Plastics. Along with pineapple on a pizza, Monday mornings, and people that remove their shoes and socks on flights, it is one of the most universally disliked things on planet Earth. Unlike those other first-world problems, the ecological cost of plastic is significant, and incredibly damaging to our collective, Sun-orbiting home.
The majority of plastics are produced from chemicals derived from planet-warming fuels, such as gas, oil, and coal. In turn, this prolongs our need to keep up demand for these unsustainable fuels. And when we’re done with that particular plastic product, what happens to it?
The unfortunate truth is that, in 2019, studies showed that an incredible 91% of plastics are not recycled. In addition to those plastics that end up in landfills, rivers, sewage, and the ocean, plastics that are incinerated also release climate-wrecking gases, and toxic air pollution.
Product packaging generates more plastic waste than any other industry. In Europe, it accounts for 59 percent of all plastic waste by weight. In the United States that is likely closer to 65 percent, experts say. The global packaging market is a $700-billion-a-year industry and growing at 5.6 percent per year.
Of that, plastic packaging accounts for one-third of the market, and packaging is the largest single market for U.S. plastics, which makes it hard to dislodge – there’s a lot at stake for those that would prefer to keep the status quo.
While some bio-plastics have entered the market in recent years, using more sustainable sources such as corn, we are still highly reliant on plastic packaging, and especially plastics that can be personalized with branding and product information.
Polysack – a manufacturer of plastic film products for flexible packaging and high-shrink labels, with a focus on the environment – has collaborated with HP Indigo – a division of HP that develops, manufactures, and markets digital printing solutions – to provide a solution to this difficult problem.
It’s important to note a few things before we dig a little deeper.
“Bio-plastic refers to two different solutions,” Yanir Aharonson, CEO at Polysack, told me. “One is standard plastic from renewable resources. Thus the plastic itself has normal performance but it is not made of fossil fuels. This solution promotes a circular economy by reusing resources and plastics while encouraging sustainability. The second is biodegradable plastic. This plastic decomposes back into carbon dioxide and water in industrial compost. Polysack products can be made from bioplastic that meets the first definition – from renewable sources. We produce packaging that is designed to be fully recyclable and does not waste limited resources like fossil fuels.”
This is important. As stated, 91% of plastics are not recycled, and when they are, it is unlikely that recycling centers are going to take the time, money, and effort to identify a corn-based plastic bottle versus any other. So, while admirable, until plastic recycling is significantly improved, we need better solutions.
And there’s another issue.
“Only a few of the composting facilities will agree to put biodegradable plastic into their system,” Aharonson said. “The degradation time of the biodegradable plastic does not match the degradation time of the organic waste and it does not contribute to the biomass of the compost.”
Polysack enables brands to produce fully recyclable plastic packaging including stand-up pouches, films, and shrink labels through its Pack’N’Cycle plastic film, which it supplies to packaging manufacturers. Currently, Pack’N’Cycle is sold to companies serving 45 percent of the European plastic flexible packaging market.
“A package can be recyclable only if it is made from a single polymer,” Aharonson said. “Polysack developed a Polyethylene solution (MOPE) that replaces the Polyester enabling the design and production of a flexible package from a single polymer (Polyethylene). The collaboration with HP Indigo enables the design and production of recyclable flexible packages through digital printing that replaces non-recyclable packages. Any digitally printed, flexible package using Polysack’s MOPE films will be recycled and so far we have not encountered cases where the MOPE film failed to deliver.”
The collaboration with HP Indigo may aid the adoption of Polysack’s film in a significant way. Most analysts and reports agree that HP Indigo has the vast majority of the high-speed digital printing market.
“HP’s recommendation to their users to use Polysack film is significant to Polysack, HP, and most importantly to HP clients that can offer an efficient sustainable solution to their clients,” Aharonson said. “We are happy to cooperate with HP – a corporation of two very innovative companies.”
So what’s next for Polysack?
“Food spoilage is a major problem for humanity, in terms of sustainability,” Aharonson said. “We are moving towards recyclable high barrier packages that will extend the shelf life of food products while enabling recyclable packaging. Those packages protect the content from exposure to oxygen, water vapor, and other gases.”
Polysack is also turning its attention to unique solutions, in an effort to double-down on its commitment to the environment.
“One of the biggest challenges of the packaging industry of adopting recyclable packages vs. non-recyclable is the loss of the machine’s efficiency,” Aharonson said. “Polysack will announce within the next few months a patent-pending solution that will eliminate the loss of production efficiency. We believe this will accelerate the use of recyclable solutions.”