Wicked story: The life and times of PLASTICS
By Eric Schaffner, Founder of ZeLoop: Circular Economy Reward Platform
You spent years working in the packaging industry for one of the leading service solution provider, for beverage, food, home and personal care products packaging. When you put all aspects together, every type of material has pros and cons. Can you give us some insights and facts about different materials, such as PET, can, glass and others?
It is interesting that the industry concerned by a specific material will always find a measure the way they can demonstrate that the material they are using is the best. And they are often right, this is depending of the use, the way it can be recycle, how far is the extraction of resources to the manufacturing and distribution. The final judge is the LCA (life cycle analyse that measure the impact from cradle to cradle). There are surprises to the common ideas of consumers.
They may thing glass the best for bottles but it is so heavy and requires very high temperature to melt that as soon transport is involved, all the benefits are gone. Aluminium is light but extraction of the metal is highly polluting. When ends in nature, paint and varnish would be polluting too. PET is the best plastic of all kind, easy to recycle, light and melt at fairly low temperature. However, if discarded in nature, it will not disappear quickly and we are witnessing a global waste management crisis.
Bottom line, this is not about the material but about how we dispose of. Any human product shouldn’t end in nature.
So taking into consideration what you just mention, is PET just not being that bad solution in terms of the CO2 emission comparing to other materials? What is your point of view?
With latest recycling technologies like monomer recycling or chemical recycling, PET can be reused endlessly without loss of property, because it is light and its melting point six times lower than glass it can be the winner in terms of carbon footprint… providing nobody dump it in nature. And because it is so cheap, sadly many people are careless.
Did you see in your career demand for packaging material reduction across supply chain? Is this possible?
Yes, this is on the agenda for all packaging producer. Less material means less cost. On bottles, plastic ones are the one we witnessed the main reduction over the last 20 years. A 0,5l water bottle used to be around 13g, now 6-7g is common with not so much loss of functionality. A glass bottle or an aluminium can has not lost so much during the same period. On beverage cartons, we see more trends to reduce the complexity of the packaging with reduction of layers.
What about reusable / circular packaging solutions? Can you name any at your knowledge or experience?
Glass is circular for long with a preferred path on collecting, grinding, melting. PET is more and more recycled with regulations like- the Single Use directive in Europe- since January 2021. This directive imposes all producers to integrate at least 25% of recycled PET (rPET) in their production by 2025 and 30% by 2030.
What are your thoughts about the raise of new materials and innovations to replace single use plastics and other traditional materials?
Replacing plastics made from non-renewable resources by renewable ones is good providing the production mode doesn’t take land to produce human food. But if we don’t change the habit of people we will only change the type of material that is polluting our planet. So the use of single-use or multiple-use renewable plastic should not become a “permit to litter”.
Q: In 2019, you founded a block-chain app, called ZeLoop that is a great and “fun” solution for raising awareness about plastic pollution and diverting waste from landfill. It rewards citizens for their eco-friendly actions with a focus on collecting used plastic bottles. How was this idea born?
The idea results from a combination of situations. Coming from the packaging industry, I could see the growing concern about plastic pollution and pollution in general. I wanted to do something about it. I invested in the first start-up of my partners, where the block chain reward engine was developed, which we use for ZeLoop platform now. Sharing the same values and willingness to help changing habits in society, health and sustainability, we wanted to do more. Two years later, sensitive to the growing issue of plastic pollution, we decided to found ZeLoop, an innovative Circular Economy Rewarding Platform to make our planet healthier. The first mobile APP was released a year later in July 2020 worldwide to incentivise consumers for not littering plastic bottles.