Plastics took center stage last month at an international environmental summit.
Plasticity Rio was held June 21 alongside Rio+20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, in Rio de Janeiro. Participants discussed and debated the future of the industry, from using bio-based materials to improving recycling programs.
“It was all about solutions,” said Doug Woodring, founder of the Hong Kong-based Ocean Recovery Alliance and an event organizer, by phone. “We didn't talk about the problems much at all, just what's going on, what's possible.”
The forum focused on getting people up to speed on new technologies and discoveries, and discussing how programs could be funded and implemented on a large scale, he added.
About 130 people attended the event from 15 countries. The participants represented a cross section of the industry — from lawmakers to representatives of major companies to entrepreneurs, Woodring said.
Having a diverse audience made it difficult for everyone to agree on what actions to take — unlike the neighboring UN summit, the group did not draft a declaration or set long-term goals — but it did get people acquainted with all of the possibilities for plastics' future, he said.
“I think people were happy to have this discussion brought up to this level in a creative way, instead of talking about bans and problems,” he said. “Across the board, it was more than I expected in a big way.”
Woodring and his partners are making plans for Plasticity 2013, tentatively scheduled for May or June in Hong Kong.
Woodring broke down the forum's presentations into three categories — deciding when to use or not use plastics, reassessing how plastics are made and what they're made from, and figuring out end-of-life options.
* Jason Foster, CEO of Replenish Bottling Co. LLC in Hollywood, Calif., presented his company's reusable and refillable cleaning system — a PET bottle fitted with cartridges of plant-based cleaning-product concentrate. The system cuts down on plastic waste, chemical emissions and shipping costs, according to Foster.
* Ecovative Design LLC CEO Eben Bayer discussed the Green Island, N.Y., company's success with growing a polystyrene foam replacement from mushroom mycelium that can be used to make degradable packaging.
* Steve Davies, marketing director of Minnetonka, Minn.-based NatureWorks LLC, discussed the “cradle to cradle” approach the company takes with its polylactic acid bioplastic, Ingeo.
* The MyShelter Foundation, an organization based in the Philippines that uses post-consumer plastic bottles to create school buildings and other structures, demonstrated its newest venture, the Isang Litrong Liwanag (One Liter of Light) project.
The project uses plastic bottles filled with a chlorine and water mixture to create “lightbulbs” that can be installed in the roofs of buildings and provide structures with the equivalent of a 55-watt lightbulb for 10 months of the year.
* Mike Biddle, president and founder of recycler MBA Polymers Inc. in Richmond, Calif., talked about his company's use of automated sorting technology that allows feedstock material to be extracted from consumer, electronic and appliance waste.
Biddle also was named co-winner of the 2012 Gothenburg Award for Sustainable Development at the event.