Plastic as Reusable Material vs. Trash in the Ocean

At the World Economic Forum in Davos , the Ellen MacArthur-Stiftung explained a worldwide problem for which the Werner & Mertz Recyclate Initiative has developed concrete approaches.

The Mainz-based manufacturer of cleaning and care products, Werner & Mertz, once again is calling on German politicians responsible for economic and environmental policies to incorporate incentives in new recycling legislation for genuine plastic recycling from the Yellow Bag. Now that the technical feasibility of high quality recycling has been proven by numerous awards such as Germany's Federal Ecodesign Award , attention turns to surmounting the last economic barriers.

Werner & Mertz CEO Reinhard Schneider is using the current study on plastic in the world's oceans by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation – published during this week's World Economic Forum in Davos – as an occasion to call attention to the problem-solving approach of his Recyclate Initiative. The Initiative is a cooperative effort involving partners from industry, food retailing, technology firms and the non-profit nature conservation organization NABU Deutschland.

"We are pursuing a genuine recycling principle with the goal of doing without crude oil in the production of plastic packaging," explained Schneider, who originated the Initiative in 2012. "Instead of using oil, we are processing reusable materials from a previously untapped source to yield packaging of such high quality that it can even be used with foodstuffs.

"Approximately 80% of the plastic in the oceans now comes from unsecured landfills around the world. Strong winds and rainfalls push the plastic into the seas. Plastic packaging is generally incinerated in Germany and other European countries. Not only does this process generate three grams of CO2 from every gram of PET, but it also wastes a material that can be recycled again and again. A new sorting technology facilitates the "extraction" of ultra-pure PET from heavily soiled trash collections. The result is a transparent recyclate that satisfies the strictest "food grade" requirements of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and remains in a closed cycle which generates no further waste.

The quantity of recyclates demanded will determine whether this type of recycling can be offered at economically attractive conditions. The complete needs of Werner & Mertz (Frosch brand) are already satisfied with this quality and a few well-known co-packers have recognized the opportunity to become pioneers at a turning point in waste prevention. Unfortunately, the current record-low oil prices are encouraging many manufacturers of plastic packaging to adhere to the linear practice of "take-make-waste" instead of adopting cycles that follow the Cradle to Cradle® principle. In this phase, financial incentives for recyclate use – as proposed in the draft of new recycling legislation – are needed to put a reasonable, ground-breaking technology into practice. Incentives that increase the economic attractiveness of PET recycling could bring about in the medium term what long ago happened with aluminum. Today there is hardly a landfill with an aluminum problem because word got out that recycling of aluminum cans, for example, pays off and people began looking after this reusable material.

The global problem of the dramatic polluting of the world's oceans with plastic can be battled within a reasonable amount of time only if all participants develop an economic self-interest in changing their practices and finally do what is ecologically right.