While giant retailers and consumer product companies are under tremendous pressure to be perceived as green and sustainable, the major plastic resin producers are doubling down on conventional fossil-fuel based resins. Sounds like a script straight out of The Innovator's Dilemma.
" Gen 1 " is defined as plastics derived from fossil fuels.
"Gen 2" is plastic derived from agricultural sources or "biopolymers ".
Nobody knows what " Gen 3 " will look like. Maybe a hybrid ? The first forays into Gen 2 did not catch on initially because a) consumers will not pay a green premium and b) timing. Bags put on the shelf in May fell apart in stores by July. Large food companies have seen what ethanol has done to raw material costs. If plastic packaging made from agricultural sources crowds out arable land, food costs will skyrocket.
Another aspect to consider is the involvement of the FTC. They are finally cracking down on ostensibly biodegradable plastics, or what we call " additive cowboys ".
It's all about perception. Anything derived from fossil fuels is perceived as inherently evil and made from a source which is not sustainable. Braskem has done a fabulous job marketing their "green" polyethylene and polypropylene made from sugar cane. They get a premium and won't talk to you unless your volume is 1,000 metric tonnes annual - take or pay. These resins do not biodegrade any faster than petroleum-based plastic. Braskem is putting on a billion pounds annual capacity in La Porte, TX. The feedstock ? Fossil fuel natural gas.
With painstakingly politically correct word choice, Lego announced their selection of " green " plastic.
There are two approaches to a quick fix. Either "greenwash" ( defined as no change, spin only ) or make hasty changes out of fear of social media. Notice how much emphasis is put on what a product does not contain these days ?
Bisphenol A is an excellent case study. " BPA free" is an insult. Only polycarbonate and PVC use it as a catalyst. There are trace amounts in the final product. If your product is made with any other resin, just say " BPA free" and voila ! You take advantage of the consumer's fear and lack of understanding.which may be just enough to stimulate an impulse purchase.
Sometimes the alternative to the vilified material is worse. Those who reacted to NGO's clamor for a BPA ban by substituting BPS and other materials were the biggest losers. In retrospect they look impetuous. The quiet epilogue: BPA's recent clean bill of health despite being put on California's prop 65 list and the EU's possible ban. Did the NGO's give a public apology ? A "never mind" a la Emily Latilla ?
Of course not. The disingenuous virtue signaling malcontents just move on to another faux outrage cause.
The latest angle is apparently a hybrid of fossil fuels and potato starch from a company called Biologiq. They offer both compostable biopolymers and combo fossil fuel resin / biopolymers. The hybrid is chasing arrow #7, or "other" which makes it is not recyclable with other polymers. They say the time is right. The CEO of Walmart wants all their potato and apple bags converted to Biologiq yesterday.
Let's look at how this could play out. For starters, well-meaning consumers will recycle the potato resin bags with the other bags at the store entrance resulting in contamination. If it takes off, Biologiq will need more than the by-products of potato chips. What do you think would happen next ? If you said, "potato prices will increase", go to the head of the class. For now, the claim of "eco friendly" is not on the FTC's radar. If the FTC wants a more precise definition of "eco friendly" it's going to be a problem.
H. L. Mencken said " for every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong".
To make an informed decision about conventional or biopolymers, click on the purple box on this page.