Ever wondered why everyone is suddenly talking about plastic waste? With the sudden shift of China’s policy to reject waste imports from developed nations, developed nations have felt the direct impact of its over reliance in “outsourcing” its waste recycling. The time has come where countries are racing to find various solutions to solve this major waste issue, with developing countries being pushed to increase controls over pollution and recycling practices, the option to “outsource” is becoming limited.
An Australian credit card found in Indonesia’s trash site
As our company manufactures plastic products, we too are getting pressure from our customers to respond to this green movement in the industry. And being further up in the value chain, it would be our responsibility to help solve this issue from further up the value chain. We had the chance to get some insights about the solutions being developed in the plastics recycling industry with Mr. Tommy and his team from GreenHope.
The case for plastic manufacturers
To target the greatest impact from the manufacturer’s side, we must then look at the raw materials used. Countries have developed various solutions to replace the use of traditional plastics, replacing it with various types of bioplastics and using additives to enhance decomposition of plastics. Which arrived at two major camps of thought in how to replace traditional plastic use.
The first camp being bioplastics, is a solution championed by the western world, notably the United states and Europe. The US being a large grower of corn, have found solutions to convert corn into plastics, while the EU with its major players like BASF leaning towards new solutions in bioplastics. With a higher price per unit cost, the western world has less resistance to the shift, supported by its higher-GDP population ready to switch to bio-based alternatives in various applications. However, in less developed part of the world or in oil rich nations, this wouldn’t be a smart solution, due to the inability to absorb higher prices and lack of agricultural resources to support bioplastic supply. In addition, for certain applications, bioplastics may face challenges in retaining its strength and physical capabilities compared to traditional plastics, like for the case of our stretch film production.
The second camp promotes the use of additives to traditional plastics, the oxo-biodegradable additive is seen as an alternative and cheaper method to allow plastics to biodegrade. Some countries just do not have any incentive to develop bio-plastics, for example Saudi Arabia, with its oil rich nature it must find a way to make its resource too biodegradable, oxo-biodegradable allows manufacturers to add additives to plastic raw material and convert it into a biodegradable material. The oxo-biodegradable additives, allow an oxidation process for the plastics to be broken down chemically and eventually will be eaten by microorganisms, with this additive the degradation of plastics would be speed up by a significant amount, as fast as 12 months given exposure to degradation promoters which are light, heat and oxygen.
In application, the benefits of using oxo-biodegradable plastics would be that, the plastics retain its strength and physical capabilities during application, and only will degrade during post-application when the plastic becomes litter and in a certain environment. As a side effect, the degrading process of oxo-biodegradable plastics would not produce methane, unlike other bioplastics in the industry. And oxo-biodegradable arguably does not cause the creation of microplastics, the term microplastics would be more accurately associated with plastics which are reduced to small grains of plastics through physical degradation, often manufactured as microbeads from a cosmetics and personal care products.
A sample of Oxium branded oxo-bio-degradable additive
For our product’s application, the use of bioplastics that are film grade in stretch films has not been market ready yet, however our current environmentally friendly solution would be to use oxo-biodegradable plastics, which does not affect our film quality in any way. Given proper storage of the films to avoid prolonged exposure to UV light, the film quality would not be affected, on average the shelf-life of the product would be 2 years, and up to 5 years for other applications.
Big challenges still ahead
While raw materials play a major part in combating the issue, we still have plenty to combat going further down-stream in waste management and recycling process. Starting from the awareness and the participation of the government and the people, to the investment in the infrastructures to process the waste and the good practices from recycling companies to avoid mishandling waste recycling. We as a large producer of stretch films with products that end up all around the world will be able to help in part of the value chain by using environmentally friendly materials, to aid processing further downstream.
An interesting info-graphic we saw during the visit to GreenHope
GreenHope is an Indonesian social enterprise supplying bio-plastics and oxo-biodegradable additives, more on www.greenhope.com. And for more information about our stretch film and plastic products go to www.dwipack.com