The impact of plastic waste has grown too great to ignore, with regulations, public sentiment, and consumer packaged goods (CPG) company sustainability targets all pushing to reduce waste from single-use plastic products and packaging. Recycling rates for plastic waste are rising steadily but are still likely to be limited by logistical challenges and capacity for years to come. For many use cases, alternatives will be needed to address global and industry sustainability goals.
Lux Research has chosen Dow Chemical for one of its inaugural “Innovator of the Year” awards for Dow’s RHOBARR sustainable barrier coatings for paper products because this innovation helps provide one such viable alternative.
Paper coatings are nothing new, but many common versions contain materials of concern, such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), or require thick films of polymer. In addition, many paper-based alternatives to plastic products suffer from sustainability pitfalls that actually make waste problems worse. For instance, highly touted paper bottles often can’t actually be recycled (unlike the glass or plastic bottles they would replace), at least not without an additional and often impractical separation step.
Solution and impact
Dow’s innovation proactively addresses these concerns by avoiding PFASs, using Dow’s “BLUEWAVE” dispersion technology to enable a lightweight barrier coating – and, critically, providing testing results on the recyclability of the coated products. It shows with third-party data how the products are re-pulpable under standard recycling conditions and that new paper products made with the recovered fibers can match the performance of those made with virgin fibers, helping to establish recyclability.
Dow reports that its RHOBARR barrier coatings took less than two years from initial concept to commercial sales, with initial uses for products like coated paper cups and bowls and plans to expand to other packaging applications. The product aligns with Dow’s goal of making its offering for packaging 100% reusable or recyclable by 2035 (from a reported 81% today), and the company has performed internal life cycle analyses (LCAs) to show 10% to 25% improvements in impacts like climate change and water use for finished products using its coatings.
Strategy and outlook
This effort also shows the importance of a strong portfolio strategy for sustainable innovation. Dow is, of course, a major producer of plastics and is making big investments in expanded and advanced recycled recycling technologies as well, such as through its partnership with Mura Technology. But simply trying to preserve the viability of that core business isn’t enough in the system transition to the circular economy.
Building a portfolio that includes not only ways to make current plastics more sustainable but also approaches like RHOBARR that can enable alternatives will be critical to ensuring that companies can continue to thrive as sustainability demands rise. Innovators like Dow can further extend their impact by supporting the overall circular economy ecosystem to ensure that, for instance, their products are not just recyclable but actually get recycled – there can be a significant difference – as Dow has started to do through efforts like its partnership with SCG in Thailand.
Sarah Eckersley, Global R&D Director at Dow, will be receiving the Innovator of the Year award at the Lux Executive Summit on October 6th on behalf of Dow Chemical. She’ll present about the innovation, what went into making it successful, how it aligns to sustainability goals, and how the team leveraged Lux Research to enable its efforts. Click here for more information about the 2021 Lux Executive Summit and how to participate.