Neutral and easy to sanitize
Recycling polypropylene is an easy, multi-step process with some advantages: PP can be recycled many times over its lifetime. You can therefore use it in several forms and achieve significant financial savings. 100% recyclable, the products obtained are of high quality and recyclable again. Apart from the economic aspect, plastic recycling saves raw materials by transforming waste into reusable raw materials. One tonne of recycled PP saves up to 830 L of oil.
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 is by far one of the least polluting plastics (encyclo-ecolo) and a more easily recyclable form of plastic (GEO). PP plastic is mainly used in the automotive and food industries. But also in the health sector, as for example in the manufacture of orthopaedic devices in developing countries, using recycled polypropylene. According to the National Institute for Environmental Health Information (Canada) and the Réseau Environnement Santé (France), polypropylene is safe (classification of plastics, Practical Guide). It is now included in the yellow bin for areas where the extension of sorting instructions is applied (in Paris since January 2019).
Before they can be recycled, the pouches must be sorted among other waste. The size of a pouch makes it a very easy product to sort. Today, there are reliable and innovative solutions that can achieve a rate of 98% efficiency on the sorting as shown by this sorting center in the Eure. We can no longer put forward a technical problem to get rid of this problem. The political will of the Agglos and the government is the only lever of this stage for the treatment of the recyclable.
Similarly, there are reliable and innovative solutions for recycling polypropylene (but also other plastics): Total Energies will double its production of recycled polypropylene at its Synova site (30/09/2021) with zero emissions, no water discharge and 100% renewable energy.
New recycling channels are being added as industrial technologies evolve…
The Earth Wake association develops projects to recycle plastics. For example, one of its projects aims to respond to an ecological challenge: to treat plastic waste on land so that it does not end up in the oceans by giving value to plastic waste. Instead of throwing the plastic away, people (especially in countries where there is no collection or management of plastic waste) will sell it to micro-entrepreneurs who will earn money by producing their fuel? You also have these approaches: non-recyclable plastic transformed into building blocks that are stronger than their concrete counterparts and have a much lower carbon impact.
Polypropylene is a plastic whose combustion releases only water and carbon dioxide (CO2). CO2 is a greenhouse gas, but it can be treated in an ecological way, for example by transforming it into methane (CH4) or, as in the USA, by transforming polypropylene into fuel or other alternatives that are currently being developed, such as hydrogen from all types of plastics (source 1, source 2, )...
Toby McCartney, whose company MacRebur mixes discarded plastics with tar to pave roads. According to McCartney, tests show that these roads are up to 60 percent more durable than standard roads and last up to 10 times longer. In addition, each ton of MacRebur mix contains the equivalent of about 80,000 plastic bottles ("100% recycled plastic asphalt" for road renovation).
Other projects such as Sydetom66, recovers waste heat to produce hot water and cold (this operation takes place in an absorption unit) for companies, hospitals, schools... The recycling of waste in France avoids the equivalent of 5% (2017 figure) of annual national CO2 emissions and saves energy representing the production of about 18 nuclear reactors.
Or the BP company which proposes a new recycling technology that could transform millions of tons of plastic bottles and these innovative projects of new plastic recycling technologies: Recycling Technologies, UK, recycling of PP, PE
This new technology allows to recycle plastic on a large scale without degradation. Researchers want to reduce decomposition time to help combat the "billions of tons" of waste in our environment.
The Ocean Cleanup, a nonprofit organization whose goal is to rid oceans and rivers of plastic, recently introduced a device that it says has collected nearly 10 tons of plastic from the North Pacific trash vortex. The NGO believes that ten such facilities could clean 50% of the continent of plastic in just 5 years.
Later, he discovered ferrofluid, a magnetic liquid composed of tiny iron particles suspended in oil. He made his own ferrofluid by conducting hundreds of experiments to determine the most effective oil (light vegetable oil), using it to attract microplastics, then extracting the mixture with a magnet. His method removes 87% of the microplastics from the water, which is extremely satisfying to observe.
As we can see, there are many local approaches in the world because there are more and more people aware of this problem. It is not enough yet but all these innovative projects which are developed to manage the various plastics give hope of solutions to settle globally this pollution...
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.
In short, they are not the ecological solution that many hope for.
- 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.
Do you say « plastic is enough ! » ?
It is understandable that people are affected by the news and react without seriously considering the problem. If you were to replace all plastics by biodegradable and biological materials, we would create other pollution and problems sometimes worse.
For example, if you produce potatoes or other starchy crops... to produce bio-plastic, how much farmland would be used to produce such a quantity, how much pesticides and fertilizers would be dumped to satisfy the production need...?
We can't find a solution based on a Manichean thinking where plastic would be bad and biodegradable and recycling the solution to everything. Moreover, we find this same problem in many other sectors.
It is much easier to address human behavior than shifting the blame to a particular pollution and replacing it by another...
Some might think that it seems difficult to rely on responsible consumer behavior... We could answer that there are two important levers: education and repression. Unfortunately, ecology is a very recent field and the previous generations were not sensitized and educated as they should have been. The new generations are more open but it is still not taught enough to be an urgent priority. It is a long term solution if it is seriously taken into account by the governments.
A dissuasive repression seems to be the most feasible short-term solution. For example, signs indicating the prohibition to throw anything in the nature under penalty of an extremely dissuasive fine of 1000 to 10000€ is sufficiently effective to prevent even thinking about polluting. After effective information campaigns and concrete sanctions, an extremely dissuasive policy can prevent the pollution that can be prevented.
In order to consider longer-term solutions, we need to encourage initiatives that create technical solutions, and there is no shortage of them. What is missing is an active policy of the governments to apply these solutions progressively, taking into account the secondary effects in order to avoid getting lost as we do with the current provisions based on a political and emotional ecology to the detriment of rational and scientific decisions.
“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.