Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Green Polyethylene and Blow Molding Conference

The Annual Blow Molding Conference took place in Chicago a few days ago. One dominant theme amongst manufacturers is finding better ways to serve the market with sustainable molding material. If we assume the supply and demand principles true in this instance, this tells a story of increased interest from consumers – a brighter outlook for the whole of material demand change.

A Brazilian company, Braskem SA of São Paulo, attended the conference and showcased its Green Polyethylene (G-PE) production in Brazil during the last quarter of 2010. Their G-PE is sugar cane-based and can be recycled in the same recycling stream for existing Petrochemical PE material. This means very little additional cost will be incurred on the overall recycling efforts during a transition phase for material selection to cradle-to-cradle life.

Braskem has made its G-PE available to the North American market on a contract purchase basis. Aside from its existing use for Pantene hair-care products in Brazil, Braskem’s G-PE can also be found in Coca-Cola’s Odawalla brand of juice beverages and Danone’s probiotic Actimel drink released in France earlier this year.

This is great news for the environment, but sustainability is about people, planet, and profit. I would add there is a need to properly manage the social costs of sugar cane harvest and make sure we are not filling one gap with a larger hole.

Brazil currently owns 22 percent of the world’s cultavitable land (far more than China’s percentage share with only a fraction of population by comparison); sugar cane grown for ethanol uses 1 percent of Brazil’s land; NGOs and activists should closely monitor Braskem’s compliance with its own code of conduct (See the CSR Hub for their sustainability score) for its supply chain, which includes human rights principles and proper agricultural practices for watering, fertilizing and harvesting.

On the domestic front, Telles LLC, a U.S. company located in Mass., announced its joint venture with Metabolix and Archer Daniels Midland Co. (ADM). The joint venture developed a new biomaterials for extrusion blow molding.

Dow Chemical (you know, the Human Company) also showcased its Continuum EP HDPE for packaging; it claims the material allows for 10 percent of weight reduction without compromising performance.

All of this is reconciliatory to plastic’s bad rap sheet. Plastics have been estimated to take up 30 percent of landfills. I’ve seen news that there is no more land available for landfills in Europe. China has it’s own overburdened trash problem. Here in the U.S. we hear trace contaminate problems almost weekly. Managing waste is a global problem. One of the largest waste components is post-consumer and plastics compose a large portion of that post-consumer waste.

Even though we are actively recycling, we do run into some problems. Getting ride of trace contaminants adversely affects life-cycle analysis of material and product design and management. It’s a murky science and inconsistent data often sends confused message to consumers and stakeholders.

Incineration is obviously not an option since the process would give off toxic gases. Not only does this increase a burden on the clean air, it may also expose the business to domestic and international clean air regulations and incur costs that could be avoided otherwise.

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