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Plastic waste: Think globally, act locally

Plastic waste: Think globally, act locally

Poor waste-management infrastructure is a major contributor to global plastic waste in the environment, particularly in countries such as China, Malaysia and Indonesia, which have announced they will no longer accept plastic waste imports. Additionally, rising costs are forcing some municipalities in the United States to suspend recycling programs.

For example, New Orleans notified residents in May of this year that it will suspend recycling of #3 to #7 plastics and accept only #1 (PET) and #2 (HDPE). In Maine, Auburn is “mulling” whether to temporarily suspend its curbside recycling program due to rising costs. Missouri’s Perry County entirely suspended its curbside recycling program because of rising costs. Just last week, the small city of Surprise, AZ, a suburb of Phoenix, notified its residents that it will no longer provide curbside recycling due to cost and low demand. It also noted that much of the recyclate collected was dirty and unusable and goes to the landfill, anyway.

Dow has a new initiative, Project Masaro, that could bring some relief: A replicable blueprint for “zero-waste economies,” the project helps communities to convert their plastic waste into valuable resources. “If implemented globally, this framework could reduce costs for local governments and relieve some of the burden on global recycling infrastructures,” said Dow.

Led by Professor Zainal Abidin from the Bandung Institute of Technology (IBT) in Indonesia, Project Masaro has been successfully implemented in a boarding school in West Java.

Dow’s Han Zhang, APAC Sustainability Director, Packaging and Specialty Plastics, spoke with PlasticsToday about this program that creates a local solution for a localized problem. Zhang acknowledged that plastic is an extremely beneficial material to society, given its ability to preserve food and provide lightweight containers, which are “very important to Southeast Asian people,” he said. “Many can only afford small quantities of food, so it is good to preserve food and avoid waste.”

Masaro Project

Zhang believes that localized solutions are needed. “That’s the key to solving the problem. Teach people what can be recycled and how to recycle it,” he commented.  

Plastic waste had been an important import for Asia Pacific countries that relied on these materials from the United States over the past several decades as feedstock to make new products and meet local demand, explained Zhang. “They have the recycling part but not the collection system,” he said. “They can’t meet demand because they can’t collect it. We need to develop a localized system in both the United States and Asia—a localized solution to solve a local problem.” 

Project Masaro started in a local village in Indonesia. Before Dow’s involvement, there was no way to manage waste in the village, so everything was thrown away. All type of solid waste was thrown into the river, or the village would let the waste pile up and find a buyer to burn it, or wait until the rain washed it away into the river. 

“We partnered with Professor Zainal at IBT, and started with education to teach people how to dispose of waste. Waste collection system in the school became primary in four areas,” said Zhang: "Collect food waste; collect recyclable material; collect hard-to-recycle plastic; collect all other kinds of waste."

How to process this waste in each category is the next step after collection. “For the recyclable material, it’s obvious,” said Zhang. “We sell it to a recycler. For hard-to-recycle plastic waste, the professor developed a chemical recycling process for the village. Biomaterials such as leaves, branches and paper can be used as fuel, which powers a pyrolysis unit that recycles certain types of plastic waste. For all organic waste, the professor developed a way similar to composting by adding chemicals into the mix and turning organic waste into a liquid that then becomes a liquid fertilizer.”

Thus far, Project Masaro has trained more than 2,000 students and teachers in proper recycling and waste management behaviors through workshops on collecting, sorting, processing and selling waste by-products. The goal is to eventually train 12,000 individuals in the area and eliminate plastic waste.

Zhang believes that collecting materials that are in highest demand, such as PET and HDPE, is the first step, and that's where education plays an important role: “Get the right recyclable material into the right recycling bin. If they do a good job of sorting and cleaning the material, it will save a lot of time and costs for the recycler and allow an increase in the amount of recycling,” said Zhang.

There is no single answer to solving the problem of plastic waste, said Zhang. There must be a variety of solutions—including waste-to-energy—to provide the answers for the wide range of plastic materials.

“We need PET recycling, because there is good demand and we can’t find enough to meet that demand,” said Zhang. “People should improve the collection of PET and other easily recyclable materials. 

“At Dow we’re working on solutions for difficult-to-recycle multi-materials, such as delamination processed for packaging. One of the directions we’ve taken is developing a 100% PE solution to replace multi-material laminates, making the packaging fully recyclable. This will increase supply of the fully recyclable material.” 

Zhang also pointed out the continued need for oxygen barriers and the current absence of feasible alternatives to barrier packaging. “We want to make sure there is no plastic waste in the environment,” he commented. “We need to figure out new solutions—either new ways to collect or a new way to recycle in order to get the highest value. We also need to leverage other solutions, including waste-to-energy for the hard-to-recycle materials. On the one hand we need to improve the recycling system—collection and recycling methods such as mechanical recycling. On the other hand, we need new recycling technologies, such as chemical recycling. If those don’t work, then waste-to-energy is a way to capture the energy value from plastics. Ideally there will be a combination of solutions,” said Zhang.

Perhaps we in the industry have made recycling of plastics too difficult with the seven numbers, each one applying to a different polymer material. Maybe we should give confused consumers two recyclable items—PET (water bottles) and HDPE (milk and juice jugs) and find different options for the other five numbers. Let’s face it, if it’s not working, it’s not worth the time, energy and cost it takes to ultimately throw 70% of “recyclable” materials into landfills.

AI Provides a Detailed Road Map for Interventional Lung Procedures

Image courtesy of RSIP Vision
Image courtesy of RSIP Vision

Precise medical imaging and analysis could enable early detection of lung cancer, help determine its exact size and location, and significantly improve diagnosis and treatment. This is usually done in a process called segmentation, which uses computers to identify the boundaries of the lung from surrounding thoracic tissue on CT images. From this process, a detailed 3-D map of the airways may be generated that can help to plan and navigate a bronchoscopy procedure to obtain biopsy samples and to perform other clinical interventions.

“Until now, this process was very difficult because you need the radiologist, or even the surgeon, to spend much time to understand how to get to the specific place [where the lesion is located]. And this is sometimes prone to error,” said Ron Soferman, founder and CEO of RSIP Vision, in an interview with MD+DI. “It's very critical [to know the precise location] because, if you miss the lesion, you will take a biopsy from some random part of the lung and it will give a negative result.”

RSIP Vision’s fully automated solution uses AI and deep learning technologies to provide a type of road map that can pinpoint the exact location of a suspicious lesion. The AI module uses sophisticated segmentation algorithms and computer vision to divide scanned images into clusters of pixels according to their characteristics. This replaces previous computer vision techniques that offered only a semi-automated airways segmentation, which required several iterations to find the initial seed point.

The procedure is performed in a fixed segmentation time, and it is independent of the quality of the given CT scan. Comparing the lungs with trees that have many branches that get smaller and narrower, Soferman said that this technology enables even the tiniest branches to be more easily located. “Now we can really understand very small airways, detecting them automatically to give you a picture,” he said.

RSIP Vision’s AI module will help surgeons navigate through the lung with greater accuracy, which may help to make possible more minimally invasive procedures that can be performed through the trachea, reducing unnecessary damage to healthy tissues.

The technology is commercially available and has already been used in some procedures, Soferman said, noting that it has received positive feedback from pulmonologists who have performed bronchoscopies with AI’s module.

Cost-effective process developed for production of super-hydrophobic plastic surfaces

Cost-effective process developed for production of super-hydrophobic plastic surfaces

Micro channels embedded in plastics and metals can prevent water from sticking to the surface, improving the performance of an array of medical, electronic and other devices. Researchers at Purdue University claim to have developed a viable manufacturing process to create these tiny channels to repel water or minimize flow resistance. “There is no other current technology available for creating internal hydrophobic surfaces for micro channels in a cost-effective way,” said Yung Shin, the Donald A. and Nancy G. Roach Professor of Advanced Manufacturing in the Purdue University College of Engineering.

Hydrophobic material from Purdue UniversityShin’s team uses a two-step process to create the super-hydrophobic surfaces. First, patterns or features are created on a metal surface with an ultra-fast laser. Then the same pattern is produced on a polymer via transfer molding.

“The technology has many potential applications, especially in the biomedical and electronics industries,” Shin said. “It provides more effective cooling options than conventional methods and helps reduce the overall size of biosensors and other medical devices that use circulating fluid to detect unhealthy conditions in a patient.”

Shin and his team are working with the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization to patent the device. They are also seeking additional research partners and invite interested parties to contact them.

Extrusion systems, and one control to rule them all, featured by Graham Engineering at K 2019

Extrusion systems, and one control to rule them all, featured by Graham Engineering at K 2019

Graham Engineering Corp. (York, PA) will exhibit several extrusion systems at stand A 71 in hall 16, but the real star of the show will be its Navigator control system. Originally developed for Graham Engineering’s extrusion blow molding systems and then adapted for sheet extrusion lines manufactured by Welex, which it acquired in 2013, the Navigator controls are now available for American Kuhne extrusion systems, also part of the Graham portfolio since 2012, that process medical tubing, profiles, wire and cable.

American Kuhne medical extruder
An American Kuhne medical extrusion system equipped with Navigator control technology will be on display at stand A 71 in hall 16.

Graham Engineering will be doing live demos of its Navigator control technology on various pieces of equipment during K 2019 in Düsseldorf, Germany, from Oct. 16 to 23. The system uses an industrial PC with a Windows platform to provide intuitive, integrated extrusion process control. Real-time graphical display is a hallmark of Navigator control, noted Graham Vice President of Engineering Justin Kilgore.

“High visual correlation between the touchscreen and machine function ensures an intuitive user experience that provides ease of use and a rapid learning curve for both new and experienced operators,” said Kilgore. “Powered by a friendly, open architecture that allows a high level of flexibility, Navigator control is delivered via hardware designed to withstand harsh industrial conditions such as vibration, electrical interference, high temperature and humidity.” Easy, expansive integration is a key feature of the system, he added. “From synchronized supervisory control of a line to its open architecture that supports connectivity for data collection systems to internet for remote support and trouble-shooting, Navigator offers integration without limits,” said Kilgore.

Navigator controls are available in three levels of functionality: The XC100 for stand-alone extruders; XC200 for one or more extruders in simultaneous operation; and XC300 for integrated production lines with the extruder and components such as a puller, water bath or winder.

Extrusion systems on display at the Graham Engineering Corp. booth will include:

  • American Kuhne medical extrusion systems, including ULTRA MD systems, compact modular extruders and a tri-layer tubing line with the XC300 Navigator control and integrated TwinCAT Scope View high-speed data- acquisition system.
  • Revolution MVP rotary wheel blow molder, which combines high-output molding with the flexibility to produce a range of package sizes and quick mold changes. A key innovation is the independence of each clamp station, with all forces self-contained within the clamp. Water manifolds through the platens facilitate quick mold change, and individual clamps can be removed for offline maintenance to reduce downtime. This modularity enables the user to vary the number of clamp stations from 12 to 24 on the same platform and configure the wheel based on the application and bottle height.
  • Welex Evolution sheet extrusion system, a complete production line for use in sheeting, winding and in-line thermoforming applications, equipped with XSL Navigator control. The equipment on display at K 2019 will be for thin-gauge polypropylene, but the Evolution system can be customized to accommodate widths from 36 to 90 in. (90 to 230 cm), gauges from 0.008 to 0.125 in. (0.2 to 3.2 mm) and throughputs up to 10,000 lb/hr (4,535 kg/hr).

Discovery of DNA-Like Nanowires Could Lead to New Designs

Scientists are eyeing technology called nanowires for next-generation semiconductors and optical and optoelectronic devices. Typically shaped like a rod, these wires—like typical electrical wires--can act as nano-sized connectors in components that demand smaller and smaller form factors.

To further this work, a team at the Argonne National Laboratory recently identified a DNA-like structure that forms spontaneously to give nanowires what’s called a “Eshelby twist,” a material effect first discovered by a researcher of the same name in the 1950s.

nanowires, semiconductors, optical and optoelectronic devices, DNA-like structure, Eshelby effect
Helical structure of stacked bricks is similar to that produced by giving nanowires what’s called an Eshelby twist. Researchers at the Argonne National Laboratory have identified these unique nanowires for next-generation electronics and optics. (Image sources: Shuttershock, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory)

The material shows that nature can provide some of the most interesting options for scientists working with synthetic materials to inform new designs, researchers said.

The Eshelby effect has to do with screw dislocation in a thin rod. What University of Illinois researcher John Eshelby observed so many years ago is that this occurs when stress is applied to a rod in which the atoms become rearranged in a helical pattern.

Unique Discovery

How this relates to the DNA-like twisted crystal structure researchers created with a germanium sulfide nanowire is that it offers scientists new ways to engineer nanomaterials, said Jie Wang, a former materials scientist at Argonne’s Center for Nanomaterials, in a press statement. Wang is now a scientist at Thorlabs, Inc.

“We can tailor these nanowires in many different ways--twist periods from two to 20 micrometers, lengths up to hundreds of micrometers, and radial dimensions from several hundred nanometers to about 10 micrometers,” he said.

The helical DNA-like structure in the material forms spontaneously by giving the nanowire the Eshelby twist, said Jianguo Wen, a CNM materials scientist. He noted that scientists constantly are learning from and impressed by what they find in nature to create synthetic designs.

“It is amazing that these inorganic germanium sulfide nanowires so closely resemble the organic DNA structure,” he said in a press statement. ​“Nature creates remarkable structures beyond our imagination.”

A paper detailing the discovery and its uses appears in the journal Nature.

Specifically, the material’s nanostructure automatically divides into segments that resemble helically stacked bricks, which arise from the release of energy as the wire diameter grows from tens of nanometers to micrometers, Wen said.

What these means for nanowires is that researchers now can adjust the electrical and optical properties of the nanowires to optimize performance for different applications, he said.

“This is an important materials discovery,” Wen said in the press statement.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

Drive World with ESC Launches in Silicon Valley

This summer (August 27-29), Drive World Conference & Expo launches in Silicon Valley with North America's largest embedded systems event, Embedded Systems Conference (ESC). The inaugural three-day showcase brings together the brightest minds across the automotive electronics and embedded systems industries who are looking to shape the technology of tomorrow.
Will you be there to help engineer this shift? Register today!


Friday Funny: Taking the Wild Journey of Answering Spam

Welcome to Friday Funny. Here comes a glorious ride to the world of facing spammers straight on. James Veitch shows what fun it can be when a comedienne decides to answer spam messages:

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 19 years, 17 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.


Drive World with ESC Launches in Silicon Valley

This summer (August 27-29), Drive World Conference & Expo launches in Silicon Valley with North America's largest embedded systems event, Embedded Systems Conference (ESC). The inaugural three-day showcase brings together the brightest minds across the automotive electronics and embedded systems industries who are looking to shape the technology of tomorrow.
Will you be there to help engineer this shift? Register today!


The yin and yang of plastics taxes

The yin and yang of plastics taxes

When you want to eliminate something, tax it. That’s what the U.S. government did with cigarettes when it wanted people to quit smoking. Taxing gasoline to push people into electric vehicles has been a talking point. Taxes on sugary drinks are a scheme some cities have implemented to cure obesity. Given all of that, will taxing plastic packaging be a successful strategy in eliminating those materials? Time will tell.

dollar in a plastic bottle

A report from the Imperial College London, “Shaping the Circular Economy: Taxing the Use of Virgin Resources,”addresses the proposed plastic packaging tax in the United Kingdom. The tax will apply to all UK-manufactured plastic packaging with less than 30% recycled content as well as imported unfilled packaging. The report evaluates the cost of this tax based on the price difference between recycled and virgin plastic, noting that virgin material taxes “can be an efficient method to encourage the use of recycled materials” by “targeting the relative price difference” between virgin and recycled materials.

While that may sound reasonable, it only works if the recycled material—rPET for example—is actually cheaper than virgin. As we learned several years ago when rPET was equal to or more expensive than virgin PET, converters were forced to use virgin PET. Considering that the main reason for not using recycled plastic is that virgin plastic costs less, the report noted, the proposed tax would have to compensate for the price difference to make recycled plastic competitive.

Taxing virgin resins to encourage the use of recycled materials might have an adverse impact, however, particularly if there is not enough recyclate to process and sell to meet mandated recycled content goals. “Targeting the relative price difference between virgin and recycled materials can increase the need for recycling and efficiencies, in general,” said the report. Yet, the law of supply and demand states that high demand and low supply will equal higher prices for that commodity. If there is not enough recycled material to meet the needs of brand owners who have committed to 30%, 50% or even 100% recycled bottles, containers and other packaging for their goods, it’s not far-fetched to consider that recycled polymer materials could be priced higher than virgin, resulting in a disincentive.

“For a circular economy to become a reality, end markets must be available for the recycled materials that the recycling and reprocessing sector produce, reducing the economy’s dependency on natural resources,” said the report.

In the United States, there is currently more end-market demand for recycled polymers than there are recycled materials to meet that demand. There are several reasons for this. First, recycled material from households must be clean and free of debris including labels, adhesives and food. When we hear that a good percentage of the recyclable materials that we consumers put into our recycle bins ends up in landfill, there’s the answer. 

Second, the “greenwashing” of various alternative materials, such as biodegradable and compostable plastics, has many companies turning away from plastics that can be easily recycled—such as PET and HDPE—for which we have a viable and available infrastructure. The truth behind these “green” materials is complex, but the bottom line is that biodegradable plastics do not completely disappear—they fragment into smaller and smaller pieces. Additives are available to accelerate degradation to, say, six months to a year, but the fact is that even biodegradable plastic hangs around in the environment for a long time.

Recently I read a news brief about Cove, a company that claims its water bottle is “made entirely of biodegradable material.” The news brief stated that the Cove bottle is “plastic-free” and that it won the Dieline 2019 Award for being 100% biodegradable. The Cove bottle is made from PHA, a biodegradable polymer produced from bacteria. 

Cove’s website claims the bottle will break down “in a compost or landfill, and even in fresh soil, fresh water and the ocean.” The company said that its science could not predict exactly how long the bottle would take to biodegrade. That means that anything thrown into the environment—the only reason to even make a biodegradable plastic bottle or container—might be hanging around for six months to a year, or longer. Is that acceptable to consumers? Do consumers care that a bottle of this type does nothing to enhance the recycling industry—the company says they are “sidestepping” the recycling process—or help brand owners meet mandated 30% recycled content goals?

Will taxing virgin resins really create an incentive to use higher amounts of post-consumer recycled plastic, and should resin producers be penalized for not meeting recycled content mandates because there is not enough recycled material available?

The report concludes that “ultimately, the problem of plastics is not so much one of waste, but one of production. The solution to a world drowning in plastic refuse requires questioning the need for plastics and reducing their manufacturing in the first place. Increasing the recycled content of plastics exposes the current rhetoric: Blame not the production, for what is produced is of vital importance to the world . . . but call for everyone to come together in addressing the problem of the waste.”

The report aptly points out that “recyclers did not create the plastic waste crisis,” and neither did resin producers, I would add. The plastic waste crisis was created by a complex set of recycling solutions such as the “chasing arrows” of seven different types of plastic, only two of which are readily recycled and in demand in the marketplace. Less plastic production is not the solution, for plastics will be replaced by alternative materials that have been proven to be less environmentally friendly than plastics.

However, the report states that “the future plastic tax will be a key part of the solution, as it is expected to enable an additional two million tonnes of plastic packaging to be recycled in the UK and to fulfill 71% of UK manufacturing’s raw material demand. It should also drive the UK circular economy by creating several thousand jobs in the recycling industry.”

No one likes taxes, and taxing something often has unintended consequences or adverse effects. Perhaps a better solution to achieve higher recycling rates is a bottle deposit scheme, which worked well for decades for the glass bottle industry. It’s a certainty that mandated recycled content goals will require much more recycled materials to enter the market. If that need is not met, who pays? Obviously, it will be the consumer.

Image: Comugnero Silvana/Adobe Stock

Testing lab receives prestigious Cogswell industrial security award

Testing lab receives prestigious Cogswell industrial security award

Independent testing organization Retlif Testing Laboratories (Ronkonkoma, NY) announced that it has received the prestigious Cogswell Outstanding Industrial Security Achievement award from the Defense Security Service (DSS). 

The Cogswell award recognizes industrial security excellence and outstanding achievement in matters related exclusively to a facility’s security program. Established in 1966, it honors the late Air Force Colonel James S. Cogswell, the first Chief of Industrial Security within the Department of Defense.

Retliff Labs receives Cogswell award
Pictured from left to right during Retlif Testing Laboratories’ presentation of its Cogswell Outstanding Industrial Security Achievement Award by the Defense Security Service (DSS) are: Gus Green, Director of Industrial Security Field Operations, DSS; Dan Payne, Director, DSS; Donald Dwyer, Assistant Facility Security Officer, Retlif Testing Laboratories; William Hayes, Facility Security Officer and Executive Vice President, Retlif Testing Laboratories; Cheryl Matthew, Northern Regional Director, DSS; and Mike Halter, Deputy Director Industrial Security Field Operations, DSS.

Retlif Executive Vice President and Facility Security Officer William K. Hayes commented, “Retlif prepares for DSS assessments by continually maintaining an active readiness posture where security is an integral part of every employee’s job. We have a security education program in place, and we regularly apply DSS training and resources to solve situations at our facility in an efficient manner. Considering there are over 13,000 defense contractors, we are very proud to be selected for the award,” said Hayes. It’s the second time in five years that Retliff has received the award.

Retliff provides testing and engineering services related to electro-magnetic compliance and interference, composites and environmental conditions for a number of industries, including the aerospace, mobility, medical device, military and homeland security sectors. It routinely tests carbon- and glass-fiber-reinforced polymers, aramids and non-reinforced plastics. In addition to its New York headquarters, the company has locations in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Washington, DC. Retlif recently celebrated its 40th anniversary.

New World Medical Launches Implant to Treat Moderate and Severe Glaucoma

Courtesy of New World Medical New World Medical Launches Implant to Treat Moderate and Severe Glaucoma
The Ahmed ClearPath device was designed in two sizes to address some of the surgeon's toughest challenges in tube shunt surgery, a procedure that lowers the pressure inside the eye for refractory glaucoma.

New World Medical is launching an implant that would give patients an additional option for treatment of moderate to severe glaucoma. The Ahmed ClearPath device, named after the Rancho Cucamonga, CA-based company’s founder Dr. A. Mateen Ahmed, helps drain intraocular pressure in patients.

The Ahmed ClearPath is available in two sizes, 350 mm2 and 250 mm2. Designed with convenience in mind, the two sizes address some of the surgeon's toughest challenges in tube shunt surgery, a procedure that lowers the pressure inside the eye for refractory glaucoma.

New World Medical’s Chief Commercial Officer, Rafael Chan, said the technology differs from micro-invasive glaucoma surgery (MIGS) offerings such as Glaukos’ iStent.

“Typically, the MIGS device or procedures are reserved for mild to moderate [glaucoma cases],” Chan, told MD+DI. “In not all, but many cases those are combined with cataract surgery. The ClearPath implant doesn’t compete with the MIGS procedures.”

One feature of the Ahmed ClearPath implant is a flexible plate with a contour that closely conforms to the curvature of the eye. In addition, the suture fixation points are positioned more anteriorly on the device compared to other valveless drainage devices. By making the suture points more visible and accessible, the company said the surgeon may find securing this implant to the eye more convenient.

The Ahmed ClearPath received FDA clearance earlier this year and the company had a limited launch of the technology.

“During the second quarter, we did have a limited launch,” he said. “We did want to provide this to a small group of surgeons who were involved in the early design of the product. We did this because one of the ways that we work is we want to get input and feedback from surgeons and clinicians on what the unmet needs are – whether that’s safety, efficacy, or even just making the surgical procedure much more efficient.”

New World Medical has CE mark for the device but is evaluating commercialization strategies outside of the U.S.

In a release, Bilal Khan, president of New World Medical said, "with the launch of the Ahmed ClearPath, we are excited to offer glaucoma patients another treatment option while making tube shunt surgery more convenient and efficient for surgeons. We feel strongly that with every addition to New World Medical's Ahmed brand, we are bringing effective glaucoma treatments to more patients to help preserve their sight."

New World Medical was founded in the early '90s by Dr. Ahmed and has a humanitarian segment.

“Our mission is benefitting humanity and that stems not only from providing innovative-high quality products also supporting surgeons participate in medical missions – particularly medical missions outside the U.S. where the glaucoma treatment and the access to glaucoma procedures are somewhat limited. We help a lot of nonprofit organizations go out to some of these underserved markets. If a doctor is going on a medical mission we’ll provide them products free of charge, whatever they need in terms of the Ahmed Glaucoma Valve, Kahook Dual Blade, and even ClearPath. That’s a big part of who we are, supporting a lot of these humanitarian medical missions outside of the U.S.”

Tell the truth, now: Do companies really want to be green?

Tell the truth, now: Do companies really want to be green?

Back in 2011 at an SPE thermoforming conference, I was asked to sit on a panel with Bob Cotton of PepsiCo Frito-Lay; Ben Locke of SPI’s Bioplastics Council; Don Loepp, Editor of Plastics News; and Salvatore Monte, a polymer materials engineer and President of Kenrich Petrochemicals.

Greenwashing on computer keyboard

Prior to the panel discussion, we heard presentations from Dave McIntosh, who at that time was the Senior Process and Materials Engineer for Fabri-Kal (he left in 2014 and today is a consultant), and polymers science professor Ramani Narayan of Michigan State University. The topic was greenwashing and the damage it does not only to the industry but to consumers and the true science of plastics.

One of McIntosh’s presentation slides showed a Dilbert cartoon:

Dilbert to his pointy-haired boss: “We replaced our Styrofoam cups with paper cups, but it’s not so clear that it helps the planet.”

Boss: “We didn’t do it to help the planet. We did it to look like the sort of company that cares about that sort of thing.”

Dilbert: “Oh, in that case it’s working great.”

Boss: “As soon as you stop whining.”

Fabri-Kal is a company known for its “no greenwashing” pledge that appears on its homepage. The company has stood by this commitment ever since I’ve been acquainted with them and McIntosh’s presentation back in 2011. Obviously, the problems surrounding greenwashing have been prevalent since bioplastic materials came into the picture. These problems persist to an even greater degree with the increased promotion of degradability and compostability.

Compostability is perhaps one of the most misleading terms connected to plastics. Even Fabri-Kal includes a caveat with its compostable cups, noting that they are only compostable in a commercial composting facility, which may not be available in all areas of the country. Or, as I’ve found out through extensive research and phone calls to composting facilities across the United States, most will not take any type of so-called compostable plastic because the materials do not sufficiently break down fast enough to be economically viable and acceptable to consumers.

I’d venture to say that most plastics converters who make cups, food containers and other plastic packaging items run into the same problem that Clearly Clean bumps up against in dealing with customer demand for “green” plastic materials—they drank the Kool-Aid that says only biodegradable and compostable materials are truly green.

Even recyclable products have a problem, in that, while something may be recyclable, there’s no guarantee that it will be recycled. For that to happen, human beings have to put the recyclable product into the proper collection bin. Even then, if the item is dirty or contains other negative properties that make it unfit for recycling, it will end up in the landfill.

In off-the-record conversations on this topic with many company representatives over the past two decades, I’ve come to realize that most companies are concerned first and foremost about the image they project in terms of caring about the planet. To promote that image, they will put on a “green” face for consumers, even if they truly know that the science is being exploited to doubtful results.

Being green has its costs. Greenwashing has even higher costs, which is why the industry has tried for years to combat the issue with scientific facts. Is it really being honest to say that your plastic food containers are compostable when you know that collection of compostable plastics is non-existent and that finding a commercial composting facility that will take these bioplastics is nearly impossible? Perhaps so, if you narrow down the meaning of “honest” without the caveats.

It’s good to see a company like Fabri-Kal that is actually committed to “no greenwashing” promoting its products in a factual manner. Other companies should follow suit and educate their customers about the science of plastics to help them choose the most beneficial material for their products.

Image: AliFuat/Adobe Stock