Trash bags from industrial plastic waste: 8 questions answered

Trash bags made from industrial scrap are a good idea, but using those bags to collect ocean debris washed up on beaches is a better idea. What's best of all is that three vendors joined forces to make that idea a reality.

Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics, a business unit of DowDuPont Materials Science (Midland, MI), through its participation in the Trash Free Seas Alliance and in collaboration with flexible packaging manufacturer Bemis Company, Inc. (Neenah, WI) and Canada-based converter Polykar Inc. (Saint-Laurent, Canada), developed a trash bag made from post-industrial plastic scrap. The bags were used to clean up beaches around the United States during Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup on September 16, 2017. Volunteers used the bags to collect an estimated 4 million pounds of trash during the cleanup.Dow trash bags from industrial scrap

Bemis collected post-industrial plastic scrap and sent them to Polykar, which used its plastic recycling machines to combine the reclaimed plastics with Dow’s Retain polymer modifiers technology. Polykar used the recycled plastic resin to manufacture the bags. The recycled trash bags open a path for previously difficult-to-recycle packaging formats to enter the recycling stream.

“We’ve taken on the challenge with Bemis and Polykar, alongside the Trash Free Seas Alliance, to increase post-industrial recycling and extend sustainable industrial practices to address a worldwide problem,” said Jeff Wooster, global sustainability director for Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics. “We know that if we work together, we can find a way to recover plastic waste and use it to make an even a bigger impact on reducing marine debris.”

PlasticsToday reached out to Wooster for additional details.

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Why were these particular packaging vendors selected?

Wooster: Bemis and Polykar are both leaders in sustainability in their industries, and recognize the need for cross-sector collaboration to address problems such as ocean debris. As manufacturers, both Bemis and Polykar have actively sought to address post-industrial waste challenges.

Was this a one-off test or a pilot?DowDupont's Jeff Wooster

Wooster: Dow collaborated with Bemis and Polykar to develop the recycled trash bags as a one-time demo for the 2017 International Coastal Cleanup. At this time, there are no plans to commercialize these bags, but we’re always exploring new possibilities to extend resource recovery solutions.

Retain is globally available and converters are using it to up-cycle their barrier scrap to use for a range of applications. Although not related to this program, there are some consumer trash bags on the market made partly from recycled polyethylene film.

How is Retain an enabler for this?

Wooster: Retain technology makes ethylene vinyl alcohol (EVOH) and polyethylene (PE) compatible with each other, allowing post-industrial barrier packaging to be recycled without compromising performance or efficiency in processability.

How many garbage bags were produced?

Wooster: The collaboration has resulted in the creation of 300,000 large trash bags. The bags produced for the International Coastal Cleanup are opening doors for new, previously difficult-to-recycle packaging formats to enter the recycling stream.Dow trash bags manufacturing ops

What was the exact nature of the post-industrial scrap?

Wooster: Through an entirely new plastic recycling technology, the cross-sector partnership enables previously non-recycled post-industrial plastic scraps to be used to manufacture the International Coastal Cleanup trash bags.

These films are a combination of various polyethylene resins, adhesive tie layer materials and barrier polymers, such as EVOH. Bemis collected the previously non-recycled post-industrial plastic scraps from its production facilities to provide the material to Polykar, which converted the post-industrial plastic films and used the reclaimed resins to manufacture the International Coastal Cleanup bags. Retain is the additive used to make the two polymers compatible and improve the performance of the resulting products.

What was done with the scrap before this program?

Wooster: Bemis manufactures plastic packaging and, as a result, generates industrial scrap. Plastic packaging for food products such as meat, cheese and nuts, contains EVOH, an oxygen barrier that extends shelf life and keeps the contents enclosed fresh. While combining different materials into a package’s structure improves performance, it also makes the packaging difficult to recycle as the materials are incompatible with one another. Retain allowed Polykar to combine the different polymers, enabling them to be recycled into the trash bags used for the International Coastal Cleanup.

What was the biggest challenge?

Wooster: Physical strength is an important property for trash bags, as it prevents the product from breaking. If you tried to manufacture these bags using non-recycled plastics without Retain, they wouldn't have the puncture- or tear-resistance or impact strength needed to hold the bags’ contents. Retain allows converters to maintain the strength of the PE, enhance physical toughness, and also enable the material to be recycled.

Anything else to mention?

Wooster: As a plastic resin manufacturer, Dow views all plastics as highly valuable resources, regardless of their form. We are committed to leading a transformation to a sustainable society through cross-sector collaboration, identifying solutions to overcome resource recovery challenges.

In 2014, Dow created Retain polymer modifiers as a way to enhance the recycling possibilities of barrier films. Retain can be used for a variety of packaging that needs to have clear labeling and barrier material. The technology provides solutions and an unprecedented opportunity to develop sustainable and recyclable packaging.

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