic as a valuable material instead of as something without value’.
Then plastic waste would be used again as a resource for new products.
Types of plastic bottles
We can differentiate two different groups of plastic materials: thermosets and thermoplastics. Thermosets are plastics that harden after having been heated, meaning their shape can no longer be changed. Such plastic disintegrates and burns if it is heated again. The thermoplastics, used to make bottles and other things, are different. These plastics liquefy again when they are heated and can be formed into new shapes. Moulds can be used to make new bottles, making thermoplastics, and thus bottles, perfect candidates for recycling.
Pet: For transparent bottles
You know PET (polyethylene terephthalate) from the familiar PET bottles. That’s what we use PET for too. The clear and transparent properties of PET ensure that you as consumer can see what’s in the bottle. In addition, it forms a good barrier, it’s unbreakable, and is suitable for labels, sleeves or imprints.
HDPE: For non-transparent (opaque) bottles
HDPE (high density polyethene) is used for non-transparent bottles; it also has good elasticity, making it perfect for squeeze bottles. Shampoo bottles are almost always made from this material. Because pigments can be added to HDPE, you see it in every colour of the rainbow. It would actually be better for recycling if no colours were added and the base natural colour kept instead.
PP: for Caps
PP (polypropylene) is a fairly stiff material, making it very suitable for closures and caps. PP is also a perfect material for recycling.
What’s the story with bioplastics?
What are bioplastics, anyway?
Bioplastics may mean plastics made from organic material* or plastics that are biodegradable.
*Organic material such as starch from corn, potatoes, coconut or sugar-cane, or cellulose from wood or sugar-cane. or cellulose from wood or sugar-cane.
Not always biodegradable
The basic resource used to make this kind of plastic is a renewable natural material. The opposite is true of ‘regular plastics’, which are made from fossil fuels such as petroleum, crude oil or coal. These are limited. This doesn’t necessary mean that all bioplastics are biodegradable.
Bioplastics may have natural origins yet still react ‘normally’ like all other types of plastic when they end up in the environment.
Bio-based / biodegradable / compostable
Different terms for talking about bioplastics and yet each one means something slightly different. If a bioplastic is bio-based it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is also biodegradable or compostable. And biodegradable can also be made from oil.
Learn more about bioplastics? Read this report from the WUR (Wageningen UR) Bio-based and biodegradable plastics – Facts and figures