Vitaline bottles: why PET plastic?
At Vitaline, we do our best to be worthy of the trust you place in us through the rigor of our work and the quality of our products. It is for the same reason that we put a lot of effort into the quality of our packaging and that we are concerned about their environmental impact. If our Vitaline bottles are made of 50% recycled and 100% recyclable PET plastic, it is not by chance: it is the result of a studied and rational choice. Although plastic is often taken for a not very responsible solution, its alternatives are also debatable…
NB: in this article, we only talk about PET plastic because it is the option that seems to be relevant among the different types of plastic for a bottle.
In summary, at the end of our study, we find :
1. The degradation time of waste, the main default of plastic
On average, a PET plastic discarded in nature takes between 100 and 1,000 years to degrade. The number of bottles we see on the surface of the oceans on social medias makes it evident. However, an aluminum can or a glass bottle takes much longer to degrade: 200 years for aluminum and 4,000 years for glass1.
There is a visibility bias on social media that leads us to believe that plastic is the most problematic material. Notably, a real question we need to ask ourselves is: where does this waste we see in the oceans come from? In fact, 60% of it comes from Southeast Asia2. In Europe and particularly in France, plastic rarely ends up in nature, it is most often sorted, then recycled, which leaves it little chance of ending up in the ocean after its use.
More generally, PET plastic is far from perfect, but its alternatives are not so good either. We remain humble about it and continue to work on it, but it's a tough trade-off.
2.Biodegradation 2/2 : impact of degraded materials
Biodegradation 2/2 : impact of degraded materials
The degradation of a waste in nature is never complete: it leads for each material to the production of micro-elements, harmful for the environment.
Plastic never dissipates completely. It creates microplastics, invisible to the naked eye, harmful to ecosystems3. In addition to entering the food chain, they release chemical substances for populations and fauna.
If the conditions of fragmentation are not all gathered, biodegradable plastic can also produce microplastics. With the same consequences on the food chain as PET plastic, it produces CO2 and methane4.
Also, there are many types of biodegradable plastics whose standards are not yet well established, it is quite uneven, as they depend on the size, the type of biodegradable plastic ... Some would seem desirable but others remain controversial.
When it ends up in nature, it is particularly long to degrade (glass is an inert material, that is to say that it does not react to anything chemically), and even so, there are always traces of this material. The cases are very varied, we have difficulties in finding an exhaustive and quantitative study, but to illustrate: in nature, a piece of glass can start a fire. Moreover, it can be very harmful for animals: a fragment of glass will take several years to polish, which leaves time for an animal to cut itself or to ingest it5.
In addition to having a very long degradation time (aluminum is also inert), the can is covered with inks that have a very important impact on waterways and soil quality.
Isolated, cardboard could be the least harmful alternative. But in certain forms called multi-layered (eg: tetra pak cartons) of plastic and aluminum, it causes the same consequences in nature as those mentioned above6.
3. Comparison of the different carbon footprints: the advantage of PET
If at Vitaline, we prefer the PET plastic bottle to other alternatives, it is for its very low carbon impact: see graph below. By life cycle, we mean the stages from the extraction of the raw materials necessary to manufacture the container, to their transport, their transformation, to the use of the container and its collection in a sorting center.
NB: there is a significant diversity on the scope taken into account on the life cycle by the various studies: some are restricted to the production, others go up to "the forest which could have grown instead of the corn field for the bioplastic made out of cornstarch"... idem downstream, big differences between the studies, some stop at the dustbin, others go up to the "return to the earth"... Difficult to compare comparable figures, so we did our best here.
4. Other environmental impacts
There are many environmental impacts. We list some of them below, they do not claim to be exhaustive.
Raw material and ecosystems at the place of extraction
To be manufactured, glass needs sand extracted from the sea bed or from river courses, which causes important damages of various kinds. In particular, the extraction of this sand removes microorganisms from the bottom of the food chain and disturbs the ecosystems.
The production of plastic and glass requires cleaning with water. And glass is much more water consuming than plastic: for a plastic bottle, it will take 0.2l to clean and produce it, against about 1l for the glass bottle8.
Biodegradable plastic: very little composted and problematic in the recycling channels
You may not know it, but biodegradable plastic is not recycled, it is only composted9. And it poses significant problems when it enters the recycling lines.
Also, we consider that the energy used to manufacture it is "lost", since it is used in a single cycle.
Finally, without proper certification, biodegradable plastic may be composed of chemicals that are harmful to the environment, since it will be redirected to landfills or incinerated, rather than recycled10.
5. Recycling of different materials: another advantage of PET
Here, the "technical" recycling potential is evaluated. That is to say, without taking into account the economic weight, we try to evaluate roughly the proportion of material that can be recycled. Because it is never 100%, it is difficult to have precise figures or comparable studies on the different materials.
Nevertheless, we describe you our synthesis at this stage, which allows us to roughen up.
50% recycled and 100% recyclable PET plastic, Vitaline’s choice
Easy to use, our bottles are also easy to recycle: just throw them in the recycling bin (because they are 100% recyclable)!
Even if it is infinitely recyclable, glass must be melted at more than 1,300°C, compared to an average of 180°C for plastic11, which is very energy consuming.
Also infinitely recyclable, aluminum is very little reused: only 50% of cans are sorted and recycled, and they constitute, for example, 40 to 60% of the pollution present on the roadside12.
As for the metal gourd, it cannot be recycled9. The traditional bins and sorting centers are not adapted to the transformation of this material. The bottle is also extremely energy and resource intensive: the production of aluminium requires large quantities of water and energy13.
Like metal, biodegradable plastic is not recyclable14. Once thrown in the trash, biodegradable plastic causes considerable problems at the landfill when mixed with recyclable plastic, which is difficult to distinguish. In addition, if the factors for decomposition of the material are not all gathered, the process of fragmentation of the plastic will be slowed down, causing the emission of methane, a greenhouse gas much more aggressive than CO2.
Multi-layer cardboard (Tetra Pak type)
As far as cardboard cartons are concerned, it is the "multi-layer" system that causes a problem: this material is made out of cardboard and layers of plastic and/or aluminum glued together, which makes the sorting and recycling of this packaging more complex15... and generally impossible.
6. PET for a convenient, ready-to-eat bottle
An "out of home" and ready to eat format
In addition to focusing on quality nutrition, we want to offer a nomad formula for our products. They are suitable for "out-of-home" use and we have a significant demand for this use.
To keep this nomadic format, we cannot adopt Tetra Pak type cartons or cans: they do not reseal and are not transparent. It is almost impossible to rehydrate and mix Vitaline.
A better preservation
PET plastic is also a material that offers optimal conservation to our products: it is impermeable to air. This is not the case with biodegradable plastic, which would reduce the shelf life of our powders from 10 months to about 2 months (a figure that varies depending on the type of biodegradable plastic).
In the end…
If we have chosen PET plastic packaging for our nomad formats, it is because it seems to be the most responsible solution, despite appearances. With a very low carbon footprint, the 50% recycled and 100% recyclable PET plastic we use is what we feel is the best compromise for a mobile and ready to eat format.
To notice, apart from the bottle format, our bag formats have a very measured environmental impact... don't hesitate!
This is a subject that is important to us, we would be happy to discuss it with you on our forum!.