Could you describe your role and responsibilities at MBA Polymers?

I have overall responsibility for quality assurance here at Worksop. I promote and implement systems and processes to guarantee that we satisfy our stakeholders’ needs. That could be in terms of regulatory compliance or material specification, for example. I’m involved right from the approval of suppliers through to product testing and the despatch of finished goods. I also oversee our product development efforts. This includes continuously improving the quality of our products and working with customers to identify or develop products that suit their applications.

How does MBA work with its customers to tailor the characteristics of their products?

We collaborate with customers to understand how they need the product to perform and how they use the plastic in their manufacturing process. We can then develop a solution that best fits their business and run laboratory tests to confirm that we have met their needs effectively.

Could you share an example?

We’re currently working with a large packaging manufacturer on incorporating their re-grind into a compound product that we’ve created for them. We modified the material to meet their requirements and used our thermo-analytical test equipment to confirm that we had delivered the most cost effective solution. We also collaborated with a specialist to achieve an exact colour match.

What plastics recycling challenges do you face and how are you working to overcome them?

Our major challenge is to remove non-target materials and purify the individual target plastics we recycle. We do this in a way that uses the most plastic possible and maximises the benefits to the customer at minimum cost. This means a technical focus on yield, additive cost efficacy and optimisation of material properties.

What do you think of Mazda’s move to introduce bio-plastic for exterior car parts?

It’s interesting. We’re also exploring how vehicle manufacturers can reduce the weight of vehicle parts to achieve CO2 emission targets – through efficient fillers rather than bio-plastics. According to Mazda, the energy requirements for the production of bioplastics are 30% lower than those of virgin plastics. Recovering plastics at MBA Polymers uses 80% less energy when compared to making the equivalent virgin plastic polymer.

There’s also a question mark over how sustainable it to use agricultural land to cultivate feedstock for bio-plastics. Unless the feedstock is sourced as a by-product of food production, it will compete with the food and fibre crops to feed and clothe the world’s growing population.

If no action is taken to address the growing waste issue in developing countries, the volume of plastic in the ocean could equal the volume of fish, according to the Ocean Conservancy. Rapidly growing consumption rates among the rising middle classes in developing countries, combined with low recycling rates, is set to create an exponential rise in plastic waste. In addition to harming the marine environment (and eventually entering the food chain), ocean plastic waste may also damage the livelihoods of fishermen and adversely affect tourism.

There are currently estimated to be around 800m tonnes of fish in the oceans and 100m to 150m tonnes of plastic. This is increasing by around 20m tonnes a year, but that growth is expected to accelerate quickly as more people are able to afford products that are made with, or packaged in, plastic, reports the Guardian.

So who should take action to address this challenge?

According to Andreas Merkl, Ocean Conservancy’s CEO, it’s government and the private sector that should step up to the plate. The circular economy presents a strong option for tackling waste – turning it into raw materials for new products. Business leaders and policymakers, across the developed and developing world, will need to collaborate to make progress. And companies will also need to gain deeper visibility of their supply chains.

Merkl believes it’s vital to get to grips with the economics of waste collection and recycling – in particular, it must be made worthwhile to recycle plastics currently perceived as ‘low value’. He highlights that it’s not as simple as banning plastics such as cellophane, as they play a huge role in expanding access to food and clean water in developing countries.

While improving collection and recycling is the quickest way to drive change, there’s also a significant opportunity for plastics companies and consumer goods firms to simplify the types of plastics they use, design smarter packaging and help close the loop on plastic waste.

“We’re increasingly partnering with businesses to help them incorporate more recycled plastic into their products and packaging,” explains Nigel Hunton. “Giving end-of-life plastics a new lease of life helps to reduce the risk of plastic waste reaching the oceans. It also provides manufacturers with a means of making more sustainable products.”

Fortunately, the issue is starting to rise up the political agenda, according to Merkl, helped by disturbing images of marine debris and reports that plastic waste may be finding its way into the food chain. There are also plans afoot to research collection and recycling trends. For example, the Trash Free Seas Alliance is planning to carry out detailed studies in several countries, with a particular emphasis on Asia, to build an accurate picture of the situation and assess opportunities for action.

After months of uncertainty surrounding the European Union’s circular economy package – a set of laws and policies designed to help accelerate the transition to a more restorative, ‘waste-free’ economy – there is some good news.

Following the 2015 European Circular Economy Conference in Brussels earlier this month, the European Commission has announced that the revised package will be even more ambitious. In particular, it will include country-specific waste-reduction targets and a roadmap to encourage more businesses to adopt closed-loop models. The new package is due to emerge later in 2015.

“Both these aspects – the waste targets review and the roadmap – will come together before the end of this year,” said Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs, and Fisheries. “The more I look at the two sides – the environment and the economy – the more convinced I become that the way forward is to fully integrate resource efficiency into the way we do business in Europe.”

The new package will also seek to address a range of economic sectors in addition to waste management, according to Vella, who added that the new package will offer an opportunity to “transform Europe into a more competitive, resource-efficient economy.”

First announced in July 2014, the European Commission’s circular economy package featured a proposed 70% recycling and reuse target for 2030. It also included a requirement for member states to recycle 80% of packaging waste by 2030. But in December 2014, the Commission indicated that these plans would be scrapped in favour of something more ambitious.

In 2010, total waste production in the EU amounted to 2.5bn tons, of which only 36% was recycled. The rest was landfilled or incinerated, yet 600m tonnes could have been recycled or reused, protecting the environment and adding value to the economy. Recent research by WRAP indicates that a circular economy could create more than 200,000 jobs in the UK alone.

Vella said that the Commission will continue to promote eco-innovation and investment in clean technologies. This stands to deliver savings of €600bn for businesses in the EU, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Four of the MBA Polymers team attended the Society of Plastics Engineers’ Annual Technical Conference (ANTEC) and NPE2015, in Orlando, Florida from March 23-27.

Brian Riise, Director of R&D, and Ron Rau, North American Sales and Sourcing Manager, presented papers at ANTEC (in Session W26:  Plastics Environmental) that described how MBA transforms plastic recovered from end-of-life vehicles and e-waste into valuable raw materials at our plants in the UK, Austria and China. They were followed by James Drummond of Lexmark, who spoke about incorporating PCR plastics into electronics.

Our Director of Engineering, Jim Zechinati, and John Gysbers, senior process engineer, also attended both events. All four of our representatives visited equipment suppliers and spoke with customers, as well as learning about the latest technical innovations in plastics at the various speaker sessions and workshops.

Among the key attractions at NPE2015 show, the Zero Waste Zone received particular attention. It was designed to educate attendees on the recycling and reuse of plastics materials. Attendees got to see hear from companies including Dell, Green Toys and Seventh Generation, and explore the latest technologies, innovations, and sustainability solutions.

The organizers further engaged attendees with the zero waste theme by highlighting a public awareness campaign developed by not-for-profit organisation Keep America Beautiful. Entitled ‘I want to be recycled’, the campaign showcased multiple ideas for how a simple plastic bottle could be given a new lease of life. All attendees were encouraged to recycle while at the show, helping to keep recycling front of mind.

Commercial Plastic Recycling, a Tampa-based recycling firm, gathered plastic waste from exhibitors for processing at its recycling facility. The company’s president, Ben Benvenuti, called the waste ‘highly desirable’ because it was mostly clean and post-industrial. The bulk of the material included PET, high density polyethylene and polypropylene. Importantly, Kim Holmes of the Society of Plastics Engineers commented that participation in the show’s recycling programme had increased, with 75 exhibitors taking part in 2014 compared to 41 in 2012.

As the world’s most prominent technical conference for plastics, ANTEC takes place in the US, Europe, India and the Middle East. Meanwhile, NPE is recognized as the only international plastics event presented by the industry for the industry. Some 60,000 people from across the industry attended this year’s show.

MBA Polymers’ founder and president, Dr. Mike Biddle had a starring role at the Environmental Film Festival at Yale (EFFY) earlier this month as he sat on an expert panel following a screening of Candida Brady’s innovative new film ‘Trashed’.

Brady – a well-established British campaigning journalist who has long supported the innovative work of MBA Polymers – made the documentary to explore the issue of how our appetite for consumption is wreaking havoc across the globe. The ambitious film follows Academy Award winner Jeremy Irons as he travels the world in an attempt to understand the environmental impact of the rubbish we produce, and explores what we can do to halt the damage that is being done to the Earth.

The damage our ever-increasing consumption is doing to our planet is shown explicitly in the film. As a relatively inexpensive material, plastic is ubiquitous, highly disposable, and is rarely recycled appropriately. Each year over 58 billion disposable cups, billions of plastic bags and 200 billion litres worth of water bottles are thrown away, doing incalculable harm to our environment.

With a keen eye for the dichotomy between the beauty of the planet and the damage being done to it by the waste we’re producing, the film visits an array of countries which have one thing in common; they’re being destroyed by trash. We see vast landscapes in China which are covered in tons of rubbish, observe how the Ciliwung River in Indonesia is now barely visible under an ever-mounting tide of plastic and witness the way in which the Lebanese city of Sidon’s shoreline is littered with medical waste, household trash and toxic fluids which tumble from coastal rubbish dumps into the sea.

Health problems our trash habit is creating

The film also discusses the very real health problems our trash habit is creating, as it explores how fish are eating the pollutants from these discarded plastics, and how by eating these fish we too are absorbing these dangerous toxins.  It also examines how ‘latent’ poisons are being released as the polar ice caps melt, a process accelerated by the short term solutions that are being used to manage existing waste, such as incineration.

The film is the result of two years of painstaking research and investigation by Candida Brady, who commented: “As a lifelong asthmatic I have always been interested in the effects of pollution. But it was meeting an environmental doctor – who saved my life – that opened my eyes to the direct effects the environment has on our health.”

Despite the grim subject matter being investigated, the overall message of the film is optimistic as Irons meets individuals, businesses and Governments who are providing solutions. He meets individuals who have changed their own lifestyles so that they produce virtually no waste, explores how anti-waste legislation is encouraging behavioural change and visits a city that has become virtually waste free.

The final film to be shown at the festival, Trashed proved hugely popular with the audience, who asked a range of thought-provoking questions about how some of the solutions discussed in the film can be implemented, and what we as individuals can do to less our personal impact on the environment.

Viewing our waste as a valuable resource

Speaking about his appearance at the festival, Dr. Biddle commented: “What appealed to me about this film is that it does show the significant problems we face in managing the huge amounts of waste humanity generates, and that dealing with these problems requires concerted efforts on many fronts.  Most importantly, we must start viewing our waste like the mix of valuable resources it is and recovering these resources for re-use rather than discarding them in irresponsible ways that damage our ecosystem.

Furthermore, if we don’t re-use our precious resources, we must go to ever greater extremes to mine the materials or drill for the petrochemicals we need for the rapidly growing global demand of the products we use everyday.  And recycling most materials, such as metals and plastics, saves enormous amounts of energy and CO2 generation compared to producing them from virgin raw materials.

“At the moment – and as the film clearly shows – we are simply not doing enough to recycle plastics. Of the 250 billion kgs of plastics produced annually on a global basis, less than 10 per cent of these plastics from complex waste streams are recycled. In comparison, over 90 per cent of metal is recycled. As plastic is more valuable than steel on a cost per weight basis, this disparity makes no environmental or economic sense.

“To really make full use of advances in the field of recycling plastics, wholesale change needs to take place, whether it is big businesses doing more to ensure the products they produce can be effectively recycled at the end of their lifespan, or individuals ensuring they’re recycling their plastic waste to the best of their abilities.

“It’s my ambition to stop all waste going to landfill or being incinerated. The technology to do this is there, and it’s getting better all the time. We just need to make sure we’re using it, and that domestic recyclers have access to waste streams for above-ground mining of materials and a level playing field to operate, otherwise these materials will continue to be exported to take advantage of what I call environmental arbitrage’ – exporting our complex waste to countries where the environmental and human health and safety standards, and thus the costs, are lower.”

The film has already gained international attention. It received official selection for the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and the trailer alone has received over a million views online. Trashed was released on DVD on Earth Day (April 22nd).

The DVD is available to purchase from here

For more information about the film click here

MBA Polymers’ Mike Biddle will be one of the final judges for this year’s Think Beyond Plastics competition, which hopes to find innovative solutions to the plastic pollution crisis.

The competition organisers hope to find wholly viable solutions in the areas of supply chain and infrastructure; source materials and packaging; products, services and business model innovations.

Applications will be assessed on how well they address the plastic pollution problem and judges will be looking for a clearly articulated outline of a viable business model and explanation of the supporting technologies required, where appropriate. Key success factors the judging team will be looking for include ecological and financial sustainability, scalability for a global market and simplicity.

And the stakes are high: Companies are competing for a first prize investment of $50,000 for an existing business, and $10,000 investment for the most innovative business idea.

The panel will be looking for entries which are either well-thought out proposals or operating businesses which are still at the growth stage.  Businesses must be able to prove that their proposition is viable, and that sustainable practices are at the heart of what they do. Each entry will be careful analysed by members of the judging panel, which is made up of eminent voices in the fields of industry, science and the environment and also includes Eben Bayer (Ecovative), Julie Corbett (Ecologic) and Mike Velings (A-Spark Good Ventures).

Finalists will pitch to a panel of investors

Finalists and winners will be announced during the Think Beyond Plastic conference in June 2013, which will take place at the David Brower Centre in Berkeley, California. Several pre-finalists, including Mycodev Group and Dirtball have already been selected and all finalists will be expected to pitch to a panel of investors, scientists, journalists and other cleantech experts on the day before the overall winner is announced and prize money awarded.

Discussing the competition, Dr. Mike Biddle said: “Plastics pollutions is a major issue facing our planet, and this competition is a fantastic way to spark innovative ideas and explore viable solutions. Simply eliminating the use of plastics isn’t viable or even desirable because plastics offer so many benefits, including environmental and human health and safety benefits, when properly managed throughout their lifecycles. Therefore, I’ll be particularly interested in solutions which address better management of our precious resources – not so much thinking beyond plastic as thinking smarter with plastics. We’ve already proved what is achievable, and I’m looking forward to hearing ideas which can take responsible plastics use and total resource management further in the context of complete lifecycle thinking – looking beyond just one or two aspects of a given material’s impact.”

MBA Polymers’ customers were given further proof that they’re dealing with a world-class plastics recycling company this month, as the business announced that it has met the international standards of EuCertPlast for its plant at Kematen an der Ybbs, Austria. It is the first post-consumer plastics recycler in Europe to achieve the coveted EuCertPlast Standard.

The certification scheme aims to enhance transparency, improve the traceability of collected post consumer waste and improve the visibility of recycling and trading practices. The Europe-wide initiative is co-financed by the European Commission under the Eco-Innovation Programme.

Companies are only accredited to EuCertPlast following rigorous assessment of working practices and careful consideration of the quality of input and output achieved by an audited recycler. EuCertPlast’s experts monitor the entire recycling process, from the input of waste material to the creation of the final recycled product and also check that the manufacturer has the necessary permits for stages such as stock management, the recycling process and output. Only when a business has met all of EuCertPlast’s stringent requirements is the accreditation granted.

In order to ensure they gained the accreditation, specialists at MBA Polymers’ Austrian site developed a system of compliance and implemented a raft of new best-practice operational procedures. The site has also pledged to further reduce its environmental footprint by instigating regular reviews of working practices and putting continuous improvement at the heart of the business.

Products promoted under the Blue Angel scheme

Crucially, the new certification will allow MBA Polymers’ customers to promote their products under The Blue Angel banner, a German certification which supports consumers in making the most environmentally friendly purchasing choices – domestically or in business – by highlighting the most ecologically sound products on the market.

The scheme aims to protect the environment and empower the consumer by giving clients confidence that companies really do adhere to best practice environmental standards. The Blue Angel is the first and oldest environment-related label for products and services in the world and is recognised as a clear sign of environmental quality worldwide.

In order to promote their products as certified under the Blue Angel scheme, MBA Polymers’ customers must submit an application to the Blue Angel scheme’s awarding agency – RAL gGmbH – and provide evidence that the plastic they are using is provided by MBA Polymers and that their product also meets the environmental requirements of the standard.

MBA Polymers Chief Executive Nigel Hunton commented, “MBA Polymers has always maintained high quality standards and procedures, but we are very pleased to receive this certification at Kematen. Many of our customers require very stringent environmental procedures these days and this certification sets the standard for these types of procedures and shows our customers that we are operating correctly.”

“Meeting this standard has been an excellent challenge for our team,” said Daniel Forstner, Quality Manager, MBA Polymers, Austria. “We have made improvements in areas such as auditing, process management, addressing areas of non-compliance and taking appropriate action. It is another important step for MBA’s operations in Austria.”

Mainetti are the world’s largest manufacturer of high quality clothes hangers for both wholesale and individual customers. With 50 years of experience in the industry, and a network of factories worldwide, products are used by fashion professionals globally to ensure that clothes of all types don’t lose their shape while being stored.

Sustainability is at the heart of Mainetti’s working practices. Industry-leading, they pioneered the recycling of garment hangers and today its reprocessing, resorting and recycling facilities are seen as a model for the rest of the industry.

Meeting targets for sustainability

In line with their sustainability policy, Mainetti needed to be supplied with a recycled plastic that was of consistent and high quality, and with good surface qualities in order to eliminate the risk of hangers snagging on clothes. Above all they wanted the plastic they used to be both economically and environmentally sustainable and with a secure supply so they could deliver a consistent product to their customers.

We supplied Mainetti with post-consumer recycled polystyrene, and impact modified polystyrene for this purpose. Easy to process, with strong batch-to-batch consistency, MBA Polymer’s tightly controlled processes mean that whether we’re delivering these products in the EU or China, the rheological, mechanical and colour properties are always the same.

How did we help Mainetti meet its environmental targets?

MBA Polymers supported the sustainability practices of Mainetti by using low carbon and low emission manufacturing processes and sourcing 100% post-consumer feedstock, allowing them to manufacture high-quality clothing hangers in the most economically and environmentally efficient way possible.

“Wherever we work around the world, we’re committed to taking action to preserve the environment, through a series of recycling schemes developed in partnership with our clients.” – Mainetti

Download the Mainetti case study

In a plastics-heavy industry such as home appliances, any business for whom sustainability is more than just a buzz word should be exploring how it can incorporate post-consumer plastics into its supply chain.

In this area, appliances manufacturer Electrolux’s aims are pioneering and ambitious. Cecilia Nord, the director responsible for sourcing at Electrolux states their goal as “targeting sustainability leadership in the appliance industry”.

Cecilia’s approach extended beyond simply exploring where they could incorporate post-consumer plastics in the business’s supply chain; she wanted to spark dialogue too. “Our vision was to raise awareness of environmental issues, stimulate greater supply of plastics, and show the potential use, and to boost the distribution and sales of green home appliance products.’

My other car’s (still) a Porsche

To begin to make these changes, the company decided to explore recycling cars, which can yield huge amounts of plastic everywhere from batteries to bumpers, in the creation of their new vacuums. This, however, is the relatively easy part. Finding a sustainable and economically effective way of sourcing these plastics can be more of a challenge. Not for Electrolux.  By teaming up with global post-consumer plastics specialist MBA Polymers, it was able to source sustainable supplies of recycled plastics for the vacuum’s components. Cecilia Nord commented: “Choosing the source for the material was one of the most difficult obstacles in the path of developing the Ultra Silencer Green because every type of recycled plastic had to be tested for quality and durability for the relevant component. Electrolux eventually teamed up with MBA Polymers…”

The result is a vacuum whose green credentials cannot be questioned. Electrolux’s Ultra Silencer vacuum is made from 55 per cent recycled polypropylene, saving over two litres of crude oil and 80 litres of water per unit, as well as reducing manufacturing energy consumption by 90 per cent. Yet environmental credentials do not come at the expense of durability, and all products are developed to withstand 10 years of normal usage.

If all of the 20 million vacuum cleaners that are sold annually in Europe were built in the same way, some 1.6 million cubic meters of water, and 251,000 barrels of oils could be saved.

The success of the project led Electrolux to explore how else it could use recycled plastics in its products and raise awareness of just how scarce recycled plastics are at present on land. For there is one area of the world where there is a surfeit of plastics that could be recycled.

vac-from-the-sea

Vac from the sea

Anyone who has watched the plastic bottles bobbing forlornly in the sea while on holiday will know that the amount of plastic waste going into our oceans is a problem. What they may not realise is the extent of this problem, and that the damage goes way beyond aesthetics. For example, around 20,000 tonnes of garbage is dumped in the North Sea every year, doing huge damage to the environment.

For Electrolux’s next foray into recycled plastics, they decided this was a fitting area to explore. Cecilia Nord commented: “Our oceans are filled with plastic waste. Yet on the land, there is a shortage of recycled plastics to make sustainable vacuum cleaners.” Electrolux’s solution was to work with local recycling organisations to recycle plastic and create a series of vacuums made from plastics recycled from the coastal areas all over the World, and to showcase them in a PR campaign introduced in 2010 – Vac from the Sea.

The vacuums themselves are highly attractive. For example in St Cyr-sur-Mer, France, the company teamed up with the Surfrider Foundation to collect plastic – such as beverage bottles, beach toys and even shoes –  that had been washed up on the beach.  The plastic gathered in this way from the Mediterranean was cut into heart shaped pieces and then attached to a thin shell of industrially recycled plastic to create the below:

news electrolux-2-vacs

Off the coast of the Phi Phi Islands in Thailand, coral reef divers Blue View Divers gathered plastics that had been abandoned in the sea. What was found was everything from discarded beer bottles, straws, to huge chunks of Styrofoam. The total rubbish collected over the two day cleanup event amounted to 962 kilos.

The collected plastics intended for the concept vac were split in a shredder into small square pieces. The white and coloured plastic squares were then mounted in a pattern that covers the entire top and the hub caps on the vacuum cleaner, while pieces from plastic bottles with brighter colours were used as accents.

Global reach

The Vac from the Sea initiative was a huge success. Between 2010 and 2012 the vacuum cleaners went on a world tour, and were displayed everywhere from the Milano Museum of Science and Technology to Australian Sustainability Days to raise awareness of the problem of plastic debris in the oceans.

The striking appearance of the vacuums also generated both print and broadcast coverage across the world. Nord commented: “Since the start, more than 200 million people have been engaged by “Vac from the Sea”, through print, online or social media. What’s perhaps even more important is that materials with a superior sustainability profile have been introduced into the household appliance industry and are now being used across the company.

She concluded: ‘The real victory is that “Vac from the Sea” has raised awareness of the scarcity of recycled plastic – not just in green communities but in the broad masses.’

» Watch the video

Many of the world’s top celebrities recently stepped forward to raise funds for people living on landfill by donating their shoes to the biggest charity shoe auction of the year. Organised by UK-based humanitarian charity the Small Steps Project, the auction has seen stars from Olympic runner Usain Bolt to Star Wars actress Natalie Portman part with their footwear in support of this worthy cause. The charity revealed in December 2014 that its latest auction raised £43,573.

The Small Steps Project provides emergency aid, shoes and food to children and communities living on municipal rubbish dumps around the world. Having provided items to protect people from the immediate dangers, it then helps children to take steps into education and adults into employment. Small Steps’ projects are located in Cambodia, Laos, Nicaragua and Indonesia.

In addition to its annual Celebrity Shoe Auction, the charity runs regular campaigns throughout the year and makes documentary films to raise awareness of the plight of people living on the world’s rubbish.

For more information, please visit www.smallstepsproject.org.