• Gary Robinson

Synaptic Connections Newsletter 2019 Week#24

June 10, 2019 www.Synapticpackaging.com Image - Hawaii, Botanical Gardens

Week#24 of 2019

I hope this note finds you well and that you enjoyed a nice weekend.  For those who follow each week, we are hanging-out here on innovations advancing Sustainabilty through the use of Natural/ Renewable Materials.   The next chapter of our strategy will provide a platform for us to look at opportunities to ReThink Waste.

A discussion on Natural and Renewable Materials would not be complete without the exploration into BioPlastics.  BioPlastics are super exciting and give great hope for a Sustainable future.  The technology is young, however - it is maturing quickly and we expect rapid scale and expansion very soon.

The topic of BioPlastic however is complex, so prepare to navigating some gray zones.  Due to the complexity, this week's Synaptic Connections is a bit longer than normal.  So, let's dive in and start by acknowledging the value of plastics.

Plastics represent an impressive material technology that brings tremendous value to society.  As a material category it is highly robust, is an outstanding performer in high speed automation, is economic, provides a broad spectrum of mechanical and barrier characteristics, and let’s not discount the value that it can be translucent.  Frankly, the outstanding performance and economic value of plastic is the key reasons why plastics have now become a global Sustainability threat.  The explosives growth rate and disposal challenge is creating extenuating pressures that threaten the health of our eco-system.  Today, let’s honor those that are taking bold leadership to bring transformative change through innovation in BioPlastics.

The correct thing to do here, is to start with basic nomenclature on BioPlastics so we can effectively communicate.  Unfortunately, we still see a fair amount of confusion in the plastics industry to internalize and communicate a cohesive strategy in response to Sustainabilty.  We also see a fair amount of greenwashing in this space.  Our advice is ‘Buyer Beware’, and ask good questions.  The summary below will help untangle some of the confusion.

Under the title of BioPlastics, you can find many different products.  Let’s put these into five basic categories.

BioBased Plastics -  These are traditional plastics with the same mechanical properties as if they were made from oil, however, they are produced from naturally derived feedstocks.  An example is using sugarcane to make ethanol, to make polyethylene.  These materials do not degrade in nature, nor are they compostable.  These materials bring value on the sourcing feedstock side of the equation, however - they do not offer any valued change for end-of-life challenges.

BioPolymers -  These are plastics made from natural feedstocks, and they are industrial compostable.  We celebrate these technologies as the hero of the BioPlastic category as they offer valued solutions on both the raw material sourcing, and the end-of-life.

Non-Renewable, Compostable Plastics - These are non-renewable, oil based plastics, that have been engineered to decompose in an industrial composting facility.  Again, this is a partial play in the value proposition.  They bring benefits to the end-of-life, however utilize traditional non-renewable feedstocks.

Hybrids - These are blends of resins that use combinations of the materials described above.  This category can get highly complicated quickly.  Hybrids can be a valuable tool to achieve processing and performance objectives.  Many of the BioPlastic solutions will be hybrids in some fashion or another.

Degradative Additives - AVOID, DO NOT USE.  These are additive packages being put into plastics to make them break-down in nature.  The marketing sounds good, however, the truth is they accelerate the problem of micro-plastics.  Continued global pressure is needed to eradicate these materials.  These degradative additives simply make the plastic break into smaller pieces so you don't see them, thereby exasperating the problem of micro-plastics. 

Below we’ve featured some of the more common BioPlastics and a short introduction to each.

PLA, Polylactic acid - This is the first-mover technology, and has seen broad market growth.  Most of the compostable plastic you see today is PLA.  Historically, PLA has been derived from corn, and it is industrial compostable.  PLA will not however, decompose in nature.  The term Industrial Compostable implies certain time and temperature conditions required for the material to break-down.

PHA, Polyhydroxyalkanoates - This is one of the most exciting BioPolymer technologies in development.  PHA is just now starting to make its first commercial debut and growth expansion is active.  PHA is naturally derived through bacteria initiated fermentation.  The polymer then becomes a food source for microbes and will both industrial compost and be degradable in nature.  PHA is a family of resins, so there are many derivatives including PHB, PHV, and PHH each engineered to unique performance characteristics.

PBS, Polybutylene Succinate - This is an oil derived polymer that will industrially compost into water and Co2.  PBS is frequently used in hybrids to improve processing characteristics that are commonly found from oil derrived polymers.  PBS has mechanical properties that are similar in nature to Polypropylene.

PBAT, Polybutylene adipate terephthalate - This is an oil derived polymer that is industrial compostable.  PBAT is frequently used in hybrids and commonly found blended with PLA or starch.  PBAT has characteristics similar in nature to low-density polyethylene.

BioPlastics show great potential, however prepare to chart your own journey forward through R&D and investing.  Hopefully this short summary provides insights and helps you prepare good questions when it comes to exploring BioPlastics.  Enjoy the articles below, have a great week, and challenge yourself to make a personal change to advance Sustainability in your company!

Packaging Sustainability//

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Upcoming Trade Events//


11-13 June, Global Pouch Forum, Chicago, IL

17 June, SPC Engage, Minneapolis, MN

17-27 June, UN Climate Change Conference, Bonn, Germany

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19-20 June, Green Sports Alliance, Philadelphia, PA

25-26 June, Great Lakes Circular Economy, Toronto, Canada

The purpose of this newsletter is to stimulate innovative thoughts and constructive dialogue through the lens of sustainability.  New subscribers can send an e-mail to the link below to sign-up. 

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