Plastic Starts Shedding Its Bad Boy Image

Among all the bad press recently about state-sized floating islands of plastic in oceans and perpetual presence of one-use plastic along highways and plastic bag and straw wars in California cities, the plastic industry is changing behind the scenes.

For the last half dozen years large investments (including by Bill Gates) have been made to find alternative ways to build the basic building blocks of plastic-polymers.

Polymers are the long chain molecules needed for life and plastic. The nature of petroleum-based polymers is, however, that they can last nearly forever. Pottery lasts as long, but for some reason environmentalists have left this material alone, while focusing on any petroleum-based product. This is not without some reason; we simply throw too much away and fail to recycle as much as we could. The day will come when archeologists will discover us the way they learn about 3,000-year-old communities using pottery. Based on how much pottery we threw away, versus plastic they will learn much more about us!

But this “live forever” quality of plastic may be coming to an end now. The investments in finding new ways to build polymers is starting to yield results.  Lego, the international toy company famous for its plastic building blocks, has been working on new plastic resins with different qualities that will break down better in nature and under composting conditions.

Lego started ironically with a new sugar-based polymer made from plant material or biomass. Sugar cane and corn will one day soon be inside your children’s Lego blocks. The concept is that plastic polymers that are biomass-based will not last forever but will break down into “natural” components over time. Ironically, Lego will make their trees, bushes, and leaves in this new material starting soon.

While it is just a tiny part of their toy line, it is a real start in a high-profile company that may, indeed, help move the industry to plastics that turn to dust, or organic materials anyway over time.

Petroleum based plastics can break into very small pieces, but they really don’t break down into more natural molecules that can be used by living organisms later. New biomass-based polymers will be friendlier, but not completely biodegradable quite yet.

In the spirt of Lego’s first launch into more earth-friendly polymers, Microdyne Plastics is pleased to be working with these materials as well. Recent tests using one of these new resins indicated no perceivable difference in the product or its characteristics, except how nature treats them.

Microdyne has three options for newer Earth Friendly Plastic Polymers and Resins:  Biodegradable and Compostable, Negative Carbon Footprint, and Resin Additives. See Earth Friendly Plastic Polymers and Resins from Microdyne here. .

These new options will provide opportunities for companies that have a “green” clientele and will be an advantage compared to traditional polymers, however, at a price. As in most economic situations, small quantities of anything tend to have higher prices just due to the scale of manufacturing. As more companies use more of the new materials, the prices are sure to fall from initial levels.

A survey done by Tetra Pak a packaging company, with 6,000 consumers in 13 countries, indicates 81 percent of customers look for environmental logos on purchases and 43 percent say Eco-friendly packaging can influence brand purchase, up from 39 percent in 2015.[1]

Companies will need to evaluate the increased cost against the customer’s perceived utility of the total product, including the container. Little research has been done on this subject. One such study did find that consumers receive 34 percent of their overall product utility from packaging.  Of that group of customers, 31 percent placed environmentally friendly packaging as the most important factor driving their purchasing decision.[1][2] The value of each product to this segment of consumers will need to be determined by each company.

Some companies, however, currently do not use plastic precisely for the same reason. These companies using some glass and metal containers may consider plastic for the first time. One home delivery milk company that has used glass for a half century is now looking at the future of biomass plastic.

The marketing benefits of more earth-friendly containers, will be very real as the prices come down, companies of all types would do well to stay abreast of the new developments. Microdyne can help you do that.

Do you have a question about these new earth-friendly plastic resins? Fill out a quote form here and give us your details.




[1] Tetra Pack Customer survey, https://www.tetrapak.com/sustainability/customer-focus/understanding-our-customers

[2] Consumer Preferences and Demand for Packaging Material and Recyclability, Kimberly Klaiman U.S. Department of Energy, http://ageconsearch.umn.edu/bitstream/235549/2/Consumer%20Preferences%20and%20Demand%20for%20Packaging%20Recyclability.pdf

 

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