Global consumer trends are driving brand owners and the packaging industry to shift towards a circular economy, compared to the traditional ‘make, take, waste’ linear model prevalent in the last few decades.
According to the Ellen McArthur Foundation, a circular economy is restorative and regenerative by design, and is usually based on three key principles – design out waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use, and regenerate natural systems.
To drive a circular plastics economy, there is a need to rethink how plastics are managed, reused and recycled, to ensure continued growth and relevance in the packaging marketplace. One step in enabling circularity is to ensure that we recycle as much as we can. However, a large proportion of plastic packaging materials are not designed effectively to be recycled, and as such, end up as waste.
Taking a different approach to product design and packaging solutions presents opportunities for the packaging industry to shift towards sustainability.
Innovative solutions for recyclability
A key challenge for value chain partners is to continuously find ways to increase the value of plastics packaging and remain cost-efficient at the same time. There is a need for innovative plastics solutions and robust planning and execution for the mid to long term to enhance the value of plastics in society.
Innovation is important to create plastic products that offer unique product characteristics and value for the companies to reduce their packaging footprints, encourage the reduction of carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions across the entire lifecycle, and enhance the reusability and recyclability of packaging.
Creative and smart product designs can enable efficient recyclability and sustainability. Borouge, a leading petrochemicals company that provides innovative, value creating plastic solutions, has been working on developing and offering differentiated polyolefins and packaging solutions for applications to achieve full post-consumer recycling.
For example, most toothpaste tubes are made from a combination of different plastics and aluminium, and the mix of materials make it challenging to recycle through conventional methods. Billions of toothpaste tubes end up in waste streams annually.
For sustainable packaging applications, Borouge worked with its partners to develop and commercialize mono-materials laminates suitable for everyday use. Borouge created an ultra-high stiffness, high-density polyethylene with a formulation designed for lamitubes to enable a mono-material flexible packaging solution for toothpaste tubes, which enable these tubes to be recycled rather than end up as waste.
The advancement of mono-material packaging with quality performance and functionality is a major breakthrough for improving circularity.
Incorporating recyclates in packaging solutions
A key theme in the circular economy is to pursue an effective after-use plastics economy and drastically reduce the number of plastics leaking into the environment. With the significant developments in the recycling industry to produce recycled plastics, such recyclates can be channelled back into making new products, reducing overall plastic wastage.
In an example of how recyclates are being used in key products, Borouge has successfully introduced close-looped post-consumer recyclate content in courier bags in one of its key markets. This solution has been designed to promote recyclability, meeting material specifications without compromising on its performance.
Borouge recognises the importance of collaborating with recycling companies in different territories to develop sustainable solutions as part of the company’s circular economy strategy. This enables Borouge to broaden its portfolio and provide more solutions for customers and value chain partners, helping them achieve them own sustainability goals.
Designing for a better tomorrow
Faced with changing consumer preferences and increasing calls to better manage global plastic consumption and waste, the entire packaging industry value chain must come together and work to transition smoothly into new ways of managing and optimising the use of this valuable material.
There is already some promising progress in key areas such as an increasing number of companies setting sustainability goals, the growth of recycled content in packaging, and national and industry targets in place to reduce virgin plastic content. The circularity ambition is a significant and crucial goal and requires strong and concerted actions by the society to achieve a zero-waste plastics economy and safeguard the environment.
By Pratyush Bandyopadhyay, Head of Circular Economy Solutions, Borouge