Established on October 25, 2010, the PEC is an independent non-profit action group comprised of industry, technical, and academic leaders. The PEC has created an independent Technical Advisory Board designed to execute an ongoing, comprehensive research and development effort aimed at a broad cross-section of end-of-life plastics scenarios, including biodegradability, the effective use of recycled and reprocessed plastics, and lifecycle analysis.
The primary focus of this R&D program is on the biodegradability of conventional, petroleum-derived plastics, converting them to useful energy where 93%—well over 40-50 billion lb—end up in landfills, said the release from Hoffer Plastics.
“This [PEC] group is composed of virtually all PhD scientists who are the best of the best,” stated Farb, as she emphasized the importance of scientific facts to the plastics industry. “The media doesn’t always get the true facts and that’s where I get frustrated. Sustainability of course is largely about the ‘3 Rs': reduce, reuse and recycle. But several companies have turned to the PEC because despite their best intents and efforts, the disposal of their products after use simply cannot be handled within the 3 R’s either because of undue contamination, complexity of the disposed article, and other reasons.”
In an interview with PlasticsToday, Farb said that Hoffer Plastics is only the second injection molder to join the PEC, but believes there are many benefits to the molding community in belonging to the PEC. “If you’re not progressive and forward-thinking, you’re missing some opportunities to build a sustainable business and educate the public and your customers on the benefits of plastics,” said Farb.
The PEC has gotten some push-back from California and others for its stand on plastics biodegradability in landfills, but Farb stated emphatically, “The landfill is there and always will be, as I mentioned previously. We’re targeting the things that you can’t put through the recycling stream. We are currently testing an additive here at Hoffer Plastics that is compounded into a conventional base thermoplastic resin. The additive doesn’t activate until it comes into contact with the microorganisms present in a landfill.”
She also noted that there is a continued need for education, both in the manufacturing community and the general public with respect to keeping certain renewably sourced resins such as PLA, polysaccharide-based resins (cellulosics, starches), and other bioplastics out of the conventional recycling stream. “That is because these are totally different materials, incompatible with those in the stream today,” she added. “Additionally, the bioplastics available are currently three times the cost of conventional resins, and my customers aren’t willing to pay that.
“And finally,” Farb said, “the currently projected supply of bioplastics represents a very small fraction of the volume of conventional packaging plastics today that could be rendered biodegradable.”
Farb noted that the PEC is currently working on creating a new ASTM standard laboratory test for biodegradability that will be coupled to a standard guide for projecting the results to a broad range of landfills.
“I care about the future, and I care about educating the public and encouraging people to look at fact-based science to prove that I can biodegrade something and there’s no residue left, and not destroy the recycling stream. Being responsible is key,” she said. “It’s about getting creative and aligning ourselves with people who allow me to bring something special and innovative to the marketplace.”
Dr. Charles Lancelot, the PEC’s Executive Director, said in the release, “We are pleased to have Hoffer Plastics Corporation join the PEC. As a respected leader and innovator in the industry and in sustainability initiatives, Hoffer brings decades of direct experience and breakthrough thinking to the PEC.”
Farb responded: “It’s both a tremendous honor and responsibility to be invited to join the PEC. There is no greater issue of importance to the plastics industry today than environmental sustainability. By working collaboratively with the industry’s leading suppliers, technicians and academics through PEC membership, we have the opportunity to pool our individual efforts to re-design and significantly improve the environmental footprint of the entire industry.”