Necessity, Recycling issues & Solutions
Ever wondered what material the packaging of the biscuit, wafers bag, chocolate wrappers & toothpaste are made up off? And what happens to it after you throw them?
Plastic is wonderful!! yet the most criticized material by the people. It serves multi-industries. India alone consumes up to 15000 tonnes of plastic per day with a recycling rate of 60% . The COVID-19 pandemic has also emphasized the usefulness of plastic. Multi-layered Packaging (MLP) invented in 1950 is a cheaper and lightweight material than glass & metal along with oxygen barrier capacity makes it a preferred option mainly in the food industry. The product packaging like that of wafers bag, water bottle labels, etc. are made up of Multi-layered Packaging. The MLP’s has layers of aluminium and plastic or paper that are sandwiched or laminated making it up to 11 individual and ultra-thin layers [1,2]. The main role of such packaging is to ensure safe transportation & to keep the food material fresh inside for a longer period of time by protecting it from oxygen and humidity (water).
With the MLP’s having 2 or more layers, separating the layers to recycle is not an economical process. Due to contamination, printing ink interference and high moisture content (as it gets mixed with organic waste) recycling MLP’s becomes a task . These contaminated MLP’s is either incinerated or ends up in landfill or water bodies. The incineration process results in harmful emissions due to aluminium burning and if these MLPs end up in land or sea results in leaching and microplastic formation.
The current solution is to utilize the non-recyclable MLP waste includes
- Converting it to fuel or power
- Using it in road construction
- Co-processing in cement kilns 
- Converting it to objects like benches, speakers, etc.
The necessity, as well as the harmfulness of MLP’s, has made it a major research area. Companies like BASF, Hindustan Unilever, Nestle & ITC are working to develop a packaging material that does not have the properties of MLP’s but also should be recyclable, affordable & a sustainable alternative [2,5]. The researches in Lithuania and Egypt have developed a process to chemically separate the layers using a solvent . While this is happening as an individual, everyone can take ‘One Small Step’ to reduce the MLP waste generated. These include:
- Be liable in choosing and disposing of the plastic packaging
- Go for a Zero-waste Shopping
- Make products like wafers, biscuits, etc. at home
- Choose a reusable bag for grocery shopping
“The greatest threat to Our Planet is the belief that someone else will save it”
Let’s Re-think our choices & Be Responsible for our actions…. Can we?