Stories about recycling in the news media all seem to point to one thing: Recycling isn’t working as planned, so we have to get rid of plastics. Plastic pollution is targeted as the biggest environmental problem we face. We’re constantly being told of its “devastating” effects, as in a half-hour 60 Minutes piece on Dec. 16. The segment showed video after video of “rivers” of plastic waste in the Philippines and on the beaches of Midway Island, which is hundreds of miles from any heavily inhabited country. The solution offered in this segment? Get rid of single-use plastics.
Reducing the amount of virgin resin in manufacturing bottles is seen as one answer to the perceived lack of recycling’s success. Don’t make as much single-use plastic stuff like water bottles that end up as waste in the environment, they say. According to PatSnap’s latest report, “Sustainable Packaging Innovation and R&D Trends: the scramble to scrap single-use plastic,” regulation is forcing companies to reduce their usage of virgin plastics. PatSnap is a firm specializing in patent search, innovation intelligence and intellectual property analytics. “Regulation from China saw the ban on importing waste plastics begin in December 2017,” the report noted. “In January 2018, the European Union (EU) announced it aims to make all plastic packaging in the EU recyclable by 2030.”
While it might be possible to make all plastic packaging recyclable in the EU and, indeed, worldwide, that does not mean that all plastic packaging will be recycled. That’s because you still have the human element involved. Even if all plastic packaging is recyclable, humans must take the responsibility to get the recyclable plastic packaging into the proper waste stream to ensure that it is recycled. And that’s the real problem!
PatSnap’s report said that its analysis of current intellectual property filings of modern innovators in sustainable packaging and PET recovery found that these areas “are crying out for innovation. Companies filing in this space could go on to control the growing market for recyclable and re-usable plastics used in packaging.”
Providing examples, PatSnap noted that “Mondelez International announced that it will make all of its packaging recyclable by 2025, as the company aims to reduce waste levels and create a circular economy for packaging.” PepsiCo signed a multi-year supply agreement with Loop Industries to incorporate Loop’s plastic into its product packaging by early 2020. Nestlé announced its “ambition” to make all packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025.
“While PET recovery has seen an uptick in patent filings in 2016, it is clear there is no real trend in search queries, which may indicate an industry that is innovating at pace,” said PatSnap. “This is perhaps not so surprising when considering that this is an issue which companies are facing due to regulatory change.”
The most number of patents filed for the recovery or working-up of waste plastic materials were filed in 2017 and 2018. “For the area of recovery or working-up of waste materials there have been only a small number of filings over the past 10 years, and many of these areas have seen no patenting activity. The top companies patenting innovations in this area include Toray Industries, Eastman, Teijin, DuPont and Arkema. “Loop Industries Inc., appears to be the most prolific new entrant in this PET recovery and up-working area,” said PatSnap. Loop Industries holds a patent that uses a chemical recycling process to break down waste PET and polyester into their monomer building blocks, resulting in resin that is the “same quality as virgin feedstock, and one that meets FDA requirements for use in food-grade packaging.”