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Don't get left behind in the sustainability game

PlasticsToday caught up with Dr. Han Zhang, Sustainability and Advocacy Manager for Dow Packaging & Specialty Plastics (P&SP) North America, for an exclusive interview on where the future of packaging sustainability is headed. Zhang will also be speaking on the same subject at SouthPack, which is co-located with PLASTEC South, on Thursday, November 19, 2015.

PlasticsToday caught up with Dr. Han Zhang, Sustainability and Advocacy Manager for Dow Packaging & Specialty Plastics (P&SP) North America, for an exclusive interview on where the future of packaging sustainability is headed. Zhang will also be speaking on the same subject at SouthPack, which is co-located with PLASTEC South, on Thursday, November 19, 2015.

Zhang is responsible for the implementation of the Energy Bag Program 2.0 and driving the 2025 Sustainability Goals for P&SP, informing the P&SP business of sustainability threats and opportunities and developing strategies to grow business value by leveraging Dow’s sustainability expertise. He is also responsible for advocacy efforts with key trade associations to grow recycling and align their efforts to Dow’s vision. In 2016, Zhang will expand the integration of sustainability into non-packaging sectors of the P&SP portfolio and partner with Marketing and R&D to drive sustainable product innovation.

What are some sustainable material options on the market and in development right now?

Zhang: At Dow, we believe that what is good for the planet and society is also good for business. To that end, we recently launched our 2025 sustainability goals, our third set of decade-long goals—available here. We are committed to applying science expertise to create sustainable solutions to help advance the well-being of humanity.

Many Dow innovations currently on the market help enable more sustainable packaging. The recently launched Innate Precision Packaging Resins offer unprecedented stiffness—toughness balance which can help converters lightweight packages or down-gauge film so less material is used in the package. Beyond the resin, Dow also collaborated with others in the value chain to develop the Recycle Ready Pouch, which is a mono-material Polyethylene (PE) Stand Up Pouch that can be recycled in communities with existing PE film recycling streams such as the grocery store drop-off. The Polyethylene Stand Up Pouch offers up to 88% less total material weight, consumes 54% less total energy, and allows for up to 90% less post-consumer solid waste when compared to a bag-in-box cake mix format with equivalent contents.

How can we increase community engagement for recycling? What types of programs are out there?

Zhang: Recycling programs have certainly been expanding; both in terms of communities served and what types of items can be recycled. Despite progress, approaches to integrated waste management have only begun to evolve. Dow is committed to helping facilitate the world’s transition to a circular economy and is highly active in educating and promoting the advantages of plastic packaging by advocating for increased recycling, for packaging’s role in food security and food preservation, and for the adoption of energy recovery technologies to reduce landfill use.

Dow is leading sustainability  efforts to increase recycling by supporting programs of associations like GreenBlue’s Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) How2Recycle Label program that is a standardized labeling system that clearly communicates recycling instructions to the consumer as well as actively supporting the American Chemistry Council’s (ACC) Flexible Film Recycling group which has laid the groundwork for national public awareness to increase polyethylene (PE) film recovery at store drop-off locations.

As a leading supplier of PE resins and adhesives to the packaging industry, we saw a need to explore new end-of-life options for the growing segment of multi-material flexible plastic packaging. We recognized the untapped value of these non-recycled plastics. The Energy Bag Pilot Program demonstrated that resource recovery of non-recycled plastics is a viable municipal process which can lead to positive long-term environmental advantages.

What are some things to consider when developing a sustainability strategy?

Zhang: The key is to drive lifecycle thinking and science-based decision making. The product lifecycle involves many steps and many concerned parties. This can impact how a business addresses sustainability across a product’s lifecycle. Sustainability strategies can generally be considered from both a reduction in the utilization of resources such as materials, water and energy, as well as an optimization of the package performance. For example, if we want to minimize the amount of food waste incurred during long distribution times, the package should provide better barrier protection as well as strong seals to protect the contents against the environment. 

How can companies stay competitive in the sustainability game?

Zhang: Companies that are committed to providing solutions that benefit the world from an economic, social, and environmental standpoint are positioned to succeed as sustainability becomes increasingly important. Companies should make sure they work with value-chain partners to achieve the balance of value and sustainability that the marketplace demands and consumers need. By continuously seeking to improve solutions, manufacturing methods, and relationships within the value chain, it is possible to stay ahead of the competition. In the end, those that are poised to overcome challenges while remaining dedicated to producing a quality result will succeed in the quest for sustainable innovation.

Several conference sessions at SouthPack will be devoted to packaging design and sustainability. The exhibition and conference runs from November 18 to 19, 2015, in Orlando, Florida. Go to the event website for additional information.
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