United Nations Acts to Promote Greater Use of Recycled Plastics in Industrial Packagings

On December 5, 2019, the United Nations Sub-Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods voted unanimously to allow the use of recycled plastics materials in the manufacture of new intermediate bulk container (IBC) inner receptacles.  If the proposal is approved by the full Committee of Experts in December 2020, it would open a substantial new market for millions of pounds of recycled high-density polyethylene (HDPE) material.

Photo above: L-R: Paul Rankin, ICCR; Torben Knoess, ICPP

The idea was proposed to the UN in several papers authored by the International Confederation of Plastics Packaging Manufacturers (ICPP), which represents the German plastics industry, and the International Confederation of Container Reconditioners (ICPP), which represents the global industrial container reconditioning industry.  Nearly two decades ago, the same two groups co-sponsored a successful effort in the UN to authorize the use of recycled HDPE in the manufacture new plastic drums.

According to statistics compiled by the North American and European reconditioning associations, these two markets account for about 10 million new IBC inner receptacles annually.  Assuming about 40 pounds as the average weight of a typical IBC inner receptacle, this means as much as 400 million pounds of recycled HDPE could be used in the manufacture of these containers.

Safety is a vital matter, since many of these containers will be used to transport dangerous goods (i.e. hazardous materials).  Several decades of transportation incident statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Transportation make clear that plastic drums made wholly or partially from recycled HDPE are exceptionally safe.

According to ICCR President Paul Rankin, “The verdict is in: Since 2011, over 6 million 55-gallon plastic drums have been produced in the U.S. using recycled HDPE resin, and we know that these drums perform as well as those made from virgin resin.”  Based on this evidence, the industry is convinced that IBC inner receptacles made from recycled HDPE will be safe in the transportation environment, concluded Rankin.

The two organizations told the Sub-Committee that the proposals not only represent an important technical advancement in plastics packaging manufacture, they embody a step forward in efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of the global packaging industry.  “Tens of millions of industrial packagings are reused every year in every part of the world,” says ICCR Chairman Rankin.  With this next step, drums and IBCs that are no longer fit for service can be turned back into clean resin and used to create yet another reusable packaging.  “This process is literally the embodiment of the Circular Economy,” noted Rankin.

“ICCR thanks ICPP for the opportunity to again work jointly on a very important global transportation and environmental issue,” said Rankin.

The ICPP/ICCR proposal will be voted on by the Committee of Experts next December.  Copies can be found here and here.

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