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Secondly, when we talk of disposable products in medical environments, we cannot forget that all products coming into contact with organic liquids are required to be treated as special waste.

For further detail regarding this topic, click here for an article dedicated to Disposable products in medical environments.

Paper cups

Using paper as a raw material for disposable cups may seem like a great idea. Indeed, paper cups are often presented and advertised as compostable, recyclable, or even “organic”. However, this is not borne out completely by real facts, because paper cups are never totally devoid of plastics. In fact, paper cups have an internal coating of plastic to prevent their liquid content coming into contact with the paper. This layer represents approximately 5% of their total weight, meaning a greater consumption of energy and CO2 emissions during the production phase. Furthermore, the process of separating paper and plastic is complex and especially costly and for this reason paper plastic cups, or plastic plates are often rejected by recycling plants and are directed to landfills.

Another element to consider is the European-wide regulatory standards that significantly restrict the use of recycled paper fibre in products designed to come into contact with food products (packaging, but also plates and glasses). Without taking into account that paper cups are twice as heavy as common plastic cups and therefore impact on the environment when transported.

Bio-plastic cups

We define bio-plastic cups as cups made from processing corn, bamboo or sugar cane. In theory, this solution seems the best because it offers an eco-compatible solution, similar to the traditional solution. The production and use of bio-plastics are more advantageous compared to conventional plastics, both from the point of view of energy requirements as well as from the point of view of greenhouse gas emissions. Nevertheless, this solution greatly impacts on the environment due to the use of fertilisers and chemical substances in the cultivation of the necessary renewable raw materials, as well as the use of land and water. Add to this the environmental impact in transporting the biomasses required in its production.

 Overall, biodegradable plastic (usually PLA) obtained from corn or sugar cane is 100 % compostable and can be completely disposed of without any residual waste. In reality, for this process to happen particular environmental conditions must be present. Realistically, if we throw a PLA cup into landfill we don’t recover anything: PLA must be disposed of in composting plants. The temperatures reached in domestic composting systems are insufficient to achieve decomposition. Furthermore, neither the consumer nor the recycling plants can readily differentiate between PLA and traditional plastic. This creates a problem, because if PLA enters into the PET recycling process, it can cause material contamination which can significantly reduce the recycling output. Finally, the mass use of these plastics encourages the spread of monoculture crops, dangerous for biodiversity and for the economic sustainability of the land, in addition to impacting directly on the cost of the raw materials used in food products.

Bio-plastics, therefore, can be an alternative material, but currently they seem to be ecologically unsustainable (if you consider that to grow 1 kg of corn to produce 22 to 28 bottles, 250 L of water is required) for disposable products which typically have very short life spans.

All plastics are not the same

The raw material used in the production of plastics is still crude oil. However, the plastic derived from this can contaminate the environment to a small or great extent depending on the amount of energy spent, on the production of CO2, as well as on the recycling potential, in addition to the hazardous nature of the substances released during its life-cycle. After biopolymers, polypropylene (PP) is considered one of the most eco-friendly plastic glass.

Polypropylene (PP): an eco-friendly plastic containers

Raw materials such as ethylene and propylene, considered relatively unharmful for the environment, are used to produce polypropylene (PP). Polypropylene, moreover, is completely devoid of chemical additives, for example plasticisers. Producing polypropylene (PP) cups is simple, energy-efficient and has a low impact in terms of carbon dioxide emissions. Furthermore, production residues can be re-processed, thereby minimising waste production.

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