Plastics and sustainability: 5 Trends in Plastic Innovation for a viable world from K2019

Date: 13 Dec 2019

Plastic is an extraordinary synthetic material. A natural byproduct of petroleum production, plastic can be used as a more efficient substitute for other materials because it is strong, durable, and lightweight. The properties of plastic can also be customized with synthesis and additives. Furthermore, plastic production uses far less resources and results in less environmental impact than other materials in the same quantity, thus making plastic the prevalent low cost material in a variety of industries and a part of our daily lives.

Nevertheless, without proper management, this wondrous material will inevitably become a waste crisis that has enormous impact on living things and the environment, especially marine life. The solution to this problem requires proper land waste management, which involves waste sorting and disposal along with the development of plastic technology that is environmentally conscious from the production process.

Recognizing this problem, the leading plastic manufacturers of the world recently convened to present their innovations at K2019, the world's largest exhibition of plastic and rubber products, in Dusseldorf, Germany from October 16-23. This annual event draws the attention of many in the plastic industry and is looked to as the indicator of future trends in plastic production.

Over 3,300 exhibitionists from around the world participated in K2019, including SCG, one of the leaders in the petrochemical industry of Thailand and Southeast Asia. This year's convention and innovation concept was “Plastic for Sustainability” and “Circular Economy,” both of which share the goal of developing plastics towards a sustainable and energy- and resource-efficient future by implementing changes at all stages, from the point of origin with new methods of production, to encouraging consumers to reuse plastic, all the way to post-consumer processing and recycling, in accordance with the principle of circular economy.

Five highlights among the plastic innovations for sustainability created by industry leaders in response to current consumer trends and presented at the convention include the following:

Improved recyclability
Plastics are in essence a 100% recyclable material. With proper post-consumer management and processing, it will not turn into waste that contaminates the environment. However, so far, to meet the needs of consumers the industry has developed plastic packaging by synthesizing and blending plastic with non-plastic materials, resulting in packaging that cannot be recycled, such as multi-layer film packaging that contains aluminum. Thus, at K2019, several companies, including Sabic, Borealis, Dow, and SCG, presented solutions to replace multi-layer packaging, especially mono-material packaging that is developed out of a single material so that it can be recycled. Another solution presented is improving the recyclability of plastics while retaining their properties.

Reducing production resources and increasing material efficiency
Plastics are ubiquitous in specialized industries, such as in lightweight and energy-efficient automotive parts, durable and corrosion-resistant construction materials, and various medical equipment. The current direction of plastic development to meet the needs of specialized industries is, therefore, aimed at increasing efficiency while reducing resources during production, in accordance to the principle of circular economy. For example, DuPont, which has expertise in developing lightweight material for automotive parts, showcased innovations in material technology that would fulfill the needs of future trends in the automotive industry, such as hybrid, electric, and automatic cars, developing F1 race cars and other types of vehicles in conjunction with various partner and client brands, such as Renault Sport Racing.

As a Thai brand, SCG also presented technology that will help increase efficiency and reduce resources used in production, namely SMX™ Technology which can be used in various applications, such as large chemical drums, flexible film packaging that is especially resistant to impact and perforation, and lightweight soda caps that use less material but have enhanced strength. In addition, SCG’s SMX™ Technology can also be used in the development of gas, mining, and high-pressure pipes in the future.

Turning waste into raw material
Because plastic is a recyclable material, it can be circulated into other raw materials for further use. Plastic recycling technology can be divided into the following categories.

1. Mechanical recycling is the process of turning used plastic into pellets, which are then molded into new products for direct use. The plastic pellets produced through this process are called post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastic and can be blended with new plastic and/or additives to create properties desired for various applications like electronic parts, furniture, and higher-quality packaging for consumer products, such as plastic gallon jugs with 95% recycled PE from LyondellBasell, green tea bottles that use 100% recycled PET from Suntory, and stand-up pouches made with the full PE laminated solutions by Exxon, all of which feature the process of combining PCR with mono-materials.

2. Feedstock recycling or chemical recycling is the process of turning plastic into raw material in the form of both gas and liquid. For example, Sabic and BASF have invented a process to recycle plastic through pyrolysis, which turns low-value or non-recyclable plastic waste that would otherwise be incinerated or disposed of in landfills into raw material that has been proven to be of equal quality to pre-consumer plastic and can be used for food packaging. In fact, several brands have already begun to use this material in their packaging, such as Knorr and Unilever’s Magnum bars.

Bioplastics and alternative materials
Invented for improved degradability, bioplastics are synthesized from various raw materials, such as corn, sugar cane, and tapioca flour. Because traditional plastic is a byproduct of petroleum, which is a non-renewable resource, innovations have been created to encourage the use of renewable feedstock in plastic production, such as bio-based feedstock and synthesizing carbon dioxide into polymer. The use and post-consumer processing of bioplastics are different from those of traditional recyclable plastic; consumers should inspect packaging and sort waste properly, as bioplastics can contaminate and cause damage to the recycling process.

Collaboration: Joining forces for sustainability
Cooperation between manufacturers and brand owners in creating innovations that answer the needs of both businesses and society is another emerging trend that could be seen at K2019. For example, BASF and Jaguar Land Rover collaborated on research into converting waste into automotive parts, while SCG and Betagro co-developed sturdy packaging material for chicken products that is resistant to tears and perforation from chicken bones. These are just two examples among many. Moreover, there were joint efforts among manufacturers, recyclers, brand owners, and other involved parties throughout the production chain in developing innovations in waste management to maximize utility. All this is an assurance that the plastic industry will grow alongside sustainability efforts, as exemplified by SCG collaborating with Dow to turn post-consumer plastic into pavement made from recycled plastic.

These five plastic industry trends for sustainability reflect the determination of industry players in solving environmental issues by focusing on recycling, reusing, and reducing resources in accordance with the principle of circular economy in order to create sustainability in plastics from the point of production all the way to facilitating post-consumer processes. Once manufacturers and brand owners have adjusted their habits, it’s now time for consumers like us to help the world change its behavior simply by starting with ourselves. #resourcemaximization #correctwastesorting #properdisposal in order to circulate resources and reduce the amount of plastic waste released into the environment.

SCG and Thailand; Path Towards Circular Economy

SCG and Thailand; Path Towards Circular Economy

Date: 17 Sep 2019

Why we should care about circular economy The worrying fact that natural resources and energy are dwindling from our planet indicates that the world economy may face the risk of shortages of raw materials in the near future. Moreover, pollution caused by manufacturing and consumption has affected the environment. With these pressing issues, the circular economy is now a solution that has caught the attention of international organizations, governments, and corporations. The philosophy of a circular economy is focused on making the most of resources throughout their life cycle, from planning and designing, manufacturing, and consumption, to waste management and reuse, all with the aim of promoting sustainability for the economy, society, and environment. At Chemicals Business, SCG, one of the largest integrated petrochemical companies in Thailand, we feel that it is our responsibility to be a part of the movement that embraces the circular economy and reduces plastic waste, while giving back to society, to ensure sustainability for future generations. We put a tremendous effort into product development and research programs, to develop materials and innovative business models that support the circular economy. We also work with various organizations in the government and private sectors in Thailand, with the goal of making the circular economy common practice in Thailand. SCG’s view of the circular economy Waste minimization assumes complete use and utilization of resources to make finished products, ensuring that as little waste as possible is generated during the life-cycle of the goods. The very first step begins at the product-design stage where (1) through clever design, added strength can be achieved to prolong the lifetime of the product; (2) minimal raw materials are processed and the amount of waste generated is reduced in the manufacturing process to achieve the required design and functionality; and (3) more, if not all, alternative or recycled material—which is more environmentally friendly—is used during manufacturing. The waste-littering and waste-management flow in the bottom part of Figure 1 involves many stakeholders including households, infrastructure providers, and various other parties. This has proved to be one of the most difficult aspects of the circular economy as well as one of the most critical. Proper sorting is almost a must in waste management; consumers should first sort their waste into appropriate categories. This is the cheapest and simplest way to ensure that the waste collected is of high quality, and that subsequent management of the waste can be done easily whether it is recycled, incinerated, or sanitarily landfilled. SCG uses innovation to support the circular economy We have recently introduced to the world, the higher-strength polyethylene (PE) resin breakthrough, SMX TechnologyTM, using internally developed “multimodal” technology. It was created by our formulators and designers resulting in a resin with improved mechanical properties in all aspects compared with existing HDPE. Since our new HDPE has better mechanical properties than existing HDPE, it directly contributes to plastic-waste reduction in two ways: 1. Reduced material use/increased durabilityWhen the new HDPE resin is used in place of existing HDPE resin, smaller amounts are required to achieve the same mechanical and chemical properties of finished goods. We have tested the new resin in blow-molding applications and found that it requires 10% less resin to create the finished product, in this case small HDPE bottles, with the same properties as those required by manufacturers. Upgrade and replacement When used in conjunction with post-consumer recycled (PCR) resin in certain applications, our researchers have confirmed that the ratio of PCR resin that can be mixed with virgin resin increases significantly. We found that up to 2.5 times more PCR resin can be mixed with our new HDPE resin to create a finished product with the same properties as before. Lastly, our research and development team is also developing the “CIERRATM” line of performance materials. As we are all aware, mixed materials are difficult to recycle, if not impossible. In the near future, we plan to replace metallized and aluminum material in barrier layers, providing solutions for print and seal layers for mono-materials, which will allow much better recyclability. 2. Leading the way to become a key driving force through collaboration with other partiesSCG, as a leading company in Thailand, realizes the importance of developing a circular economy, which is key to achieving the goals of business and of global sustainability. For decades, we have participated in and initiated many programs with the private and public sectors. Some of the highlights of our recent ventures are outlined below. SCG has been organizing the SD Symposium event since 2010 to promote awareness about the importance of sustainable development in various areas, as well as to encourage more practical solutions that will lead to sustainable growth for businesses, society, and the environment. Last year, we held this global forum in Thailand with the theme of “Circular Economy: The future we create” with more than 1,000 attendees. Participants included leading global companies as well as the government sector, civil society, SMEs, start-ups, and local communities. The aim of the event was to create awareness and foster understanding of the circular economy, to promote behavioral changes in manufacturing and consumption, and enhance collaboration among businesses, consumers, and the government in driving the nation toward a circular economy. This practice will eventually lead to business sustainability, while also raising the quality of life, and will result in global sustainability for many generations to come. Additionally, SCG always promotes the building of collaborative networks with many parties in Thailand and beyond, to create complete circular economies. Some recent examples include a technology partnership with Dow Thailand to use recycled plastics as an ingredient in asphalt, helping to reduce ocean and community waste while also enhancing efficiency, as well as reducing carbon emissions from building roads. To conclude, at SCG we believe that the circular economy will enable us to use sufficient resources to achieve the desired result of creating zero waste in production processes, consumption, and product end-of-life management. This certainly needs collaboration from all sides, and everyone needs to start building awareness to make it happen since it requires a fundamental redesign of business and our end-to-end value chains. The transition will be a monumental task for us all but if we persevere, we will succeed and put the economy back on a path of growth and sustainability. About SCG SCG was established in 1913 following a royal decree from His Majesty King Rama VI to produce cement, the main building material for infrastructure projects that greatly contributed to the progress of the country during that period. Since its founding, SCG has grown continuously and diversified into three core businesses: Cement-Building Materials, Chemicals, and Packaging. SCG employs 55,000 people with more than $15 billion in annual revenue from sales. It collaborates through a global R&D network with 38 universities, 33 research institutions, and 140 industry partners. The chemicals business is a 100% subsidiary of SCG with revenue accounting for half of the group total. It is one of the largest integrated petrochemical companies in Thailand and a key industry leader in Asia. It manufactures and offers a full portfolio of petrochemical products ranging from upstream production of olefins to downstream production of plastic resins—polyethylene, polypropylene, and polyvinyl chloride—including fabricated products such as film, pipe, and fittings, as well as acrylic sheet. It strives to offer solutions that reflect customers’ needs, by developing innovative and value-added products and services that offer the best quality while using fewer plastic materials, to promote the circular economy.