SABIC polymers sourced from ocean-bound plastic find way into consumer products

July 12, 2023
Advanced recycling methods bringing salvaged plastics to a range of products.

By Bruce Geiselman

SABIC’s partnership with Malaysia-based plastics recycling company Heng Hiap Industries (HHI) to produce circular polymers from advanced recycling of ocean-bound plastic (OBP) is paying off as customers are introducing products that use the recycled plastic.

Since SABIC announced the partnership about 18 months ago, products ranging from food packaging to packaging labels have used the recycled plastic, said Matthew Marks, leader, circular economy, Americas at SABIC’s Petrochemicals Business.

“Our certified polyolefins from ocean-bound plastic are available globally, although, as with any such novel initiative, initial volumes are limited,” Marks said. “The supply chains and processes for recovering ocean-bound plastics are very new and are still in the early stages of development. The intention is to increase these volumes over time, as the supply chain continues to build, and infrastructures develop.”

The discarded plastic is recovered from ocean-feeding waterways and inland areas within a 31-mile radius of an ocean by HHI partners, predominantly in Malaysia. The OBP recovered is meticulously sorted and separated, ready for either mechanical or advanced recycling processing routes.

“Thanks to the integrated approach, the recovered plastic can be sent to one of these routes according to its suitability and material make-up,” Marks said.

Advanced recycling boosts circularity

The recovered material slated for advanced recycling is sent to HHI, where the company converts the used mixed plastic into pyrolysis oil, which SABIC uses in place of traditional fossil materials in manufacturing certified circular polymers sold as part of SABIC’s TruCircle portfolio.

Pyrolysis is a type of conversion technology that uses heat and chemistry in a reactor to break down the plastic waste into a liquid, oil-like feedstock, Marks said.

“The process takes place in absence of oxygen (pyrolysis) to ensure high-quality products,” he said. “Potential contaminants are isolated and removed. The produced oil re-enters the chemical production chain at the refinery or cracker level as secondary raw material replacing virgin feedstock. The resulting products are used to manufacture chemicals including plastic of identical quality to those made using traditional fossil materials.”

The material has been certified under the Zero Plastic Oceans accreditation. HHI is the first organization to have received certification confirming the materials it recycles qualify as ocean bound, according to a SABIC press release. Zero Plastic Oceans is a non-governmental organization dedicated to addressing plastic pollution issues.

“Together with SABIC, HHI currently aims to collect approximately 2,000 tons annually of plastics that has the potential to end up in our oceans,” Marks said.

SABIC and Polivouga, a manufacturer of flexible film products with operations in Portugal, last year announced a collaboration to produce frozen seafood packaging. SABIC uses post-consumer ocean-bound plastic waste recycled through pyrolysis technology to produce certified circular polymers: SABIC LLDPE (linear low-density polyethylene) and LDPE (low-density polyethylene). Polivouga uses those polymers to produce flexible packaging for Nueva Pescanova Group, a Spanish seafood company.

The collaboration was SABIC’s first TruCircle project using recycled ocean-bound waste in a certified polyethylene, according to the company.

“This is an exciting circular packaging solution for us, since it demonstrates how used plastic that has the potential to end up in our oceans can be brought back into a circular material stream to be converted into high-quality food packaging,” Sami Al-Osaimi, VP PE & Sales at SABIC, said when announcing the partnership.

The PE film manufactured using feedstock made from recycled ocean-bound plastics is approved for food contact and offers the same tear and puncture resistance as competing PE packaging made from virgin fossil PE resins, Tiago Barros, CEO at Polivouga, said at the time of the announcement.

Products meet multiple recycling goals

Another product comes from UPM Raflatac, a global supplier of label materials, which in June 2022 introduced its new Ocean Action label made with SABIC’s circular polyolefins from ocean-bound plastics as raw materials.

“It does not only help prevent the plastic waste from ending up in the oceans, but also offers brand owners the possibility to meet their recycled content targets for packaging,” Eliisa Laurikainen, business development manager from UPM Raflatac, said when announcing the product introduction. “The Ocean Action label material is an easy-to-use drop-in solution created especially for food and cosmetics end-uses as it has exactly the same performance as the current fossil-based labels.”

The Ocean Action label material is available as white and clear top-coated polypropylene (PP) films with RP37, RF37 and RP74 adhesives and polyethelyene terephthalate 23 post-consumer resin and glassine liners, Hesinki-based UPM Raflatac says.

It sources film from Taghleef Industries. Headquartered in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Taghleef uses granulate produced in the process to make the film. •••

Bruce Geiselman, senior staff reporter

[email protected] 

SABIC, Houston, 800-845-0600,

About the Author

Bruce Geiselman | Senior Staff Reporter

Senior Staff Reporter Bruce Geiselman covers extrusion, blow molding, additive manufacturing, automation and end markets including automotive and packaging. He also writes features, including In Other Words and Problem Solved, for Plastics Machinery & Manufacturing, Plastics Recycling and The Journal of Blow Molding. He has extensive experience in daily and magazine journalism.