Pulling its weight

Features - Plastic Stewardship

Dow is among the companies in the plastics supply chain helping to address the issue of wasted plastics.

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February 28, 2019

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Midland, Michigan-based Dow Chemical Co. is best known for its diversified portfolio of specialty chemicals, advanced materials, agrosciences and plastics businesses. While the company has been working in the packaging space since 1940, more recently it has helped to manage packaging at the end of its useful life.

End-of-life innovations

In 2014, Dow partnered with Reynolds Consumer Products to introduce the Hefty EnergyBag program, which is designed to divert difficult-to-recycle plastics, such as candy wrappers and juice pouches, for energy recovery. The company says that as of July 2018, the Hefty EnergyBag program has collected more than 176,500 bags and diverted more than 115 tons of plastics from landfills. Dow recently announced that it would make an additional $100,000 in grant funding available for organizations to establish Hefty EnergyBag programs in their communities.

The company also has sought to improve the recyclability of plastic packaging, having introduced its RecycleReady Technology. Dow says RecycleReady Technology offers packaging manufacturers a sustainable, more recyclable packaging system by giving them a way to create flexible packaging that can be easily recycled through existing polyethylene (PE) film recycle streams, such as grocery store drop-off programs in the United States and Canada.

In addition to innovations such as these, the company is looking to address the issue of plastic waste in the environment.

Plastics in the environment

Dow says it has played a leading role in forming the Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW), a coalition of 30 companies throughout the plastics and consumer goods supply chain. The organization has committed more than $1 billion with the goal of raising $1.5 billion over the next five years to develop and scale solutions that manage plastic waste and promote postuse solutions of plastic.

“Keeping our environment free of waste is important to the future of Dow and our industry, but more importantly, it’s important to the future of our planet,” says Dow CEO Jim Fitterling in a news release announcing the company’s involvement in AEPW.

The AEPW has partnered with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, Geneva, and will prioritize investments in infrastructure development to collect and manage waste and increase recycling; innovation to advance and scale new technologies that make recycling and recovering plastics easier; educating and engaging governments, businesses and communities; and cleaning concentrated areas of plastic already in the environment.

Global Sustainability Director Haley Lowry says the issue of ocean plastics resonates with Dow because “it is one of the biggest challenges and opportunities we’re seeing at this point and time in history.”

Dow’s involvement in AEPW is the most recent of its actions to address plastic waste in the environment. The company also is a founding investor in Circulate Capital’s $100 million effort to incubate and finance companies and infrastructure that prevent waste in oceans.

Additionally, Dow has joined the World Economic Forum’s Global Plastic Action Partnership, designed to bring businesses, society, national and local governments, community groups and experts together to collaborate on the issue of plastic pollution. This partnership plans to invest in localized solutions by 2020 that can be adapted and implemented in other countries. The first project is a collaboration with the government of Indonesia.

Dow also announced in October 2018 that it is donating an additional $1 million to The Ocean Conservancy over next two years to support waste collection and recycling in Southeast Asia.

Getting their hands dirty

Dow employees have taken an active role to clean up plastics in the environment, literally getting their hands dirty through the company’s #PullingOurWeight campaign in partnership with The Ocean Conservancy and local organizations. Through this effort, which began in the fall of 2018, more than 5,600 Dow employees, families and friends participated in 55 cleanups globally, removing 52,500 pounds of trash from beaches and waterways.

A Dow employee cleans up waste near a river in Saginaw, Michigan, as part of the company’s #PullingOurWeight initiative.

The company’s goal was to engage its employees, who Lowry describes as “passionate” about making a difference. Dow challenged them to collect 4 pounds of trash per person, but they achieved double that goal.

She says that while Dow has participated in these types of cleanup efforts in the past on a smaller scale, Fitterling has “put out bold initiatives on the sustainability side and wants to make an impact on solving some of these issues.” Lowry adds, “It started at the top down, and our employees were really mobilized.”

While much of the plastics collected during these efforts was recycled, she says, some was “super dirty,” making landfill or incineration more viable options. Lowry also acknowledges having to establish end markets for some of the plastics that were collected so they could be recycled. In Africa, for instance, the company worked with an NGO to further sort the collected plastics, segregating the flexible packaging to be recycled into school desks.

Partnering for change

Dow says it continues to collaborate across the value chain on plastics recycling. “This is a big thing for us,” Lowry says. “We make material, but our customers transform that material into great packaging solutions. We know that we can’t solve this alone and that it’s going to take cross- value-chain participation.”

To that end, the company is a founding member of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC), a project of GreenBlue, Charlottesville, Virginia. The SPC collaborates with packaging converters and brand owners to increase production of stand-up pouches that can be recycled through existing PE film recycling streams.

Dow says it also is working to complement its circular economy activities by driving development of new commercial recycling business models and growth strategies to monetize plastics waste recycling streams globally. Lowry says, “It’s important that options exist” for managing end-of-life plastic packaging. “It’s just too valuable to be used only once.”

The author is editor of Recycling Today and can be contacted at dtoto@gie.net.