The Plastic Dilemma
93% of global consumers say COVID-19 influenced their views on sustainability, brands and environmental issues for product purchases. As we return to normal, business are switching more and more to eco-products with new innovative plastics and paper fiber products. We still see a lot of GREEN-WASHING of products. 62% of consumers are willing to change their buying behavior to reduce the negative impact on the environment.
We are seeing more and more bans on plastic worldwide especially in Europe, China and India with governments imposing restrictions and penalties on plastics. However, we have to recognize the full impact that plastics have on our daily lives! Simply, plastics are very inexpensive and can be used for so many packaging solutions.
Can we do without plastic…probably NOT! However, the plastics industry has to address the issue with more bio-degradable plastics without using petroleum. We have to recognize that Paper has its limitations. Number one is the cost and will the consumer pay the price for paper? Two, the USA is limited in pulp and paper production capabilities to product the products. The Wisconsin Paper Industry has tremendous opportunities to expand our paper and pulp production. Wisconsin has ALL the resources necessary to re-invent the paper, film and plastics industries! In addition, Wisconsin has tremendous resources for converting paper and film products to new innovative packaging products. The Wisconsin Paper Industry has to accept the challenge. GBIG will be bringing together our industries, government and our Universities to support one another.
Here are some examples of alternative materials that could play a significant role for the flexible packaging industry and our flexible packaging companies are leading the way!
- Bio-based Plastics typically use food crops such as corn and sugarcane with both commodities readily available in surplus. However, the current supply chain will create issues and there is reluctance to using food resources for packaging products.
- Polyactic acid (PLA) is a transparent sold polymer that is similar to PETE polymer but has a significant lower maximum continuous use temperature.
- Poly hydroxyalkanoate (PHA) is a much eco-friendly polymer that can handle high temperatures and decompose in soil and waterways. Both alternatives are made from fermented corn starch and they can decompose up to 90% within 90 days if disposed properly.
- Paper-based Packaging like corrugated boxes and other forms of paper-based packaging are biodegradable unless it is recycled and does not end up in the landfill!
When it comes to plastic, film and flexible packaging formats for single use, we recognize the cost advantages and to use it. However, these types of single-use plastic are simply very challenging to recycle. The plastic products are very lightweight with very little material per packaging piece. The second issue is getting them collected, sorted and ready to be recycled.
In addition, flexible packaging is more highly contaminated with substrates such as inks, dyes, coating and creating additional issues for recycling. Simply, the USA doesn’t have that capability available to handle ALL of the plastics. Minnesota in the spring of 2023, has a $24 million, 170,000-square-foot plastic recycling plant that will be in operation with the goal to expand film recycling infrastructure and the supply of recycled resin for use in new products supported by a number of large companies in Minnesota along with Charter Next Generation based in Wisconsin. The residential recycling rate for film and flexible packaging in 2020 was just 2 percent!