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Eco-Friendly Plastics

By Saurav Rajbhandari

The demand for plastic is never-ending. Almost every product we use today is made out of plastic. From the toothbrush we use after we get up in the morning to our laptops we use for work, nearly every product has some parts made out of plastic. The industry supplies an array of products to businesses ranging from the automotive industry and healthcare product manufacturers to food manufacturers.

Plastic products are convenient to use and throw away, but they take an incredibly long period of time to decompose. It is estimated that 200,000 barrels of oil are used each day to make plastic packaging for the United States alone. Plastics have been a major cause of pollution, and plastic manufacturers have faced criticism from environmentalists over the years. However, we cannot hide the fact that plastic manufacturing is one of the biggest industries in America. The industry contributes $427 billion to the U.S. economy and employs nearly one million Americans.

Advancements in technology have resulted in plastic manufacturers producing eco-friendly, biodegradable products. The industry is changing its production techniques to make environmentally-friendly products. There are three types of “environmentally friendly” plastics. They are:

1.Bioplastics
2.Biodegradable Plastics
3.Eco/recycled Plastics

1.Bioplastics
Bioplastics are made from natural materials like cornstarch. Unlike traditional and biodegradable plastics, bioplastics do not produce a net increase in carbon dioxide gas when they break down. Companies like EverCorn™ and NatureWorks have been producing bioplastics from natural materials over the years. According to NatureWorks, making Polylactide acid (PLA) saves two thirds the energy you need to make traditional plastics. PLA looks and behaves like polyethylene and polypropylene and is widely used for food containers. PLA also produces almost 70 percent less greenhouse gases when it breaks down in landfill sites. Bioplastics are compostable and easily decompose within a few weeks, whereas a regular plastic bag takes more than 500 years to degrade.

2.Biodegradable Plastics
Biodegradable plastics contain additives that cause them to decay more rapidly in the presence of light and oxygen. These plastics are made out of normal petrochemical products and do not always break down into harmless materials like bioplastics do.
Biodegradable plastics may leave behind toxic substances that may make them unsuitable for composting.

3.Recycled Plastics
As suggested by its name, plastic products that are recycled to make new products are called recycled plastics. Recycling old materials to create new products has its drawbacks. Plastics that are recycled generally are not meant to be used to produce the same item the next time around and producing these items takes the same amount of time and energy as any other plastic product.

Today, major companies have started taking responsibility to create environmentally-friendly products. John Deere has been developing new composites using soybeans and flax. The cost, structural and design advantages of these new plastics have helped secure John Deere as a leader in their industry. In the beverage industry, companies like Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Nestle have pledged to use eco-friendly materials in their products. Coca-Cola in 2015 revealed its production of the first bottle made entirely out of renewable plant materials. PlantBottle packaging uses patented technology that converts natural sugars found in plants into the ingredients for making Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles.

Companies are also using ocean recovered plastic in their products. Adidas recently partnered with Parley for the Oceans an organization which raises awareness on the state of the ocean through creative collaborations to produce the Adidas x Parley which will be made from recovered ocean plastic and will hit stores later this year. Method, a company that produces cleaning products, has incorporated plastic recovered from the ocean and prevents the creation of new plastic by recycling. Soaps produced by the company are largely biodegradable, and its factory uses wind energy to power production.

Economic Development and Plastic Manufacturing
If we look at Conway Analytics from 2011 to 2015, there have been 880 project announcements. The highest number of projects was announced in 2015 with 186 total projects, out of which 120 were expansion projects, and 66 were new project announcements, which is highest in the five year period. In 2012, the highest number of expansion projects was announced.

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If we look at new projects statewide, Texas has the highest number of projects with 25 announced projects followed by Illinois with 25 and Ohio with 24 projects. In Texas, six major plastic resin manufacturing projects have been announced on the Houston Ship Channel, all coming online between late 2016 and late 2017. FKuR Kunststoff GmbH, a bioplastics manufacturer from Germany, announced the company opened a subsidiary, FKuR Plastics Corp., in Cedar Park, Texas in 2010. If we look at large projects in the state, in 2012 Dow Chemical built an ethylene production plant in Texas which would employ 2,000 people with an investment of $ 4 billion in the plant.

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Over the years, Illinois has seen a gradual increase in new project announcements. In 2013, 4 new projects were announced in the state. This number rose to 8 in 2014 and 9 in 2015. Along with Illinois, Georgia has also seen growth in announcements of new projects. In 2015, 6 new projects were announced in the state. In Nevada, a total of 7 new project announcements were made, out of which, three projects were announced in 2015. Indiana also saw a rise in new projects in 2015. The state had 7 new projects in 2015 compared to just 1 project announcement each three years prior.

Ohio, North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Missouri have had a steady flow of new project announcements within the five year time period.

If we take a look at seven states (Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, and Nevada) in the West, there have been mostly new project announcements. Thirty-six new project announcements and 7 expansion announcements were made in these states.

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Except Arizona, the other six states have had new projects announcements from bioplastics, biodegradable, and recycling companies.

Similarly, looking at expansion projects in the last five years, Ohio has the highest number of projects with 70 projects followed by Kentucky with 47 projects. Michigan and Tennessee rank third in the list with 43 projects each.

In Ohio, 28 companies on Fortune magazine’s Global 500 list have operations, and more than 1,800 plastic and rubber company establishments are situated there. Companies like Milacron, Little Tikes, and Plastipak are successfully doing business in the state. Conway Analytics shows that companies have been increasing facility expansions in Ohio. There were 12 expansion projects announced in 2013. This increased in 2016 with 16 projects, and in 2017, 17 projects were announced.

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Wisconsin has also seen growth in expansion projects. In the last three years, 25 projects were announced, which is a substantial rise in projects considering only 1 project each was announced in 2011 and 2012. Kentucky has also had a fair share of projects in recent years. The state had 12 expansion projects each announced in 2015 and 2014, while just 2 projects were announced in 2013. There has been a steady announcement of projects in North Carolina, Virginia, and Michigan in the five years.

In recent years, R&D in bio-technology has discovered bio-degradable materials like eggshells and corn starch to be suitable for plastic manufacturing. As researchers find more ways of fusing plastic with natural materials, it is certain that more companies will be using eco-friendly methods for production in the future. Economic development agencies should plan on giving concessions to these types of companies to promote bioplastics and bio degradable plastic use in manufacturing. Development agencies also have the opportunity to lure in eco-friendly plastic manufacturers to their areas by providing special plans for them. This can help the community by creating jobs and also help the environment by production of eco-friendly materials.

i) NAICS Codes used for Research: 326111, 326112, 326113, 326121, 326122, 326130, 326140, 326150, 326160, 326191, 326199

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