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The Packaging Conference last month in Austin, Texas, USA

Finally, some refreshing and positive communication regarding plastics at The Packaging Conference

Thierry Fabozzi, CEO, The Packaging Conference, Holland, Ohio, USA

The theme of The Packaging Conference this year was a completely different tone and came at the perfect time. With the ongoing “plastics bashing” and common viral images of the ocean plastic epidemic continuing to be shared, our industry has started to make major strides towards the end of 2019 to propose real solutions to address the realities of recycling and sustainable packaging solutions – both of which were featured throughout the week during The Packaging Conference.

Positive Industry Messages

Kicking off the conference was Katherine Lugar, President and CEO of the American Beverage Association with a very inspiring message for ABA’s, “Every Bottle Back” campaign. They have partnered with The Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo and Keurig Dr Pepper to communicate these initiatives through an online educational campaign, community education and onpack messaging communicating, “Our 100% Recyclable Bottles are made to be remade”. This echoes the statement made by Coca-Cola in Davos stating that “Coca-Cola will not ditch single-use plastic bottles because consumers still want them”. The position that major brands are taking to appeal to consumers as well as their own sustainability impact legitimize using PET packaging, so the focus has now turned to addressing the collection and re-purposing of containers. This is a strong and important message coming directly from industry leaders and associations.

Another strong and positive message was conveyed by NAPCOR with the “Positively PET” presentation, which aims to also reverse the negative plastics sentiment and educate consumers and mainstream media with a goal to ultimately turn them into advocates of PET. They will be communicating their message through a microsite designed specifically for the Positively PET campaign as well as infographics, fact sheets, videos and tough questions and FAQ’s aiming to address common misconceptions regarding PET.

The common element for all of these initiatives to be successful is that they all rely on collection. That topic is and will remain a major challenge in many countries, including the US, where the collection rate is below 30%. The good news is that according to the American Beverage Association the large soft drink producers are no longer opposed to plastic bottle recycling legislation, which may help get collection rates to rise above 30% for the first time in seven years.

 

Recycling Solutions

In the field of chemical recycling there were several speakers that discussed new and innovative solutions to help bridge the gap that we are experiencing in the current collection and mechanical recycling process. The following solutions were presented: pyrolysis (or gasification), the depolymerization and the dissolution. There is more than one option for chemical recycling. The message is that we should keep refining the mechanical recycling and collection process, while offering additional solutions to process feedstock that is not compatible with the existing mechanical solutions. 

Most importantly, there was a common theme regarding chemical recycling that was a key message for our industry – there isn’t a singular solution, as there is a need for both mechanical and chemical recycling. 

P&G presented their new Pure Cycle Technology which focuses on recycling polypropylene through a solvent extraction and filtration process that converts it to rPP with virgin-like properties. The current output available is for use in consumer goods packaging, home furnishings and other applications, with plans to submit a letter of nonobjection from the FDA for use in food grade applications. 

BP also announced its newly developed and enhanced recycling technology, BP Infinia, which converts difficult to recycle PET into recycled feedstocks that can be used to make new PET packaging. BP has plans to complete the first pilot plant in 2020 before progressing to full-scale commercialization.

Overall, The Packaging Conference delivered a solid, intelligent message complete with solutions to help solve the relevant challenges that we are facing as an industry. And we will continue to work on the image of packaging: Our 3rd Annual PETnology Americas conference, May 12-13 at the Georgia Tech Global Learning Center in Atlanta, Georgia, will focus on packaging technology for PET. The Packaging Conference 2021 will be held The 2021 conference will be held at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort February 8-10, 2021 in Fernandina Beach, Florida.