Dow Interview

Smithers are excited to share an exclusive interview with platinum sponsor Dow ahead of Sustainability in Packaging Europe 2020.

As consumers and end-users continue to push for more sustainable/greener solutions, what do you think is the biggest concern regarding packaging? 

Two of the greatest challenges society faces today are the plastics waste crisis and the global climate crisis. For the packaging industry and for a material science company like Dow, that puts us at the heart of the debate. 

For decades, Dow has innovated to develop plastics with the lowest environmental impact. Using the least resources and material – light weighting – has led to a lower total environmental impact and cost compared to alternative materials. But it’s fair to say we’ve not gone far enough and consumers are demanding that the packaging industry accelerates the pace of change. 

The European Commission has set out a roadmap for how these two challenges can be addressed in its Green Deal – setting out a clear goal for Europe to become carbon neutral by 2050 and which further accelerates the circular economy for plastics. At Dow, we’re committed to help achieve these goals and to meet our customers’ and society’s expectations of us. And we believe we are well placed to help secure plastic’s role in the circular economy. If we can get that right we can move towards a world in which the practical and social benefits of plastic are matched by its environmental performance.

What industry topics are getting the most attention at this time? How are these factors influencing the future of packaging? 

Keeping plastic out of the environment continues to drive the debate around packaging – and rightly so. In Europe, the European Commission has made a political commitment that all plastic packaging must be reusable or economically recyclable by 2030.

This commitment to recyclability is having a clear influence on the industry as a whole and at Dow, we have a clear strategy in place to accelerate this. By designing for recyclability, reusing and repurposing, we can ensure plastic retains its value and contributes to a circular economy. With new products and emerging technologies, to make this possible.

Our approach is to work closely with our partners throughout the value chain. We combine our solutions with their know-how through our Pack Studios collaboration network which can host industrial-scale machinery as well as the technology to assess the production.

This demonstrates our own commitment to designing products that are recyclable; helping ensure that they are then recycled; and then enabling new packaging to be made using recycled content.

As an example of the collaboration and approach needed to incorporate recyclability into widely used packaging; working with Mespack, one of the leading manufacturers of horizontal form fill and seal packaging machines, we focused our collaborative efforts on stand-up pouches. With their machine and our solutions, we successfully produced all-PE stand-up flexible, helping converters and brand owners meet their sustainability commitments to help increase recyclability of flexible packaging

What does your organisation hope to achieve over the next 5 years with regards to the future of packaging industry? 

At Dow, we are committed to ensuring that all the packaging made from our resins in Europe are recyclable into valuable applications by 2025. We are exploring different ways to incorporate renewable and recycled content in our feedstock mix.

At K 2019 Dow showcased its design for recyclability portfolio, presenting 30 packaging prototypes developed by Dow’s Pack Studios in partnership with more than 20 global companies. The offerings included concepts for simple multi-layered structures without barrier, more complex packaging with customised barrier for food protection, as well as conversion process redesign – including the use of compatibilisers to help enhance the mechanical recyclability of multilayer packaging and a spout insertion technology.

With polyethylene (PE), it’s possible to offer mono-material solutions that enable high performing packaging which can make recyclability possible. Unlike multi-material conventional packaging, mono-material packaging can offer greater recyclability in existing waste management systems, without losing the benefits such as optimum product protection.

We’ve been working with converters to evaluate mono-material packaging structures. Over the next five years, we expect to identify and deliver key machinability and multilayer film structure parameters to enhance productivity and optimize machine settings.

Dow is also investing in innovation and new technologies to produce high quality resins with plastic waste content, as well as developing ‘circular polymers’, Dow is partnering with Fuenix Ecogy Group
to recycle plastic waste into pyrolysis oil to produce new polymers at Dow’s production facility in Terneuzen, the Netherlands. The materials produced as part of this process will be of the same quality as materials using virgin feedstocks, and they can be used in all applications, including food packaging.

Collaboration throughout the value chain is essential when it comes to creating a circular economy and Dow is part of a number of working groups focused on creating design for recyclability guidelines for the industry, such as The Circular Economy for Flexible Packaging (CEFLEX), PRE and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Together, we are making significant progress towards reaching our sustainability goals. Only by working collaboratively will we make the next generation of sustainable packaging possible.

How do you think COVID-19 will impact the packaging industry in the short and longer-term? How will it impact sustainability considerations from end-users and consumers? 

While there have been some temporary disruptions in the packaging industry due to COVID our long-term direction will not change. We are still committed to transforming our operations towards a circular economy for plastics.

With consumers, industry and governments alike pushing for a ‘green recovery’ throughout Europe, the national recovery plans could also mean that the investments in waste management infrastructure can be accelerated. The transition to a circular economy could be spurred by making sure that there is waste separation, sorting and recycling facilities across Europe. Currently there is a large gap in the amount of plastic packaging that is being recycled in different EU countries ranging from 26% to 52%.

Our commitments at Dow are focussed on positive change for the long-term change. Even if we cannot rule out that there could be some short-term impact on our business and the supply chain from new waves of infections, our ambition to transition to a more circular business will not change.