Neutral and easy to sanitize
To dig deeper
Why is a polypropylene plastic folder not a pollutant?
It's not the plastic itself that pollutes but the habits of inconsiderate people who throw plastic items in nature, so-called “disposable” objects like bags, bottles, cups, wrappers and others items designed for single use. The pollution question revolves more around the utility and durability of the item, as well as the consumer's habits, than its composition. To make a well-informed choice, consider this:
When talking about plastic pollution, what are we really talking about? German scientists have compiled 878 scientific studies on the problematic of marine waste. According to their calculations, plastics are responsible of 60 to 85% of marine waste globally. According to the UN, or the European Commission, the 10 most frequent categories of items found on European beaches are single use items: Plastic bottles with their lids, cigarette filters, cotton buds, candy and chips wrappers, feminine hygiene items, plastic bags, disposable knifes, straws, stirrers, cups and finally balloon rods. They represent 43% of all waste. 27% is plastic fishing equipment, mostly drift nets that blindly kill many marine animals. Also, many floating waste found in oceans come from vessels, 75% of which come from Asia and especially from China.
Another study of the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research in Germany reveals that 90% of plastic waste found in oceans actually come from just 10 rivers: 8 in Asia and 2 in Africa. The Yangzi (or Yangtze, 1.5 million tons of marine plastic waste per year), the Yellow River, the Mekong, Amur River, the Ganges or the Nile would be the true origin of plastic pollution in oceans.
According to researchers, those rivers are responsible for a major part of plastic pollution found in oceans because large populations live on their banks and rarely have access to efficient garbage collection and waste management. Those are also the largest rivers in the world with a large hydraulic flow.
According to a study published in Environmental Science & Technology, "Fighting the pollution source along these rivers would be the most efficient way to reduce the global problem of plastics in the oceans."
As we like to say, “A beautiful folder, you keep it!”
Plastic folders are also useful in damp environments or when there is a need for superior hygiene standards, such as in clinics, hospitals, laboratories, etc. Plastic folders can easily be washed and disinfected.
Plastic folders usually find their place in professional environments as well as at home. If someone wants to throw it, they will do so in a trash bin, not in nature. The folder will thus enter the recycling route (see Section 03 below).
However, the cheaper paper equivalent is often used and quickly ends up in the trash because it gets easily torn or because it has been distributed indiscriminately. (See below: 05 - Is the paper alternative polluting less?)
Polypropylene (PP) is one of the least polluting plastics (encyclo-ecolo) and is easily recyclable (GEO). PP plastic is essentially used in the automotive and food processing industries. You also find it in medical applications, such as in the manufacture of orthopedic devices made of recycled PP in developing countries. According to the Institut National d’Information en Santé Environnementale of Canada and the Réseau Environnement Santé in France, polypropylene is safe (Classification of plastics, Practical guide). In Paris, France, PP is now accepted in yellow recycling bins since January 2019 for areas abiding to the recycling policies.
As industrial technologies continue to develop, new recycling segments start appearing…
The Earth Wake association develops projects aimed to recycle plastics. For instance, one project aims to address the ecological challenge of managing plastic wastes on land before they end up in oceans by adding value to those plastic wastes. Especially in areas where garbage collection and waste management are minimal to non-existent, instead of throwing plastics, people are encouraged to resell those wastes to micro entrepreneurs who can make profit by transforming those into fuel.
New operational solutions already exist. For example: An American company developed a new "plastic asphalt 100% recycled" to repair roads. BP company offers a new recycling technology that could transform millions of tons of plastic bottles. Sydetom66 adds value to wastes by harnessing recovery energy to produce hot water and cold (this operation takes place in an absorption group) for companies, hospitals, schools, etc. In France, waste recycling reduces by 5% (2017 figures) the national CO2 emissions yearly and saves power equivalent to the production of 18 nuclear power plants. This is not enough but other projects are in development to manage different plastics, for example to produce hydrogen from any kind of plastic (Swansea University UK)...
Simply said, it's not that easy. Replacing one pollutant by another can sometimes lead to more pollution or undesirable side effects.
- When produced from corn or wheat, it reduces food production for human and animal consumption and can negatively affect prices and penalize small farmers. Moreover, the production of such agricultural products requires natural resources and fossil energy in abundance.
- Deforestation often takes place to allow for growing raw materials.
- Soil pollution results from exploitation and overexploitation by big profit-driven multinationals.
- GM plants will be produced to increase yields, which raises ecological concerns. Regulations are more flexible in this domain than for food products.
- So called biodegradable plastics are patented and their production is kept secret. One would naturally ask whether the chemical processes involved in the production of these alternatives are not polluting more than ordinary plastics?
- One would believe that using plant-based plastics is more ecological, but the opposite is true. Compostable plastics degrade without oxygen and produce methane, a greenhouse gas 23 times more dangerous than CO2. Compostable plastics left buried are thus contributing to global warming.
The Ademe reminds us that composting must be done in dedicated installations and not in plain nature. In industrial environments, precise conditions must be met, such as the fermentation time and the temperature. Finally, compostable plastic left in nature will have the same repercussions than ordinary plastic. What is more, people may throw degradable plastics anywhere, mistakenly thinking that they degrade in nature.
Several studies, such as the one published in Nature in 2011, indicate that the degradation of those plastics is far from being proven and that their remains can stay in nature for many years. Lastly, those plastics are not recyclable because chemical additives contained in those can denature recycled plastic. In summary, so called biodegradable or oxo-biodegradable plastics seem to present no ecological interest at all compared to traditional plastics.
Today, the term bioplastic is accepted to refer to polymers made with 70% of crude.
We can add that so called biodegradable plastics disaggregate into microscopic units and onto the environment and one can wonder what the long term effects of these particles are on the environment and on health and in what quantities they are found in nature. A hidden pollution is still a pollution... The advantage of visible pollution is that it can be treated (like picking up trash and putting it in a bin). The problem with biodegradable products that only give a good conscience is that no one realizes their importance upstream and downstream. Throwing plastics in nature may appear harmless, which can increase waste quantities in nature. Without much context, many questions are left unanswered when it comes to biodegradable and biosourced plastics whose effect on the environment is not totally understood.
- Paper pulp production, paper mills and paper recycling involve chemical and mechanical processes that generate lots of pollutants: Residual waters and detergents from the paper industry, because of their quality and composition, are among the most dangerous of all industrial residual waters (Suez).
To produce polypropylene, we use propylene, a gas derived of the oil industry and produced in refineries. The highly regulated refining industry makes for a production respectful of the environment that reduces water consumption and improves the quality of waste reversed in nature. Technological solutions already available make quasi-zero emissions a feasible goal.
- Paper production requires lots of water (2nd industry consumer of fresh water in Europe in 2001). According to the International Office for Water, producing 1kg of paper requires 500 liters of water while 1kg of plastic requires only 1 to 2 liters of water.
- Energy consumption reaches 5,000kWh to produce one ton of paper. On the opposite, refineries that produce propylene, among other products, are autonomous as to their energy production. Moreover, the manufacturing process is constantly improving by the use of new catalysis technologies in the polymerization process (which allows to reach reaction temperature quickly without additional energy intake) without solvents.
- Let us also mention the problematic of wood production, of the impact of mono culture on biodiversity and of transport... According to GreenPeace, it takes 2 to 3 tons of wood to produce one ton of paper. Some progress has been made in this industry by recycling paper but unfortunately, the disposable use of paper, even recycled paper, keeps on increasing and so do the environmental consequences.
The industrialization of wood production creates lifeless forests where 84% of forests are comprised of only one or two species... Today in France, three quarters of forests are private (banks, insurance companies and various trust funds keep gaining shares to reduce their tax footprint) and have thus become a supermarket. When you fly over some areas all over the world, you realize the ecological disaster driven by intensive wood production. Even though plantations expand globally, are they really lively?
- This phenomenon is explained in an excellent 2018 documentary that we recommend watching entitled "Le temps des Forêts": “French forests are being industrialized on an unprecedented scale. Heavy mechanization, mono cultures, fertilizers and pesticides, forests management is closely catching quickly with the intensive agriculture model.”.
« Forestry workers are drawn to create homogeneous and artificial forests, as productive as possible which are regularly cut down and replanted as the first. These so called forests are inhabited by common fauna and flora (the only ones resisting frequent cutting down), not very attractive, prone to storms and hurricanes, insects and wild fires. These spaces subjected to intensive exploitation will end up exhausting the soil because of a production twice or thrice that of a natural local forest in square cubes per acres and of the export of three quarters of the natural mineral elements contained in trees.»
For more information, visit the alternativesforestieres.org (find out more - association website)
You may also refer to articles in Enquete FranceInfo “When industrialization reshapes French forests” (in French), colibris-lemouvement, mrmondialisation, Mouvement Mondial pour les Forêts Tropicales (Global movement for tropical forests)
You can also join the Silva project and plant 30,000 trees in 40 different indigenous species and watch a documentary or make a donation on ECOTREE.
The documentary “La forêt retrouvée” shows the absurdity of the present production and features a forestry expert who explains why he chose to go back to natural production. Unfortunately, this is the choice of a minority, while others increasingly turn to industrialization to increase profits.
Enough of plastic! - Really ?
It is understandable that many react emotionally to the news without doing their own research. If you had to replace all plastics by biodegradable and biological materials, you would face different and sometimes worse kinds of pollution.
For instance, let's say you choose to produce potatoes or other starches to produce bioplastics, how many agricultural lands would be needed to produce such a quantity? How many fertilizers and pesticides would find their way to the soil to match the production?
It is much easier to address human behavior than shifting the blame to a particular pollution and replacing it by another...
For many, it seems so difficult to rely on a responsible attitude of the consumers... Let us answer that by mentioning two pillars: education and repression. Sadly, ecology is a rather new discipline and previous generations were neither sensitized nor taught as they should have been. New generations are more open, but ecology is still not taught enough and is still considered a low priority. What we need is a long term solution that governments would seriously take into account.
Punitive measures seem to be the easiest to implement in the short term. For instance, warning signs forbidding littering with a penalty of €1,000 to €10,000 would really dissuade many from even thinking of polluting. Following efficient information campaigns and concrete sanctions, punitive policies could limit pollution.
“The problem with plastics must be taken in its entirety so as to understand all that is involved. Behind the generic word “plastic” are plenty of different materials varying in functionality and application. Made from a variety of chemicals, this complex material has specific properties and often has better performance than other materials. Its performance makes it very interesting because of its functionality and low cost. Take the automotive industry as an example. Using plastics instead of heavier metal parts allows for weight loss that reduces fuel consumption and thus environmental impact. Security-wise, the shock absorbing properties of plastics are left unrivaled. In the medical industry, plastics are also preferred because of their specifications: biocompatibility, single use, innocuousness, and aseptization for surgeries. In numerous cases, plastics have the most desirable properties. It is thus unrealistic to believe in ‘zero-plastics’.
Realistically, the industry rather aims at a mix of plastic parts from fossil products, hardly replaceable because of their functional and environmental properties and low cost, and bio-sourced and compostable plastics, which are expanding with advances in industrial biology.” - L’usine nouvelle
In conclusion, no matter what materials we use in production, there will always be residual pollution. We are very much conscious of reducing environmental impact as manufacturing techniques evolve and we try to use the materials that currently present the least environmental impact.
Our plastic folders, with their durable usability and composition, cannot be considered as negatively impacting the environment. Recycling and garbage collection gain in effectiveness and progress every year. Often though, it is unreasonable human behavior that is at the source of plastic pollution. Even if we find a biodegradable material that naturally degrades in nature, people will not feel guilty to throw them and we will soon be surrounded by biodegradable trash.
We firmly believe that education, respect for the environment, reusable products and a real punitive policy, simple recycling habits and systematic and intelligent garbage collection could significantly reduce those problems.
Polypropylene or PVC
Our colored plastic folders are made of polypropylene, composed of propylene molecules, very easy to recycle compared to other plastic materials such as PVC. Polypropylene is a more neutral plastic that only contains carbon and hydrogen. The advantages of polypropylene are numerous. It is rigid, abrasion-resistant, waterproof, tear-resistant, transparent. It has a great inertia toward various aggressive chemicals and provides excellent electric isolation properties.
While PVC production and incineration (for recycling) emits chlorine vapor (30% of its weight), polypropylene combustion only emits water and carbon dioxide (CO2), that is, no chemicals. Thanks to minor chemical additives involved in polypropylene production, this material is more easy to recycle than PVC.
When PVC is incinerated or present in accidental fires, it produces toxic sub-products such as dioxins, chlorocarbures and hydrochloric acid. PVC is intrinsically unstable when exposed to heat and it can even decompose while treated. Not only is PVC inherently dangerous in its base form, but it also requires numerous products to become stable. Since 2015, lead and cadmium have been replaced by calcium and zinc or barium and zinc. Still, products are not always properly labeled. Moreover, do we have enough experience to consider such alternatives as 100% secure?
Moreover, the monomer unit that makes for the main elements of PVC is very toxic. Strict guidelines are set to ensure proper handling of this material that is dangerous to transport and to store. Numerous studies have revealed the negative effects of exposure to PVC monomers on one's health.
Another concern with flexible PVC is that its flexibility and other characteristic are obtained by adding a large quantity of plasticizing agents, generally phthalates, in concentrations of 30 to 50%. Those phthalates can be carcinogenic and can impact endocrinal activity in men. By imitating feminine hormone, they create biological unbalances in humans and other species.
These plasticizing agents are naturally mobile and so migratory. They slowly leach into the environment while being stored for long periods, as well as in soils and aquifers after their elimination. The “fog” that builds up on windshields of cars equipped with PVC garnishes proves the migration of those plasticizing agents. Other proofs of this instability shows when documents printing transposes onto PVC folders that contain the document.
These effects cannot happen with polypropylene because of its characteristics based on the stable molecular structure of the material, and not on migratory additives. Polypropylene is 100% recyclable. PVC is not that recyclable, first because of its inherent chemical composition, and second because of additives contained therein.
To summarize, there is abundant proof that polypropylene is a safe, non-toxic and environment friendly alternative to obsolete technologies like PVC.