Plastic resin derived from fossil fuels is used to manufacture all types of plastics – including plastic bottles and closures for packaging health and wellness products. However, many consumers want products packaged in more sustainable materials, and companies across many industries are noticing.
At Drug Plastics, we’ve made sustainability a top priority since 2015. We’ve been exploring recycled resins made from alternative materials – not from fossil fuels. We want to reduce our own carbon footprint, and help our customers do the same. That’s why we offer many options to improve sustainability and your carbon footprint – such as packaging made from more planet-friendly plastic resins.
But how do you know which resin option is right for your product – virgin resin from fossil fuels, virgin resin made by using molecules derived from post-consumer plastic waste (Advanced Recycling), or resin made from the Mechanical Recycling process? There are notable differences between them and much to consider when making a decision:
- What are the costs involved?
- Do recycled resins contain contaminants?
- How will it impact the environment?
It’s important to know the differences between them, how the different resins are manufactured, and the specific required regulations for the product that will go inside the bottle.
There are three types of resin that we use to manufacture plastic bottles:
Virgin HPDE, PET, and PP resins made from fossil fuels: These resins are made from natural resources, like oil and natural gas. They are very versatile and used for a variety of plastic packaging, and are well-suited for many types of health and wellness products. Traditional resins are easily recyclable; and, recycling helps to keep plastic out of landfills. Although recycling plastic made from virgin resin is on the rise, demand for virgin resin remains high due to strict regulatory requirements for certain products like medications, food and beverages, etc.
Virgin HDPE resin obtained through Advanced Recycling: Advanced Recycling is a game-changing process for sustainable packaging. Post-consumer waste is used along with several other feedstock sources to generate identical ethylene molecules that create new batches of a current specified virgin resin. In essence, virgin resin can be made by using molecules derived from post-consumer waste.
Post-Consumer Recycled (PCR) HDPE and PET resins: PCR resins are made from post-consumer recycled waste through Mechanical Recycling. In this process, plastic waste is sorted, washed, shredded, and heated back into plastic resin pellets to be used again. However, resin made using this process cannot be recycled indefinitely because the strength of the plastic degrades each time it is recycled.
Important considerations when selecting a resin
When you select traditional virgin resin made with traditional fossil fuels, price fluctuations in the petroleum industry can affect the cost of oil and natural gas. In addition, production costs to manufacture plastic bottles (like electricity for machinery, natural gas for flame treatment, etc.) can also increase costs.
The Advanced Recycling method of producing virgin resin can use fossil fuels, bio-based materials, or pyrolysis oil feedstocks. Each batch of resin can vary in the amount of ethylene molecules derived from these sources. Since plastic will be made from multiple feedstock sources, the feedstock content will be managed by an accounting technique known as Mass Balancing. Advanced Recycling is an infinite loop. Plastic recycled this way can be processed over and over again without any reduction in physical properties. This moves us to a Circular Economy, where we can continuously use plastic waste as raw materials for new plastic containers.
Post-consumer recycled (PCR) resin has been less expensive than virgin resin. But as consumer demand for more sustainable packaging has increased, the price for recycled alternatives has also increased, raising the cost. In addition, mechanically recycled plastics can only be processed a limited number of times, and does not ensure that the resulting resin will perform the same way as virgin resin.
We know that the purest resin is virgin resin. Plastic resin can be obtained through the traditional manufacturing method using fossil fuels or through the Advanced Recycling process described above.
Regulations in the pharmaceutical industry often require certain medications to be packaged in virgin plastic. If your product needs to meet specific regulatory and/or safety requirements, choose either type of virgin resin. One of the key benefits of Advanced Recycling is that it offers a solution to transform difficult-to-recycle plastic waste into molecular feedstocks that can be used to create virgin plastics. Those plastics include polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene, PET, and more.
Advanced Recycling creates ethylene molecules by transforming post-consumer plastic waste into a pyrolysis oil feedstock. Ethylene molecules obtained from multiple feedstocks are mixed together to create the final virgin plastic resin. The ethylene created through this process is indistinguishable from fossil or bio-based ethylene, since it has the exact same molecular composition (four hydrogen atoms bound to a pair of carbon atoms). Similarly, the polyethylene that can be produced from these molecules is identical to virgin resin created through fossil or bio-based ethylene.
Regulations for vitamins, supplements, and cannabis products are sometimes less stringent. Bottles produced with mechanically recycled resin, like our RecyclePak™ bottles made from PCR resin, offer an alternative to virgin resin. This process has limitations because it requires the raw materials used to be as clean and pure as possible. Moreover, not all plastic waste is compatible with Mechanical Recycling, and there is an increased risk that the recycled plastic resin may contain contaminants. Additionally, color may vary by batch because the original plastic pigmentation is not removed. And, as mentioned above, mechanically recycled resin can only be processed a limited number of times.
Consumers are more aware of the environment than ever before. They are increasingly concerned about conserving natural resources for future generations. Think about it…what if post-consumer plastic waste did not have to be placed in a landfill or incinerated? What if all the negative environmental impacts associated with the way we dispose of plastic waste could be reduced? There would be less contamination from leaching, less ingestion of micro-plastics, and less greenhouse gas emissions. Finite natural resources could be conserved on a larger scale.
Many companies are realizing that small changes in the materials they use to produce packaging can have a big impact on the environment. Let’s see how the different types of resin stack up.
Advanced Recycling: If regulations for your products require virgin plastic resin, Advanced Recycling is a great choice. As we’ve discussed, the Advanced Recycling process creates an infinite loop: plastic waste is processed over and over again without any reduction in physical properties. This is the definition of sustainable.
Mechanical Recycling: Plastic packaging made from mechanically recycled resin is also more planet-friendly. Bottles made from this process help to keep PCR waste from being incinerated or disposed of in landfills – keeping plastic waste to a minimum and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. FDA-approved PCR resins retain similar properties, performance, and application versatility to traditional virgin resins, so switching is easy. But this process only allows for plastic waste to be recycled a limited number of times before the physical properties of the plastic degrade past the point of usability, so it cannot be used infinitely.
Resin made from Fossil Fuels: Plastic packaging made from traditional virgin resin can be recycled easily in the current recycling stream, but it does not contain any recycled content. But recycling virgin plastics does help keep plastic waste out of landfills.
Need more information?
We know that designing plastic packaging for your product can be intimidating, and all the options can be overwhelming. That’s why our knowledgeable team invests the time to understand your product and what you need to package it properly. We can guide you through all of the choices and help you decide which resin type is right for your product.
Read more about the sustainable options from Drug Plastics that help to design more planet-friendly plastic packaging. Contact Us, for more information, or call 610-367-5000 to speak with someone immediately.