Going full circle:
Can plastics take inspiration from food ingredients innovation?

Photo by Sagar Chaudhray on Unsplash

Remaining relevant in a circular economy

Posted by Robin Wyers on August 1, 2019

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As a new team member at EMG, I recently attended the pre-K press event which was held in Antwerp (Belgium) in June. With a background in food ingredients, it was interesting to see the correlations between two diverse yet highly adjacent industries in terms of voice and targeting. What was clear is that the showcasing of green credentials is one of the most significant trends in both segments. At the pre-K event participating companies including Ascend, Clariant, DSM, INEOS Styrolution, Perstorp, SABIC and SONGWON, were all keen to highlight their progress in creating solutions that can function within a sustainable future.

Circular economy triggers industry and messaging changes

The need to successfully operate within a circular economy has taken industries across the board by storm, as an urgency to operate more efficiently with the world’s dwindling resources becomes ever more pronounced. Key to fulfilling sustainability pledges, both from an economic and environmental perspective, will be making better use of waste streams, whether it is in the form of energy, chemicals, or bio-based materials.

Few sectors have been drawing such a barrage of negative mainstream headlines recently than packaging, with television coverage in programs such as the BBC’s Blue Planet II taking criticism of the unnecessary mass dumping of packaging to a new level. According to a 2016 Ellen MacArthur Foundation report, if current trends continue, by 2050 there will be more plastics in the seas of the world by weight than fish. Consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of this and are responding in turn by forgoing plastics when possible.

Something has to change. Whether fairly or not, the plastics segment is being challenged to change the dialog. As well as indicating how plastics can be recycled in a circular economy, the messaging the industry delivers need to highlight the benefits that it can bring from a sustainability standpoint i.e. through the shelf-life extension and logistical protection of perishable goods. While the use of a film around fresh produce such as cucumber benefits its shelf-life, educating consumers about why it is there in the first place, as well as ensuring that it is disposed of in a circular manner is key. In western markets, virgin plastics will often be broken down into recyclable materials that will typically be converted into textile. However, it is normally at this stage that worn clothes are simply dumped to landfill. Is intervention possible at this stage of the chain?

That the plastics segment is taking the sustainability issue serious was clear at the EMG Pre K Press Event. All participating companies were keen to showcase progress in sustainability, and with 25 editors from international trade media present, their messages were clearly heard. 

Highlights discussed at the event included:

  • Ascend Performance Materials will launch a number of new specialty polyamide products, including high heat and long chain engineering resins and inherently antimicrobial polymer for fiber. The company will also highlight its expansion and sustainability initiatives at K 2019. For more info...
  • Clariant to launch a new oxygen scavenger for PET that protects content shelf life and taste, new renewable feedstock-based additives for polyolefins, plus fast and reliable coloration and color-matching for recyclates. For more info...
  • DSM highlighted the expansion of co-polyester (E-TPEE) Arnitel which is increasingly being used as a lighter, smarter, greener alternative to conventional rubbers, reducing environmental impact. For more info...
  • INEOS Styrolution revealed its plans to help create a circular economy for styrenics with a focus on recycling projects and related partnerships with leading technology providers. For more info...
  • Perstorp is launching a new renewable polyol ester (non-phthalate) plasticizer Pevalen Pro. It will make flexible PVC an even more attractive choice of plastic, based on a significantly lower carbon footprint versus competing materials and technologies. For more info...
  • SABIC presented a range of materials that can offset the weight of new components required for electric, connected and automated vehicles, saving energy consumption and extending range. Additionally PP compounds for soft-feel interior parts, eliminating the use of paint and secondary operations, avoiding environmental concerns and saving energy. For more info...
  • Songwon recently revealed a collaboration with RPC bpi nordfolien to develop special PE-bags, made with 50% recycled PE and the collaboration with a plastics producer to complete the cycle, by feeding recycled bags as feedstock for producing new recycled bags. For more info...

All Press Releases

 

Inspired solutions in sustainability

Other industries can serve as inspiration, with recent developments within the food ingredients sphere illustrating that we can go truly full circle when it comes to raw materials. I have been closely watching new developments in this industry sector in my former role as the editor of The World of Food Ingredients. Within this space, palm oil, soy, cocoa and vanilla are just some of the ubiquitous ingredients that are coming under pressure amid the rise of a circular economy where sustainable solutions are sought. Food manufacturers are being encouraged to demonstrate full traceability of their supply chain by critical and sceptical consumers, who are conscious of devastating food traceability scandals (e.g. the Chinese melamine scandal (2008) and the European horsemeat scandal (2013)). Suppliers are being forced to respond, with the role for new technologies (e.g. blockchain) potentially taking traceability to the next level going forward. 

 

But food waste is another area of high concern, where gains can be made, often at facilities where biomaterials are reused to power the factories at which they have been processed. But true value addition is also on the rise. Citrus fibre (traditionally dumped following fruit processing) is just one example of an ingredient that can be given a new life in the form of a clean label ingredient with fibre enhancement, fat reduction and technical stabilization properties. 

Amid the growing demand for plant-based alternatives to meat or hybrid options, functional fibres supplier Beneo recently began offering texturized wheat protein from its Wanze facility in Belgium. The new plant is being operated by BioWanze, a subsidiary of Beneo’s sister company CropEnergies. The Wanze biorefinery utilizes all raw material used in production to produce high-quality food, feed and fuel with no waste. It is effectively creating a high value ingredient from what would have been the waste stream from bioethanol production.

A great example of utilizing typical waste streams to add value has been in place by major flavours supplier Firmenich for years. The company’s Firmenich Seafood facility in Ålesund, Norway, has been processing approximately 10,000 tons of seafood raw materials annually to create seafood extracts and flavours for its food and beverage customers worldwide. Through sophisticated biotechnological processes, the company converts the raw material, which is largely side streams from the seafood industry, creating a sustainable value chain for these flavours. In recent years, the company has been exploring ways to further extract value from this process, and in doing so, has developed natural food ingredients derived from marine protein.

One of the best recent stories of doing more with side streams came from Scottish company Revive, which has developed a game-changing concept, whereby high-value products derived from coffee grounds could lead to a sustainable and alternative ingredient to the much criticized palm oil.  The company works with waste management partners to collect used coffee grounds and then converts them into natural oils with wide-ranging uses across the food and beverage industry. 

Looking outside the box

Can inspiration be taken from a different but adjacent raw material sector, where plastics suppliers literally look outside of the box (or film for that matter)? Is further optimization possible in terms of processing efficiency and final product light weighting? Can waste materials from the plastics production process find a new life in the form of alternative industrial applications? 

On the other hand, you could argue that closing the production waste loop is quite common within plastics. It’s closing the post-consumer waste loop which is the challenge. How significant can the role for industry formed bodies such as The Alliance to End Plastic Waste be in changing behaviour around single-use plastics be?

These will be some of the key points of discussions at the upcoming K Trade Fair in Düsseldorf (October 16-23, 2019), where sustainability tops the agenda. 

The event will offer a great opportunity to reiterate the benefits plastics can bring from a sustainability point of view by offering protection and shelf-life extension. You can share your story of circular solutions and demonstrate new technologies your company has to offer to improve recycling of plastics. 

Over the years I have worked on many stories about the circular economy and sustainability solutions. Let me know if you need support in developing and telling your story to an industry audience keen on positioning itself within a circular economy. 


Robin Wyers recently joined EMG as Head of Content. He has nearly 20 years of journalism experience and has a strong background in the food ingredients sector having served as Chief Editor at The World of Food Ingredients for 16 years. He remains on the Editorial Advisory Board at this leading industry publication. Robin will be working directly with EMG clients and our account teams to identify new content opportunities and develop content across a range of traditional and digital platforms.

 

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