Plastics are an important part of the global economy and have many practical applications for everyday life, but their indisputable benefits are countered by their environmental drawbacks — especially in terms of ocean pollution. Recognizing the seriousness of the problem, more and more companies are finding new and innovative ways to tackle plastic pollution both at the source and at end-of-life.
Tech giant Dell is the latest company to join the band of businesses combatting ocean plastic pollution with new products and packaging derived from recycled materials. The program demonstrates an important step towards achieving its 2020 goal of 100 percent sustainable packaging and tackling a growing environmental problem.
As an industry first, Dell has developed packaging trays made with 25 percent recycled ocean plastic content as part of a new commercial-scale pilot program. The company recycled plastics from waterways and beaches for use in the new packaging tray for its Dell XPS 13 2-in1 beginning April 30. In 2017, its ocean plastics pilot is expected to keep 16,000 pounds of plastic from entering the ocean.
“I have been in supply chain and operations for twenty years and this is the first time my 10-year-old daughter has gotten excited about what I do,” said Kevin Brown, Chief Supply Chain Office for Dell. “This new packaging initiative demonstrates that there are real global business applications for ocean plastics that deliver positive results for our business and planet. We look forward to working across industries for broader impact.”
To create the packaging, Dell’s partners intercept ocean plastics at the source in waterways, shorelines and beaches before it reaches the ocean. It then processes and refines the used plastic, mixes the ocean plastic (25 percent) with other recycled HDPE plastics (the remaining 75 percent) from sources such as bottles and food storage containers. The resulting plastic flake is then molded into new packaging trays.
The new packaging will be accompanied by consumer education materials and a No. 2 recycling symbol, designating it as HDPE, to ensure packaging doesn’t end up back in the oceans.
Dell’s pilot program follows a successful feasibility study launched in March 2016 in Haiti. Since 2008, Dell has included post-consumer recycled plastics in desktops, and last month reached its 2020 goal of using 50 million pounds of recycled materials in its products. Dell’s Packaging team designs and sources its product packaging to be more than 93 percent recyclable by weight so that it can be reused as part of the circular economy. The company is currently the only to offer computers and monitors that contain e-waste plastics and recycled carbon fiber.
The company has increasingly focused on adopting a circular approach — where materials from someone else’s waste stream can be used as inputs into products and packaging.
In partnership with actor Adrian Grenier and the Lonely Whale Foundation, Dell has helped to increase understanding of ocean health issues, using virtual reality technology to bring people closer to the issues facing the oceans. A recent study reported between 4.8 and 12.7 million metric tons of mismanaged plastic waste entered the ocean in 2010 alone. Dell has published a white paper on sourcing strategies and plans to convene a cross-industry working group that will address ocean plastics on a global scale.
“I am so proud to see the goal of my partnership with Dell fully realized in this program. Not only are we keeping plastics from entering our ocean, but we are also educating consumers and leading by example through developing new and innovative business systems. The health of our ocean affects the health of our families and our communities, this is one example of our collective ability to protect it,” Grenier said.
Meanwhile, NatureWorks has joined forces with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to drive forward the Foundation’s initiative to create a global plastics system based on circular economy principles.
Among other things, the plan calls for exploring and adopting renewable feedstocks — thereby eliminating fossil fuel-derived plastics — and reducing leakage of plastics into the environment, all amidst the broader context of creating an effective after-use plastics economy by improving the economics and uptake of recycling, reuse and controlled biodegradation for appropriate targeted applications.
During the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, the foundation released new report ***The New Plastics Economy — Catalyzing Action***, which provides a transition strategy for achieving the goals of the New Plastics Economy initiative. The strategy includes guidelines for new types of packaging, improved technology and processes for reuse and innovations in material types and characteristics. The goals and strategies outlined in the new report are endorsed by more than 40 leading organizations representing the entire global plastics industry.
“We welcome the partnership of biopolymers producers such as NatureWorks to our New Plastics Economy initiative,” said Rob Opsomer, lead for the Foundation’s initiative. “We look forward to working with NatureWorks and all our participants on ways for the global plastics industry to support new materials innovation, design better packaging, increase recovery rates and introduce new models for making better use of packaging.”
“Last year, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation presented at Davos a report that for the first time outlined a comprehensive, truly global perspective on plastics innovation needs at a societal level and included a vision of the business opportunity for industry,” said Marc Verbruggen, President and CEO of NatureWorks. “After working with the Foundation for several years and as a technology and market leader in the bioplastics industry, we felt that stepping up to a three-year partnership was essential to support and provide input into the foundation’s game-changing vision of the future.”
Finally, public officials in Connecticut have teamed up with plastic makers and retailers to launch a new campaign aimed at increasing recycling rates of plastic wraps and bags.
Launched by the Flexible Film Recycling Group of the American Chemistry Council and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), the campaign is designed to increase awareness about the environmental impacts of plastic waste and proper disposal.
Across the country, more than 18,000 retail stores collect plastic film for recycling, but consumer awareness remains low. A recent survey of Connecticut residents found that only half are aware that certain plastic items should be brought to grocery or retail stores for proper recycling. “When plastics bags or wraps are put in curbside bins, it makes recycling more difficult, time consuming and expensive, which winds up costing all of us more money,” said Rob Klee, Connecticut’s DEEP commissioner. The new campaign is designed to change that, with information being made available at PlasticFilmRecycling.org.
The Connecticut campaign is part of WRAP (Wrap Recycling Action Program), a public-private partnership that promotes recycling of plastic wraps and bags. The partnership includes the FFRG, the DEEP, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, GreenBlue, the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, Association of Plastics Recyclers, brand companies, retailers and state and local governments. WRAP has set a goal to double plastic film recycling — approximately 2 billion pounds — by 2020.