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    Plastics and sustainability? Why this is possible – and how

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    Packages are coming in for more and more criticism nowadays – especially when they are made of plastic. This is because, no matter how valuable and important plastics are for the protection, transport and consumption of beverages and other products, the global litter problem and an increasing scarcity of natural resources are casting a serious shadow on this material’s use.

    And at Krones as well, we can’t avoid dealing with this topic. Not only because a part of our sales is produced with technology and services for PET lines, but also because we as a company have devoted ourselves to the sustainable use of resources.

    One thing is certain: there has to be a radical change in the way people treat packaging and resources – and a shift away from the wanton consumption of resources towards a closed-loop circular economy. We are firmly convinced that it is possible for PET and the other plastic materials used in packaging to have an environmentally compatible future. Why? Because we have the technologies today to make the sustainable use of these materials remarkably simple and, most importantly, profitable.

    Turn waste into new products

    In our fact check, we examine the pros and cons of plastics:

    Fact check No. 1: Plastics – why do we use them at all?

    The fact that plastics have prevailed worldwide as a packaging material is no accident. For they offer a whole range of unbeatable material properties.

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    The most important plastic for our sector continues to be PET. According to Euromonitor, in 2018 it was used to produce 573 billion packaging units for beverages.

    Light and nevertheless strong

    Although plastic packages only weigh a few grams, they are extremely stable and durable. Beverage containers made of PET, for example, have a wall thickness of just a few tenths of a millimetre. Nevertheless, they withstand a broad range of loads – during both production and transport. Whether now a single PET bottle slips out of someone's hand while screwing it open or an entire pallet slips off a forklift truck: unlike with glass bottles, both the containers themselves and their content will remain intact.

    Can be moulded into any shape

    Packaging materials like PET, PE and PP belong to the thermoplastics. They have the practical property that they melt when heated up and harden when cooled down. This means they can be moulded into virtually any shape. And not just once, but over and over again. As a result, beverage and food producers can create an extremely broad range of packages from plastics – and can mould them into any desired shape again after they have been consumed and recycled.

    Inexpensive and safe

    Packaging plastics like PET can be produced extremely efficiently. This has a positive effect not only on the production costs, but consequently also on the sales price of the finished products. At the same time, they protect sensitive goods like beverages, food and medicines against oxygen, germs and other harmful influences. This is particularly the case for packaged water. To consumers in highly developed industrialised countries, this may appear to be an unnecessary luxury. However, for the people who can't depend on either a strong infrastructure or a regional supply of drinking water or food, this can literally be a matter of life and death.

    Fact check No. 2: Plastic – waste or a valuable resource?

    Use it, throw it away and that's it? Absolutely not! High-quality plastic materials like PET can be recycled almost endlessly. The required technology is available at Krones.

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    Even non-returnable packages can serve as a valuable resource after they've been used. This particularly applies to beverage bottles. For they mostly consist of the high-quality plastic PET. When separated by type, this can be recycled virtually endlessly – with the MetaPure technology from Krones, for example.

    The technology’s long since been available – so let’s use it!

    But why then do such large quantities of plastic end up in the environment? Why isn't this resource used more? The answer is very simple: because first a suitable infrastructure is required. And exactly that is still missing in many locations.
    Nation-wide waste management that offers all households regular waste disposal: what appears to be self-evident to the inhabitants of most industrialised countries is a luxury elsewhere. According to estimates, approximately three billion people around the world have no access to controlled waste disposal – yet. For in view of the pressing problems, an increasing number of organisations and countries are working on the establishment and expansion of a regional recycling economy. The ecological advantages are not the only incentive here. For as the non-profit Ellen MacArthur Foundation emphasises, for example, a closed raw material cycle can also entail economic benefits for producers and consumers. The increasing demand for Krones’ recycling systems – especially from emerging countries – shows: the enormous potential that recycling technology demonstrates has long been recognised. Now it's a matter of putting this knowledge into practice!

    Facts and figures

    • Every year between 150,000 and 200,000 tons of PET bottles are recycled with Krones MetaPure systems.
    • The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that the value of the currently unused plastic waste is still 80 to 120 billion dollars a year.

    What happens to the waste? Almost 40 per cent of the plastic waste collected in the EU is incinerated for energy generation. This type of recycling is definitely more sustainable than dumping the waste unused at disposal sites. However, material recycling would be ideal, i.e. separated by type in closed cycles.

    Recycling of plastic waste in the EU member countries

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