MAY 2009

Dow challenges packaging industry to work together toward 100% recyclability

Plastic packaging is an important part of the solution in the big picture of sustainability, waste and the environment, according to The Dow Chemical Company. In a strong message first delivered to a recent gathering of packaging industry leaders, Dow challenged packaging value chain members to work together toward 100 percent recyclable packaging solutions – and asking consumers to challenge their misconceived view of plastic packaging as “waste.”

“Plastic packaging is viewed by many consumers as waste, or a problem, or in some cases as unnecessary,” said Glenn Wright, commercial vice president for Dow’s North American Basic Plastics business. “But if you dig a little deeper, a very different story unfolds, and you realize that plastic packaging can be very much a part of the solution to many challenges facing society. In reality, packaging should be viewed as a waste reducer. It contributes to the extended shelf life of many food products and reduces the amount of product lost to contamination. Through material science advances, companies like Dow are also creating opportunities for thinner and lighter-weight packaging, which can translate into tangible resource savings.”

Raising the ante for the packaging industry as a whole, Wright added: “All the players in this industry need to work together to demonstrate the concept of life-cycle thinking when it comes to plastic packaging – from first uses to multiple re-use or traditional recycling, and eventually to the concept of recycle-to-energy – sometimes known as energy-from-waste. This last idea is exciting because it could potentially allow us to make two good uses of plastic packaging, first to save resources when used in a package and second as a source of energy that we could harness.

“As I think about these energy-producing possibilities, I ask myself, why do we mine coal for energy, yet bury plastic, even though plastic has nearly twice the energy value, according to the American Chemistry Council?” Wright observed. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could help society view used packaging in its true light – a renewable energy resource, not waste?”

While the goal of 100 percent recycling, all the way to recycle-to-energy, is a bold consideration, Dow is calling on industry leaders to join it in challenging the status quo and find ways to initiate this industry-changing concept. For instance, with all rigid packaging materials being recyclable, could the recycling number on packaging be eliminated to reduce confusion and increase public participation in recycling? Could improved product marking for consumers also help them better understand the energy content (or second life value) of plastic packaging?

“The energy content of plastic packaging is significant,” Wright said. “If we recycle the petroleum resources we’ve used back into energy, then we could actually get two uses out of the packaging in the end. Retailers and consumers could then experience these changes most noticeably in terms of energy- and purchase-related cost savings.”

For example, thanks to the increased shelf life packaging provides, a grocery store can save 10 percent of energy costs associated with refrigeration. These savings translate into decreased use of natural resources, which could be used to provide a family with electricity for more than 12 years.