We are in the midst of a plastic crisis. At the same time, we are in a post-truth era where misinformation is rife . Cosmetics brands are illegally re-filling bottles in retail outlets. This is an attempt to leverage the plastics crisis for increased sales.
The plastics issues are all about personal decisions. Blaming plastic bags for environmental issues is not a way to pass off your personal responsibility. Regardless of the bag you use, a more important decision is what you do with it, and how you use it. The issue is not plastic alone. But how it is used by humans. Also, this singular focus on plastic waste is fast becoming a distraction from the bigger issue. The need to attack climate change. This single focus, while ignoring the broader issue of climate change, does more harm than good.
Within this environment of misinformation and brands leveraging the plastics issue for increased sales. Therefore, it is important to focus on plastic recycling. And understand the process.
Recyclable bottles are made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET). PET plastic is coded with the resin identification code number “1” inside the universal recycling symbol. This usually on the bottom of the container as shown in the photo here of an Indochine Natural bottle.
Recycling begins with the collection of PET bottles discarded by consumers. Next, sorted PET bottles are crushed. Then pressed into bales and offered for sale to recycling companies.
The further treatment process includes crushing, washing, separating and drying. This is followed by shredding the material into small fragments. Further processing results in pure “PET flakes”. They use these flakes as the raw material for a range of products that would otherwise be made of polyester. For example, the polyester fibres used to make clothing, pillows, and carpets. Or, they can be used to make PET bottles.
PET recycling outlook
Companies increasingly recognize the urgency of recycling PET into food-grade products such as new beverage containers. Coca Cola intends to use 50% recycled PET in its containers by 2030.
The availability of post-consumer PET material is a challenge. For example, recovery rates in the United States have remained flat or declining in recent years. This situation has been exacerbated by less material generation through curbside recycling programs. This in turn, is related to the decreasing popularity of carbonated beverages, and the trend toward the design of light bottles. One way to improve PET recovery would be through the use of container deposit systems.
Some facts about plastic recycling
(1) China has stopped accepting the world’s plastic waste
China used to dominate the waste recycling market in the world. They were basically taking on more than half the world’s plastic waste.This was nearly 9 million metric tonnes of plastic scrap.
Because of China’s drastic levels of air pollution, which exceeded global standards set by the World Health Organisation, they’ve taken steps to cut the level of pollution in their country. One measure is to ban 24 types of waste. This sent the world scrambling to find alternatives for waste management.
(2) The recycling industry is very lucrative
The Malaysian Environment Minister, YB Yeo has acknowledged that the plastic recycling industry in Malaysia would have possibly earned up to RM3.5 billion in 2018 alone. Another source has quoted that the recycling industry is worth 30 billion locally while worth 600 billion globally.
(3) Illegal waste recycling factories have mushroomed all across Malaysia.
This results from poor sorting and an accumulation of waste that cannot be recycled. This makes it hard for government officials to regulate recycling. The result is pollution of air and water. A lot of waste will eventually be burned openly or dumped at poorly regulated sites.For instance, in the Pulau Indah industrial zone, the illegal factories have been said to openly burn waste that cannot be recycled. This has caused nearby residents to complain about health complications. Whereas in Kuala Langat, over 40 factories were found to be operating illegally. And 30 of them were shut down after residents living nearby complained about the open burning that caused health problems.
The way forward
Indochine Natural is leading the way by refusing to leverage the plastic issue for increased sales. We just quietly get on and do what has to be done. We are investing in and conducting research on alternative approaches. One approach is re-filling returned bottles in our Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) production facility. Having consumers bring their empty bottles to retail outlets for refilling is illegal. And it would cause the Ministry of Health revoking our GMP Certification.
And consumers need to play their part. They need to take part in recycling programs. And pressure their local authorities to set up sustainable recycling programs.