Polyolefins market needs to address ‘dark side’ of plastics before benefits can shine

Author: Katherine Sale

2019/04/03

VIENNA (ICIS)--The polyolefins market needs to address the dark side of plastics before consumers can take notice of the product’s benefits, a chemicals executive said on Wednesday.

Gerald Rebitzer, director for sustainability at Amcor Flexibles, a subsidiary of Australia-headquartered packaging firm Amcor, went on to talk about the future prospects for single-material flexible packaging.

“Plastic packaging has a lighter environmental footprint than other materials” like glass bottles, aluminium cans or compostable cartons, said Rebitzer.

However, until the market addresses the bad image of plastics and the environmental and recycling concerns, the many benefits from using plastics are irrelevant, the executive at Amcor added.

He was speaking at the 8th ICIS World Poylolefins Conference.

Examining the production of a cup of coffee, for instance, only 1.5% of the environmental impact is from the packaging, while 45.5% of it derives from boiling the water, 49% production and 3% transportation, he said.

Rebitzer (pictured) highlighted that mono-material would be a solution for the circular economy, but it is one that comes with its own challenges.

“Why not make all flexible packaging from pure PE [polyethylene], because the thickness would increase from 0.1mm [millimetres] to 35cm [centimetres], to keep the coffee fresh and provide the same barrier to oxygen and moisture,” he said.

This is an area that Rebitzer highlighted the market could learn from the polyethylene terephthalate (PET) sector that is much further along in the journey towards a circular economy.

Enabling, as an entire industry, to tackle plastics waste in the way that the PET market has done has been a common theme of the conference.

While the users of polymers are committing, with the brands and plastic packaging companies signing up to the 'New Plastics Economy Global Commitment' on mass, only Borealis and Indorama on the producer side have joined the initiative.

This is an area that Rebitzer outlined for action, with producers required to do more than pilot plants and minimal investment in research in order to keep their licence to operating going forward.

“It is like car companies not investing in electric cars, they will be gone in ten years,” he said.

“The polymer industry needs to deviate from business as usual and answer to the needs of their customers (converters, brand-owners),” he concluded.

The 8th World Polyolefins Conference runs in Vienna on 3-4 April.

Pictures sources: Jochen Tack/imageBROKER/REX/Shutterstock and Amcor

Focus article by Katherine Sale