The “Pringles Factor” is a phrase that has been introduced to describe the use of multiple materials in a single product that makes recycling difficult or impossible. In the case of Pringles, the popular crisp brand, the packaging is constructed from a cardboard tube with a plastic lid and a metal base, making recycling impractical.
According to the Chief Executive of the Recycling Association, Simon Ellin, it is necessary to move away from the Pringles Factor, and this needs to be considered at the design stage. When product packaging is designed, recyclability should be considered, and the use of multiple materials should be avoided. At the present time throughout the world, only 14 percent of plastic packaging is collected and sent for plastic waste recycling.
The Pringles brand is not the only one to fail to consider recycling in its packaging design. Ellin also criticised bottles, such as those containing Lucozade Sport, and others that have a recyclable plastic bottle enclosed in a sleeve manufactured from a different plastic. He claims that this type of bottle is very confusing for computer scanners and has to be hand picked from the recycling conveyor, often being thrown away. Other products that pose problems for plastic waste recycling include cleaning materials in spray bottles, which may claim to be recyclable but actually contain a metal spring as well as other polymers. Plastic food trays for products such as meat that have colouring added to them to make them black cannot be recycled either. Whisky packaging often contains metal, which can also pose problems when it comes to recycling.
Dame Ellen MacArthur recently launched a £1.5m competition aimed at reducing plastic waste and targeting plastic packaging that is unsuitable for plastic recycling, due to the way it is constructed. This amounts to 30 percent of plastic packaging. Among these products are crisp packets, shampoo sachets, straws, food wrappers and coffee cup lids, that are not usually recycled or are impossible to recycle because they have multiple layers.
The competition was launched in London, with the Prince of Wales. Designers are challenged to create reusable products and research methods of reducing plastic packaging in order to reduce the amount of plastic waste present in oceans throughout the world. Dame Ellen warned that there might be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050, unless the problem is addressed, because the present system was not working. She said that only two percent of packaging made from plastic is recycled into material of the same quality, and 32 percent of it leaks into the environment. The project aims to encourage a rethink on the way plastics are made and used and to tackle the thirty percent of plastic material that is currently impossible to recycle. She believes that there should be a new plastics economy where all plastics are recycled or reused so that they cannot contaminate the oceans, and that plastic packaging producers and users need to be involved in finding solutions.
Spokesmen for Pringles and Lucozade both claimed that the companies recognised their environmental responsibilities and are working towards improving their environmental performances.