RPET vs. PET & Inks, laminates and adhesives

June 23, 2010

Good afternoon world! Thought I would catch you all before the late-afternoon slump, which is when I am accustomed to blogging. Second cup of Joe, here I come!

Today’s post takes a slight detour from the world of recycling: I wish to briefly discuss how one quantifies the environmental benefits of sourcing packaging material from recycled resin versus virgin; and, the associated environmental burdens of using inks, laminates and adhesives on fiber-based packaging.

First, the environmental benefits associated with making packaging out of recycled resin versus virgin is kinda a no brainer…one would assume that sourcing post-consumer material yields environmental benefits when compared with sourcing virgin. Luckily, the Franklin Associated recently determined that recycling plastic significantly reduces energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. According to their work, the generation of cleaned recycled resin required 71 trillion Btu less than the amount of energy that would be required to produce the equivalent tonnage of virgin PET and HDPE resin (Killinger, ACC). In other words, the amount of energy saved by recycling PET and HDPE containers including bottles in 2008 was the equivalent to the annual energy use of 750,000 U.S. homes. The corresponding savings in greenhouse gas emissions was 2.1 million tons of C02 equivalents, an amount comparable to taking 360,000 cars off the road (Killinger, ACC). You can download the full report here:  Final Recycled Resin HDPE PET Life Cycle Inventory Report.

So this is great because it finally provides justification for moving into PET and RPET packaging as that is the most readily recycled and recyclable. However, how do we show how this data actually impacts the LCA of a package? In other words, if I wanted to measure the environmental benefits associated with sourcing my packaging from RPET as opposed to PET, how would I?

And enter COMPASS, which is the SPC’s packaging environmental life cycle modeling software, which allows you to compare the “footprint” of different packaging materials and types in the design phase. Now that Franklin has provided LCI data about RPET used in packaging, COMPASS should be able to integrate the data into its software, thereby allowing users to compare packaging made from recycled PET versus virgin.

Here’s the email I sent to the creator of COMPASS:

Hey,

I hope this email finds you well.

I had sent you an email asking when COMPASS was going to be updated with the LCI RPET data released by the ACC/APR/NAPCOR, etc. This email is to follow up on that inquiry. As thermoformers of RPET, it is very important for us to be able to quantify the environmental benefits of sourcing an RPET clamshell versus a PET clamshell.

In addition, is COMPASS intending on including metrics for inks, laminates, and adhesives i.e. clay coated SBS board? A lot of research I am finding is that these chemicals greatly impact the environmental profile of a package; when will COMPASS be able to quantify these components?

Thanks for your time.

Chandler

And his response:

Hi,

See below.

Hey,

I hope this email finds you well. Thanks doing well indeed. And you?

I had sent you an email asking when COMPASS was going to be updated with the LCI RPET data released by the ACC/APR/NAPCOR, etc. This email is to follow up on that inquiry. As thermoformers of RPET, it is very important for us to be able to quantify the environmental benefits of sourcing an RPET clamshell versus a PET clamshell. As you may know, we do not add data until they are third party verified. There has been a lot of activity on the data front of late and the data verification is coordinated by the EPA, and rPET and rHDPE are among them. Once we get the go ahead, we will begin work to model the data for COMPASS. This is anticipated to start towards the end of Q3 2010.

In addition, is COMPASS intending on including metrics for inks, laminates, and adhesives i.e. clay coated SBS board? A lot of research I am finding is that these chemicals greatly impact the environmental profile of a package; when will COMPASS be able to quantify these components? The secondary materials you mention may indeed be of concern and they are on our radar, however, since GreenBlue does not collect primary LCI data, we cannot add information until they become available and are verified. There is a lot of talk in the industries about the need for such data, and the best way to convey the information. We may have spoken on this before, but coatings, inks, glues etc are generally used in a very small quantity relative to the primary materials, and the existing display mechanism may need to change to record the results for the secondary materials. Also, since LCA is not a very good mechanism for conveying toxicity, the entire secondary materials module may require some detailed thought prior to implementation. I do not have a timeline for these materials as yet since much of the work in preliminary talk stage only.

Groovy…

I then sent a similar inquiry to another contact who knows a thing or two about sustainable packaging metrics and modeling software:

Hello,

This is Chandler Slavin with Dordan Manufacturing. I hope this email finds you well.

At the meeting, a participant asked if you intended on including any metrics for the inks, laminates and adhesives used in many fiber-based packaging materials. You replied that unless you had scientific evidence that illustrated that such a metric had an impact on the overall environmental profile of a given package, you did not intend on including said metrics in the Scorecard.

I found the following statement in the U.S. E.P.A.’s TRI (Toxics Release Inventory) report, 1996:

…Coated and laminated paper products are also associated with significant reporting of releases and other waste management of TRI chemicals…Pollutants associated with various coating materials and processes have included emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and discharges of wastewater containing solvents, colorants, and other contaminants.

Download the report at: http://www.epa.gov/tri/tridata/tri96/pdr/chapt5_ry96.pdf

That being said, what are your thoughts on the inclusion of some type of metric that would attempt to quantify the environmental burdens associated with the utilization of inks, laminates, and adhesives on packaging?

Thank you for your time.

Chandler Slavin

And her response:

We aren’t opposed to including but we need to have details on what to include and how much they impact the total Life Cycle of the package.  In studies that I have seen on packaging the impact by these materials to the total package LCA are small in comparison than other parts like production of raw materials and transportation.  Prior to us adding to the scorecard we would need the data proving they are a big portion of the LCA and publicly available LCI to add to the scorecard.

Thanks for reaching out sharing some of your questions and concerns.

Hmmmmmm…

I replied the following:

During the meeting, you and your team discussed the ambiguities surrounding the “sustainable material” metric and participants articulated the desire for a “material health/toxicity” metric, in addition to, or as a component of, the “sustainable material” metric. Have you and your team given any thought to the inclusion of such a metric that does not rely on an LCA-based approach, but another “mechanism for conveying toxicity?”

I look forward to your response; thanks again for your time!

And her response:

Yes, we are analyzing the GPP metrics through the Pilot process as discussed at the meeting. 

She then provided me with a link to their website and other pertinent information; what a doll!

The GPP is the Global Packaging Project and it is super awesome! It looks to provide global metrics for quantifying the environmental profile of a material, packaging type, conversion process, etc. Tons and tons of CPGs and retailers and manufactures and packaging converters are members of this organization. I believe they are currently in a pilot phase, which is attempting to collect LCI data from primary processes.

I reached out to a representative from the GPP and she was really nice. She told me about their work and provided me with access to said work—I feel like I hit a gold mine! Unlike the Scorecard, the GPP will cover a multitude of different metrics, toxicity being among them. SOOOO I guess I am definitely not the only one interested in this and eventually, we will have much more thorough tools to measure the environmental repercussions of our packaging purchasing decisions.

Consequently, it’s only a matter of time until the greenwashers get phased out. I feel like we are in the Wild Wild West of packaging and sustainability and that eventually, some governance will come to maintain order—hopefully the GPP.

AND GUESS WHAT: The GPP is having a conference in October in PARIS. That’s right, Paris, the most romantic city in the whole wide world. I would kill to be able to go; hopefully I can make a good enough case for my Superior to consider it…

The last email that I sent along this theme was to the wonderful Robert Carlson of CalRecycle.

I wrote,

Hello there!

Question: why is an LCA-based approach not appropriate for trying to quantify the environmental ramifications of secondary materials i.e. inks, laminates and adhesives? In addition, what “other mechanisms” exist for quantifying these ramifications? How do you foresee the inclusion of this information in environmental modeling tools going forward?

Do chemical manufactures have to report their releases to the US EPA? If so, where/how can I access this information?

AND, I was reading the back of one of our competitors’ packages and the following verbiage was displayed: “This product contains a chemical known to the state of California to cause cancer and birth defects and other reproductive harm.” WHAT THE WHAT? What is this, where can I find out more?

Thanks buddy!

And his response:

Ok…let me try to take this piece by piece and see what I can help you with:

As far as the competitors’ package goes, there are LOTS of chemicals that require that warning, it’s all part of prop 65 (see the attached PDF for the complete list and their website http://oehha.ca.gov/prop65.html ).  There is very likely a Material Safety Data Sheet available for that product…you might check on their website.

As far as manufacturers reporting their emissions to US EPA…I’m not really sure but I don’t think they do generally.  There are very likely specific situations that are regulated and are required to report emissions to EPA…but I’m not familiar enough with them to tell you which ones are required to be reported on.

Now…on to the meat of your question…the inks, laminates and adhesives…  I’m not sure what you meant with the comment that LCA is not a good mechanism for conveying toxicity…  Perhaps it has to do with the fact that usually LCA don’t get into exposure…  If a product emits 1.2 grams of a toxic substance, that’s all that is reported…it doesn’t really get into whether it’s emitted close to people, if people have long contact time with it or short, if sensitive sub-populations are exposed or not, if the toxin is persistent or not, if workers are exposed or consumers, etc…  That may be what was meant…  It could be that a combination of an LCA (to determine the releases at various points in the process) and a toxicological assessment of some kind (to determine exposure and risk assessment) would be a better way to approach LCA for these kinds of materials.

 There are always data gaps…there always will be.  To some extent, you can’t measure what you don’t know…  BUT somebody has to collect that data!  Eventually!  So somebody is going to have to step up and foot the bill…the problem of course comes in the sense that nobody trusts industry and government is broke…

How’d I do?  Make any sense???

You did wonderful, Robert, thanks!

That’s all for now. Tune in tomorrow to learn more about packaging and sustainability and the feasibility of recycling PET thermoforms in North America.

Tootles!

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