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Waste Not
Can Green PE, Better Collection and Recycling Redeem Plastic? Braskem Thinks So

As ocean plastic in particular has captured the world’s attention, plastic producers such as Braskem have quickly ramped up efforts to use plastic responsibly and create better alternatives.

Love it or hate it, plastic is a material that makes much of life as we know it possible. That’s why better plastic management was a central theme last week at SB’19 Detroit. As ocean plastic in particular has captured the world’s attention, plastic companies have quickly ramped up efforts to use plastic responsibly and create better alternatives.

Braskem is one of these innovators — the company’s booth in the Innovation Expo featured a blue info-tower and a buzz of Brazilian team members, keen to share information about their sustainable materials and waste-collection partnerships. Two of my favorites were the Sweetfoam used in Allbirds shoes, and a partnership with the Philadelphia Eagles to collect and recycle bottle caps from Lincoln Financial Field Stadium.

We caught up with Fabiana Quiroga, Director of Recycling at Braskem, to hear more about the Brazilian petrochemical giant’s approach to a circular economy for plastic.

Braskem is the largest resin producer in the Americas, but you have recognized that plastic waste is causing environmental harm, especially in oceans. How are you tackling this issue?

Fabiana Quiroga: Adequate management of the disposal of plastic waste is a growing global concern. We are supporting comprehensive, science-based policies to understand the origin and prevent ocean debris; and to improve solid waste management (especially of plastic waste). To contain this situation, we know that proper plastic disposal and recycling are viable solutions with social, economic and environmental impacts. Braskem closely monitors this topic through a series of actions catalyzed by our positioning on the circular economy, and will spare no efforts to make a positive difference and actively collaborate.

In addition, innovations in plastics are essential for enabling society to raise living standards and to advance sustainability through products that avoid waste and increase efficiency. Plastics are already contributing to reduce greenhouse gases and to the more efficient use of natural resources, such as energy and water. That said, for society to leverage the benefits that plastics offer, it is essential that they be recovered properly to avoid causing harm to our natural environments, including marine ecosystems.

Braskem reinforces the importance of responsible plastic usage. It must be discarded properly — and reused, recycled or recovered.

Some people are questioning whether we should still use plastic at all. Would we be better off eliminating plastic?

FQ: It is important to reinforce that plastics play a fundamental role in sustainable development by preventing environmental impacts in various sectors of the economy, such as generating less CO2 in the automotive segment. Plastics also make relevant contributions to agricultural productivity and efficiency, food safety, hospital hygiene and being a part of people’s daily lives through many applications. Because of their versatility and capacity for innovation, plastics also are invariably better suited for supporting innovative sustainable technologies.

Braskem has a number of recycled plastic products, as well as products made from biobased materials. What factors are hindering or accelerating more sustainable products?

FQ: The demand for sustainable solutions has been growing in virtually all industries, especially after major brand owners have undertaken voluntary commitments to use renewable and/or recycled raw materials. Knowing the importance of contributing to this market’s development our portfolio offers efficient resins aligned with our belief and purpose of improving people’s lives through sustainable solutions.

One of the launches is the partnership with Embalixo, Brazil’s leading trash bag producer. Named Embalixo Repelente, it is the first line of trash bags with [mosquito] repellent action, which also bears the seals “Plástico Reciclado. Ciclo Consciente” and “I’m green™.” The product is made from industrial sacks previously used by Braskem for delivering its resins, combined with our Green Polyethylene (PE) resin.

You have set a goal that 100% of plastic packaging be reused, recycled or recovered by 2040. What will it take to get there?

FQ: Braskem is committed to a circular economy — a consumption concept based on sustainable product cycles from the manufacturing phase to final disposal. The commitment lists principles, such as partnerships with clients to conceive new products that will broaden and facilitate recycling. It also includes investments in new resins using renewable resources, such as Green PE made from sugarcane, supporting new technologies; and developing solutions that use a single raw material, which favors the plastic recycling chain and thus offers a post-consumer resin (PCR) with a wider range of applications. Those efforts with our clients and partners are the answer to the desire of society regarding ecofriendly products to have environmentally positive impacts.

Braskem also voluntarily undertook the commitment to adopt best practices across its industrial units to further reduce the loss of pellets (raw material used to make plastic packaging) in its industrial processes by 2020. All these efforts have the purpose to achieve the industry commitments to have all plastic packaging reused, recycled or recovered by 2040.

How are you helping companies reach their own green packaging targets?

FQ: In November 2018, we undertook a public commitment that outlines eight initiatives to promote a circular economy, which include efforts to forge partnerships with clients for designing new products to capture efficiency gains, and facilitating the recycling and reuse of plastic products.

Created to encourage businesses that extract value from post-consumer plastic waste, the Wecycle platform has supported advances and is bringing new grades to market. Products and solutions using plastic waste are developed through partnerships with clients, recyclers, co-operatives and brand owners.

In Brazil, Braskem joined GPA — the country’s largest retailer — to produce new packaging for its Qualitá brand stain remover from the waste plastic discarded in the collection stations at GPA’s Extra and Pão de Açúcar supermarkets across the country. After sorting, the waste is sent to a recycler that produces new resin that will be passed on to the plastic transformer, which in turn will produce the packaging of the “Tira-Manchas” stain remover, closing the production cycle.

Another initiative is the monomaterial stand-up pouch packaging, developed with our client, Antilhas Flexíveis. Made 100 percent from polyethylene, the product is highly recyclable. Its recycling creates a post-consumer resin of higher quality that consequently has a broader market of potential applications. The solution is already available in the market and has applications in the cosmetics and food industries.