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Solving the ongoing packaging conundrum demands a significant shift in how businesses think — moving from a linear to a circular model of operation to improve the amount of packaging that can be reused, recycled and returned to the value chain.
Companies are under more
than ever before to ensure their packaging does not have a lasting impact on the
natural environment. At the same time, consumers are hyperaware of the need to
reduce the amount of plastic waste because of its impact on the environment. As
a result, more countries are proposing regulation to reduce
while business leaders have put the recyclability of
as a top agenda
“In my 20 years of working in packaging, I’ve never seen the subject gain so
much interest,” says Julie Zaniewski, who has been a Sustainability Director
at Dow since 2019 and was previously with Unilever for
almost 20 years. She credits this groundswell of excitement to improved consumer
Previously, the sole purpose of packaging was to contain a product and keep it
safe and secure — from the manufacturing plant to the supermarket, to the home:
“Beyond that, there really wasn’t much else to consider,” Zaniewski says.
But as consumer understanding has evolved, there are a range of considerations
to be made — not least whether that packaging is really the most sustainable
is helping shape policy and regulation, with lawmakers growing in confidence as
they impose sanctions and
on companies that fail to reduce the impact of packaging.
“It’s also driving a lot of activity indirectly to ensure the right mechanisms,
infrastructure and technologies are in place,” Zaniewski says.
But making the right decision about the type and amount of packaging to use is a
complex business. Solving the packaging conundrum demands a significant shift in
how businesses think, moving from a linear to a circular model of operation to
improve the amount of packaging that can be reused, recycled and returned to the
And often, it’s not as easy as simply using alternatives to plastic, as that
could lead to unintended consequences that are not necessarily better for the
planet. For example, according to
replacing plastic packaging with alternative materials would increase
environmental costs from $139 billion to $533 billion annually. Similarly, a
by researchers at Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University shows that
replacing plastics with alternative materials such as glass and
would increase manufacturing costs due to the energy consumed and resources,
including water, required to process them.
There is no silver bullet in the race to go circular, improve recyclability,
responsibly supply bio-based materials, and reduce our dependency on
fossil-fuel-derived products, Zaniewski asserts: “Of course, there are a range
of different options available. But to make sure that we have materials
available to consumers, we have to also ensure the production processes and
waste collection and recycling
is in place.”
While the technology exists, it is often the startup investment and operational
costs of new systems that are a stretch too far.
“We need to make sure waste management and recycling management achieve parity.
Right now, they do not,” she says.
Dow is committed to playing its part. In Alberta, Canada, it is building the
net-zero emissions integrated ethylene cracker and derivatives site — more than
tripling capacity to deal with ethylene and polyethylene from its facility
there. It will be able to produce and supply roughly 3.2 million metric tons of
certified low- to zero-carbon polyethylene and ethylene derivatives for its
customers around the world.
The company has also made a series of investments to make sure it can deliver
more recycled plastic packaging products that provide the same performance as
virgin plastics. In the Netherlands, Dow has teamed
with Fuenix Ecogy Group to expand circular plastics production. A new plant
will process 20,000 tons of plastic waste into pyrolysis oil feedstock, which
will be used to produce new circular plastic for new products including beauty
tubes, lettuce containers and more.
The company is also working with Gunvor Petroleum Rotterdam to purify
derived from plastic waste. Gunvor is supplying cracker-ready feedstock for Dow
to make more circular plastics, with the purification process being used to
ensure the pyrolysis oil feedstocks are of sufficient quality to produce new
Companies including Amazon are also leading the charge. Amazon is one of
several big businesses to inject money into funds managed by Closed Loop
Partners, which invests
sustainable manufacturing technologies and recycling. Together, companies
PepsiCo, Procter &
Gamble and Walmart have
committed more than $54 million to support a range of projects. These include
Eureka Recycling, which recovers nearly
100,000 tons of primarily residential recycling a year; and
TemperPack, which makes plant- and
fiber-based, insulated packaging solutions for cold chain shipments, perishable
food and pharmaceuticals.
Dow’s own sustainability targets will continue to drive its packaging
innovation, creating products in a way that has a reduced environmental impact
both operationally and for customers as they use them.
As Zaniewski emphasizes, "We're committed to closing the loop by redesigning our
packaging so that it is 100 percent reusable or recyclable by 2035 — that’s good
news for Dow, good news for our customers and good news for the planet.”
Published Jan 17, 2022 7am EST / 4am PST / 12pm GMT / 1pm CET
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This article, produced in cooperation with the Sustainable Brands editorial team, has been paid for by one of our sponsors.
Everyone has a role to play in creating a more sustainable world: Dow is taking action to address the full scale of challenges, collaborating with partners to improve the industry’s processes and through innovation to help communities become more sustainable.