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Articles from 2018 In December


Plastics processing machinery market trending flat in a toughening global environment

2019 start

On a macro level, plastics machinery shipments in North America continued to increase in the third quarter of 2018, according to statistics compiled and reported by the Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS; Washington, DC) Committee on Equipment Statistics (CES). The preliminary estimate of shipments of primary plastics equipment (injection molding and extrusion) for reporting companies totaled $349.4 million in the third quarter. This was a 4.1% increase from the $335.5 million (revised) second-quarter shipments. Year-over-year, shipments grew 5.6%.

“Plastics machinery shipments recovered in the third quarter following a weak second quarter,” said Perc Pineda, Chief Economist of PLASTICS. “We expect higher shipments in the fourth quarter. We have a tight labor market and U.S. manufacturers, including plastics machinery manufacturers, have been working on production backlogs. As a result, shipments are pushed into the next quarters.”

When taking a look at injection molding machinery at the micro level, i.e. individual machinery producers and molders, the picture seems less rosy. Analyst Stephen Simpson, CFA for Seeking Alpha, noted in his latest analysis of Milacron (Dec. 21, 2018) that “life in plastic has not been so fantastic for Milacron.” Its shares have sold off sharply (a 40% drop in the past six months) “as tariffs and end-market weakness threaten the health of the capital machinery investment cycle.” However, Simpson also noted that Milacron “still has multiple long-term positive drivers, including increasing its share of aftermarket parts, service and monitoring, driving a stronger consumables mix, and leveraging restructuring efforts.” Still, “sentiment for capex machinery is very weak and Milacron needs some stronger reported numbers.”

Simpson points to weaker markets as part of the problem, as Milacron reported a small decline in organic revenue in Q3 (on a 2% volume contraction) and a 15% decline in orders, with weakness in China noted. “It looks like tariff-related disruptions have become a bigger issue for Milacron and its client base,” said Simpson. Coming off the third quarter, “management noted that North American orders had started to rebound and orders in India were recovering, but Chinese orders were remaining weaker,” said Simpson. “A host of Japanese machine tool and machinery companies have been reporting declining orders from China in recent months, with companies holding off on capex commitments as they wait to see how the trade dispute with the U.S. plays out.

“While the agreement earlier in December to suspend further tariff implementation helped a little, it hasn’t really done much to improve the overall level of uncertainty, and the next round of increased tariffs could be enough to drive U.S. companies to meaningfully change their supply chains,” added Simpson. “It’s worth nothing, though, that China is only a little more than 10% of the business at Milacron.”

Weaker trends in end markets are also impacting Milacron, according to Simpson’s analysis. “Auto build rates have been weakening and auto capex spending has gotten shaky, even though the long-term trend is still favorable for incorporating more plastics into future models,” he commented. “Packaging looks fairly safe, with low- to mid-single-digit volume growth from most participants, but consumer electronics has definitely weakened and construction looks liable to slow in 2019.”

Competition is another hurdle for Milacron. Simpson points to a few foreign players that have announced plans over the past year to open new U.S. facilities, including Nissei Plastic, Ube Machinery and Engel. “Sumitomo Heavy Industries has been reporting stronger results in its plastics machinery business, with six-month revenue and orders for the period ending September 30 up 17% and 14%, respectively, and the company talking about ‘strong demand’ for its machinery in China,” said Simpson.

It’s not all bad news, reported Simpson. “Although the 15% decline in orders in the third quarter is alarming, there are still some positives with Milacron,” he noted. The company did see a better mix, with stronger aftermarket hot runner and component sales (the MDCS segment, which Simpson called “the exciting part of the story”) helping drive a nearly two-point improvement in gross margin. Weakness in autos and electronics will be a challenge for MDCS, but the “medical market still looks solid and there remains a long-term opportunity for Milacron to drive share gains with hot runners in the coming years.”

Image courtesy Olivier Le Moal/Adobe Stock.

Milacron’s MDCS business generates close to 60% of overall EBITDA, Simpson noted, with much higher margins than the capital equipment–focused APPT segment (though APPT has a notable aftermarket parts and services component). “As part of the company’s overall strategy to prioritize higher-margin consumables, Milacron has seen the mix of consumables increase from less than 45% over five years ago to around two-thirds today, with a significant improvement in EBITDA margin along the way. With management targeting a 75% to 80% mix of consumables in the future, an EBITDA margin target of 20% or more doesn’t seem unreasonable,” said Simpson in his analysis.

While Simpson points out that the current operating environment is a tough one for Milacron, “good things are going on under the surface,” such as the company’s conclusion of a “multi-year restructuring process and a recently introduced injection molding equipment line (the Cincinnati) with some truly heavy-duty capabilities—the company is building a 6,600-ton machine for a customer—that can be used to manufacture things like an entire dashboard in a single go,” he said.

“I like a lot of what’s going on with Milacron, and I really like the potential of the company’s efforts to grab more aftermarket business, increase its consumables mix and drive notably higher margins.”

Global plastics industry report

According to the Machinery Shipments Report from PLASTICS, injection molding machinery generally saw shipments increase 2.1% on a quarterly basis. Single-screw and twin-screw extruder shipments continued double-digit growth of 23.8% and 14.2%, respectively. Compared to the third quarter of 2017, shipments of injection molding machines were up 4.6%. Shipments of single-screw extruders rose 7.7% and twin-screw extruders 17.2% over the same period.

“Except for soft auto and home sales numbers in the third quarter, the U.S. economy is still in expansionary mode—and that’s good news for plastics machinery manufacturing,” said Pineda. "While there are projections of moderate growth next year, it is expected that the U.S. economy will remain healthy.”

On Oct. 31, PLASTICS released its annual Global Trends report at the 2018 Global Plastics Summit (GPS), which analyzes trade date from 2017. It paints a complex and ultimately positive portrait of the U.S. plastics industry.

“The 2018 Global Trends report again shows that the U.S. plastics industry continues to innovate its way into new applications and new markets where even more consumers can benefit from these versatile, lightweight materials and products,” said then President and CEO of PLASTICS, William Carteaux. “This year we are releasing the Global Plastics Ranking, which will help U.S. plastics companies—and particularly PLASTICS members—find new opportunities to export their goods and build new trade relationships abroad.”

Although the report found that the U.S. plastics industry trade surplus decreased nearly 40% in 2017—from $4.8 billion in 2016 to $2.9 billion in 2017—demand was up across the board. Apparent consumption of plastics industry goods increased in 2017 by 6.0%, a large increase that outpaced growth in U.S. plastics industry shipments overall. The decline in the plastics industry’s trade surplus was driven by a 9.3% increase in imports, another sign of strong demand in the United States.

“A shrinking trade surplus in this instance shows how in-demand plastic products and services are in the United States,” said PLASTICS’ Pineda. “Our estimates show that in 2017 the plastics industry global trade volume increased 9.5% from 2016. Free and fair trade is enormously beneficial to the U.S. plastics industry, and thus enormously beneficial to the nearly one million workers it employs.”

The 2018 Global Trends report also showed that U.S. plastics companies exported $15.7 billion to Mexico and $12.5 billion to Canada in 2017, maintaining their largest trade surplus—$10.6 billion—with Mexico, as they had in 2016. Despite the uncertainty of the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 2017, Mexico and Canada remained the U.S. plastics industry’s strongest trading partners, said the report.

What molders and moldmakers are anticipating in 2019

When contacted for a comment on what they expected for 2019, a few molders who are also moldmakers responded. Buying machinery doesn’t seem too high on the list of plans for 2019. One respondent, Matrix Plastic Products (Wood Dale, IL) said the company added two new molding presses as well as some automation equipment in the second half of 2018.

“One of the new presses is a vertical machine to address the increased demand we’re seeing for over-molded applications,” said Anne Ziegenhorn, Sales and Marketing Manager for Matrix Plastic Products. “Based on our customers’ forecasts, we do not anticipate a slow-down for the coming year and are looking forward to a healthy 2019 with some new business on the horizon, as well.”

Evco Plastics (DeForest, WI), a global player in custom injection molding, saw a “very successful 2018 in terms of bringing in new clients and new programs from our existing customer base,” said CEO Dale Evans. “These new programs are due to launch throughout 2019, which will result in double-digit growth year-over-year.”

Evans explained that shifts in the company’s sales projections tend to lag U.S. industrial production trends by a few months. “Considering this, we would expect our general business to slow down the rate of increase in Q3 or Q4 of 2019,” he said.

“We are cautiously optimistic for growth in 2019 and are hearing the same from our customers,” commented Evco’s Director of Sales Stratgey Kate Bashir. “2018 has been a record year for tool building at Evco, which then results in part sales in subsequent years.”

Two respondents to my inquiry said their companies had no plans to invest in any large scale machinery or equipment. Tim Peterson, Vice President of Industrial Molds Group (Rockford, IL) said “most of the company’s planned investments for 2019 will be in support equipment for efficiencies.” However, added Peterson, “we anticipate growth in both our tooling division and the molding operations.”

Ray Coombs, President of Westminster Tool in Plainfield, CT, noted that his company has “been conservative” in purchasing equipment this year. “We have invested most of our money in infrastructure for human capital,” Coombs responded, adding, “in all, I feel the biggest challenge to the industry is the skills gap. It is being felt now more than ever since the capacities are being challenged.”

When it comes to the issues surrounding China and tariffs, and whether it’s driving more business back to the U.S., Industrial’s Peterson said, “I think it’s helped but no proof one way or the other. We’re seeing some higher steel prices but nothing crazy.”

Westminster’s Coombs commented, “from what we have seen it has helped us. Customers that would normally go to China are rethinking [their strategy].”

Ineos Styrolution green lights ASA, ABS additions in the Americas

Ineos Styrolution

Ineos Styrolution (Frankfurt, Germany) is responding to growing demand from users in the automotive, construction, electronics, household and healthcare sectors through capacity additions for styrenic resins at two sites in the Americas. A contract for engineering, procurement and construction has been awarded to WorleyParsons.

In Bayport, TX, the supplier will construct a new 100,000-tonnes/year acrylonitrile styrene acrylate (ASA) plant. Start-up is scheduled for 2021. Further, 70,000-tonnes/year of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) resin capacity will be added at the Ineos Styrolution ABS/ASA facility in Altamira, Mexico, taking capacity there to an estimated 250,000 tonnes/year.

The ASA facility will strengthen the Ineos Styrolution position as the only global producer with ASA production capacity in all regions. “I am looking forward to offering our customers additional ASA capacity allowing for more flexible production of specialty grades per their growing demand in the Americas. In addition, we will be able to produce more ABS in our existing plant in Mexico ,also serving the growing ABS market,” explains Alexander Glueck, President Americas.

Kevin McQuade, CEO Ineos Styrolution, comments: “We continue to follow a strong growth path to meet customer needs, particularly in growth markets like the Americas. Our Triple Shift growth strategy [of focus on growing markets, growing industries and innovative products] continues to serve as an excellent advisor.”

ASA resin retains the major characteristics of ABS resin, but also combines the weather resistance advantage of acrylic resin to extend product applications to outdoor use.

Chinaplas: New momentum arising from transfer of manufacturing within China and overseas

Chinaplas

With unrelenting and extensive globalization of economies and the continuous realignment of global industrial specialization, investment by countries including China in regions such as Southeast Asia has been growing rapidly. In China, one of the largest manufacturing bases in the world, the central and western regions are under accelerated development, proactively undertaking the transfer of manufacturing industries from the east coast. In order to build a wide network of quality resources and fully explore the new momentum in the industry, Chinaplas 2019 aims to act responsively, embracing new opportunities, and tapping into emerging regions.

The assembly of a typical car in China requires parts from more than 20 countries across four continents. The parts and components of an aircraft come from 1,500 large companies and 15,000 SMEs. Manufacturing nowadays has a high degree of specialization and an extensive network. From the Canton Fair to the Import Expo, China says it is committed to attach the same importance on “reach out” and “bring in,” facilitating global economic interactions. The manufacturing industry of China has been increasingly active in outward relocation or expansion.

The plastics and rubber industries have been placing more resources overseas, accelerating the pace of investment and factory establishment. For example, injection molding machine manufacturer Haitian set up factories in Vietnam, India and Turkey in 2010 and 2018, and has application centers in Indonesia, Thailand, Brazil, Mexico and Japan. In 2017, fellow Chinese injection molding machine builder Guangdong Yizumi Precision Machinery commenced production at its new Indian factory and opened a showroom in Vietnam.

Also in 2017, injection machine maker Ningbo Shuangma Machinery Industry established its Indian factory. Compounder Kingfa Sci. & Tech. Co. and extrusion equipment Guangdong Liansu Machinery Manufacturing Co. Ltd. set up factories in India.

As for end-user industries, mobile phone maker Xiaomi Corp., plans to set up three smartphone factories in India. Meanwhile big names in the appliance sector in China, such as Haier, Kingclean, Gree and Hisense, are considering Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern countries as locations for setting up overseas factories.

Chinaplas is responding proactively to these market changes. This year, the show organizer is paying close attention to Southeast Asia. The Chinaplas team has visited influential associations in the region, such as SME Corporation Malaysia, the Thai Housewares Trade Association, the Thai Tool and Die Industry Association, the Thai Auto-Parts Manufacturers Association (TAPMA) and the Electric Vehicle Association of Thailand. These associations all agreed to pass on information about Chinaplas to local enterprises.

In addition to extensive overseas promotion, Chinaplas is sparing no effort in promoting local industries. Recently, the China Central and Western Regions Plastics Industry Alliance joined as a new member and became a supporter of Chinaplas. The alliance, which was founded in May 2018, is implementing the principles and policies of the “Guiding Opinions of the State Council on Central and Western Regions Undertaking of Industrial Transfer” and fostering communication and interaction among stakeholders in the plastics industry in the central and western regions.

“We have joined hands with the alliance for the purpose of promoting the development of the plastics industry in Central and Western China,” explained Ada Leung, General Manager of Adsale Exhibition Services Ltd., the organizer of Chinaplas. “The coastal regions in the east have a notable leading role in innovation and development, but the supply of resources such as land is tight and the labor cost is high, whereas the central and western regions, after 40 years of reform and liberalization, have a significantly improved economic level, rich resources, and optimized infrastructures and investment environments, which can be an important force to undertake industrial transfer in China. As the manufacturing industry in the eastern coastal area advances into the central and western regions, the industry clusters in the latter are brought to the next level. We can feel deeply that these regions are becoming more prosperous and vibrant.”

In recent years, the development performance of the central and western regions is particularly notable. In 2017, the export value of laptops from Chongqing (the largest municipality in Southwest China) amounted to RMB 28.51 billion (about $18.5 billion), making the city the world’s biggest cluster for the devices. Hewlett-Packard, the world’s largest computer manufacturer, set up its manufacturing plant there.

Chongqing is also an industrial base for automotive in China with many brands including Changan Automobile, Changan Ford, SCMW, Lifan, BAIC Yinxiang and DFSK boasting a presence. Wuhan (a city in central China), which is rapidly developing an industry cluster for automotive and parts, manufactured 1.89 million passenger vehicles in 2017.

Henan province in central China produced more than 250 million smartphones in 2017, becoming the largest global production base for smartphones. Hefei city in Anhui province, meanwhile, is a production base for household appliances in China, where OEMs such as Meiling, Royalstar, Haier, Midea and Whirlpool are located. According to Chinese statistics, the export volume of the central and western regions amounted to RMB 1.95 trillion (about $280.8 billion) in the first three quarters of 2018, corresponding to an increase of 13% and a growth rate 6.5% higher than the overall rate for China.

The central and western regions are being developed rapidly, driving a strong demand for plastics and rubber. According to statistics, in 2017, the growth rates of plastic product production in Anhui and Henan provinces were 11.2% and 7.2%, respectively. The year-on-year growth rate of plastics production in the twelve provinces and regions in the west was 8.4%. The central and western regions are in the rapid growth stage, with production growth rates higher than the national average.

The organizer of Chinaplas has put in additional effort in promotional strategies and implementation in China’s central and western regions, as well as visited important enterprises, including Dongfeng Peugeot-Citroën Automobile, Dongfeng Motor, Dongfeng Yanfeng Automotive Trim Systems, Faurecia, and Haima Automobile Group in pursuit of a deeper understanding of their needs and opinions.

Chinaplas 2019 has a continuously expanding network of partners. The show will return to the China Import and Export Fair Complex, Pazhou, Guangzhou, and run from May 21 to 24, 2019, with an exhibition space of more than 250,000 square meters and more than 3,400 exhibitors from all over the world, attracting over 180,000 professional visitors from 150 countries and regions. Visitors can enjoy an admission discount through online pre-registration from now until May 13, 2019, at an early-bird rate of $7.5 for a four-day pass. Visitors will receive a visitor badge in advance to take advantage of the express counter for fast entry if they pre-register on or before Feb. 28, 2019. For more information about Chinaplas 2019, visit the event website.

And the number one New Year’s resolution for many U.S. cities and states is . . . to ban plastic

Banned

The Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS; Washington, DC) noted in its recent Advocacy Regrind that currently there are 10 states and the District of Columbia that are making it their New Year’s resolution to legislate against plastic. That ought to send up a red flag for everyone in the industry. PLASTICS noted that it is keeping a close eye on these states and any legislation they will propose in the coming year.

Number one on the watchlist is the People’s Republic of California, which will be eyeing legislation on “single-use plastics.” That doesn’t bode well for plastics processors in that state, if there are any left. Nevada and Arizona have offered safe havens for plastics processors for a number of years and that trend might continue if things get worse.

New Jersey, a high-tax state which has been losing businesses and residents to warmer, friendlier climes like Florida for quite some time, also is on the watchlist. According to PLASTICS, that state will continue its efforts to ban straws, EPS and plastic bags. My guess is that in another 10 years there won’t be enough people left in New Jersey to even care about this issue.

D.C. has a plastic straw ban that goes into effect January 1. I wonder if D.C. conducted any straw polls to see whether people actually think that, in the grand scheme of everything that goes on in that town, anyone really cares. Let’s face it—with or without plastic straws, D.C. sucks!

Chicago certainly needs to ban plastic straws—it’s the biggest problem that city has, so I hear. PLASTICS is keeping an eye on the Windy City as it seeks a voter referendum encouraging the City Council to ban plastic straws. I’d say that even if it passes it will have about as much of an effect on plastic waste as the city’s gun ban has had on crime.

New Hampshire, according to PLASTICS, has a “suite of plastic product bans filed,” and has already banned plastic straws. I did find an NBC News report that noted New Hampshire has more to worry about than straws when it comes to protecting the marine environment: Cigarette butts! According to NBC News, those are the most-collected items on beaches around the world and often get mistaken for food by sea life when they wash out to sea.

Montana is on the watchlist for having filed legislation to ban EPS. I can think of a lot of things Montana might be drowning in but EPS isn’t one of them. But, everyone has to ban something in order to appear “green,” so it might as well be EPS.

Rhode Island is expected to ban both plastic straws and bags.

Oregon is proposing legislation that will allow plastic straws upon request.

The Los Angeles City Council is “pursuing a complete ban on plastic straws by 2021,” so it’s BYOS if you travel there after that date. That should solve all of that city’s problems!

Maryland will likely see the return of legislation to ban EPS. An EPS ban was voted down last March, but hope springs eternal for the anti-plastics crowd.

Hawaii is likely to introduce a “suite of plastic bills . . . again.” You probably already read about my experience in Maui with paper straws so I won’t go into it again.

It seems that banning plastic “something/anything” is in vogue, so token bans on straws and bags in these U.S. cities and states, which will have no real impact on the global environment, seem to offer proof that they are environmentally conscious. It also gives state legislators and city council people something to justify their jobs.

2019 will be more of the same.

Happy New Year!

Interstate Plastics provides long-term outdoor signage with HDPE ColorCore

ColorCore

Interstate Plastics (Sacramento, CA), a distributor of plastic sheet, rod, tube, bar, film and profiles, as well as plastic accessories and tools, announced its new HDPE ColorCore homogeneous sheet. HDPE ColorCore is the strongest signage material available, withstanding all outdoor conditions and harsh chemicals or moisture. Durable ColorCore comes with an inner-core color that makes up approximately 80% of the sheet and a cap color making up 20% of the sheet, 10% in front and back, respectively.

ColorCore is FDA approved and made with a unique state-of-the-art continuous process. When engraved by laser or standard woodworking tools, the inner core color is revealed. No further printing or lamination is required, allowing markers and spray paint to be easily removed and making ColorCore popular for high traffic outdoor areas such as playgrounds, pools, warning signs and corporate signage. Other common uses include architectural applications, carnival games, children's furniture, marine applications, museums, picnic tables, point-of-purchase displays and way-finding signage.

Easy to engrave and machine, ColorCore is made with impact-resistant high-density polyethylene that can handle more abuse than conventional sign materials. It will not warp, rot or delaminate even in high-moisture environments.

Interstate Plastics provides full sheets and pallets, simple cut-to-size and complex CNC manufacturing at 10 locations nationwide.

New PHA biopolymer plant on the cards in Spain

New PHA biopolymer plant on the cards in Spain

Italian biopolymer production technology developer Bio-on SpA (Bologna, Italy) and Sociedad Cooperativa General Agropecuaria (ACOR), a Castilian-Leon cooperative which produces and markets sugar, food oils, biodiesel, various products for animal feed and renewable electric energy, plan to study and evaluate the opportunity to exploit Bio-on technologies for the production of polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) bioplastics from co- and by-products of sugar beet processing at an industrial scale in Spain.

Bio-on’s PHA plant in Bologna is manufacturing high-end biopolymer grades.

The two companies will start working together on a feasibility study for the realization of a commercial-scale PHA plant in Spain within a factory of ACOR located in the town of Olmedo. The selection of this production site will guarantee that the bioplastic project will benefit from synergies, interconnections and common services with the sugar factory, but without interfering with the latter's production. Production capacity will be decided over the course of the project implementation.

Under the terms of the agreement, ACOR will also enjoy exclusive marketing rights in Spain and Portugal. Bio-on’s Minerv PHA bioplastics are made from renewable plant sources (and now also lipids) that do not compete with the food chain. They guarantee the same thermo-mechanical properties of conventional plastics with the advantage of being eco-friendly and 100% naturally biodegradable. In addition, they reportedly offer application possibilities in sectors where traditional plastics are not used.

In a separate announcement, Bio-on and Gruppo Hera, one of Italy's largest multi-utility providers, have reached an agreement to take 90% and 10% shares, respectively, in LUX-ON, a new company founded by Bio-on that aims to produce PHA biopolymers using CO2 captured from the atmosphere and using non-fossil fuel  energy sources. Hera has the option to increase its share in the joint venture to 49.9%.

The laboratories and first plant of the new Lux-on project will be built by the end of 2019 close to the Bio-on Plants industrial facility at Castel San Pietro Terme (Bologna). It will be designed by Bio-on technicians in collaboration with Hera, with carbon capture plants and a production facility using renewable solar energy. The plant will have a flexible production capacity that is rapidly expandable.

The electric energy used in Lux-on's production process will be produced by photovoltaic systems which, aside from directly powering production, will also provide storable energy for night time power (24/7 production). For energy storage, partnerships will be entered into with international experts in hydrogen (H) technology. Hydrogen will be produced from solar energy, stored and then converted to electric energy to power the plant when the solar panels are not running, i.e. at night or when light levels are low.

Bio-on has been producing PHA since mid-2018 at a 1,000 tonnes/year rapidly expandable to 2,000 tonnes/year in Bologna and targets advanced niche products. The company can also license its technology for larger plants of 5,000 to 10,000 tonnes/year and says that the products it produces are not on competition with those produced at larger plants

The Bologna plant is equipped with modern technologies and advanced research and development laboratories. New agricultural waste carbon sources for producing biopolymers are continuously tested to increase the range of technologies offered by Bio-on.

Pressure to reduce consumption of single-use plastic packaging will continue into 2019

plastic bottle apocalypse

It’s not hard to pinpoint the trends and issues that will impact the plastics industry in 2019—in many cases, they will be the same challenges that the industry has faced for the past two decades. While plastics usage in durable goods isn’t so much a focus of those wanting to rid the world of plastic waste, packaging and water bottles will be under increased pressure thanks to a harsher light being thrown on plastics in the marine environment.

There’s also more noise about how recycling isn’t working, evidenced by low recycling rates and a lack of infrastructure, particularly in developing countries in the Asia-Pacific region, where most of the plastic waste is entering the Pacific Ocean.

According to figures from various sources, 40% of all plastic ends up as packaging for thousands of consumer goods, which is typically used once and discarded. The many benefits of plastic makes it ideal for safety, freshness, a longer shelf-life, lightweighting for transportation and fuel savings, and even creating better health for populations around the world.

Last spring, the Washington-based American Chemistry Council’s (ACC) Plastics Division announced three goals it says “crystallize U.S. plastics producers’ commitment to recycle or recover all plastic packaging used in the United States by 2040.” These goals for capturing, recycling and recovering plastics before they enter the environment are:

  • 100% of plastic packaging to be re-used, recycled or recovered by 2040;
  • 100% of plastic packaging used should be recyclable or recoverable by 2030; and
  • 100% of the U.S. manufacturing sites operated by ACC’s Plastics Division members will participate in Operation Clean Sweep-Blue (designed to minimize pellet, flake and powder loss) by 2020, with all of those manufacturing sites in North America involved by 2022.

While all of that sounds promising for creating the circular economy that  everyone wants as a solution to plastic waste, how do we get these discarded, single-use items—particularly water bottles—into a value stream that captures the benefits and value of plastic waste and creates greater usefulness?

Bottled water is big business

While bottled water is in for consumers, plastic water bottles are out, according to numerous news reports that say consumers are becoming more concerned about the plethora of water bottles floating around in the ocean. Bottled water companies, which are enjoying a boom as consumers turn away from sugary drinks and avoid drinking tap water, are trying to come up with a better bottle. But that doesn’t look promising, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “Bottled Water Confronts Its Plastic,” by Saabira Chaudhuri (Dec. 13, 2018).

U.S. bottled water consumption rose by 284% between 1994 and 2017. Most of that growth was driven by single-serve bottles, which make up 67% of U.S. sales, but recycling rates of those bottles are down, said the WSJ article. Some people are turning to reusable bottles—either metal or glass—but they have their downsides, as well.

A recent study published by Fact.MR, "Reusable Water Bottles Market," projected that this market will see a 3.1% year-on-year increase over 2017, exceeding US $8.3 billion by the end of this year. “The study remains bullish on the continual rise in demand for reusable water bottles, as growing environmental concerns are driving consumers as well as end-use industrial sectors to switch to eco-friendly alternatives for single-use water bottles,” said Fact.MR. 

With recycling rates for PET water bottles at around one-third of all bottles made, that leaves a lot of PET out there needing to be recycled into something—carpets and other textiles, but rarely back into food-grade PET for more water bottles. In fact, a joint report from the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR) and the American Chemistry Council shows that plastic bottle recycling declined slightly in 2017, slipping 3.6% to 2.8 billion pounds. The overall recycling rate for plastic bottles for the year was 29.3%, down from 29.7% in 2016.

Factors contributing to industry challenges included changing export markets and a 3.6% drop in material collected for recycling. Ongoing increases in single-stream collection also led to increased contamination of recyclables in the near term, said the report. In addition, growth in the use of plastic bottles was offset by continuing progress in lightweighting and increased use of concentrates with smaller, lighter bottles.

In 2017, PET bottles collected for recycling decreased by 27 million pounds. The collection of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) bottles, which includes bottles for milk, household cleaners and detergents, fell by 70.3 million pounds (6.3%) to just over one billion pounds for the year. The recycling rate for HDPE bottles slipped from 33.4% to 31.1%.

“Plastic bottle recycling is proving to be resilient in the face of short-term challenges,” said Steve Alexander, president of APR. “The recycling industry is responding in kind, with some investing in increased U.S. infrastructure, a clear sign of a positive long-term outlook. These investments underscore the need for continued consumer participation and convenient access to recycling programs.”

The low rates of recycling could put a damper on the use of recycled materials that are needed to help bottle makers reduce the amount of virgin resin and contribute to consumers’ desire for “green” bottles made with recycled material.

Europe does a bit better than the United States when it comes to collecting and recycling PET. A 2017 survey of the European PET recycling industry, released on Dec. 19, 2018, shows that 58.2% of PET bottles were collected out of 3,308,300 tons of PET bottles placed on the European market in 2018. “PET collection and recycling rates are exceptional in the plastics packaging industry, which shows the important role of the material in the circular economy,” summarized Christian Crépet, Executive Director of Petcore Europe.

Recycling fail

The WSJ article noted that while many bottlers of water are using a percentage of recycled PET in their bottles, consumers want 100% recycled bottles. That isn’t possible for several reasons, including the fact that plastic loses its structural integrity and clarity after being recycled numerous times. That is why virgin resin is combined with a percentage of recycled material to add eco-friendliness while maintaining structural properties.

Growing concern over waste plastic and a heightened ongoing war against plastic is resulting in many consumers shifting away from single-use water bottles toward reusable ones, primarily metal and plastic, since glass is too fragile. Additionally, as Fact.MR pointed out, “Metal and glass are costlier than plastic, which is why a majority of manufacturers in the reusable water bottles market are choosing plastic as a primary raw material,” said the report. “This also enables reusable water bottle manufacturers to reduce the production cost and maintain competitive prices.”

Talk of collecting more PET water bottles to increase recycling rates by implementing deposit schemes arises from time to time. Paying consumers to return their plastic water bottles to the store might work as an incentive to consumers. It worked with glass soda bottles back in the 1950s and 1960s. It works today with glass milk bottles from local dairies; however, you pay a $2 deposit when you buy the milk, which is refunded when you return the bottle. Two dollars is a large enough amount to serve as an incentive. Five cents was a nice amount in the 1950s, and finding a glass soda bottle or two in the ditches along roadways meant trading a bottle for a Snickers bar . . . or another bottle of soda! What is the deposit value of a PET water bottle? Would it be enough to encourage people to take their water bottles back to the store?

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.”

While these are admirable goals, making all plastic recyclable in order to reduce the need for more virgin resin will not guarantee that all single-use items will be recycled. Will those goals to make all packaging recyclable result in higher recycling rates, from the current one-third to maybe 50%? And will the other 50% continue to end up in landfills, or worse, in the marine environment? I can almost guarantee that “recyclable” plastic packaging will continue to be found floating in the world’s marine environment.

The European PET Recycling Survey 2017 noted that other problems also interfere with the recyclability of PET, including the quality of the material. The survey outlines an increase in PET trays and opaque materials in clear and transparent PET bales. Even though the products are recyclable they have a negative effect on the quality of the reprocessed flakes. The share of PET trays in clear bales is different from country to country, ranging from 1% to 18%. The same goes for trays and opaque bottles in mixed color bales, where the share ranges from 1% to 25%. “It has to be mentioned that this opaque and difficult-to-recycle PET material should be collected in separate streams,” noted the executive summary of the Petcore Europe survey.

With an actual processed PET amount of 1,741,700 tons and an installed maximum capacity of 2,038,100 tons in 2017, there was an unused capacity of 296,400 tons caused by several reasons, one of them being the quality of the collected PET. Additionally, insufficient quantity of collection was observed—a lack of 115,000 tons in 2017. In its Dec. 12 newsletter, Petcore acknowledged that the success of “ambitious sustainability targets” will require not only the industry but the “support of national authorities, European legislators and consumers alike. More collection and better sorting are needed to increase recycling and incorporate recyclate into new products.” (Detailed survey results will be presented during the annual Petcore Europe Conference 2019 in Brussels on Feb. 6 and 7.)

It’s one thing to say that “more collection and better sorting” will provide a solution to ridding the environment of plastic waste and putting more recyclate into the resin stream (rPET in particular), but getting the PET bottles and other single-use packaging waste into the recycling stream remains the most difficult part of achieving these goals. Collection, sorting and cleaning the waste to make it fit for recycling is labor and energy intensive. At the end of the day, how much have we actually accomplished in terms of reducing the carbon footprint, the ultimate goal of this whole effort?

Sustainability as a market driver

A study by IHS Markit Chemical and Energy sector in that research company’s 2018 Issue 3 newsletter noted that sustainability is a “critical plastics market driver.” According to Nick Vafiadis, Vice President, Plastics, IHS Markit, “A clear shift is developing the approach toward sustainability, as the movement transitions from reactive to proactive mode.” Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) was cited in the study as one of the proactive approaches to increase the circularity of plastics. EPR “levies fees on packaging . . . that are paid by manufacturers,” explained Vafiadis. “These fees are used to develop recycling infrastructure and encourage the recycling of content. EPR policies are currently either in effect or targeted for near-term implementation in Europe, North America, China and India. Presently there are no packaging EPR programs in effect in the U.S., although we expect to see programs adopted by 2025.”

The ACC noted that it intends “to further enhance plastic pellet stewardship by 2022,” which is also good. Resin producers and processors are doing a much better job of controlling resin pellets and keeping them out of the environment.

Levying fees on producers, as I see it, is only the beginning. We still need people to accept responsibility for getting their plastic bottles and other single-use packaging into the recycling stream. However, that must be easy and convenient, which might mean moving toward alternatives to sorting and cleaning the collected plastic waste which is not very energy efficient or “green.”

Recycling alternatives

According to IHS Markit, “only about 4% of the plastic packaging used globally is ultimately delivered to recycling plants, while a third is left in various ecosystems, and 40% ends up in landfill.”

The challenge, as noted above, involves humans and their handling of the single-use plastic bottles and other containers once the product has been consumed. There is also issue of the quality/cleanliness of the recyclate. Even U.S. cities that have good recycling infrastructure, including curbside pick-up, sorting and baling, send a large percentage of the materials that are recyclable to the landfill.  

If recycling systems are not a viable option for many cities or even developing countries, what about waste-to-energy (WTE) or plastic-to-fuel? The value of plastic does not  lie just in its ability to be recycled into other plastic products, but also in its inherent energy content. Many developing countries could use greater energy production and I can foresee the mountains of discarded plastic being an excellent source of energy. It also simplifies the process by allowing co-mingling of all types of plastics (the greatest value) along with other waste materials. That is something that consumers also want—simplification in the identification and sorting process—which WTE addresses.

Plastics that are considered “trash” (#3 to #7 bales) can also be taken to companies that provide plastic-to-fuel processing, according to Mike Dungan, Director of Sales and Marketing for RES Polyflow LLC. Its patented plastics-to-fuel process complements current recycling efforts by converting low-value, co-mingled plastic waste, such as film and flexible packaging, into marketable petroleum blend stocks like fuels and wax. Dungan noted that RES Polyflow is getting a “high degree of cooperation and interest” in its process, “since plastic-to-fuel creates a new market for the residual plastics generated by a typical material recycling facility (non 1s and 2s),” he told PlasticsToday. “They generally consider a #3 to #7 bale to be trash,” he commented. “We see it as a bar of gold, chock full of hydrocarbons that can be repurposed efficiently. We don’t combust or incinerate, and we accept a broad range of somewhat contaminated material, and we produce feedstocks for other processes.” (Read "Brightmark Energy announces major investment in nation’s first commercial-scale plastics-to-fuel plant" for more on this.)

Sustainability in 2019

Aggressive policies to regulate the use of single-use plastic packaging and bottles—even outright bans—are likely to be in the industry's future. IHS Markit’s Vafiadis notes that these moves will create “significant investment risk and market uncertainty. This is especially significant for plastics producers, processors and consumer packaging companies that must invest now for the future.”

Resolving the issue of plastic waste in the environment isn’t easy and there’s no silver bullet. Blaming the material and banning it from use only results in alternatives that do not provide high levels of food safety, shelf life and convenience, not to mention that plastics are more economical and eco-friendly to produce and maintain their high value after their useful life through recycling, waste-to-energy and plastics-to-fuel technologies. You can’t say that about many of the alternatives such as paper, coated paperboard or even bio-plastics that claim compostability or degradability.

Plastics will never disappear—these materials were intended to be durable and lightweight and they provide cost-effective benefits to consumers. A number of years ago I heard a presentation at an SPE meeting. The processor who was talking encouraged attendees to “define the customer’s needs and required performance for their packaging. Compare options. Some customers say they want “fluff” (good PR or even green-washing), so they can say they’re ‘green.’ Others want to see true sustainability,” said the speaker. “Focus on direct, quantifiable benefits, i.e. cost, properties and performance. Evaluate end-of-life considerations. There are too many assumptions about what happens at the end of life to make any broad claims. Not all solutions are viable.”

Plastics and packaging 1 on 1 with Dow Chemical Part 2

Nathan Wiker of Dow Chemical

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.

WestPack 2019 (Feb. 5-7; Anaheim, CA) offers everything from design to manufacturing in packaging and plastics with valuable free presentations throughout the event at Center Stage. Come explore the latest innovations, processes and new products. For details, visit WestPack 2019 .

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.

Loop Industries, thyssenkrupp sign agreement to advance sustainable PET manufacturing

Handshake

Loop Industries Inc. (Montréal, QC), a technology innovator in sustainably produced plastic, has announced a strategic partnership with thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions subsidiary Uhde Inventa-Fischer GmbH (Essen, Germany), a global polyester technology provider. The agreement seeks to offer a turnkey industrial solution that can be licensed to manufacturing companies for the commercially viable production of sustainable PET and polyester.

“We have successfully established a large variety of patented technologies and processes in the global market. This agreement will enable a very resource-efficient and cost-attractive solution for the production of sustainable PET and polyester,” said Sami Pelkonen, CEO of the Electrolysis & Polymers Technologies business unit of thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions. “The alliance with Loop Industries is an important milestone on the way to producing sustainable PET and polyester.”

Daniel Solomita, founder and CEO of Loop Industries, said the Global Alliance Agreement "allows for Loop’s technology to rapidly transform the plastic market and fully capitalize on our disruptive potential as the leader in the circular economy for PET plastic. Thyssenkrupp’s extensive engineering expertise and proven melt-to-resin technology provides Loop with a world-class partner to bring the waste-to-resin manufacturing solution to market.”

Loop’s mission is to accelerate the shift toward sustainable plastic and away from dependence on fossil fuels through technology that decouples plastic from fossil fuels by depolymerizing waste polyester to its base building blocks (monomers). The monomers are then repolymerized to create virgin-quality polyester that meets FDA requirements for use in food-grade packaging. Loop expects its production plant to be ready in 2020.

Boston joins plastic bag ban-wagon

Boston joins plastic bag ban-wagon

On December 14, Boston’s ban on plastic bags went into effect, as the city joined many other large urban areas that have banned plastic bags. According to news reports, the ban was unanimously approved by the city council. Other nearby communities such as Cambridge and Brookline already have bag bans in place.

The ban affects most retail establishments and covers all single-use checkout bags used by customers to carry purchased items. “Businesses should encourage customers to use their own reusable shopping bags,” said the ordinance; however, retail stores can sell reusable, recyclable or compostable bags to customers for at least 5 cents per bag. Exemptions include produce bags, laundry/dry-cleaning bags, newspaper bags and bags used to wrap meat or frozen foods.

Good Start Packaging CEO Ken Jacobus weighed in and published a blog post on the company’s website that provides instructions on how to comply with the ban. Good Start Packaging produces recyclable paper shopping bags and carries a line of compostable bags, BioBag. The company explains that bags “are compostable when they are proven to biodegrade in controlled conditions within a commercial compost facility.” Compostable items need “to be certified by an independent testing agency such as the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI).”

It should be noted that biodegradable and compostable are not the same thing and that these terms should not be used interchangeably. According to various websites, including biobag.com, biodegradable refers to any material that can break down in the environment. Compostable materials are organic matter and break down to become nutrient-rich soil.

Any plastics scientist or engineer will tell you that plastic of any type, no matter what it’s called, doesn’t disappear. Yes, it breaks down into smaller and smaller “microplastics,” but it never disappears. That is why most industrial composting facilities will not take biodegradable or compostable plastics—the material does not completely compost but leaves visible plastic residue in the compost.

Good Start Packaging notes that Boston “has launched a community compost pilot program called Project Oscar” and citizens can go to the city’s website to “find out more about drop-off locations.”

As you may have read in my previous articles in PlasticsToday, bag bans do not work and do little to address the problems of plastic in the environment. Composting isn’t a good answer for bio-based plastic items because of the length of time—three to six months—it takes for that material to decompose. Even then, it is only a partial decomposition.

Recycling bags through the recycling collection bins at most major retail stores is the best way to go. However, it takes human effort—and genuine caring about the environment—to get these bags into the proper recycling stream. That’s where the glitch is. Most people, even the good citizens of Boston, don’t care much about getting plastic waste to a place where it can be recycled.

You can complain about it. You can ban it. But at the end of the day plastic in our environment is not a plastic problem—it’s a people problem.

Image courtesy focus_bell/Adobe Stock.