PlasticsToday continues our interview with Nathan Wiker, Dow’s Global Market Lead and North America Group Marketing Director, about the circular economy, movement towards clean packaging, activity in rigid and flexible packaging, premiumization and an exciting new product.
Tell us more about Dow’s efforts for a circular economy.
Wiker: Dow is completely committed to making sure that our products and our industry and value chain are as circular as possible.
We see that one size does not fit all; it’s not one type of package going through the supply chain and coming back as the same package—there are other end-use markets that can benefit from recycling. We also look at things like chemical recycling or feedstock recycling as part of the equation.
We’re looking at the design, we’re looking at the end use, we’re looking at developing new end use markets, and we’re looking at different coalitions to make that happen.
The Hefty EnergyBag program advances Dow’s vision of a circular economy by demonstrating that energy recovery for plastic waste is a viable, self-sustaining way to divert more plastics from landfills for reuse. The program is an innovative initiative that collects hard-to-recycle plastics and converts them into valuable energy resources. It is a significant step in achieving positive long-term environmental and economic advantages, including reusing plastics to create valuable energy resources and reducing tons of plastics that end up in landfills.
In 2017, 35 Dow volunteers participated in local improvement activities in an effort to clean up facilities, paint classrooms and install green lighting in Cartagena, Colombia. The project, in conjunction with Dow and Conceptos Plásticos, Rochester School, the City Secretary of Education, and Fundación Mamonal, responded to the need to develop educational infrastructure in a sustainable way. The project consisted in the construction of two sustainable classrooms that can accommodate up to 30 students, through the use of recycled plastic. To support the initiative, Dow led a plastic waste collection effort with employees and customers resulting in the collection of 14 tons of plastic, which were then processed by Conceptos Plásticos to produce the blocks used to build the classrooms.
Read more about these efforts here.
Later in 2017, with a goal to reduce marine debris and advance a circular economy, Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics (P&SP), joined efforts with The Indonesian Aromatic & Plastic Olefin Industry Association (INAPLAS); Indonesia Plastic Recycling Association (ADUPI); PT Polytama Propindo (Indonesia PP Manufacturing); the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) and the Indonesian government to further develop the country’s environmentally friendly plastic road building project.
This project aimed to help the Indonesian government reach its goal of reducing plastics waste in the ocean by 70% by 2025.
Read more about these efforts here.
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We’ve noted that the clean labeling trend for foods has extended beyond that to clean packaging where additives or compounds like bisphenol-A (BPA) create uncertainty even if deemed safe by science. Can you comment on packaging polymers that can maintain consumers’ trust?
Wiker: In regards to the contents of the package, you certainly see fewer ingredients and more ingredients that people can pronounce even if they’re still chemicals.
However, those products actually require higher-tech packaging because as brands add fewer preservatives, they need the package to do more for the shelf life through higher barrier materials. That brings into play polymers like a Surlyn or an Infinity Sealant. Granola is a good instance where we can make that package barrier with an ethylene vinyl alcohol (EVOH) layer, but through Retain, still have that recyclability.
For example, polyethylene is an inert material that doesn’t have a lot of negative aspects in terms of additives; you mentioned BPA, even if it’s not scientifically proven to be unhealthy. We keep that in mind as we design new resins to make sure that we’re not introducing anything that could be of potential concern.
What are you seeing in the growth and dynamics between rigid plastics and flexible packaging?
Wiker: Consumers continue to see the benefits of flexible packaging from an overall weight perspective and greenhouse gas emission perspective, and we’re designing new packaging that makes it even thinner and provides ever-longer shelf life.
An example is from meat and cheese packaging where brands change from a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) film-wrapped tray to modified atmosphere packaging and now to vacuum-skin packaging that’s enabled by products like Surlyn. That trend will continue because a growing number of shops no longer have butcher shops in-house as they move to more efficient centralized butchering, and that means a longer shelf life is needed and the only way to do that is through advanced packaging.
We also see growth on the rigid packaging side in different markets including beverage, which is a key growing segment for us. We have a large caps and closures portfolio with the EVERCAP line of closure resins.
We realize the benefit of some rigid packaging in end of life issues, and what we’re trying to extend to flexible packaging is that curbside infrastructure is working to make sure that flexibles are just as easy to recycle.
We also are aware of frustration-free packaging, and that can sometimes mean that consumers can just drop it off on the curb to be recycled versus having to take it back into the store. That’s a viable option with packaging that carries the How2Recycle label. We’re continuing to work with industry partners to make that easier on the flexible packaging side.
What other issues are worth pointing out to our audience?
Wiker: We continue to talk about the Total Package a reaction to the fact that Dow is by far the broadest supplier to the packaging market. Flexible plastic packaging is consistently the right choice for durable, safe and convenient food and beverage packaging as seen in our video. Our Total Package has been strengthened with the DuPont merger. Before, Dow had string portfolio in resins, laminates and adhesives, which uniquely positioned our competence in understanding those interactions to produce a more effective Total Package. Add on DuPont’s copolymers with brands like Surlyn and Bynel and others that aren’t just iconic in name, but iconic in performance, and bring significant benefits to the package as we come together. And we’re planning to spin off to the new Dow in April.
Also, one of the products we’re highlighting now is our Opulux Matte coating. It provides a unique matte finish appearance with the haptics of soft touch in addition to benefits of heat resistance for package process-ability sealing. Notably, it’s a water-based formulation that avoids some issues around solvent-based lacquers and coatings.
It’s something we’re excited about that addresses the trend in premiumization where we see that as more and more entrants into retail and ecommerce want to differentiate the package more and more.
Soft-touch packaging is appropriate for a lot of different applications including dog food, a category that’s experienced a lot of premiumization.
Another market is for natural snacks, because both a matte finish and soft touch tells consumers “this is different.”
Opulux is appropriate for any brand that wants to stand out in a specific category.
Lastly, can you give a hint as to what’s in Dow’s pipeline that excites you?
Wiker: I can mention one that’s not quite to North America, but it’s coming. It’s something we’ve leveraged it out of Asia Pacific—what we call Tenter Frame Biaxially Oriented Polyethylene or TE-BOPE, which is a replacement for biaxially oriented polypropylene (BOPP).
Orienting PE yields significantly better clarity and abuse performance and with much higher stiffness than a typical PE—properties that open up significant new design flexibilities.
In Asia Pacific they’ve launched this very successfully under our INNATE brand. We do not make the film, we’re still making the resin that’s suitable for this process.
And that resin is available now. We’re identifying specific partners who can convert that into the TE-BOPE brand of film and are also working with various brand owners in the U.S. and around the globe.
Addendum: TE-BOPE was one of six innovative technologies from Dow recognized with R&D 100 Awards on November 16, 2018, by R&D Magazine, two of which were polyolefins. The awards identify and celebrate the top 100 revolutionary technologies introduced during the past year. The two are:
Tenter Frame Biaxially Oriented Polyethylene (TF-BOPE) film is a new addition to the INNATE Precision Packaging Resin family that provides higher mechanical properties and material rigidity, along with better optical and printing performance. Compared to traditional PE products, TF-BOPE can achieve up to 80% less haze, twice the impact strength, twice the tensile modulus, three times the puncture resistance and three times the tensile strength.
ENGAGE PV Polyolefin Elastomers: As the global photovoltaic (PV) market continues to grow, material selection can be a critical component in the ongoing success of PV module manufacturers. ENGAGE PV Polyolefin Elastomers (POEs) help make the choice for PV encapsulant films easier with opportunities for exceptional long-term performance, reliability, and lower overall energy cost.
Read Part 1 of our interview with Dow’s Nathan Wiker here.