Welcome to the New Plastics Recycling Economy

By: Heather Caliendo 20. January 2017

A new report provides a clear transition strategy for the plastics industry to design better packaging, increase recycling rates and introduce new models for making better use of packaging. 


We all know the phrase talk is cheap. So let’s be real—a lot of the talk about plastics packaging recycling has been more marketing speak than action (not all but some). Not pointing fingers at the industry or consumers but if we truly want to solve this issue, something has to change.


Given that, I was encouraged to see on Jan. 16, The Ellen Mac Arthur Foundation and World Economic Forum released “The New Plastics Economy: Catalysing Action,” which aims to address global plastics issues through innovation in packaging design, recycling, and delivery models. The report looks to present a path to increasing global recycling rates for plastic packaging from just 14% today to 70% or more. 


Some of the findings in the report include:


  • Without fundamental redesign and innovation, about 30% of plastic packaging will never be reused or recycled.
  • For at least 20% of plastic packaging, reuse provides an economically attractive opportunity. 
  • With concerted efforts to redesign packaging and the systems for managing it after use, recycling would be economically attractive for the remaining 50% of plastic packaging.


About 40 businesses and government leaders have endorsed the new action plan to tackle global plastics waste issues, and together are working to create a more effective global system for end-of-life plastics.


Per the report:


“The New Plastics Economy is an ambitious, three-year initiative to build momentum towards a plastics system that works.”


It applies the principles of the circular economy and brings together key stakeholders to rethink and redesign the future of plastics, starting with packaging. Launched in May 2016, the initiative is spearheaded by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, in collaboration with a group of leading companies, cities, philanthropists, policy makers, designers, academics, students and NGOs.


The New Plastics Economy focuses on five interlinked building blocks to create the enabling conditions for a transformative system shift:


  • Dialogue mechanism
  • Global plastics protocol
  • Innovation moonshots
  • Evidence base
  • Stakeholder engagement


Since its inception, the group claims the initiative has made significant progress across all these key elements. Based on the analysis and insights from this report, the New Plastics Economy initiative has now defined a series of catalyst actions to drive further progress in 2017.


Some more items of note:


In 2016, the potential economic impact of a Global Plastics Protocol was assessed and the analysis clearly indicated that the implementation of changes to design after-use systems as part of such a protocol would improve the economics of plastic packaging recycling. In 2017, the initiative will take the next step towards the concrete development of a Global Plastics Protocol. It will collaboratively determine the top opportunities for design changes to enhance recycling quality and economics, as well as material health.


I encourage you to read the report in its entirety.  


Biodegradable Bioplastics Continue to Evolve

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 19. January 2017

Root vegetables, shrimp shells, proprietary starch formulations and natural fibers are among the emerging global bioplastics.


Just a few days ago, I blogged about yet more work underway on the development of man-made bioplastic chitosan derived from the organic compound chitin extracted from shrimp shells, this time for the production of biodegradable shopping bags and, ultimately, future-generation food packaging.


And, while PLA continues to make ‘leaps and bounds’ in a broader range of applications, including disposable, consumer durables and 3D printing, intriguing work on bioplastics (particularly biodegradable varieties) derived from other sources is also being pursued globally.


Cassava Root Bioplastic
One example comes from Avani Eco, a three-year-old Balinese company that sought to address the plastic pollution strewn on Bali’s shores and expanding landfill sites that has threatened to make the island a “paradise lost”.


A key focus for the company was to address the single-use plastic bag problem by producing biodegradable, compostable and recyclable bags made from a bioplastic that is based on cassava root, a cheap and common root vegetable found across Indonesia.


The company currently produces four tons of material a day that is used for products including plastic bags, food packaging, covers for hospital beds, and rain ponchos—an original aim to replace the popular PVC ponchos used on the island.


Avani Eco’s cofounder Kevin Kumala and his partner were inspired by bioplastics based on corn and soy starch and came up with a formulations using cassava starch, vegetable oil, and organic resins. The result is a 100% bioplastic that is biodegradable and compostable, with the capacity to break down over a period of months on land or at sea, or instantly in hot water. This bioplastic is said to leave no trace of toxic residue. Avani Eco has amassed several hospitality and retail partners including local hotels like Hard Rock and Ritz-Carlton, juice bars, and music and other social festivals.


Starch-Based Elastomer
Meanwhile, Green Dot Bioplastics, Cottonwood Falls, Kansas, which has developed a full line of biobased and compostable materials sold under the Terratek Brand name, continues to expand its product line and further develop novel materials.


That has included Terratek GDH-B1 a starch-based elastomer which has been used for products like cellphone cases and toys, and as an impact modifier for PLA. Just this month, the company unveiled a new biodegradable bioplastic composite created as a sustainable replacement to traditional plastic plantable pots or tree and shrub containers. According to CEO Mark Remmert, it is based on a proprietary blend of starch-based polymers reinforced with natural fibers—in this case, wood or corn cobs.


Unlike compostable planters made of paper, peat or cardboard which are absorbent, requiring plants be watered more often due to evaporation, planters made with Terratek BD2114 do not absorb water, helping retain moisture in the potting soil and potentially reducing water consumption by as much as 600%. The material is also easily colorable to enhance product differentiation.


According to Remmert, in developing the new material, the  company also aimed to compete with other biodegradable bioplastics such as PLA. The new “biocomposite” allows for the production of molded pots which have higher impact for longer shelf life; are more degradable; and are less expensive, says Remmert.  Moreover, the company can provide custom formulations of biobased and biodegradable materials to fit a broad range of horticultural applications.


Update on ‘Clean, Sustainable’ Carbon Black Production

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 18. January 2017


Monolith Materials moves towards the potential  reestablishment of North America as a leading carbon black producer.


In April 2015, we reported on Monolith Materials (formerly Boxer Industries) and how it aimed to shift the production of carbon black to be less reliant on the utilization of petroleum oil; first, in the domestic market and then globally.


Here is a progress update on the Redwood City, California firm, which believes that its proprietary process technology has the potential to reestablish North America as the leading global producer of carbon black. As previously reported, by 2012, North American carbon black capacity had dropped to a mere 12% of the global capacity, while China’s had risen to 38%.


Using natural gas as feedstock in its process instead of crude oil or coal-tar as in conventional processes, Monolith produces both standard ASTM grades of carbon black as well as highly customized performance grades for a broad range of applications. In plastics alone, these range from colorants in consumer and industrial goods to UV absorbers in pipe and agricultural films to electrically conductive grades used in electrical cables and various components of high-volume consumer electronics.


Since mid-2014, the company has been operating a pilot plant using its technology to convert pipeline grade natural gas using grid electricity into valuable carbon black and hydrogen. Located at its Redwood City site, the Seaport Plant serves as Monolith’s industrial demonstration facility and represents the first new carbon black plant to be permitted and built in the U.S. in the past 30 years, because of environmental regulations. On-site lab facilities also allow for grade evaluation and tuning, as well as ongoing applications development.


As noted above, a coproduct of Monolith’s manufacturing process is plentiful hydrogen. This valuable industrial gas is used in a range of industries including petroleum refining, clean-power generation, and chemicals. It was this that led to Monolith establishing what appears to be a first-of-its-kind partnership with the Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD), Nebraska’s largest electric utility. NPPD plans to replace an existing coal-fired boiler at its Sheldon Station plant in Hallam, Nebraska with one that will use hydrogen, produced by Monolith’s new full-scale carbon black manufacturing facility, to generate electricity.


In 2015, the company announced that it would build a world-scale carbon black production facility. Over the past 18 months, Monolith and NPPD finalized all necessary agreements for the first phase of the project. In addition, Monolith acquired control of approximately 180 acres of land adjacent to the Sheldon Station so NPPD can easily access the hydrogen. When burned, the hydrogen fuel produces zero greenhouse gas emissions. Through this collaborative project, NPPD is expected to reduce CO2 emissions at Sheldon Station by 1.1 million tons/yr. The new boiler, using hydrogen as a fuel, will continue to be capable of generating 125 megawatts of electricity for NPPD’s customers. The conversion is also expected to result in a dramatic reduction in other types of air emissions, and also aid in NPPD’s maintaining service as a low-cost energy producer.


Monolith has also completed a retain electricity agreement with the Norris Public Power District; secured firm natural gas transportation on the Northern Natural pipeline network; completed the first phase of rail design with Union Pacific; and in October of 2016, broke ground on the project. The first phase is expected to take 24-36 months to build and commission, and will support approximately 50 full-time operation jobs once complete.


Also over the last 18 months, the company has continued to operate its demonstration plant and has advanced its proprietary technology, while developing customers in the plastics, rubbers, and specialty markets. In addition, several key leaders have been added to the Monolith team to enable successful execution of their business plan. Jim Micali, former chairman and president of Michelin North America joined the board of directors of Monolith. Brian Allison (formerly Flint Hills, Dow and Cabot) and Jeffrey Lin (formerly Bridgestone and Momentive) joined Monolith executive team over the past year.



Online Decorative Films Design Center Launched by PolyOne

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 17. January 2017

Over 50 images of varied film patterns and effects are ‘housed’ on the new site.


A new online decorative films design tool launched by PolyOne aims to provide visual inspiration for processors and converters who want to add interest and appeal to surfaces via the application of printed films.


PolyOne has long offered its customers creative support, including design assistance, color matching and blending, according to Greg Zeis, specialty business director, PolyOne Designed Structures and Solutions. “Now, we’ve added an online tool customers can also use to gain design inspiration and improve their speed to market.”


The new SurfaceChoice Films Design Center features over 50 images of varied film patterns and effects, from wood grain to embossed. The images are easily filtered by category, color family or a combination of options. As site visitors explore each pattern, they have the option to zoom in for a closer look, or to save an image for future use, and can also request physical samples of their chosen design.


PolyOne’s unveiling of the Surface Choice Films Design Center also heralded the launch of the SurfaceChoice brand—an updated trade name that reflects a simplified and modernized approach to PolyOne decorative printed films. 


Shrimp Shells for Making Biodegradable Shopping Bags

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 16. January 2017

UK university aims to optimize new ‘eco-friendly’ bags for Egyptian conditions.


Work on the production of chitosan, a man-made bioplastic derived from the organic compound chitin, which is extracted from shrimp shells, is underway across the pond. Bioengineers at the U.K.’s University of Nottingham are trialing how to use the material in formulating an innovative nanocomposite bioplastic to make biodegradable shopping bags, and ultimately, food packaging.


In fact, Dr. Nicola Everitt, part of the engineering faculty at Nottingham, is the lead expert in testing the material properties in conjunction with academic counterparts at Nile University in Egypt. The first part of the project’s aim has been to optimize the affordable ‘eco-friendly’ carrier bags for Egyptian conditions, as effective waste management is one of that country’s biggest challenges.


To extract chitin from the shrimp shells, acid is first used to remove the calcium carbonate backbone of the crustacean shell, followed by alkali to produce the long molecular chain which make up the bioplastic. The dried chitosan flakes can be dissolved into solution and polymer film made via conventional processing techniques. The bioengineers opted to use chitosan because it is a promising biodegradable plastics already used in pharmaceutical packaging due to its antimicrobial, antibacterial and biocompatible properties.


Even more ambitious is the second part of the project which is aimed at developing an active plastic film that absorbs oxygen. This future-generation food packaging could have the ability to enhance food shelf life with high efficiency and low energy consumption, making a positive impact on food waste in many countries. If successful. Dr. Everitt plans to approach UK packaging manufacturers with the product.


Sponsored by the Newton Fund and the Newton-Moshrafa Fund grant, this project is one of 13 Newton-funded collaborations for the University of Nottingham, all of which are designed to tackle community issues through science and innovation, with links formed with countries such as Brazil, Egypt, Phillippines and Indonesia.


Similar ongoing work has been undertaken by researchers at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute, as we reported in 2014. Hoewver, that fully degradable bioplastic derived partly from shrimp shells, can be molded into three-dimensional consumer products, such as cell phone, toys and food containers.


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