The New Plastic Economy Report has created a good impact and set the scene for an in – depth discussion for the future of the plastic industry and its adaptation to the Circular Economy framework. However, few companies up to now have presented realistic and immediately applicable solutions. I am really glad to present you one of them today. Aquapak Polymers Ltd is about to launch its new flexible plastics lines that are in line with the Circular Economy principles. Dr. John Williams, Business Development Director of the company, explains the importance of plastics in our daily life, the problems related to flexible plastics when they become part of the waste stream and the solutions offered by Aquapak. I am sure you will enjoy his blog, which continues the discussion started with some thoughts on plastics as a global challenge.
Let’s face it: plastic is here to stay
“We depend upon plastics to such an extent that we would literally struggle to live without them.
In healthcare, plastic medical devices and components protect workers and patients from contamination and the spread of disease. In the food supply chain, plastic packaging ensures produce makes it from farm to fork without bruising or perishing.
Their low production cost makes plastics ideal for packaging individual portions of just-about-anything – stuff that billions of us rely upon every day.
Let’s face it: plastic is here to stay. But that means we need to drastically improve our performance with waste plastics, and fast.
There are some critical issues with plastic waste, which can be divided into social (littering, and lack of waste management in much of the world) and functionality (lack of design for a circular economy). The combination of these factors is resulting in such a proliferation of plastic waste that the issue has now become a mainstream eco-challenge.
Meanwhile, the better we get at making smart plastics for different applications (food preservation, portion control etc.), the more complex a problem we create once those plastics become waste. Even in countries with decent waste management, the vast majority of plastic is not recycled. We’re simply not designing plastic for a circular economy.
We need to move to even smarter plastics that cover all the required functionalities, from product use through to end of life, and allow for a circular economy.
This is the New Plastics Economy and it is happening now.
Aquapak is a British tech company that has developed a library of polymers based on polyvinyl alcohol (PVOH), the flexible and dissolvable plastic used in laundry liquid pods and surgical stitches. The team at Aquapak has been working on the formulae for five years and is about to launch its flexible plastics lines that are 100% recyclable, 100% biodegradable, and non-toxic.
What does this mean for a wasteless future?
To appreciate the potential of this development, we need to look at what happens with flexible plastics in the waste stream.
- Composting or anaerobic digestion operators invest in costly depackaging equipment to remove as much plastic (and biodegradable starch-based plastics) as possible. Ultimately, both plastic and starch alternatives remain as unsightly flakes in the compost end-product.
- In materials sorting facilities, flexible plastics contaminated with food or other materials aren’t of the quality that reprocessors to want to buy. Flexible plastics are often attached to other materials (rigid plastic trays, cardboard boxes, envelopes), so contaminate those materials and reduce the price reprocessors will pay.
- Almost all flexible plastics end up being disposed of to landfill or incineration. Both of these options represent linear resource use and a loss of the material. In lower income countries where there is no waste management, flexible plastic builds up in the environment. It blocks drains, kills livestock and when people burn it, it releases toxic smoke.
By using Aquapak’s dissolvable plastic, compost and anaerobic digestion facility operators can produce a higher quality end-product. Recycling facility operators can supply higher quality materials to reprocessors, and can either recover Aquapak from solution as 100% recycled pellets or simply flush it away without causing harm.
It presents an alternative that allows for a step change towards a circular economy. We are looking at a future paradigm where flexible plastics aren’t a problem.
For more information about Aquapak visit: http://aquapakpolymers.com/