We’ve all seen the devastating images of beaches covered with rubbish, not an inch of sand or sea visible. A spotlight is being shone on waste, particularly plastic waste, and its effect on the environment. Here at Structural Adhesives Ltd we are actively researching ways in which we can reduce our plastic waste.
We have focused on considering how our adhesives are packaged in the future. It is common practice for adhesives and sealants to be packed in cartridges or buckets which are generally made of plastic. Suitable alternatives to plastic are not easy to come by for products such as ours. Any packaging we use must be impervious to the chemicals in our products, which narrows down the choices significantly. Furthermore, as many of our products are liquid, materials such as fibre-based packaging are not suitable. Some of our adhesives are already packaged in tin or steel pails, and switching over to packaging more adhesives in this way is a possibility. However, it is heavily debated whether they would be any better for the environment than plastic buckets. For example, plastic is much lighter than metal and leads to better fuel economy. Although there is no obvious replacement at present, research and development is being carried out all over the world to find more alternatives to plastic so I’m keeping my ear to the ground.
If we were to continue using plastic packaging there are still ways to reduce the impact of said packaging on the environment. One such way of doing this is using plastic packaging that is produced from recycled material. As part of the chemical industry the packaging we use must meet certain standards. A quick internet search for adhesive cartridges made from recycled plastic resulted in no relevant hits but this doesn’t mean we’ll give up. Using plastic packaging that can be easily recycled at the end of its use is another option we are investigating for decreasing plastic waste. At present the UK only recycles approximately 30% of its plastic waste. The primary challenge for recycling in the UK is sorting plastic by type so that it can be recycled effectively which can be a costly process. The colour of plastic often presents an issue for recycling as well because machines at some recycling plants cannot recognise black or dark items. Thankfully solutions are immerging for these problems and the rate of plastic recycling in the UK is set to increase in the near future.
Recycling of plastic doesn’t necessarily have to mean producing new plastic products from the old ones, plastic can be converted into oil. If the same oil could then be converted into materials to produce our adhesives, we would really be on to something. A truly circular economy.