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Innovator casts net wide for Ecover plastic | Profile

April 3, 2013 6 Comments » Print Print

The sea is full of plastic waste but one man has come up with an idea to turn that material into bottles. Giving that waste a value may prove to be a hit for his firm Ecover. Liz Gyekye spoke to Tom Domen, innovation manager

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Ecover, the ecological cleaning brand, recently announced that it will use plastic waste retrieved from the sea to create an entirely new type of recyclable plastic bottle by 2014. It unveiled plans to launch what it calls a ‘game changer’ and world-first in packaging – a new form of recyclable plastic incorporating sea plastic, post-consumer recyclables and plant-based plastic. Working closely with plastics recycling firm Closed Loop Recycling, bottle maker Logoplaste, fishermen and Waste Free Oceans (WFO), Ecover will be working with fishing communities to collect plastic from the seas around the UK, then Europe, and reintroduce it into the recycling chain via its bottles.

The bottle is the brainchild of Tom Domen, Ecover’s innovation manager. Packaging News caught up with him to get the lowdown on the new plan.

What does Ecover hope to achieve and how did the idea come to fruition?

Last year, I was at Rio+20, at a conference called Plasticity. I was there speaking with a guy running a project called ‘One litre of light’. He was able to make light bulbs from plastic bottles. There was another guy from the fishing industry and WFO. So, we started this discussion and the idea grew from there.

The most important thing to do is to tackle the littering problem. Everybody has started to realise that it is really a big problem. You’ve seen the images of the albatross with the plastic inside and of the plastic island in the middle of the ocean. There’s already a lot of talk about it but not many people are taking action to do something about it.

Will this not encourage people to throw litter in the sea?

Of course you have to do something on the prevention side but at the same time the problem is there already – we have to do something to clean it up. It’s about creating economical value for waste.

What percentage will be sea plastic in the bottle? Is it good quality?

We will continue to work with Braskem for the renewable part [plant-based plastic] and then we will buy material from Closed Loop for the rPET. They will deliver us a mixture of post-consumer PET and ocean plastic.

It is difficult to tell today how much mix will be ocean waste and how much will be post-consumer waste.  The ocean waste is good quality but not to make a completely new bottle from it. We go for the big chunks that are floating but not the micro-plastics. The cap is currently still virgin petrol-based plastic but that will change later this year to plant-based PP.

Is there a lot of recycled polypropylene in the system?

There is still difficulty in finding recycled PP. That will be the next thing we look in to. We will make sure there is no petrol-based material involved in the bottle soon. There’s also the label to consider because that is still fossil-based.

In the long-term, we will look at direct printing for recycling. So, we print on the bottle directly but design the ink so it is fit to enter into the recycling stream.  However, we are talking about five or 10 years time to achieve that.

Can you see your firm collecting litter from elsewhere?

We are taking material that has not entered the recycling stream. We can go beyond that. We could look at litter that lies on the street, beaches or anywhere that has litter , giving that material a value. If you do that you will push people to pick it up and to bring it back.

Will this have a domino effect?

It is not possible to get all the plastic but we will try to get most but not the micro plastics. I think other companies would like to have their own waste for their brands.

There is no exclusivity with WFO whatsoever. If they can get enough material from the sea they will be able to distribute it to other brands in the future.

You  may see brands approaching WFO and asking if they can get more materials from the sea. It will start to incentivise the fishermen to get more plastic waste out of the sea. WFO pay the fishermen to get the material. Once it gets to the harbour, we pick it up and transport it to Closed Loop.

What happens next?

We had a  roundtable with industry figures and concluded that the industry will need to standardise plastic packaging material to define, maybe, five to 10 plastics being used in the industry in general. From a recycling angle they get clear streams from all manufacturers and we create economical viable recycling streams. So, it’s time for all brands to stick together and agree on a standardisation for materials.

Ecover has a bio-based material focus. Is the biodegradable issue moving forward?

One of the questions raised is whether we should move to biodegradable materials or not. Currently, there is no current recycling stream for biodegradables. The quantities are too low. For example, if we were to make a bottle out of PLA it would mess up the current recycling stream. It’s not a good idea. It may be better in the end to create recycling streams for biodegradables. The move to biodegradables needs to be taken by the whole industry at the same time. We have this new plastic called PEF. It has a renewable element from bio-waste and it is a really nice material with really nice properties. But the question is who is going to launch this PEF because there are no recycling schemes in place to process them.