From resin maker to packaging user, a group of companies is proving that ocean-bound plastics can be successfully captured and be used in a new high-end application.
Envision Plastics LLC of Reidsville, N.C., creates the recycled high density polyethylene resin. Reflex Packaging Inc. of Santa Ana, Calif., makes the packaging. And Juniper Networks Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., uses that packaging to help protect firewall security systems during shipping.
Plastics, both found in the ocean and those classified as ocean bound, have been a flaming hot topic. Critics have seized upon the issue to rally support against plastics, while the industry also has come to recognize there is a problem.
Reflex Packaging has developed a business and a reputation by making thermoformed cushions from recycled plastics. That's nothing new.
But the company now has developed protective packaging made from 100 percent OceanBound Plastic, a trade name, supplied by Envision.
And the products being protected are not cheap.
"Juniper has always sought to design packaging using environmentally friendly materials and in fact have been using 100 percent recycled cushions on some of our products for a number of years.
"We are committed to being a global leader in green packaging and adding in the OceanBound Plastic material seemed a natural progression toward that goal," said Brad Hannula, packaging engineering manager at Juniper, said in an email interview.
The plastic is being used to protect the company's SRX4600 firewall security system.
"The cushions are a four-piece rail design, similar to previous designs using post-consumer recycled material," he said.
Chris Leonardi is executive vice president at Reflex Packaging, which has been using post-consumer plastics for decades to produce thermoformed packaging cushions. He admitted he was doubtful, at first, about the idea of using recycled plastics collected from the environment.
"I'm a very skeptical person. I had to do the research. It actually makes complete sense," he said.
"Using plastic that's already in the water, most of it's going to be degraded. We got to get it out or do everything we can to get it out. But it's pretty much done. It's lost unless somebody figures out a use for it. It's all chewed up. Anyone who works with plastics knows that it's going to be really hard to do anything with something that's been in the ocean floating for a few months," Leonardi said.
But capturing plastics before it gets a chance to enter the water makes perfect sense to him.
Environmentalists consider ocean-bound plastic, not just the plastic Envision uses, to be material discarded into the environment within 50 kilometers, or 30 miles, of a coastline that is in danger of being swept into waterways. The idea is to capture this material before it has a chance to enter the oceans directly or via rivers.
"Let's think about turning the spigot off before we go on these long journeys to just pick up a thousand pounds of plastic and waste how many gallons of fuel and a boat. Let's step back a second and turn the spigot off," Leonardi said.
"They are creating this economy where this has value instead of dumping it," he said. "It's going to be a little different to deal with from one-time use post consumer," he said. But not that much different.
Leonardi estimated that the OceanBound Plastic-based packaging costs about 40 percent more than traditional post-consumer HDPE.
For every 25 percent of special content, the resin becomes about 10 percent more expensive. But he expects that price difference to lessen over time as more and more people use the material and create greater economies of scale.
Using OceanBound resin, Leonardi said, has helped "rejuvenate" Reflex Packaging a bit.
"The mission was there and finding that market for recycled plastic was there from the beginning. But it created a new spark. It goes from just what you do, because you have been doing it for so long, to 'Hey, you know what, this is what we do.' And what we're doing allows us to go to the next level," he said.