How valuable is plastic? The transparent material is more than just garbage. I learned this and much more at an event in Berlin recently, where sisterMAG and ecover invited me to the first „Rubbish Café“ in Germany. This small café in central Berlin invited us in with an interesting offer: exchange your piece of plastic for a hot drink. Through doing this, ecover wants to draw attention to the excess of plastic waste and demonstrate the reusability of this recyclable material.
The Rubbish Café
I love events that are not primarily about a product, but about the idea behind it. Ecover has taken on the important mission to mitigate the global plastic problem. My last ecover event took me to Timmendorfer Strand, where I learned about ocean pollution. You can read the exciting article here.
Upon entering the „Rubbbish Café“ named Hermann Eicke, I immediately noticed the recycling station. Ecover placed it there to demonstrate the recycling process of plastic. There is also a washing up liquid station in the café where you canrefill your empty bottles in the varieties Aloe Vera and Lemon and therefore saving you money and packaging.
After a short welcome by event organizer sisterMAG, the recycling station was explained to us in detail. The piece of plastic I’d brought with me had the number 5 on it, meaning that it was Polypropylene, and was therefore allowed to be placed in a special container to be recycled. We could then throw a piece of plastic into a plastic-grinding machine and watch it mill the plastic into fine pieces. Every other type of plastic had to be placed in a second container as they could’t be recycled at that station. Through this process I not only learned about plastic recycling, but also about the different varieties of plastic and the packaging dilemma that you will learn more about later on in this post.
Expert Discussion in the sisterMAG office
After a brief refreshment including cold-pressed juices and superfoods, we continued to the sisterMAG office where a panel discussion took place. The panel group included Norbert Voll from the organisation Grüner Punkt, DM Managing Director Sebastian Bayer, ecover Innovation Strategy & Sustainability Manager Tom Domen and Nora Sophie Griefahn from the organization Cradle to Cradle. Led by a host posing key questions on the topic, the panelists discussed packaging for two hours with the audience. Although I had already dealt with the topics of plastic and recycling in the past, I learned a lot of new things.
For example, did you know that packages with plastic windows (such as pasta packs) still belong in the paper bin? Or that the Green Dot (Grüner Punkt in Germany) on packaging actually says nothing about whether or not it is recyclable?
In addition, I learned something very important: Photos do not belong in the paper waste! Because of their special coating, they cannot be recycled in the same bin as paper. Furthermore, the following items are not to be put in the paper waste (in Germany):
- Greaseproof papers
- Carbon and carbonless papers
- Pizza boxes: only when they are coated and hard to tear (then in the yellow bag)
- Dirty or wet papers
- Waxed papers
- Sanitary papers, diapers, paper handkerchiefs
- Photo papers
- Wallpaper (also new roles)
- Stickers, backing paper from stickers, labels etc.
More info for Germany: Grüner Punkt
More facts about packaging:
- Plastic not only has disadvantages but also many advantages. For instance, the burning of plastic creates new energy that can be reused. Plastic is also a sturdy material that does not allow moisture to pass through it and is therefore extremely useful, especially in the food industry. Cardboard is not necessarily more environmentally friendly but being able to recycle a material is what makes it valuable.
- Did you know that 2/3 of the microplastic in the environment comes from car tires? The wearing-down of car tyres is virtually unavoidable and difficult to eradicate. Microplastic is invisible to the human eye and can pass through the air
into our lungs and organs where, put bluntly, it causes a slow death. Avoiding microplastics in the environment is therefore a huge but incredibly important challenge. Maybe the industry will soon be able to produce environmentally friendly tires?
- Clothing made of plastics such as polyester and acrylic is another item that contains microplastics. In order to avoid the pollution caused by syntethic clothing, this should either be completely avoided or always washed in a special washing bag in the washing machine. These types of washing bags can be purchased online or in sustainable, eco-friendly stores.
IMPORTANT: Always remove the aluminum lids from cans completely! Both are recycled separately and separated automatically. Both are recycled but must go through different recycling processes. Therefore, when filling your plastic waste, be careful to handle metal parts separately. Plastic cups with aluminium lids inside are often found in recycling plants. A simple but very important trick!
Ecover is one of Europe’s largest manufacturers of ecological detergents and cleaners. cleaners. The company was founded in Belgium 39 years ago and launched one of the first phosphate-free detergents on the market. Ecover has now developed many plant-based detergents and cleaners based on mineral ingredients that help consumers clean their homes effectively and with the least impact on the environment. Today, ecover products are available in around 40 countries and many different stores, for example in DM (a German drugstore).
At the beginning of the year, a new bottle type was launched for ecover’s dishwashing detergent, which is is made completely from recycled materials and can be easily recycled again after using it. This recycled plastic has a carbon footprint that is 70% smaller than newly-created plastic. Their ambition is to completely convert the entire product range to recycled plastic by 2020, thereby significantly reducing the use of newly-created plastic. As well as this, other alternatives are being tested by ecover
to reduce packaging waste.
The plastic problem
Plastic waste is a topic we are all concerned with in today’s society. Ecover is convinced that the use of plastic for disposable purposes is fundamentally wrong. The company wants to raise awareness about plastics and provide a platform for those who want to learn more about recycling.
„We need to rethink plastics in general: how we make, use, reuse and recycle it. We believe that our industry needs to take more responsibility because it is systematically wrong to use a durable material like plastic only once. The Rubbish Café is part of our Clean World Revolution. This is how we show the world the incredible value of bringing plastic back into the recycling chain and thereby closing the circle of raw materials. Only in this way can we minimize the mass of new plastics. „
– Tom Domen, Longterm Innovation Manager of ecover.
The general problem: We can’t avoid the fact that cleaning products get into the water. Therefore, it only makes sense to use plant-based ingredients that can be easily broken down again. But Ecover would like to go further: the ideal would be packaging that not only has a neutral footprint, but even a positive effect on the environment. With this attitude, the company is definitely one of the pioneers in the market!
The Packaging Dilemma
Plastic is not biodegradable, but this property is also the biggest advantage of the material. Especially in the food industry, the transparent material is almost like no other. After all, the environmental footprint would be greater if all the plastic-packed food were to go bad prematurely. An eco-friendlier material or proper recycling on the consumer’s end would be the solution here.
The challenge: everyone has to be involved. Packaging should be manufactured in a way that it can be recycled. This is where the packaging manufacturers play a central role. The design must be able to keep the valuable substance in circulation. A packaging that can not be recycled is thus a dead end. However, there are currently no clear laws or regulations in Germany on how to produce plastics.
Free from BPA – but what else is in it?
We often read on products that they are free of something. But the mere declaration that a plastic, for example, contains no BPA, says nothing about the rest of its composition. The solution: plastic must have a recyclable design from the outset.
The German packaging law says: „Packaging that is recyclable should be promoted.“
This approach is progress, but there are still no fixed guidelines. The law is voluntary. A monetary approach would be a conceivable solution. What we can do until then: Pushing on the consumer side. We’ve got the power! Packagings marked with the green dot (in Germany) are definitely recyclable. Even better: packaging made of recycled plastic because these are not only recycled but can be reused or recycled again after use.
The eco revolution
Let’s hope that the industry will soon find solutions. Pioneers like ecover are only the beginning of the revolution. I’ve definitely changed my opinion on this issue: I now know that plastic is not fundamentally bad, but also has its positive sides. It is incredibly useful with its unique qualities for not only the food industry, but for the medicine industry too. Therefore, for example, some human lives have already been saved by plastics.
Fun Fact: Transparent plastic is easier to recycle than colored plastic. If colored plastic is recycled, grey packaging is produced by the mixing machine. For aesthetic reasons, that can’t always be used by cleaning agents.
Positive news: The sorting and cleaning of plastic has become much better in recent years. The recycled plastic now has a very good quality and therefore shows the beginning of an ecological revolution.
Thanks to the Internet and social media, we live in the age of customer empowerment and post-materialism. In economic terms,in rich markets where all needs are satisfied, the shortage hypothesis creates new needs that go beyond basic needs. Social and ecological needs will therefore also influence our consumer behaviour and the economy in the coming years.
And to put it simply, what you buy changes the world! Every euro, pound, dollar and so on that you spend acts as a vote. You can either support the existing materialism or financially support sustainable companies in their actions. Demand determines supply. That has always been an economic law and will continue to apply in the future.
The customer is king! We choose what kind of world we want to live in. Let’s push the eco-trend together and create a sustainable world for our children and grandchildren. Will you join me? 🙂
You are in Berlin? Come over:
The Rubbish Café:
Rubbish Café Ecover
Café Hermann Eicke