According to Statista, from 1950 to 2018, the global production of plastic rose from 1.5 million to 359 billion tons, representing an exponential increase. However, the excess of plastic and its incorrect disposal are causing environmental problems. It is not surprising that ecological sustainability-oriented practices such as the recycling and the reuse of this material are becoming more of a concern. Awareness of the correct use of resources and of disposal and recycling of plastics both at an individual and a system level involving industries, governments and local bodies continues to grow.
Sustainability of the manufacturing cycle
In production and industrial sectors, including household appliances, sustainability is becoming policy, from the management of green corporate headquarters and factories throughout the entire product life cycle. The recycling of plastic, the use of recycled plastics and oceanic plastic collection campaigns play a relevant role. These campaigns can start in the design phase by limiting plastic use and deriving as much raw material as possible from recycling. They continue through the planning of disassembling and disposal of the finished product and tracking of how many parts will be recycled, recovered and reused. Packaging should reduce plastic as much as possible as well to comply with circular economy criteria. The goal is to limit waste and reintroduce what can be reused into the productive cycle.
Recycling: an ethical act that brings value
The development of circular economy models has revealed interesting potentialities to let sustainability practices become part of the business of a company ethically but also profitably. As highlighted by an analysis carried out by UL on the role of plastic recycling among the most diffused eco-sustainable practices, perceived as necessary in various ambits and much appreciated by consumers, who tend to consider attentively the sustainable behaviours of the companies from which they buy. Concerning this, UL mentions the results of a 2019 investigation by Accenture where 83% of the interviewed panel declared they consider important, or extremely important, that producers design their items in view of their reuse or recycling. About plastic, in the same survey 77% of interviewees judged it as the least eco-friendly material for packages. These opinions are clear indicators of the orientation of consumers’ demand towards more and more sustainable solutions, also prescribed in various eco-design regulations. It is in fact worth reminding that eco-design and circular economy, of which the plastic reduction and recycling are a fundamental issue, are nowadays imposed by law almost everywhere, through directives that rule manufacturing cycles and industrial processes in numerous countries in the world.
Quantifying the content of recycled plastics
Attentive to market signals, updated about regulations and at the forefront in the execution of numerous types of tests and certifications, UL has developed a series of services to help companies demonstrate and highlight their commitment to sustainability and especially to plastic management. It may seem nearly impossible to effectively calculate the quantity of recycled plastic used in goods because it is not possible to chemically distinguish new content from recycled content. However, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and UL have defined a process called the “mass balance accounting method” to monitor the volume through a production system and take into account the quantity of recycled plastic used in final products.
Currently, the most evident risks of uncontrolled plastic use include its dispersion in oceans. According to Ocean Conservancy, about eight million tons of plastic are introduced into our oceans every year. Therefore, decreasing the plastic quantity in products and packaging and limiting the possibility that its residues reach open waters becomes fundamental. To help to boost the commitment to the collection and the reuse of plastic from oceans, UL has processed new UL Standards of assessment of recycled contents in products, such as the UL 2809, the Standard for Environmental Claim Validation Procedure (ECVP), that can ascertain the quantity of oceanic plastic used. Using a third-party assessment and quantification process to demonstrate commitment to sustainable, eco-friendly production can provide a competitive edge to companies and brands in a market increasingly crowded with products that manufacturers self-declare. When the self-declaration is unfounded, it is known as greenwashing.
UL tests and certifications check the performance and the safety of recycled plastic
Turning to third-party technical experts using science-based, state-of-the-art technology, such as UL, to test and certify recycled plastic performance and safety can demonstrate reliability and increase consumer loyalty. For example, UL 746D, the Standard for polymeric materials – manufactured parts (Ed. 8), evaluates the conformity of plastics with recycled content. We also offer the Yellow Card, a renowned program of testing and certification of plastic materials that tests conformity to applicable regulatory and performance standards.