Houston — Sustainability remains a major focus for materials makers, consumer products companies and many others in the plastics value chain.
Four industry executives covered topics related to sustainability on a panel at Global Plastics Summit 2019, held June 5 in Houston.
Resin maker Nova Chemicals of Calgary, Alberta, is working on resin designs to incorporate post-use plastics, according to Greg DeKunder, polyethylene marketing vice president for the company. Nova is also investing in recycling operations in Indonesia, which is in a part of the world where a large amount of ocean plastics originates.
Allison Lin has seen the impact of sustainability at previous career stops with consumer giants Coca-Cola Co., Procter & Gamble Co. and Starbucks. She's now tackling that topic for plastics molder and processor Westfall Technik Inc. as vice president of procurement and sustainability.
"A lot of companies are interested in using recycled materials," Lin said. "But we as an industry need to get recycled materials to where end markets can use them."
Lin will have many chances to spread sustainable concepts, since Las Vegas-based Westfall has made 14 acquisitions in less than two years.
Most products made by Mars Petcare are already recyclable, according to global packaging lead Barnaby Wallace. The McLean, Va.-based firm has a goal of having all of its products 100 percent recycled, reused and renewable by 2025.
According to Keith Christman, plastics managing director for the American Chemistry Council, consumers and environmentalists both can benefit from smart use of plastics since plastics have 3.8 times less environmental impact than alternative materials.
But at the same time, there's a disconnect between consumer wishes and availability of sustainable products, said Burgess Davis, senior director of corporate strategy for food and beverage giant PepsiCo Inc. of Purchase, N.Y.
"The consumer is aware of plastic waste as an issue and is shocked by [negative] images of plastic, but they're not yet in a place where they can change their behavior," she said. "The tipping point will be when we have scalable alternative packaging that's readily available to most consumers."
Both resin makers and product designers need to look at "the full cost of the package," Nova's DeKunder added, as well as taking a broader look at the world "to see what forces are impacting their business."
In spite of these challenges, makers of consumer products and of plastics materials "don't want to stop innovating," Wallace said. "There are always going to be performance demands for new applications, so we need better solutions for complex plastics."
Christman of Washington-based ACC cited increased efforts in plastics to fuel technology, as well as increased collection and additional mechanical recycling and sorting as positive signs for the industry.