European project ECOFLEXOBAG instructs about how manufacture more sustainable plastic bags
A greater awareness about the necessity of preserving the environment has caused that manufacturers and distribution companies are taking measures to bring to market more sustainable commercial bags.
There are different kinds of materials, inks, designs and processes that can lead to bags with lower environmental impact. Because of this reason was born the European project ECOFLEXOBAG (LIFE11 ENV/ES/646), funded by the programme LIFE+ 2011, whose objective has been the development and demonstration of best practices for the design and production of more sustainable commercial plastic bags.
This project, that ends on March, has been developed by a European consortium formed by the Technological Institute of Optics, Color and Image, AIDO (Spain); the Plastics Technology Centre, AIMPLAS (Spain); Dienstencentrum (the Netherlands); Enviros (Czech Republic) and VTT (Finland). Besides, it has been supported by different companies related to the production of commercial bags, such as Plásticos Romero, Plasbel, Oerlemans Plastics, Amerplast, Van Gillern, Tasky and V-Plast and Windmuller & Horscher. Consum supermarkets have also acted as loudspeaker of the project to consumers, showing them at first hand the improvements derived from the project.
ECOFLEXOBAG has provided recommendations and tools to deal with the following aspects:
- Design of sustainable commercial plastic bags (Eco-design).
- Application of Best Available Techniques (BAT) for printing sustainable commercial plastic bags.
- Control of the efficient and sustainable production.
The recommendations and tools developed have been included in an online tool in order to make easy their implementation in companies. This tool will be available from the project’s website (www.ecoflexobag.com).
The development of this project has allowed reaching some conclusions that can help both manufacturers and consumers to reduce the environmental impact of commercial plastic bags.
The results of the project have proved that an efficient incorporation of environmental criteria into the design and production allows to obtain more sustainable bags, not only from the environment point of view but also from the economic one.
- Companies from the commercial bags’ sector (manufacturers and printers) have different technical options to increase the sustainability of their products. These options have to be evaluated and adapted in each case considering all the levels of the company, from management to productive area.
- Ecodesign of bags, as a methodological approach, represents an important starting point to reduce their environmental impact. Companies can define from the beginning stages the improvements that can be applied in a technically adequate way, by generating environmental benefits at the same time that truly sustainable products are developed and competitive advantages are created.
- Through an appropriate selection of alternatives, plastic bags can be produced and used in a more sustainable way. The use of recycled and compostable plastics allows to increase sustainability in bags.
- Reusable bags are a good choice from the environmental point of view if they are used the number of times for which they are designed. As an example, Spanish certified reusable bags are designed to be used, at least, 15 times.
- The use of water-based inks is a good alternative to solvent-based inks if companies do not have an adequate system for treatment of emissions. It is possible the production of any kind of commercial plastic bag with water-based inks, keeping an acceptable quality and productivity level.
- Measures to print with water-based inks can be accessible even for small enterprises, without needing huge investments. It only has to make little adjustments in the printing process, depending on the specific requirements of the product.
- The quality of each bag must be adapted to its use. The design must not exaggerate the specifications of the bags, such as size, thickness or printing quality. This can unnecessarily affect to environmental and economic costs.
- Consumers have the last word about the election of the bag, its quality and its proper management. Plastic bags can and must be recycled, but is necessary that consumers put them on the plastic recycling bins (yellow bins in Spain). In the case of compostable bags, these have to be put on organic waste bins, because they require a specific waste management. Compostable bags never have to be thrown with conventional plastic wastes because the recycling chain will not be effective.
Consum bags, respectful with the environment
Consum has joined this project and nowadays their bags have the following environmental benefits:
- The plastic material is polyethylene, which can be recycled if the bags are put on plastic recycling bins at the end of its useful life.
- Bags are printed with water-based inks, which reduces the risks to worker’s health and the environmental impact related to organic solvents.
Bags are certified with AENOR label as reusable, so they have been manufactured saving energy and water. Moreover, they can be used, at least, 15 times and then have to be put in plastic recycling bins in order to recycle them.