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Sustainability 101: What are virgin plastics?

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Sustainability 101: What are virgin plastics?

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Do you are feeling a bit misplaced when folks seek advice from sure environmental sustainability subjects and aren’t positive the place to start out on the subject of studying extra? Sustainability 101 is a weblog sequence you can flip to for details about completely different environmental phrases which will come up at work, throughout discussions with associates, and even at your annual vacation gathering.

This weblog was written by Nicole Kenney, Program Supervisor, Sustainable Packaging, and Drew Phan, Packaging Engineer.


A woman and a man's photos, side by side
Nicole Kenney and Drew Phan

As a part of trendy life, many of the merchandise we purchase are available plastic packaging. Once you purchase one thing with plastic packaging, you’re most likely not conscious of what sort of plastic it’s. There’s recycled plastic, which is when recycled bits of plastic are reprocessed into plastic merchandise. And there may be additionally virgin plastic, also referred to as virgin plastic polymers, which in response to a 2022 report, means “newly manufactured resin produced from petrochemical or biomass feedstock used because the uncooked materials for the manufacture of plastic merchandise and which has by no means been used or processed earlier than.”

Primarily, virgin plastics are manufactured from beforehand unused supplies, which suggests they will take an even bigger toll on the atmosphere.

For the reason that Fifties, plastic has overrun the packaging trade by offering cheap and lightweight safety for merchandise. Plastic packaging is extensively accessible within the type of standard foams, baggage, and clamshell trays. Over the a long time, this has led to a worldwide construct up of plastic air pollution, since these supplies will not be at all times managed appropriately at finish of use. Though plastics are present in all main municipal stable waste classes, in america the containers and packaging class had probably the most plastic tonnage at over 14.5 million tons in 2018 alone.1  That’s equal to the load of over 300,000 grey whales. The sheer quantity of waste has led to rising consciousness across the impression of packaging and elevated buyer demand for sustainable alternate options.

On the similar time, a product has little to no worth if it arrives broken. Cisco’s Packaging Engineering division thinks holistically on the subject of designing Cisco’s packaging with sustainability in thoughts. We’re rethinking product packaging and are sourcing various supplies to plastic. Our technique contains eliminating plastic baggage in our packaging wherever doable.  For example, we have now eliminated plastic packaging from our energy cords, leading to a discount of over 10 million baggage yearly. Work is underway to use the identical efforts throughout further part classes.

Design for Recyclability

The place we can’t fully take away plastic packaging, we should select alternate options with a smaller environmental footprint.  This implies choosing recyclable supplies which might be simply separated and extensively accepted in curbside recycling streams. As soon as these supplies are recovered, they are often damaged down and re-processed into the feedstock for the subsequent spherical of packaging.

For example, our plastic thermoform cushions are product of the identical high-density polyethylene materials as milk jugs and will be accepted in the identical plastic curbside recycling stream.* In response to the U.S. Environmental Safety Company (EPA), HDPE (Excessive Density Polyethylene) is without doubt one of the most continuously recycled plastics in america.1

Within the case of plastic baggage in our accent kits, efforts are underway to make the most of fiber-based paper envelopes and corrugated sleeves which might be recyclable. Paper is presently one of the best various as a result of it’s the most recycled materials in america.2 

Select Recycled Supplies

Recycled supplies are completely different from recyclable supplies in that recycled packaging has a share of fabric inputs which have already been damaged down and reprocessed after use. By incorporating extra recycled content material into our packaging, we preserve priceless sources and scale back greenhouse gasoline emissions in comparison with manufacturing virgin supplies. Selecting recycled supplies additionally promotes recycling by rising the demand for recycled supplies.

We’re focusing our vitality on recyclable and recycled plastics as a result of, sadly, biodegradable and compostable plastics aren’t properly fitted to use within the electronics trade.

Biodegradable and bio-based are phrases used loosely to explain plastics comprised of plant sources. The largest concern for these supplies is that it isn’t at all times clear how lengthy it’ll take for these plastics to interrupt down. Since they’re typically not licensed compostable, they will probably leech toxins into the soil.3

On the subject of compostable packaging, the U.S. Federal Commerce Fee (FTC) Inexperienced Guides clarify that this packaging have to be licensed with “competent and dependable scientific proof that every one supplies within the product or bundle will break down into — or change into a part of — usable compost safely and in about the identical time because the supplies with which it’s composted.”4 That is good for natural waste like meals scraps, grass clippings and yard waste. However presently, the shorter shelf lifetime of compostable packaging makes it higher fitted to meals packaging than the electronics trade.

A round technique

 We’re evolving to a extra round mannequin wherein we scale back the sources we eat and the waste we generate. With this strategy, we attempt to prioritize supplies with recycled content material; design merchandise for useful resource effectivity; and facilitate restore, remanufacturing, and recycling to increase product life. That’s why we have now a objective for 100% of recent Cisco merchandise and packaging to include Round Design Rules by fiscal yr 2025.** Utilizing recycled supplies is an instance of certainly one of our rules.

By pursuing our objective to include Round Design Rules, we are able to use much less virgin materials, and eat much less materials general. Lowering our packaging carbon footprint will drive progress in direction of Cisco’s packaging objectives.5

As we take the required steps to embed Round Design Rules into our packaging portfolio, you will need to do not forget that each selection has tradeoffs — there isn’t any one-size suits all answer. Attaining circularity is an iterative course of — what’s finest for at the moment will not be what’s finest for tomorrow. But when we stay agile and attempt for achievement, we are able to proceed to maneuver in a constructive path in direction of a round economic system.

Comply with our Packaging Engineering workforce’s journey as we proceed to evolve our round packaging portfolio.6

 


* Verify your native municipality for more information.

** In fiscal yr 2022, we had performed a mushy launch of a brand new scoring software that evaluates circularity in merchandise and packaging. We used the mushy launch to guage 13% of recent merchandise and packaging, and located that 33% of them efficiently met our round design standards. That is equal to 4% of whole new merchandise and packaging launched in fiscal yr 2022 assembly round design standards. In early fiscal 2023, the scoring software was formally launched throughout all enterprise items, and we anticipate the universe of recent merchandise and packaging evaluated to extend in fiscal 2023.

References

1 Plastics: Materials-Particular Information | US EPA

2 Paper and Paperboard: Materials-Particular Information | US EPA

3 Public_SPC-Place-Statement_Biodegradable-Packaging.pdf (sustainablepackaging.org)

4 Environmental Claims: Abstract of the Inexperienced Guides | Federal Commerce Fee (ftc.gov)

5 Environmental Targets – Cisco ESG Hub

6 Cisco Sustainable Packaging – Cisco

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