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Exclusive interview with Dow

Ahead of Sustainability in Packaging Asia 2022 conference, we recently spoke to Han Zhang, Global Sustainability Director, Packaging & Specialty Plastics,at Dow.
Our exclusive interview offers insignts on his presentation on 'Positive Momentum – Brand’s adoption of sustainable packaging', key challenges and opportunities facing the sustainable packaging sector and more. Take a look below now to find out what was said...


Q. You are going to be delivering a presentation on Positive momentum – brand’s adoption of sustainable packaging, why do you think this is an important topic now?

For a long time, when we design a new polymer for packaging application, we focus on performance, such as lightweight, mechanical property, or barrier functions. The outcome is that we have a family of polymers which can deliver more with less compared to any other alternatives. But they also become a nightmare to recycling. In recent years, it’s a universal goal across Brand Owners to make their packaging recyclable.  If the packages are not designed to be recycled upfront, the likelihood of being recycled is very low.  Dow is bringing expertise in polymer chemistry and application know how to support customers and brands in developing packages that can be recycled and accepted into the current recycling streams.  

Q. What do you think will be the biggest challenges to packaging sustainability in the next 12-24 months? How is your company/organization dealing with this challenge?

I would say a big challenge is that people are rushing into preliminary solutions. Now everyone is committed to solving the problem together. However, we are dealing with a very complex issue. We need the right technology, proper legislation, robust end use market, and a modern waste management infrastructure. All of these require investment and time. However, some people are losing patience and even saying that recycling is broken. Something seems impossible today doesn’t mean it will be impossible forever.
Q. What does your company/organization hope to achieve over the next 5 years with regards to the future of packaging industry?

As one of the largest producers of polyethylene resins, it’s our ambition to become the most sustainable material science company. We can’t achieve our ambition if we can’t make plastic part of the circular economy. Actually, we shouldn’t have to decide between performance or sustainability when talking about plastic. Plastic needs to do its job and be good for the planet. Last year, we launched two new circular economy targets. We want to stop the waste by enabling 1 million metric tons of plastic to be collected, reused or recycled by 2030. We also aim to close the loop by enabling 100% of our products sold into packaging applications to be reusable or recyclable by 2035.
Q. What do you think will be some of the most interesting advancements in materials or packaging types in the near future?

I think the most interesting advancement would be how we could deliver a packaging which is fully recyclable, having recycled content, and having lower carbon footprint. In another word, we will be able to keep each molecule at the highest value as long as possible throughout its life cycle. That means a circular economy, a carbon efficient society, and a green chemistry.
Q. What sort of partnerships and collaborations do you think will be necessary to drive the industry forward on sustainability?

Collaborations on waste collection and sorting is probably most needed in developing countries such as India or Indonesia, that have a very fragmented waste management system and rely heavily on informal waste pickers. If you look at the waste collection, it hasn’t changed over the past 50 years, while packaging has changed significantly. One hot topic recently is digitization. In India, we partner with a company called Recykal to launch the Rethink+ program in Pune. The Rethink+ program digitally connected each player in the waste ecosystem. The consumer or business can use the platform to inform waste collector on what kind of waste they need pickup, the quantity and location. When they trade the waste with collector, they also receive points and other benefits. In return, waste collector receives high quality waste which they can sell at high price. Eventually recycler has better quality feedstock and can make better products. The platform also enables digital payment, invoicing and online documentation, which ensure 100% transparency and traceability.
Q. Why do you feel it’s important for companies to attend the Sustainability in Packaging Asia? 

Asia is the center of plastic waste issue, but the solutions should also come from Asia. Sustainability in Packaging Asia conference is a great venue to learn the latest trend, build network, and develop partnerships.
Q. What are you most looking forward to about attending the Sustainability in Packaging Asia 2022 conference?

I look forward to seeing old and new friends in person!