Chicago — There are no easy answers to the challenges facing the plastics market, but companies throughout the supply chain are hard at work to find solutions.
Bill Carteaux, president and CEO of the Washington-based Plastics Industry Association, chaired an Oct. 31 panel with three plastics executives at the Global Plastics Summit 2018 in Chicago. The panel tackled several issues facing the market, including public perception and sustainability.
“The industry for years has talked about the benefits of plastics,” Carteaux said. “So people understand the benefit, but they're concerned about the environmental impact.”
The image of plastics has become a very important topic in recent days at Berry Global, the Evansville, Ind.-based firm that ranks as one of North America's largest makers of plastics packaging. That's according to Scott Farmer, the firm's executive vice president and chief procurement officer.
Berry has launched Plastic Ambassadors and the online Berry University, two programs designed to educate employees about the industry.
“We have to be a voice to attract good people to the industry,” Farmer said. “And we have to educate people to be proud of the industry they work in.”
Global agricultural products giant Deere & Co. is working to reach high school students in STEM programs and is involved in managing water, energy and waste, as well as product sustainability, according to materials engineering and technology global manager Jay Olson.
Moline, Ill.-based Deere also recently began using recycled auto bumpers in its own products, he added.
LyondellBasell Industries, a global leader in polyethylene and polypropylene resins, is taking action on several fronts, according to Paul Augustowski, olefins and polyolefins senior vice president for the company. The Houston-based firm late last year acquired a 50 percent stake in Dutch plastics recycling company Quality Circular Polymers (QCP). The other half is owned by French water and waste management company Suez.
Then in July, LyondellBasell announced that it was working with Germany's Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) on chemical recycling of plastic materials. The focus of the partnership is to develop a new catalyst and process technology to decompose post-consumer plastic waste.
“In some ways, the industry had ignored plastic waste,” Augustowski said. “Now we're involved in mechanical recycling and are finding ways to make materials more efficiently.”
Promoting the value of plastics now has a personal meaning for Carteaux, a career plastics veteran who has battled leukemia.
“Plastics saved my life,” he said. “Lots of plastics products were used when I was treated for leukemia.
“When people say that single-use plastics should be banned, they need to think of the ramifications of all of that,” Carteaux said.
Farmer credited Operation Clean Sweep — an industry program aimed at keeping resin pellets out of water sources — with “making [Berry] better and accountable.”
“We're responsible for what's going into our facilities and what's going out,” he said.
Berry also recently began offering recyclable alternatives for all of its packaging products. More than 80 percent of the firm's products also now have recyclable content.
“Brand owners were asking us for that,” Farmer said. “We have to set a goal.”