Published 3 years ago.
About a 4 minute read.
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Recycled plastic certification makes sense. Manufacturers need confidence that the raw materials they’re acquiring meet their requirements and are truly recycled. But more certifications likely means higher costs and thus less recycled plastic.
At face value, the idea of recycled ocean plastic certification makes sense.
Manufacturers need assurances that the material they’re receiving will perform
as expected. Consumers deserve to know the products they select — and may pay a
premium for — are, indeed, made as
However, the preponderance of new certifications in the recycled plastics
industry is rapidly adding cost and complexity. This makes recycled materials
less competitive and drives cost-conscious manufacturers to stick with virgin
plastics. The desire to guarantee quality and provenance could very well be
stifling the momentum in the recycled plastic sector.
Choosing recycled plastic is a very intentional decision for brands and
manufacturers. They’re taking on additional complexity in their supply chain to
improve their environmental footprint or satisfy consumers demanding products
that help the planet.
It is generally simpler — and often cheaper — to source virgin plastics. Virgin
plastic is readily available, uniform in quality by design, and less subject to
supply chain disruption. And, not without a tinge of irony, it’s important to
note that virgin plastics often don’t require any certification. This increases
their price advantage, simplifies sourcing decisions, and continues to make
virgin plastic the default choice.
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Recycled plastic certification makes sense. Manufacturers need confidence that
the raw materials they’re acquiring meet their requirements and are truly
recycled. No one wants a proliferation of products that fail in the field or are
“greenwashed” while actually using virgin plastic.
Certification has the potential to serve as the insurance policy that gets many
brands “over the hump” to embrace recycled plastic as a viable material in their
supply chain. But the inconsistency and confusion created by having multiple
certifications on the market creates audit fatigue among suppliers, who are
struggling to compete in an emerging industry.
When multiple organizations offer similar types of certifications, nobody wins.
These overlapping-yet-inconsistent certifications increase the cost and time
required to get recycled materials into products. It creates a confusing maze,
adding additional hurdles for no tangible benefits.
Ultimately, this results in higher prices for consumers and fewer brands willing
to take on the added burden of utilizing recycled plastic. This challenge is
especially acute in ocean
It hurts the cause, stifles momentum, and ultimately means that more plastic
waste is left in the environment. Quantity does not equal quality in this case,
and the existence of so many competing certifications dilutes their value and
prevents any particular one from gaining traction.
Instead of adding an extra layer of bureaucracy and cost to the supply chain,
the recycled plastic ecosystem can rely on some of the existing industry
standards already in place, which are followed by many suppliers.
The Global Recycling Standard (GRS), Underwriters Laboratories
(UL), and NSF offer respected programs for assuring the validity and
quality of recycled plastic. They cover important aspects of the material —
including traceability, environmental principles, social responsibility,
chemical content and labeling.
We at Oceanworks believe these industry standards are more than sufficient to ensure recycled plastic is
being sourced responsibly and meets the quality requirements of manufacturers
and brands. Burdening suppliers with additional certification requirements bogs
down the supply chain, discouraging new players from entering the market.
Every plastic recycler, and especially every recycled ocean plastic
benefits from having a current audit on file. This provides a seal of approval
for the company and indicates that they have processes for maintaining
consistent quality and determining the provenance of the recycled plastic.
While many businesses have made commitments to sustainability, they are
ultimately profit-driven. For firms striving to achieve both goals, it must be
as easy and inexpensive as possible to incorporate recycled material into their
It’s important to remember that recycled plastic faces the same challenges as
other sustainable initiatives and must be cost-competitive with alternatives.
Just as renewable energy is most competitive when oil prices are high, recycled
plastic is also subject to market forces.
Each certification costs money, chipping away at supplier margins. While some
brands will pay a premium for recycled plastic, at a certain point it is
cost-prohibitive. Recycled plastic will not truly take off until suppliers can
consistently meet the quality and cost of virgin alternatives, or until
regulation mandates increased use of recycled plastic.
Everyone, except petrochemical companies, wants to see more recycled plastic
content. But the convergence of good intentions and opportunism in the area of
certifications is continuing to increase the cost and complexity of bringing
recycled ocean plastic
Existing standards are more than sufficient to promote the quality and
authenticity of supply. More certifications likely means higher costs and thus
less recycled plastic. Streamlining is needed. Let’s align around fewer
standards and make progress together to advance the cause.
Published Jul 15, 2020 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 1pm BST / 2pm CEST
Rob Ianelli is founder & President of Oceanworks, the global marketplace for recycled ocean plastic products and materials.
This article, produced in cooperation with the Sustainable Brands editorial team, has been paid for by one of our sponsors.