Innovation and challenges in composting plastics
8 January 2019
In the run up to OUTLOOK™ India, we caught up with Naturework's Eamonn Tighe on plastic recycling and the opportunities and challenges brought by compostable plastics

You will present at OUTLOOK™ India on compostable polymers. Can you elaborate on new  possible applications in this sector?

The opportunities are growing on a weekly basis. Everything from developments in coffee & infusion, food service to growing developments in 3D printing, even durable white goods. And of course the medical and hygiene sectors! The conference will also allow for valuable discussions around renewable sourcing and performance in addition to composability. I will discuss this in much more detail during my paper in Delhi. 

How aware do you think the average consumer is of the different types of composting (i.e. industrial vs. home)?  Can the industry do more to raise awareness? 

In general, not very  and it really depends on the geography. For sure Industry can assist in developing some ’joined up’ thinking on this. There is a great opportunity to build on the fact that consumers are becoming more educated and demanding manufacturers and brands do a better job of disclosing components. A good example here is how most consumers think that 'soft' diapers are cotton when they are generally polyolefins.

Recently, EDANA, on behalf of the nonwoven producers amongst its membership, issued a pledge to significantly increase the use of recycled PET. Is this part of a general trend and if so is it moving fast enough? Which regions are leading? 

This is of course great news and must be encouraged. But we shouldn't forget the contribution that renewable raw materials can also make. To solve the disposal issues with plastics, and to continue being able to take advantage of their performance and benefits they offer, it will take a portfolio of options. This is the beauty of the circular economy approach.

What  innovations from outside your own company excite you as a consumer?

The broader awareness of the absolute need for using more sustainable products is exciting. As someone who is passionate about the use of sustainable materials, the fact that more and more brands, retailers and in general the complete supply chain are stepping up and innovating with regards to sustainability now being a key driver. 

And what do you see as the biggest challenges to business wishing to adopt more circular business models? Brands being too cost focused and unwilling to commit to making sustainable choices or put the time and effort into understanding true system benefits and costs to allow better decisions to be made. In a world of low oil prices, the short term bottom line thinking of public companies can be a bit of a challenge.

Ultimately, companies will have to change design to make “circular products” and this will involve the possibility to use innovative materials that can involve circularity not only at the end of life but also in the use of renewable carbon; the challenge here is to change the mindset!

What other topics on the OUTLOOK programme are of interest to you? Are there particular presentations that you’re looking forward to?

This programme provides and excellent overview of latest developments and activities in our industry. I’m particularly interested in hearing about specific activities in India and growth opportunities broadly.

Eamonn Tighe, Business Development Manager with NatureWorks, will present on Day 2 of OUTLOOK™ India 2019. Registration for this event is still open.