Many details about the challenges of recycling have come to light since China stopped taking the hodge podge of plastics the rest of the world was sending them to recycle. This information is making it obvious that much of the recycling they were receiving was probably ending up in their landfills.
Two big ones have come to light this past week.
First: Black plastic of any kind is not recyclable. At some point in the recycling process plastics are sorted mechanically with laser lights. They cannot ‘read’ black plastic.
Second: Number 1 plastic clam shells used for fruit and baked goods are piling up in the system. The plastic is very recyclable. The problem is the adhesive used for labeling.
The plastic must be clean to recycle. Some adhesives make it too difficult to remove labels while others are easily removed. Sorting by adhesives is nearly impossible.
Packaging companies need to higher priority to the end of life of their products when making design decisions. They need to consider what happens to their product after consumers buy it.
Currently priority is given to visibility and marketing (to ensure the product is easily seen), security of the product (so it isn’t easily stolen), and reducing costs for manufacture and shipping. Food safety is also a necessary priority.
Black plastic may be used for because it looks nice. Adhesives may affect the cost. Whatever the reason, plastics companies need to quit using black plastic, and set an industry standard for adhesives that are easily removed.
The Flon Flon Recycling Centre is still accepting the #1 PETE clamshells. Hopefully a process for removing labels will be found shortly for items already in the system.