– Silva Cell is made primarily of virgin plastic because it guarantees quality, reliability, traceability, equality, and strength.
– Recycled plastic and virgin plastic have distinguishable differences and potential advantages/disadvantages.
– Silva Cell and other DeepRoot products are not single-use plastics (e.g., water bottles, single-use face masks, food wrappers, plastic grocery bags, plastic lids), which are detrimental to the environment and to both humans and nonhuman species. Silva Cells are created to last multiple decades.
Plastic is truly ubiquitous, used extensively in the health care industry, water bottles, computers, cars, furniture, food packaging, infrastructure, and much more. In an era of focus on sustainability and renewable resources and high-tech recycling abilities, it is important to question why a product might be made with virgin (not recycled) plastics. There are integral differences between virgin and recycled plastics and important distinguishable characteristics between the two. For some products and applications, virgin material is the better choice.
Virgin vs. Recycled (Post-Consumer vs. Post-Industrial)
To make sense of why DeepRoot would choose one resin over the other, it is helpful to understand the terms virgin and recycled. Virgin refers to resin produced directly from the petrochemical feedstock, such as natural gas or crude oil, which has never been used or processed before. Recycled can mean many different things, however.
Post-consumer is exactly what it sounds like— material that has been reclaimed after it has left the hands of the consumer. For example, a plastic milk carton that is recycled is taken to a facility where it is washed, reground, and pelletized into new post-consumer material.
Post-industrial, by contrast, is plastic that never left the manufacturing floor (and therefore never made it to the consumer). For efficiency and to keep costs low, manufacturers try to achieve zero waste during the production process. Manufacturers recycle short shots, extra material, scrap pieces, or anything that isn’t yet appropriate to go to the consumer.
Disadvantages of Recycled Material
Silva Cell is designed for decades of use. Like underground pipes, Silva Cell has to be strong, reliable, and constant. Depending on how the materials are reprocessed, post-consumer is the least “clean” of the three materials listed above because of the variability of the feedstock. Even with blending, which adds overall strength, neither post-consumer nor post-industrial recycled materials can ever achieve 100% of the mechanical properties of virgin materials. The degradation of these properties has a direct effect on safety factors and long-term performance measures such as fatigue.
One advantage of virgin materials is traceability and certification of the physical properties to the manufacturing date and location. The physical properties (tensile strength, resistance to chemicals, etc.) of recycled material is far less reliable or traceable, which is a result of the process of recycling. This results in lower strength characteristics. The only way to increase the strength is to increase the amount of plastic used and make a product thicker, which has a commensurate carbon cost in production and transport, and still leaves long-term strength characteristics unknown. It also explains why manufacturers have made a lot of headway using recycled materials for things like plastic bags and disposable packaging but are still figuring out the most effective way to use them for larger structural and infrastructure items. Often, if the product is structural, it may need to have a lower safety or strength rating if recycled materials are being used.
Every manufacturer must weigh many variables when choosing whether to use recycled or virgin materials. Whenever possible— to design the best product efficiently and safely— we use reprocessed materials in our manufacturing. Some items, such as our geomembranes, are made of 100% post-consumer material. Other products, such as the Tree Root Barriers, have a mix of reprocessed (which may have a mix of post-consumer and post-industrial) and virgin.
Single-Use vs. Long-Term-Use
Single-use, disposable, and throw away, are some of the common adjectives used to describe the types of material goods that are harming our planet. Erik Solheim, the former head of the UN Environment Programme stated, “The most common single-use plastics found in the environment are, in order of magnitude, cigarette butts, plastic drinking bottles, plastic bottle caps, food wrappers, plastic grocery bags, plastic lids, straws and stirrers, other types of plastic bags, and foam takeaway containers. These are the waste products of a throwaway culture that treats plastic as a disposable material rather than a valuable resource to be harnessed.” It is critical to make the distinction between these single-use items and long-lived durable, multi-use plastics such as computers, car seats, furniture, park benches, and our green infrastructure product, Silva Cell. To group Silva Cell and a single-use candy wrapper in the same plastic pollution category would be illegitimate.
DeepRoot is utilizing plastic and harnessing its positive attributes to produce a valuable tool to support the livelihood of trees, their roots, and a thriving stormwater system in urban areas around the world.
Our mission has always been to make a resilient product to make for a resilient future. We welcome creativity and ingenuity in all industries in helping to mitigate plastic pollution and invent and invest in biodegradable alternatives. For now, we are proud to claim Silva Cell’s base is made of 30% recycled material, and 50% of the posts are made of regrind, while still maintaining the integrity of the product, certification, and safety factor necessary for a durable underground product that will be in service for decades.