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A Closer Look at Green Plastic Decorating

Waste reduction opportunities. Source: OECD By Paul Uglum, Uglum Consulting, LLCGreen technologies refer to technologies that are considered environmentally friendly based on production processes, material choices and supply chains. Environmentally responsible products and processes are desirable in their own right. They also are advisable due to customer preferences and regulatory controls. It is reported that two-thirds of consumers consider sustainability when making a purchase. On the regulatory side, a complex web of rules exists on the state, national and international levels. Even if a producer is not interested in green technologies, their suppliers, customers and regulatory agencies are.

After realizing the importance of green plastic decorating, things become more complex. Just what is meant by environmentally responsible? How is it defined, and how is it measured? Which raw materials or processes are regulated and how? These questions are of great importance. If the wrong measure is chosen, there is a risk of suboptimizing the supply chain, causing a more negative environmental impact overall.

The purpose of plastic decorating is to add value by the application of decorative materials to the surface of plastics through operations secondary to molding plastic. These processes, by their nature, consume resources, introduce complexity and add to the difficulty of end-of-life processing. Plastic decoration exists for a reason â?? it is necessary to meet customersâ?? needs and wants. The decorative technologies often add value beyond the decoration and aesthetics. Plastic decoration defines brands, increases perceived value, adds functional value and communicates important information. Any replacement technology must meet the minimum standard of being as good as the existing process at meeting customer needs and requirements.

ESG measures sustainability based on environmental, social and governance attributes.Plastics are the foundation to which decorating technologies add value. Unfortunately, plastics have developed a somewhat poor reputation in recent years. Plastics by themselves, prior to decorating, have become an issue. Like decorating, plastics are used because they meet many needs, are a low-cost option and provide optimum performance in many applications. The many varieties of plastics currently in production make end-of-life recycling complex, even before the addition of decoration. Plastics are a critical industry across all market segments. Examples include packaging, medical, transportation, durable goods and many others. Some products contain more than one type of plastic. Flexible packaging, for instance, often uses multiple materials to provide the necessary barriers for shelf stability and sterility in medical and food packaging. The lack of existing infrastructure and variable production volumes, result in most plastics ending up in landfills at the end of life. This has caused Greenpeace to report plastic recycling is a dead-end street and that plastic recycling declines even as plastic waste increases.

Significant work is being done to improve the end-of-life processing of plastic materials, but much work remains both with the chemistry involved and the infrastructure required to make recycling feasible. The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) determined that simply banning single-use plastic products and switching to a single-use product made from other materials is not the solution. It is the single-use nature of the products that is the most problematic, more than what they are made of. This basic fact is often ignored by regulators and the general public.

Definitions and measurement systemsDefinitions and measurement systems are important because they establish measurable targets and identify successes. They also can be misleading if they do not consider the entire value chain, from raw material production through the end of life of products. Plastic decorators only make up a small but key link in the value chain. Common descriptions of environmentally responsible manufacturing include sustainability, circular economy, recycling, carbon footprint, and environmental, social and governance (ESG).

The problem with any systems of performance measurement or management models is that they do not work equally effectively across all markets or technologies. If the manufacturing is B2B, it is important to remember that upper management is especially prone to follow trends and impose them upon their suppliers. A clear understanding of what the customer expects of the producer and how that will be measured is therefore critical for good decision making.

Carbon footprintA carbon footprint is the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by an individual, event, organization, service, place or product expressed as carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). This measure looks only at greenhouse gases, including the carbon-containing gases emitted through the burning of fossil fuels, manufactured goods, materials, buildings, transportation and other services. It misses the impact of the material choices with respect to resource use, toxicity and end-of-life issues. Many documents define how to measure the carbon footprint of a product such as ISO 14067 (carbon footprint of product). Reducing greenhouse gases is a good goal, but it does not cover the full scope of important issues.

Publication date: 30/06/2023

Plastics Decorating (Articles)


This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 870292.