Sunday, July 22, 2012

How It's Made + New Life

These series of videos are interesting and useful for differing reasons.

Both are useful and informative in presenting information about presenting information firstly about how certain types of packaging are made (How It's Made) and how those types of packaging material are processed at their end of life (well, in Germany, anyway.)

I was already mostly aware of the techniques and methods presented by the videos of How It's Made, in the sense that I knew how these things were made. As part of the videos though there were more accurate statistics presented as to just what percentages of packaging products are made up of recycled materials, and correspondingly how high or low these percentages are. Some items are made up of high percentages of recycled material, while some are disappointingly and surprisingly low. For instance, according to the video aluminium can be recycled to very near to 100% efficiency and no losses; but polyethylene terephthalate bottles can only contain just 10% recycled material!

I also found interesting the efficiency in terms of wall thickness of aluminium materials - aluminium products such as cans and tubes have very fine wall thicknesses, which is advantageous for a myriad of reasons when we think about it - reduced emissions and energy input in transport, weight reduction, and reduced space taken up in post-life when the product is crushed and transported to recycling plants.

It is somewhat disconcerting however the huge amount of operations by automated machinery on some packaging items, however - an instance is the creation of the top edge of soft drink aluminium cans requiring 11 distinct manufacturing operation steps to create just a rounded rim! Each step of this would require additional energy input!

There are some logical fallacies some of the videos present that I think may be problematic - they use terms like "green" and "ecofriendly" but don't really define in what sense they actually ARE ecofriendly or green. They claim glass to be ecofriendly because it does not require deforestation, but from my own research glass takes approximately somewhere between 500 up to 1,000,000 years to biodegrade/decompose. At either of these times that is a long time that glass will be taking up space in landfill or in the natural environment. That alone is definitely not ecofriendly! However in glass's defence, it can utilise 90% recycled material and has a lower melt temperature than virgin glass, saving energy.

I still have questions about some parts of production, such as the environmental effects of adhesives in cardboard and paints used on almost all of the packaging items. These questions were not answered in the videos.

New Life is very short and only covers Germany's recycling program which admittedly looks quite efficient and cost effective. The thing I found most interesting and insightful was the method and precision of material sorting, seperation and categorisation of recyclable materials. This is important because impurities in recyclable materials can damage the final product of the recycling process and affect its ability to be reused in new products.

In addition, the New Life series also made light of interesting facts, such as Germany's aluminium packaging products being made from recycled material; and 2.7 million tonnes of waste glass being recycled every year.
According to this video too, recycled aluminium only uses 5% of the original energy of production.

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