Plastic resin is one of the most commonly used raw materials in manufacturing across every industry. Today, plastic is used because it is strong, cheap (sometimes), and lightweight. But, plastic has one of the steepest carbon footprints of any raw material.
In many cases, the additives and formulas used in a specific grade of plastic are kept secret by the plastic compounder or resin supplier. Naturally, this is done to protect intellectual property (formula) of the compounded plastic. Secondarily, it prevents a manufacturer from shopping around to find different suppliers for the same plastic.
There’s no doubt that sustainable energy and sustainable materials are driving change across industries. For manufacturers that are looking to integrate sustainable materials into their supply chains, understanding what fillers and additives are in your plastic resin is a great place to start.
It is important to note that most suppliers will not provide their full formulation, which is fine. But, there are simple questions you can ask to better understand what options are available to your company to reduce the carbon footprint of your existing resins without compromising strength or cost.
What are the main additives in the plastics I’m buying from you?
Here, you should be looking to understand the ingredients that are added to your resins to meet specific performance characteristics. Expect your supplier to be vague in their reply, these are secret formulas, but they will provide you with a general understanding of the material. Additives like colorants, and flame retardants, and larger quantities of volume fillers and reinforcement agents are all common.
What percentage of the plastic is mineral fillers?
Most plastics additives, especially volume fillers, are mined minerals like talc and calcium carbonate. Most low cost, commodity plastic has one of these two fillers. If there are no mineral fillers, this provides an opportunity to have more impactful cost and carbon footprint reduction.
What percentage of the plastic is natural fillers?
It’s doubtful that there is much in the way of natural, or bio-based filler in your current blends (unless you’ve asked for them specifically). Some natural fillers include: hemp, cotton, wood flour, and corn husk.
By asking these three simple questions from your resin suppliers and compounders, we can gather the data needed to better optimize your product for strength, weight, price, and carbon footprint.
Our guess is that the answers to questions #1 and #2 are fairly easy to calculate and readily available.
Since using bio-based plastic additives is a newer practice in plastic compounding, many times the answer to question #3 will be “zero”! Don’t worry, many plastic compounders are not experienced in working with bio-based additives, yet. This will provide you with the largest opportunity to improve your plastics carbon footprint.
Understanding these 3 questions allows everyone to better understand where there’s an opportunity to use bio-based additives to reduce the price, weight, and carbon footprint of plastics.
The material change that’s happening over the next few decades is all based around one element – Carbon!
In a world where all the raw materials we use have a really high carbon footprint, it’s our responsibility to figure out how to reduce the negative impact that these materials have on the world.
There are many ways that companies can reduce their carbon footprint:
Most companies are looking at all aspects of their environmental footprint when determining what materials they want to use throughout their supply chain (manufacturing, packaging, distribution, etc).
We are seeing more corporations that are concerned about climate change and view it as their responsibility to make sure that they are doing everything in their power to offset the amount of the dangerous carbon emissions they release into the environment.
The EPA says that the United States generates about 5.28 billion metric tons of CO2 per year. This contributes to global warming today.
To be clear, this is a ‘today’ problem, not a 2050 problem.
It is up to each and every one of us to do our part in lowering carbon emissions, today.
Corporations and all the humans on earth all have a responsibility to care for our planet. Climate change is a worldwide issue that needs to be addressed and mitigated as soon as possible.
We now know that humans are having a major impact on the global carbon footprint. We know that today, carbon emissions are at an all-time high. The human species has become the #1 contributor to climate change and greenhouse gases.
The world is changing, and we need to change with it. We can’t just keep doing what we’ve been doing and expect better results. That’s insanity.
As the world continues to get warmer and warmer, large corporations continue to emit carbon dioxide at an alarming rate. Many of these large corporations are the largest contributors to the problem. Conversely, they are the organizations best positioned to reduce the global carbon footprint through their operations.
Every industry and raw material has a carbon footprint. Traditionally, the plastics industry has gotten a bad rap when it comes to carbon and emissions. Plastic is made of hydrocarbons that are derived from petroleum, coal, natural gas, and oil.
The production of plastic creates carbon emissions by releasing methane or nitrous oxide. Although plastics are not the sole culprits of global carbon emissions, there is a large focus on reducing the carbon requirement for the raw materials we rely upon every day.
So, how could someone create a solution for the plastics industry to help reduce its carbon footprint, today?
From our research, the easiest path to change was through carbon-negative plastic additives.
Every day, we’re surrounded by plastics – plastic water bottles, plastic bags, plastic wraps, and so on. Yet, we know surprisingly little about the additives that make plastics so versatile and long-lasting.
There are literally hundreds of substances that may be added to plastics: colorants, flame retardants, plasticizers, UV stabilizers, impact modifiers, and dozens more. Many of the commonly used plastic additives are minerals like talc and calcium carbonate that have been in use for decades.
Recently, new bio-based additives have been studied in order to produce plastics with a reduced carbon footprint. These additives are created by using plants and other organic materials, instead of the traditional mineral and synthetic fillers that are used in plastics today. The result is plastics that use renewable resources as additives to increase the performance and reduce the carbon footprint.
Why do we care about using more renewable resources for plastics? Reducing the carbon emissions of the raw materials we rely upon every day is the easiest way to start building toward a sustainable future.
Today, over 400 million tons of plastic are produced each year. That number is not going to 0 anytime soon. Today, as most people know, plastics are produced from fossil fuels. As the world continues to learn more about our health (and the health of the planet), our society will continue to move toward renewable resources.
Natural materials such as hemp, bamboo, and cotton offer a sustainable and natural alternative to traditional materials used in plastics. Over the past few decades, mineral and synthetic plastic additives like talc, calcium carbonate, and fiberglass have been found to be harmful to humans. The additives are the easiest materials to replace.
Industry experts say that these bio-based materials can be used in almost any application to reduce carbon footprint. When we look at all of the bio materials that could be used as plastic additives, there’s one plant that stands out: industrial hemp.
As companies begin and update their LCA’s (Life Cycle Assessments) they will start to look at the carbon footprint at every part of their value chain.
There are 3 types of emissions that are defined in the GHG Protocol:
These emissions include those from product use and disposal, as well as those from the production and distribution of products.
Here’s where the additives used in plastics can make an effect. By choosing bio-based additives, the carbon footprint can be reduced. This is a realistic path, today, for manufacturers that are looking to reduce their carbon footprint without compromising strength, weight, or price.
Industrial hemp is a carbon-negative material., Every 1 pound of hemp sequesters more than 1.6 pounds of carbon dioxide. A manufacturer that uses a 40% hemp filled plastic can offset their carbon footprint by 44%, just by changing out the additive.
Scope 3 Emissions are not the same as Scope 1 and 2 emissions. Scope 1 and 2 emissions happen within the organization or supply chain, while scope 3 emissions come from external sources.
Managing scope 3 emissions is about finding ways to reduce the carbon footprint of the suppliers and vendors that you rely on. Simple mandates to manage scope 3 emissions include:
The energy and materials that manufacturers use objectively has a huge impact on the carbon footprint of our planet.
Sourcing sustainable materials is the easiest way to ensure that your company is taking steps in the right direction to reduce its carbon footprint.
This one is easy; you can contact the team at Heartland.
We have experts standing by who can help you through every step of the product development process.
The road to reducing your carbon emissions or changing your plastic additives may seem confusing and challenging at face value. But, by committing to a simple R&D process, we can help you empower your company with the materials it needs to create a sustainable future.
Join us as we make a world out of hemp.
— Heartland Team
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