Virgin Plastic, Recycled Plastic, and Everything In Between

In an era when there is a tremendous amount of focus on sustainability and renewable resources, it is hard to understand why any product might be made with virgin plastics.

Today I want to write about recycling and re-use, and explain why for certain products  and applications virgin material can be the better choice.

What do the different terms mean?

In order to make sense why a company would choose one resin over the other, it is helpful to understand  of the terms “virgin” and “recycled.” Virgin, of course, is the resin produced directly from the petrochemical feedstock, such as natural gas or crude oil, which has never been used or processed before. Recycled can mean many different things, however.

Post-consumer is exactly what it sounds like – material that has been reclaimed after it has left the hands of the consumer. For example, a plastic milk carton that is recycled is taken to a facility where it is washed, re-ground, and pelletized into a new post-consumer material.

Post-Industrial, in contrast, is recycled plastic that never left the manufacturing floor (and therefore never made it to the consumer). For efficiency and to keep costs low, manufacturers try to achieve zero waste during the production process. So they will recycle short shots, extra material, scrap pieces, or anything that is isn’t yet appropriate to go to the consumer.

Which process is the cleanest?

Depending on how the materials are re-processed, post-consumer is the least “clean” of the three materials listed above because of the variability of the feedstock. Even with blending, which adds overall strength, neither post-consumer nor post-industrial recycled materials can ever achieve 100% of mechanical properties of virgin materials. The degredation of these properties has a direct effect on safety factors and long term performance measure such as fatigue.

This is not to say recycled plastics cannot be used in various applications, but does explain why recycled materials often have lower safety ratings. It also explains why manufacturers have made a lot of headway using recycled materials for things like plastic bags and disposable packaging but are still figuring out the most effective way to use it for larger structural and infrastructure items. Often, if the product is structural, it may have to have a lower safety or strength rating if recycled materials are being used.

The sustainability equation

It is tempting to assume that if something is recycled it is more sustainable than something made from virgin material. Sometimes this is true, but not in all cases. Sustainability is the sum of all it parts, of which there can be many. For example, though small, there are ecological impacts from the energy used to drive around to pick the post-consumer materials, from the actual re-processing (cleaning and grinding), and from added resin weight that is necessary to reach the same mechanical properties.

Obviously, there are many impacts from harvesting the petrochemical feedstock needed for virgin, too. An example of this would be toilet paper. One can sit in front of the wall of toilet paper mulling over which product to buy. Most everyone wants buy the one made from recycled pulp, but it is manufactured in China and then shipped to the States. But the one made in the States isn’t made from recycled materials. The conundrum – what trees are being cut down to make this toilet paper, is it farmed, or we contributing to deforestation? Is the material in China really recycled? Where is the material coming from? Is it coming from the US to be made in China only to be shipped back to the US? Unfortunately, few consumers are in a position to make the decision about the most sustainable product without a great deal of research and industry knowledge. There is more about sustainability than just the word “recycled.”

Every manufacturer must weigh many variables when choosing whether to use recycled or virgin materials. Whenever possible – to design the best product efficiently and safely – we use re-processed materials in our manufacturing. Some items, such as our geomembranes, are made of 100% post-consumer material.  Other products, such as the Tree Root Barriers, have a mix of re-processed (which may have a mix of post-consumer and post-industrial) and virgin. Still other products, such as the Silva Cell, are made with virgin material only due to the need to meet safe engineering and loading standards. When a recycled resin that can achieve the same safety factor becomes available – and we hope that will happen soon – we’ll be first in line. Until then, we choose the right resin for the product based on how it will be used and to achieve the most minimal and elegant design with the least amount of material. Sustainability and quality are the keys to bringing these products to market.


15 Easy Ways To Reduce Landfill Waste

There are lot of items that we use everyday and then get rid of them by throwing them in the garbage. Unfortunately, this results in pile of garbage as we throw old items, as well as packaging of new items. Reducing solid waste is reducing the amount of trash that goes to landfills. Reduce, Reuse and Recycle are most common methods to reduce landfill waste. Landfill waste poses a huge problem as it has economic and environmental impact and secondly, due to slow decomposition rate which takes thousands of years, several acres of land has already been virtually rendered useless that could have been actually used for setting up new residential colonies or industries.

While most of us may consider ourselves to be adept at conserving and recycling, the truth is that the average American makes far more trips to the landfills every year than you might think. While all of us probably believe that recycling and reusing things is a good thing, it’s a question of whether or not we actually carry it out.

Here are some useful steps you can take to ensure that you make fewer trips to the landfill each year:

1. Donate Clothes

Believe it or not, the throwing away of clothing is one of the biggest contributions we make to landfills today. We open up our closets; pick clothes that no longer need like a sweater that was fashionable last year, a ripped shirt, or some clothes that we just don’t want to keep any more. And where does it go? That’s right, to the garbage, and from there, to the landfill.

Instead of throwing away these old clothes, make better use out of it. First, make sure that these are clothes that you absolutely don’t need any more. Then, donate clothes to people in need or to Goodwill stores, or hold a sale in your garage (though assuming the clothes are still wearable, of course). You know what they say, another man’s trash is another man’s pleasure.

2. Reduce Food Waste

Food is another item that we often just carelessly toss away without thinking twice about it. Each year, a very large percentage of our purchased food is left uneaten. Instead of simply throwing away food, make good use out of it. Even if we kept just a small percentage of our uneaten food and donated it, millions of needy people would be fed.

3. Eat Healthy

Also think about eating healthier. Buy healthier foods that don’t require as much disposable waste in the form of packaging. Reuse old shopping bags and containers for maximum efficiency, and better yet, cloth bags. Don’t buy fast food take out as often either.

4. Save Leftovers for Next Day

Don’t forget about leftovers! Too many people are careless enough to throw away half of a good meal and not save it for later. Eating leftovers more often will save on money and result in less food waste. Try making it a habit to save the rest of tonight’s food in the fridge for tomorrow’s lunch or dinner.

5. Buy Things With Less Packaging

You can also stock up on food in the freezer. Buy a bunch of food at the same time and store it in the freezer, and don’t buy any more food until the freezer is empty. In addition, buying food in bulk means less packaging and less waste.

6. Boycott Plastic Water Bottles

Millions of plastic water bottles are thrown away by people every day. Don’t become one of those people. Not only will you save a boat load of money by switching to reusable glass bottles, you will be throwing a lot less empty (and un empty, for that matter) water bottles into the trash, which in turn means you won’t contribute to the mountains of bottles in landfills or (gulp) in the bottom of the ocean.

7. Just Don’t Buy as Much Stuff….Really

Though it’s often quite tempting to buy as much things as money can buy, if you are serious about cutting down on the number of trips you make to the landfill each year, simply buying less stuff will severely cut back on those number of trips all ready. Re-evaluate your priorities. Think about what you need vs. what you want. Also be mindful of what you throw away.

8. Recycle

Don’t just throw away old glass bottles or aluminium cans. Instead, recycle them. Keep a recycle bin in your home to place old soda cans, paper, metal and plastic cups. Most urban areas have a recycling station in town. Try making more trips to the recycling station than to the landfill.

9. Purchase Items Made From Recycled Products

Consider buying items made from recycled products so that you can help the environment in making it clean and green. Most of the advertisers advertise this fact so that you know that you are actually providing a helping hand to reduce landfills. Also, this will set as an example for your friends, family and relatives and they will also start buying items made from recycled products.

10. Clean Smarter

Instead of buying cleaning solutions from market to unclog your drains, use baking soda and vinegar for your cleaning projects. Baking soda has countless uses and neither vinegar nor baking soda will hurt the environment. This way you can avoid all the bottles of cleaners and cans you use.

11. Composting

Composting is easy and natural process that takes remains of plants and kitchen waste and turns it into nutrient rich food which help your plants grow. Compost is organic materials that has been collected together and decomposed. Composting helps you recycle your kitchen waste and reduces the amount of that is sent to landfills that proves safe for the environment.

12. Reuse

Take an old shopping bag with you while going out for shopping. An old shopping bag can replace hundreds of plastic bags that will end up in landfills. Use empty wine or beer bottles into lamps, oil and vinegar dispensers or send them to recycling centers as few of them may be recycled.

13. Buy rechargeable batteries

Rechargeable batteries will save you money in the long run and keep disposable batteries out of landfills. Disposable batteries can prove very harmful for the environment as chemicals inside the batteries can leak.

14. Buy Items Packaged in Recycled Cartons

Buy products that are packaged in recycled cartons and reuse those cartons. Similarly, old newspapers make great packaging material. This helps to promote recycling.

15. Get Involved

…get involved. Visit pro-recycling sites and talk to others in your community about the benefits of reducing solid waste. Family, friends, neighbors, anyone. If you start to make a difference, maybe others will follow in your footsteps.


Six benefits of Bokashi

Pickle your food scraps

If you’re looking for an easy, non-stinky way to manage your food scraps then Bokashi may be the answer.

Developed in Japan, Bokashi can be translated as ‘fermented organic matter’. Food waste is added to an air tight bucket with an inoculent (which looks a little like sawdust) containing beneficial micro-organisms. This preserves the food waste like a pickle, and prevents odors; it also helps it to break down quickly once added to compost or soil.

Fish and meat, cooked foods, bread, pasta and rice, cheese and eggs can all go in a Bokashi as can fruit and vegetable scraps.

The Bokashi system is made up of two buckets which fit tightly inside each other. The top bucket has holes in the bottom of it. Every time you put the food into this bucket add a tablespoon of inoculent and squash it all down. A small amount of liquid will drain into the bottom bucket and this is an excellent fertiliser.

Top tip: Like the idea of using Bokashi to take care of your food scraps but don’t have a garden? Why not jump on Neighbourly and see if anyone in your community is keen to take your Bokashi pickles for their garden?

Six benefits of Bokashi

  1. Once dug into the soil or added to your compost it helps your food waste break down rapidly releasing the nutrients within 2-4 weeks.
  2. Little space needed as fermentation takes place in the bucket, so ideal for offices, apartments and schools.
  3. Buckets can be kept indoors as the smell is inoffensive and the buckets are air-tight.
  4. It keeps food waste out of the landfill and it improves helpful microbial activity in the soil.
  5. If buried deeply enough, rats or dogs will not be attracted to the Bokashi when it’s added to your garden.
  6. Meat, fish and odorous food waste (not recommended in other composting systems) can be processed with Bokashi.

For more information on Bokashi – or to find a free workshop near you in Auckland – click here