Bio Plastikbecher zum Abtrennen der einzelnen Bestandteile

The noble art of throwing away – how an organic yoghurt pot is becoming a problem

Part 1 of series: Eco-design for plastic packaging and the errors that can be avoided

We associate the words “natural” or, at the very least, “environmentally friendly” with the term “organic”. And this does not just apply to food but also to packaging. Yet, there are surprises awaiting even there. In the case of yoghurt, for example. Of course, it is not just in health food stores but also in supermarkets where you will find pots of delicious yoghurt with inciting packaging designed to draw attention to a healthy food product.

In order to reach out to the appropriate target group more effectively, designers seem to reply on paper, as it is deemed to be more environmentally friendly than plastic. So, what do they do? They cover an extremely thin plastic pot with a roll of paper, which is stuck on. They frequently use aluminium lids. Once the pot is empty, environmentally-friendly consumers are expected to carefully remove the paper and the aluminium lid and dispose of the paper in the paper recycling bin and the detached aluminium lid in the yellow recycling bin. In practice, however, hardly anyone does this; unfortunately, we are not mastering this noble art of throwing away. This also means that the pot is therefore lost from the recycling process!

So, the whole pot lands in the general waste bag and, at best, is separated into the mixed plastics fraction at the sorting plant. Unfortunately, optical detection cannot decipher the type of plastic because the paper completely covers the plastic. This means that the pot frequently ends up among the residual waste and therefore in the incinerator. However, should it come through for material recycling, the paper stuck to the pot causes problems in the plant. This can indeed be removed from the plastic when the pot is washed but dishwashers, which are often combined with a separating system, can suffer as the paper blocks the nozzles over time. The paper fibres then fail to fully dissolve and therefore, some paper residues get into the end product. This means that it is not an ultra-pure recycled material and is therefore more difficult to sell on the secondary raw material market.

What could the solution be? And what clout could consumers exercise to change anything about the situation? Would it be enough keep paper-covered pots on the shelves until they are no longer on offer? What would be good is this; if the product is high quality per se, it continues to be bought. Ultimately, the packaging is the problem. Only a change in the packaging manufacturer’s processes will help with this – and this is where our work starts. Manufacturers should stop combining plastic pots with paper and, instead, print advertising and information sparingly onto a plastic label in bright colours. I’ll go into this in a separate blog post.

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