What’s green at the plastic show?

My colleagues from ICIS are in full-force covering this week’s largest plastic trade show in North America, NPE2009, in Chicago sponsored by the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI). I’ve been also getting a lot of bioplastic updates from twitterer @Wi_Bioplastic (thanks!).

As ICIS reported, bioplastics, recycling, energy conservation, and additives regulation were the talk of the show. Bioplastics are said to be increasingly showing up in durables as manufacturers compete to make their products stand out.

Still, the industry as a whole, is not yet familiar with bioplastics which is a challenge, a member of the Society of Plastics Engineers said.

Maybe that’s why it’s good that the NPE has its green pavilion featuring various bioplastic exhibitors such as Metabolix, Cereplast, DuPont, Enso, Arkema (100% biopolymer for textile) and Sabic. I asked Wi_Bioplastic about Sabic and he said they offer a biocomposite plastic with 30% ag-feedstock-based.

Wi_Bioplastic also twitted that the show’s IT pavilion featured exhibitors such as Samsung and LG who are showing their latest bioplastic-based gadgets. SPI’s bioplastic council also gave a speech about supporting market development for bioplastics, working hand-in-hand with traditional plastics, and overcoming challenges such as greenwashing and lack of consumer education about bioplastics.

With regards to recycling, ICIS said one producer noted recycledpolyethylene terepthalate (PET) demand is up despite the recession. Theproducer noted retailers such as Target and Wal-Mart demanding more andmore environmentally-friendly products and packaging in response topublic sentiment and legislative initiatives at the national and locallevels.

Recycled PET is said to be also cheaper right now than virgin PET.

One plastic additives producer noted growing interests in plasticmagnetic additives that is used to recover resins from parts made up ofdifferent types of plastics called multi-material mouldings. Plasticmanufacturers can cut costs by not only incorporating different resinsinto one plastic product but recovering those resins as well.

Participants at the event also cited a notable increase in theattention paid to recycled resin and processing markets compared with2006.

“Green marketinghas gained momentum and increased public concern over recycling. Butmore importantly, companies have started feeling the impact of bad PRfrom not recycling,” one company said.

Another greenplastic trend is weight reduction whether it’s in product packaging oruse of plastics in automobile parts as opposed to metal or glass.Companies are said to be reducing the weight of plastics used inpackaging and other applications to save raw material and shippingcosts. Weight reduction was reportedly featured prominently amongautomobile exhibits at the show.

One company also noted the PET industry’s shift to lighter-weightbottles which presents opportunities for the PET market. More companiesare said to be shifting to PET from materials like glass and aluminiumbecause of the lighter-weight PET resin technologies coming out.

Finally, regulations and mandates were hot buttons for several companies and industry groups.

SPI is said to be launching a long-term public outreach campaignwith an annual budget of up to $3m in an effort to counter productdeselection and increasing regulatory challenges. Some of the hotregulatory topics were bisphenol-A, phthalates and single-use plasticbags.

The plastic industry plans to engage consumer discussions viainternet-based approach including You Tube, Facebook, Twitter andblogs.

“Sofar, the plastics industry has not been plugged in to the discussion,”said SPI. “We have mostly become engaged on a reactive basis, after theissue is a page-one item.”

The US plastics industry said it is also deeplytroubled by pending federal legislation on climate control, health careand union voting, that can destroy jobs and export capacity. Theclimate change bill’s provisions for a cap-and-trade emissionsreduction mandate could impose sharply higher energy prices onenergy-intensive industries such as plastics manufacturing, accordingto SPI.

Also check out my new (free!) bioplastic article from ICIS Chemical Business.

Here are several out of tons of NPE-related news from ICIS (requires subscription):

Recycled PET demand climbs despite economy

Natural gas prices, climate and health issues worry US plastics

Bioplastics begin appearing in durable goods

Mandates on bottle deposits harmful, say Coca-Cola

Recycling plastic attracts business to US Eriez Magnetics

Lighter PET bottles offer growth potential

US plastics firms troubled by Congress actions

US plastics group to launch $3m/year outreach campaign

New technology slashes costs for recycled PET, says company

Recycling emerges as pivotal issue for NPE exhibitors

Bioplastics, conservation play larger role at show

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