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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
Dow, CLF Uncover New Opportunities in Previously Unrecyclable Plastics

While eliminating impacts at the design stage is a crucial strategy for putting a stop to plastic pollution, it’s just one small piece of the puzzle. According to new initiatives and research from The Dow Chemical Company and the Closed Loop Foundation, investing in intelligent end-of-life solutions for previously non-recyclable packaging is just as important.

The Dow Chemical Company is fighting fire with fire (or rather, plastic with plastic), tackling the ocean plastic pollution problem with recycled plastic scrap. Through its participation in the Trash Free Seas Alliance, Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics has developed a trash bag made from post-industrial plastic scrap that will be deployed by volunteers around the US to clean up beaches during the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup on September 16th.

Dow partnered with flexible packaging manufacturer Bemis Company, Inc. and Canada-based converter Polykar Inc. to create the trash bags. Bemis collected the post-industrial plastic scraps and sent them to Polykar, which then combined the reclaimed plastics with Dow’s RETAIN™ technology. The resulting material is a recycled plastic resin, which Polykar used to manufacture the bags. The recycled trash bags are helping pave the way for other difficult-to-recycle packaging formats to enter the recycling stream.

Dow is a founding member of the Trash Free Seas Alliance, a global initiative led by the Ocean Conservancy, which unites industry, science and conservation leaders committed to identifying the causes of waste entering the oceans and developing land-based solutions to address the issue.

“It’s an exciting step forward to be able to use recycled materials to collect and properly dispose of marine debris,” said Emily Woglom, EVP at Ocean Conservancy. “This work is just one example of the type of concrete solutions that we have identified and worked towards with our partners in the Trash Free Seas Alliance. Stopping waste before it ever reaches the ocean through proper waste management practices is key to solving this global problem.”

Meanwhile, the Closed Loop Foundation (CLF), with support from SC Johnson, has released a new study highlighting key insights on how investors can advance film and flexible packaging recycling. The study characterizes the categories of flexible packaging — which includes materials such as snack bags and pouches — and offers insights on challenges and trends to determine how investors can best impact the packaging sector.

“Investors and supply chain leaders are looking for opportunities to catalyze recycling of flexible packaging, but there is a lack of real investable opportunities at the stage of commercialization. We identified a critical need to support the industry and investors by creating a roadmap for investing in flexible packaging,” said Rob Kaplan, Managing Director of Closed Loop Foundation.

Investing in end market development to increase the value of these materials was identified as the area in which investors can have the most significant impact. At the same time, emerging investment opportunities exist in the sorting and processing of flexible packaging, but philanthropic or research funding is still critical to test the most effective solutions and motivate the industry to consider how to incorporate flexible packaging into a thriving recycling system.

While retail collection remains a viable way to collect clean polyethylene film bags and wraps for recycling, it struggles to reach scale. Recycling opportunities are needed for other flexible packaging materials. The study recognizes the crucial work of groups such as MRF of the Future, DOW Energy Bag and other MRF manufacturers that are exploring ways to collect this material through curbside residential recycling programs to ensure greater quantities of film plastics get recycled.

“Research such as this shines the light on the current industry and the struggle with getting more flexible film to the curb. SC Johnson is committed to finding a solution that brings Ziploc® brand bags and other flexible films into the curbside recycling stream. While we know this is a long term endeavor, there is a way to accomplish this goal,” said Kelly M. Semrau, Senior VP of Global Corporate Affairs, Communication and Sustainability at SC Johnson.


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