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Forging a path that recognizes both the importance of recycling and the specific needs of manufacturers will enlist far more companies into the world of recycled plastic. The key to this happy medium is blending.
In a perfect world, virgin materials become an afterthought — as sustainable
materials and the repurposing and recycling of waste of all kinds meet all of
humanity’s needs. But we don’t live in a perfect world; so pragmatic,
incremental progress is the only way to make real substantive change in the near
term. This philosophy gave the world bridging solutions such as hybrid cars, and
it can play a significant role in weaning us away from mass-produced virgin
Asking a manufacturer to switch wholesale to relying entirely on recycled
plastic for every product is unrealistic. There are simply too many specific
requirements that 100 percent recycled plastic can’t yet meet. This
all-or-nothing mindset means brands too often hear a hard “no” from their
manufacturers before the breadth of
or ocean plastic
have even been seriously considered.
If “Made from 100 percent Recycled Material” is the goal, then “Made from XX
percent Recycled Material” is the stepping stone that can get us there on a
truly meaningful scale.
Forging a path that recognizes both the importance of recycling and the
specific, legitimate needs of manufacturers will create incremental victories
that enlist far more companies into the world of recycled plastic. The key to
this happy medium is blending.
Compounding has been at the forefront of plastic innovations and is commonly
used to create materials with specific performance characteristics. Different
feedstocks are mixed to achieve the desired material properties; and while this
has traditionally been a combination of virgin plastics, there is a huge
opportunity to incorporate recycled and ocean plastics into the mix.
This doesn’t eliminate virgin plastics, but it’s an important step in a circular
economy that reduces plastic waste along with the carbon footprint of these
Ocean plastics alone often aren’t ideal candidates for higher-performance
plastic products, but a blend of 10-40 percent ocean plastic “concentrate” with
delivered at a commercial-grade quality and price point is key to driving scaled
material offtake. This scale is often unrealistic for a 100 percent ocean
plastic, so blends offer a practical path to averting massive amounts of plastic
from our oceans. A small percentage at scale makes a big difference.
Manufacturing some types of products, such as food safe containers, with 100
percent ocean plastic can be cost-prohibitive for many brands that rely on thin
margins to turn a profit. Blending gives ocean plastic a chance to get into the
mix for high-volume, price-sensitive applications where a 100 percent ocean
plastic product would never compete. An incremental approach of using
ocean-virgin plastic blends will eventually pave the way for a 100 percent
Introducing products that are only partially made with recycled plastics or
ocean plastics opens the door for greenwashing. A few flakes from an ocean gyre
soda bottle mixed with a gallon of virgin plastic clearly doesn’t create
meaningful change, so it is critical that brands that take a blending approach
are transparent with their customers. But at scale, those 15 percent and 30
percent ocean plastic products add up to a real impact; and can be a critical
driver for many brands and manufacturers looking to incorporate recycled
plastics into their supply chain.
Blending will open the floodgates and allow recycled plastic and ocean plastic
to be used in applications that were previously off the table. For example, TPE
(a thermoplastic elastomer) has historically seldom been formulated as a
recycled content blend; yet that can be done to offer new partially recycled
compounds widely used in auto manufacturing, medical equipment and many other
Many brands want to be more sustainable and make that part of their message.
Blending lowers the barriers to beginning that journey and helps brands quickly
start making a difference.
It would be great to see more brands making recycled plastic their default,
universal source of raw material. But very few, if any, are willing to — or can
afford to — make that wholesale change.
Gradual progress is the path; and that means starting with blending and dialing
up the percentage of recycled plastic and ocean plastic over time. It seems like
it might be hard to get consumers excited about a product with 10 percent
recycled plastic, but those baby steps are an important part of the journey; and
taken together, that 10 percent can add up to meaningful impact.
to the commercial-grade mix — even in small percentages — is a sea change for
the industry. Real gains can be made. Ocean ecosystems will be spared and local
collectors will raise their standard of living. This begins with an openness to
including blended plastic and considering these materials for a broader scope of
Real, meaningful change takes hard work, perseverance and time. We are still in
the early days of this race, and we should and will take all types of wins.
Every metric ton makes a difference, so let’s bring more firms into the fold by
welcoming blending as an important part of the solution.
Interested in learning more about
and ocean plastic? Join us for our 30-minute, free live webinar that will cover
what we've learned working with brands and their journeys to the incorporation
of recycled ocean plastic into their supply chains. Register today at
Published Sep 3, 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.