Plastics and packaging are ubiquitous and leading to major problems both for waste management and ocean pollution. While many companies are committing to reduce or eliminate single-use plastics, there is still a lot of work to do on all fronts.
For its part, the Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council (HPRC) has launched a project to determine viable strategies for recycling multi-material flexible plastic packaging currently being discarded as hospital waste. Working with researchers at the Plastics Engineering Department at the University of Massachusetts Lowell (UMass Lowell), the project will involve blending trials and material analysis as well as identifying potential end-market applications for the resulting recycled products.
“Based on our research and data, up to 60% of plastic waste generated by healthcare facilities is flexible material,” said Chris Rogers, Project Manager for HPRC. “The challenge with healthcare flexibles is that they are often composed of multi-material laminates which are unrecyclable when using common recycling technologies. Through this project, we hope to shed some light on the physical properties these materials will have when processed with different types of compatibilizers applied in varying concentrations. By better understanding these properties, recyclers can better determine potential opportunities to compound these materials with other products for resale markets and therefore better understand their value.”
Collection of flexible plastic materials, such as sterilization wrap and film packaging, began in March at participating hospitals in Massachusetts. The research team aims to collect and ship 2,000 pounds of material to EREMA, a manufacturer of plastic recycling equipment, where it will undergo initial processing at their Ipswich, MA facility. Afterwards, the material will be delivered to UMass Lowell where the compatibilizers will be added to the materials prior to extrusion and injection molding. Following this the materials will undergo testing and analysis with project results anticipated by mid-summer 2018.
“The volume of discarded healthcare plastics is huge and the ability to recycle this material would reduce the landfill burden while preserving the value of these highly engineered products,” said Margaret J. Sobkowicz, Associate Professor at the Francis College of Engineering, UMass Lowell. “The students participating in this research will not only learn hands-on processing skills, but they will also gain appreciation for the importance of sustainability in the plastics industry.”
Those with ideas or who are developing technologies that could reduce ocean plastic pollution could be eligible for funding under a new £25 million investment scheme. Sky launched the fund alongside an “innovators in residence” program that will allow businesses to pilot and test their products at the company’s headquarters in London, UK.
The first startup taking up the residency is Skipping Rocks Lab, which uses natural materials made from plants and seaweeds to reduce plastic packaging. It will test products such as juice and water contained in biodegradable seaweed orbs.
The fund and residency program are part of the Sky Ocean Rescue campaign, which aims to reduce the amount of single-use plastics that end up in the sea.
“Sky Ocean Ventures is a bold new creation that will support breakthrough thinking and invest in promising new ideas that will help turn off the plastics tap,” said Jeremy Darroch, Sky's group chief executive. “We look forward to working with other like-minded organisations who can help us find and support innovators who are developing products, materials and business models that will create meaningful change.”
Meanwhile, BillerudKorsnäs has introduced what it is calling its first climate-positive packaging product. Co-developed with LafargeHolcim, D-Sack® is a dissolvable sack for cement and other construction materials that “disappears” during the mixing process, eliminating packaging waste while helping to ensure a cleaner and safer workplace.
“When exposed to aggregate, water and mechanical action, D-sack disappears and becomes part of the concrete, mortar and finally, the new building. The carbon fixed in the paper fibres during photosynthesis in the growth period of the tree also becomes part of the building, making D-Sack climate-positive,” a company video explains.
In a lifecycle assessment conducted by IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute, D-Sack was found to capture CO2 over a one-hundred-year perspective, explaining that the CO2 captured from the atmosphere during tree growth and then incorporated into the paper is stored in the concrete structure. The solution seems like a natural fit for BillerudKorsnäs, which recently investigated city-dwellers’ views on packaging sustainability.