INDUSTRY INSIGHT

Taking action on plastics waste

How is the polymer industry as a whole reacting to the (plastics waste) situation and what initiatives are being prepared and put in place to respond to the challenges?
Our industry is galvanized to solve the issue of plastics waste in our environment. Dow, along with our industry partners, is working with NGOs, governments, brand owners and consumers across the globe to explore opportunities to develop and invest in scalable, lasting solutions that will keep our environment free of waste. Tackling waste management is critical to addressing this issue. The industry and our wide array of partners are confident it can and will be managed.

The initiatives resulting from these collaborations are diverse and comprehensive – from finding ways to prevent waste from entering the environment to innovating products designed for greater reuse and recycling to educating consumers and cleaning up existing plastics waste – our industry understands the seriousness of this issue and is taking meaningful steps to provide solutions.

 

What in your estimation are the key issues to address and the key goals that must be achieved for a sustainable polymer sector?
Plastics are the most sustainable material in the world when they don’t end up in the environment. One major component of the plastic waste issue is that it is part of a much larger waste management issue, especially in developing countries. Solutions in this space require collaboration with governments – to incent changes in consumer behavior, make critical infrastructure investments and supporting technology investments across the value chain.

The other key opportunity centers around our belief that plastic is simply too valuable to be lost as waste and should be integral to the circular economy. From design to end of use, we must retain the value of plastic. To do so, we are applying circular economy logic and are adopting a set of ground-breaking commitments across the globe designed to make all stages of the plastic life-cycle work more effectively.

Do you see innovation/product design as key elements, or rather support for initiatives to improve plastics recovery infrastructure and public attitudes in worst affected areas?
Absolutely, and Dow has a long history of aligning our innovation efforts alongside the sustainability goals of our customers and end users. We are accelerating innovation focused on driving new types of recycling processes, supporting reusability and using fewer resources.

This isn’t new for us, either. For example, Dow RecycleReady Technology offers a packaging system which creates flexible packaging that can be easily recycled through existing PE film recycle streams. This technology enables manufacturers to develop packaging that can qualify for the Sustainable Packaging Coalition’s“How2Recycle” label, answering the demand for more recyclable packaging options. Additionally, we continue to advance our Dow compatabilizer technologies, which allow multi-layer packaging materials to be recycled into new products.

 

In your own case at Dow, what are you doing to address these topical concerns – can you give 2-3  concrete examples?
We have a tremendous amount of circular economy activity and investment focused on ensuring we solve this critical issue. Most recently, with the objective of finding waste management solutions, Dow announced a $100 million collaboration with PepsiCo, Proctor & Gamble, Danone, Unilever, Coca-Cola and other global brands to fund Circulate Capital, an investment firm created by the co-founder of Closed Loop Partners to incubate and finance solutions in Southeast Asia to prevent ocean plastic. At the same time, we donated another $1 million to Ocean Conservancy to support waste collection and recycling solution in Southeast Asian countries.

We’re also working closely with governments around the world, for example a partnership driven by the World Economic Forum, called the Global Plastic Action Partnership. This partnership is initially funded by the governments of Canada and the UK, along with Dow and several global brands, with the objective to have investable localized solutions in place by 2020, which can then be adapted and implemented in other countries. The first project is a collaboration with the government of Indonesia.

We also continue to explore waste to energy solutions. Dow initiated the Hefty® EnergyBag® years ago, a recovery initiative that collects hard-to-recycle plastics and converts them into valuable resources.  As of July, the Hefty® EnergyBag® program has collected more than 176,500 bags and diverted more than 115 tons of plastics from landfill, the equivalent of approximately 92 million snack-sized chip bags or 546 barrels of diesel fuel. Dow recently announced another $100,000 in grants for organizations to establish programs in their communities.

And our employees are embracing the challenge as well. Dow’s recent #PullingOurWeight campaign, which began this fall, included more than 5,600 Dow employees, families and friends taking part in more than 55 cleanups globally, removing more than 52,500 pounds of trash and litter from beaches and waterways.

Are we likely to see producers moving downstream again into packaging and recycling, using its technology to close the material circle?
I think you’ll see partnerships up and downstream, as well as seeding of capital for scalable solutions in the recycling space. The solutions will vary from region to region, but, one thing is for certain, you’ll see producers like Dow working alongside our value chain partners to create these solutions.

Another important step we’re taking to complement our circular economy activities is to drive development of new commercial recycling business models and growth strategies to monetize plastics waste recycling streams globally. We’re excited about this and see it as an essential part of our long-term strategy to eliminate plastics waste from the environment.

 

And on Dow, as the de-merger goes ahead, what are the company’s plans for the future; key growth markets; segments, etc.
The new Dow aspires to be the most innovative, customer-focused, inclusive and sustainable materials science company in the world. Post-spin, we will be a $50B materials science leader with a streamlined portfolio comprised of six global business units aligned to three attractive, consumer-driven market verticals where we have unique competitive advantages: packaging, infrastructure, and consumer care.

We will have one of the broadest chemistry sets in the industry, with leading positions in polyolefins, acrylates, urethanes, silicones and cellulosics technologies. We will use these technologies to help our customers be more competitive, innovative and sustainable.

 

What are your key medium-term goals for the business?
As we emerge as an independent company, we will be executing from a position of strength, supported by a strategic and operating mindset that will drive our performance going forward. We are focused on generating profitable growth, disciplined capital allocation, and driving a low-cost operating model.

Ultimately, our medium-term goals are to serve our customers with the best, most innovative products in the most efficient way possible. This ability to innovate and differentiate will continue to be a defining advantage of the new Dow.