Tag Archives: Food & Beverage

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Year of the Rat opens possibilities to publicize a rodent

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Rats are not exactly an honored species in America, but they’re about to get some attention this year. 2020 is the Year of the Rat, according to the Chinese zodiac.

The Lunar New Year, also called the Chinese New Year, begins on Saturday, Jan. 25, and smart marketers have figured out how to take advantage of a unique branding opportunity. The New Year kicks off 15 days of celebrations to welcome in the Year of the Rat, which last occurred in 2008.

The Chinese zodiac contains 12 animals, each getting its own year in rotation. The calendar dates to the 14th century, according to the University of Washington.

An outfit as esteemed as the U.S. Postal Service has seen fit to make note of the event and the rat by issuing a Forever stamp to mark the Year of the Rat, the Sierra Sun Times reported. The stamp was dedicated earlier in January at California’s Monterey Park Lunar New Year Festival. The two-day event features five blocks of entertainment and activities, and draws more than 50,000 people.

California isn’t the only place where they celebrate the rat, which succeeds the pig on the calendar. Celebrations and festivals run from New York to Las Vegas to San Francisco and smaller cities in between. When the calendar lays out 15 days to party, you’ve got to figure that communities are going to find a way to join the fun.

Tying the rat to food might be a stretch for some, but Krispy Kreme was willing to take the leap, at least in one location. A store in Nagoya, Japan, is the only place you can get your hands on a the Premium Mouse doughnut, which in addition to yellow cheese-inspired topping, includes chocolate mouse “ears,” according to Newsweek.

Image: Krispy Kreme

Clothing designers are capitalizing on the Lunar New Year’s mascot as well, offering takes on Mickey Mouse and the viral sensation of a rat hauling a piece of pizza through New York’s subway. Those designs are being issued by well-known names as Gucci, Nike and Rag & Bone, WWD reported. If you’ve ever wanted to sport a downtrodden rodent on your clothing, this year’s your chance.

If you want to haul your own pizza through the subways and not get caught, you can do that in a pair of New Balance running shoes, colored gray to highlight the Year of the Rat, according to Sneaker News.

In China, it’s harder to find marketing tied to the rat, Ad Age reported, pointing out that many companies have tied their budgets to the 2020 Olympic Games to be held in Tokyo. The magazine also alluded to the fact that rats are less appealing than some of the other zodiac animals.

The rodent is getting plenty of attention this year, so there’s no need to look down on the furry gray critter, at least not for the rest of 2020.

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A look at recent alcoholic beverage consumption trends

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Global beverage consumption trends are evolving. In the U.S., researchers have found a deep connection between demographics and alcohol consumption.

While each country may show vast differences, here in the U.S., we can see differences between states and regions. Being the melting pot of cultures, we have people from all over the world living here, and their backgrounds have a lot to contribute to the numbers.

A recent study released by the University of California, Davis’ Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics states that socioeconomic and demographic variables play a role in these persistent spatial differences among groups.

They studied and applied four decades of annual national, state, and supermarket scanning data to reach their conclusions. While the U.S. leads in global alcohol consumption, the data is not consistent across the country. Some states display more per capita consumption than others and show different types of alcohol consumption.

Here’s a quick overview of the study across the last 40 years:

  • Market share of premium wines has grown
  • Shares of both spirits and wine rose at the expense of beer
  • U.S. market share of premium craft brewing has grown
  • Mass-produced, low-priced beer has fallen
  • Globally, traditional wine-consuming nations are shifting towards beer while beer-drinking countries are increasing their consumption of wine

So, what accounts for these differences?

In a world where prices are similar across the nation, trade barriers are diminishing, and markets are well-integrated, one would imagine that U.S. alcoholic consumption patterns would be more consistent. Along with prices and income, culture plays a major role in and beverage preferences.

Sustainability is a recurring theme across industries this year, and it’s no different in the wine industry. The wine world is invested in dealing with climate change.

To that effect, 2020 will see more experimentation and research in wine-producing regions aimed at the various ways of reducing resource use in wineries. When it comes to wine consumption, globally, consumers are moving towards higher-end rosés, “appassimento” wines from Italy, oaked Chardonnay wines, and “natural” and “low intervention” wines. We can also expect to find more vegan stickers on wine labels.

According to a KPMG report, craft beverages will continue to grow in 2020 and beyond. Along with craft beer, we will see more innovations in super-premium craft tequila and mezcal, ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails, sparkling coffee and sparkling tea, small-batch whiskey, bourbons, gins, and nonalcoholic mixers across the globe.

The other major beverage trend is the world of CBD-infused drinks. CBD-infused beverages have significant growth potential. A growing number of consumers look at CBD as a functional ingredient with health benefits, though not all claims are backed by science.

To this end, functionality is the buzzword in 2020, and beverage manufacturers are using this opportunity to enhance their products with supplements and expand on the concept of drinks as medicine for preventive health benefits.

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The significant food trends of 2020 include vertical farms, periodic fasting

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Food trends for 2020 will follow a green and sustainable pattern. A recent New York Times article statedthat the cause of the year is our planet. In the midst of rising climate change, food insecurity, and consumers’ worry about the environmental impact of foods, choices will matter.

Responsible farming

The focuses on vertical farming and earth-friendly ingredients and practices will increase as farmers try out regenerative techniques to control weeds, improve soil, and sequester carbon for improved soil health. In the new era of conscious consumption, consumers will appreciate edible and biodegradable packing along with their vegan dishes and meat alternatives.

New beverage choices

Low and no-alcohol drinks are in, but they are not the only ones growing. CBD-infused drinks may far outshine them in the next decade, which may help relieve stress without the side-effects of regular alcohol consumption.

CBD and adaptogens in food and beverage will act as calming agents and help elevate moods as well. Packaged sales of CBD drinks are set to reach $334 million in 2020 and will rise to $1.5 billion in 2025.


Food fads change and evolve, and 2020 will be the year of the intermittent fasting trend. Though the jury is still out on whether fasting can lead to long-term weight loss and help the digestive system, dieters see some benefits in it.

The primary reason behind its popularity is the rationale of curbing cravings. In a world where food is available 24/7 and by pressing just one key, training your mind not to eat over long intervals makes sense.

The body takes time to digest, and yet we are continuously eating. Experts also say that fasting leads the body to start burning its own fat for fuel and generate energy. While the diets need to be customized for an individual’s weight and other health considerations, fasting could be an answer to combat the obesity epidemic.

Less alcohol

Along with fasting trends, 2020may also be the year of less alcohol consumption. Cutting down on daily drinking and sticking to weekend drinking may lead to weight control, a decrease in anxiety, limiting skin conditions like rosacea, and improvements in organ health. A recent Yelp survey stated that 2020 would see growing popularity for mocktails and nonalcoholic happy hours.

Healthy comfort foods

Yelp also predicted that 2020 would feature more searches for hearty breakfasts and comfort foods with a healthy twist. People will find healthy substitutes for old favorites so that they indulge without guilt. Cauliflower is set to replace zucchini, and floral-infused food and drinks will trend along with purple yam (ube) ice cream flavors and hard kombucha drinks.

Eater combed through many surveys and listed the food trends for 2020 that range from functional and doable to funny and downright ridiculous. Here’s a quick glimpse.

  • Alt-milk
  • Spreads and butters like macadamia nut butter and watermelon seed butter
  • Gastrophysics
  • Mood-boosting and energy-enhancing adaptogens
  • Culinary mixology
  • Ghost kitchens
  • Collagen-spiked drinks
  • Halloumi cheese as a meat alternative
  • Tasting menus
  • Coconut yogurt
  • Aged rum
  • Natural wine, organic wine, and biodynamic wine
  • Cheese tea
  • Tea-infused spirits
  • Juice pairings
  • Flexitarian blends
  • Booze-flavored snacks
  • Protein coffee
  • Cakes for dogs

You can find the whole list here.

It remains to be seen whether these trends are real or lasting, but they sure have added some zing to the start of the new year. What food trends do you foresee topping trend lists in 2020?

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In a first, UK scientists estimate the economic impact of herbicidal resistance

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Scientists from the Zoological Society of London, an international group devoted to conservation, have recently done something significant, if not innovative.

These researchers are part of an effort that, for the first time, has placed a number on the damage caused by herbicidal resistance of a major agricultural weed that is “decimating winter-wheat farms across the U.K.”

Per the report, scientists focused in part on the invasion of black-grass, a native annual weed that is natural to the U.K., but can infest fields, forcing farmers to abandon their winter wheat — the U.K.’s main cereal crop.

Herbicides are used in an attempt to curb the growth and spread of the black-grass. However, all of this ongoing treatment across England is leading to a resistance of herbicides.

The cost of black-grass to the country’s economy is £400 million (approximately $520 million) and 800,000 tons of lost wheat yield each year, “with potential implications for national food security,” the scientists suggest.

The report was published in Nature Sustainability in December 2019, which details how the researchers devised the new model to help quantify the economic costs of the resistant weed and its impact on yield under various farming scenarios.

An estimated 4 million tons of pesticide are applied to crops worldwide each year, the report noted. As of 2019, 253 known herbicide-resistant weeds exist, and estimates of the costs of resistance to agricultural xenobiotics (e.g., antimycotics, pesticides) are severely lacking.

In addition to herbicidal resistance, scientists say over-use of herbicides leads to poor water quality and causes loss of wild plant diversity.

The researchers also note that the U.K. loses the equivalent of roughly 5% of the U.K.’s domestic wheat consumption because of herbicide resistant black-grass.

Lead author Dr. Alexa Varah said: “This study represents the first national-scale estimate of the economic costs and yield losses due to herbicide resistance, and the figure is shockingly higher than I think most would imagine.

“We need to reduce pesticide use nationwide, which might mean introducing statutory limits on pesticide use, or support to farmers to encourage reduced use and adoption of alternative management strategies. Allocating public money for independent farm advisory services and research and development could help, too.”

Recommendations for moving forward more healthfully include using a mixture of herbicides to prevent the evolution of “specialist” resistance, which may alter the type of resistance to a more generalist resistance.

“Farmers need to be able to adapt their management to implement more truly integrated pest management strategies — such as much more diverse crop rotations and strict field hygiene measures,” Dr. Varah said.

The researchers recommend that these efforts should be regulated through a national approach.

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How diet influences macular degeneration

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Macular degeneration, a chronic eye disorder that causes blurred vision or a blind spot in the central vision, critical for reading and driving, is a leading cause of vision loss in Americans 60 years of age and older. Macular degeneration is diagnosed every three minutes in the United States, occurring in 10% of those over the age of 50 and 33% of those over the age of 75. Macular degeneration is most prevalent in women.

The risk of irreversible age-related macular degeneration (AMD) increases with age. About 10 million people have reduced vision due to AMD in the U.S. The disease is most common among older white Americans, affecting more than 14% of white Americans age 80 and older.

As the proportion of people in the U.S. age 65 and older grows larger, more people are developing AMD. From 2000-10, the number of people with AMD grew 18%, from 1.75 million to 2.07 million. It is critical to catch this condition early and prevent the development of late AMD.

Although the causes of AMD are complex, some of the risk factors, such as smoking, abdominal weight, unchecked cardiovascular disease, and hypertension increase the risk. Long-term exposure to the sun without eye protection also is a risk factor. Recent research suggests that a diet high in consumption of red and processed meat, fried food, refined grains, and high-fat dairy, also may be a risk factor for developing late AMD.

Shruti Dighe, who conducted the research as part of her master’s in epidemiology at University of Buffalo’s School of Public Health and Health Professions, studied the occurrence of early and late AMD over approximately 18 years of follow-up among participants of the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study.

Dighe and colleagues used data on 66 different foods that participants reported consuming between 1987 and 1995 and identified two diet patterns in this cohort — Western and prudent or healthy.

The researchers observed that participants who had no AMD or early AMD at the start of the study who reported frequently consuming unhealthy foods were more likely to develop vison-threatening, late stage disease approximately 18 years later.

This study, which was based in the U.S., is one of the first examining diet patterns and development of AMD over time. Other studies were conducted in European cohorts.

Most people who begin noticing visual symptoms are already in advanced or late stage AMD. But not everyone who has early AMD progresses to the more debilitating late stage.

Most research has been conducted on specific nutrients such as high-dose antioxidants, which seem to have a protective effect. According to Dighe, people consume a variety of foods and nutrients, not just one or two, which is why identifying diet patterns helps tell more of the story.

Findings of this study suggest that people should limit their intake of processed meat, fried foods, refined grains and high-fat dairy to preserve vision over time to help preserve good eyesight.

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A tasty rule for longer hiking trips

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I’ve been hiking for years. I have a general rule of thumb that I hike without water if I expect the trip is less than an hour and it isn’t too hot.

After that, I’ll bring a bottle of water and a snack or two like a granola bar, a pack of raisins, a small bag of trail mix, or a cheese and crackers package. For longer trips of four hours or more, I will bring more water and more snacks.

Our view we shared with a sandwich at Canyonlands National Park.

Recently, though, we’ve been doing some longer hikes or several short ones where we are hiking over lunchtime. Those snacks didn’t feel right. So, we’ve been bringing a sandwich like peanut butter and jelly and it has changed our hiking style and enjoyment of the trail. My new rule: Bring a sandwich!

Sure, you bring water and snacks like granola bars. But those can be consumed while hiking. A sandwich means you should sit down to unwrap the package and then eat your sandwich while looking around. Maybe eat an apple, chips, or a pack of raisins at the same time. I don’t necessarily mean that a sandwich is the only option for a trail lunch, but it is what works for me.

The view from a picnic table under a tree at Kodachrome Basin State Park.

Hiking tends to mean watching your feet and the path. Is there a rock or root you need to step around? Where do I go next?

Sitting and enjoying a sandwich means you have time to look around and enjoy the view. It can be a reward for reaching the summit or a place under a rock ledge or tree to enjoy the shade for a while.

The break means you can go back to hiking feeling refreshed. You also get protein (peanut butter), some carbohydrates (bread), and maybe a bit of sugar for energy (jam).

It reminds you to stop and look around. You remember that hiking isn’t all about the physical walking and climbing but also being a part of nature. Take time to observe the plants, animals, weather, and geology.

A sandwich by a creek in Zion National Park was relaxing.

It is also time to talk to your hiking partner when it’s quiet versus single file hiking up a trail. You might also share a picnic table or a shadowed area with fellow hikers. You can enjoy a chat versus a quick hello as you pass them going the other way.

Many trails have a destination like a waterfall or view. This can be a great place to sit and eat lunch while enjoying the view. Sometimes it is better to stop off just before or after the destination if that spot is full of fellow hikers taking pictures. Or, a sandwich after your first hike and before the next works well.

A sandwich seems like a little thing, but it has changed my way of hiking. My breaks on the trail are what I remember most. The end of the trail isn’t the goal. Instead, the goal is to enjoy the path.

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Diminishing bug populations may cause ecological ‘collapse’

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We have a major bug problem —and ironically it is the bugs, not we humans, that are threatened. The first global scientific review of insect populations published last February in the U.K. reveals that insect population collapses around the world threaten to cause a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems.”

A follow-up report last November in the journal Biological Conservation concluded, “Insects around the world are rapidly declining. Their absence would have devastating consequences for life on the planet.”

The report further points out that 40% of the more than 1 million known species of insect are facing extinction — and that their loss is primarily the result of the heavy use of pesticides and habitat destruction.

In one example cited, 23 bee and wasp species have become extinct in the last century, while the number of pesticide applications worldwide has approximately doubled in the last 25 years. There also are knock-on effects on other animals, such as the spotted flycatcher, that only eats flying insects. Its populations have dropped more than 90% since 1967.

Pesticides called neonicotinoids — neonics for short — are some of the most controversial in use. They are super effective, insect-killing chemicals widely applied to seeds before they go into the ground, and they work by disrupting the central nervous system of insects. Neonics are directly linked to the dramatic decline of honeybees, wild bees and wasps around the world.

The analysis also emphasized that light pollution — specifically artificial light at night (ALAN) — is an important and often overlooked cause of the insect collapse in rural regions. Farmers have long used light deliberately to suppress certain insects, recognizing that ALAN limits their movement, foraging, reproduction and predation.

Experts, including Brett Seymoure, a behavioral ecologist at Washington University in St. Louis, point out that, unlike other drivers of decline, light pollution is relatively easy to prevent by switching off unnecessary lights and using proper shades.

“Once you turn off a light, it’s gone,” says Seymoure, “You don’t have to go and clean it up like you do with most pollutants. I am not saying we can ever eliminate light at night, but we just need to use it more wisely.”

Some conservationists are optimistic that insect populations in urban settings can be rescued by introducing firm targets to cut pesticide use and making parks and gardens more wildlife friendly.

Gary Mantle, chief executive of the U.K.’s Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, contends that, “insects and other invertebrates can recover quickly if we stop killing them and restore the habitats they require to thrive. We all need to take action now in our gardens, parks, farms and places of work.”

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Big agribusiness firms move toward biologicals, away from chemical-based farming

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Is agribusiness going green? Increasingly, the sector appears trained on becoming more natural and sustainable compared to chemical alternatives. The change is driven by consumers demanding non-genetically modified foods and concerns over Big Ag’s role in pollution and chemical waste.

These changes are being made possible by innovations and developments with beneficial microorganisms in the soil, including seed coatings of naturally occurring bacteria and fungi that can do the same work as traditional chemicals. This may include warding off pests to helping plants flourish, per a global patent study by research firm GreyB Services.

Regulators continue to wrestle with tightening rules around chemical use in agribusiness, and lawsuits are leading to potential major corporate payouts to those who can convince juries that such chemical-based compounds are dangerous. There is pending litigation against Bayer AG, for example, over whether its glyphosate-containing product, Roundup, causes cancer.

The German agriculture and healthcare giant said in October that the number of cases alleging the company’s glyphosate-based herbicides cause cancer more than doubled over the past three months, to 42,700.

“Bayer has been sucked into a legal quagmire after it paid $63 billion last year for U.S. seeds company Monsanto, acquiring Roundup and other glyphosate-based weed killers as part of the deal,” Fortune reported. “Three U.S. juries have ruled against Bayer in cases brought by Americans alleging Monsanto’s popular herbicide caused their cancer, sending Bayer shares plummeting by 30% since the deal closed in the summer of 2018.”

News reports suggest that any settlement reached in these talks may reach as high as $20 billion. Some analysts estimate the final amount as not quite that high but still running into the billions of dollars.

In 2015, a World Health Organization body found that glyphosate could “probably” cause cancer in humans, although U.N. experts found the following year that glyphosate was unlikely to pose a cancer risk to humans exposed to it through their diet.

In April, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said there were no risks to public health when glyphosate was used in line with recommendations and that glyphosate was not a carcinogen.

Bayer insists its products are safe, but the litigation is having an obvious effect on the future of its production.

“Both entrepreneurs and investors are saying, ‘Hey, the writing is on the wall, we’re entering a post-chemical world,’” said Rob LeClerc, chief executive officer of AgFunder, an online venture-capital platform in an interview with Bloomberg. “The seed companies who have billions in market cap are like ‘We need to do something,’ and everyone recognizes the opportunity.”

The global fertilizer and pesticide market are around $240 billion and grows 2 to 3% a year.

Walmart Inc., for example, and non-governmental organizations are following consumer demand and making their own pushes for less chemical-intensive farming methods. These entities are putting their economic muscle behind developing organic foods with environmental or animal welfare in mind.

As population increases worldwide, the demand for agricultural products is projected to grow 15% over the next decade, according to a joint report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.

“There’s a growing world population and how are we going to feed all of these people?” Craig Forney, assistant director for licensing and business development at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, told Bloomberg. “At the same time, we want to protect the environment. We need to use land better and use the resources better.”

Forney says the outcome is “intensified agricultural production to increase productivity of land and do it with minimal chemical support.”

Companies like BASF SE, Bayer and Syngenta AG have patents on products using naturally occurring microbes to help crops flourish even when there is low water availability. The microbes can act as catalysts to encourage growth. Biological-based fungicides and insecticides can also help reduce crop damage from insects, slugs and fungi.

“Seed-applied biological products can extend the window of disease and pest protection, while some also provide alternate modes of action that can reduce the build-up of resistance, aid with nutrient management and reduce plant stress,” said Chris Judd, BASF’s global strategic marketing manager for seed treatment, inoculants and biologicals.

Per Bloomberg reporting and a review of the landscape by independent analysts and researchers, many new patents are being issued to companies like BASF, Bayer and Dow Inc. for more natural ways of managing pests including pheromones that deter breeding and reflective mulches, instead of chemical-based insecticides.

Bayer sees “high growth potential” for biologicals, citing a challenging regulatory environment for chemicals and a growing emphasis on sustainability in agriculture. Bayer has a research and development team solely focused on them

In 2013, BASF acquired seed-treatment supplier Becker Underwood to help it ensure a leadership position in biological agents to fight bacteria and fungi.

More patents and research by the agribusiness companies shows a trend toward the promotion of organic and non-GMO farming, said Nicole Kling, a patent agent with Nixon Peabody who specializes in the biotechnology field.

The hope of these organizations is to, eventually, develop organic and non-GMO products that are just as productive as those chemical-based products being used by the big agribusiness companies.

Additionally, scientists continue working on new plant varieties, with applications for new varieties up 9% in 2018, according to the World Intellectual Property Organization. China is leading the effort, with more than a quarter of the applications for new varieties.

Others are not far behind, biotech research in the U.S., China, Germany, Japan and South Korea. Demand for more food will be greatest in Africa, India and the Middle East.

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A look at food and beverage trends for 2020

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We are closing in on the end of the 2010s, a decade that has seen far-reaching changes in all areas of our lives and faster than any decade before. From technology to travel and food and beverage, there have been massive paradigm shifts.

A report released by the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences shows some interesting trends as we step into 2020. This is a varied list of trends, including tea with alcohol, meal kits, online grocery, organic food, and drinkable collagen.

Despite the first appearance of not being connected to each other, these trends perfectly represent the lifestyle we lead now. Some of these have been playing out for several years but will show stronger growth in 2020 and onwards.

Millennials are 27% of the population and therefore have a sizable influence on food and beverage trends. An increasingly dynamic market will respond to their demands of organic, sustainable, and farm-to-table products.

These consumers are also looking for convenience and digital solutions for their food and beverage needs. Their buying habits reflect digital savviness for online grocery shopping and using apps to order directly from farms.

The health and wellness sector of the food and beverage market will see a significant boost as well. Drinkable collagen is poised to see rapid growth and is in demand for convenience store nutrition.

People are busy but don’t want to compromise on their diet because of that. They want to get products off the shelves and in easy-to-consume formats. Meal kits will see a boost for similar reasons.

Another noticeable trend predicted by the University of Florida is the significant rise in prices for some critical fresh produce items due to extreme weather impacts. Food crops that grow in specific regions and unique environments that face climate disruptions will become scarce.

Whole Foods Market’s 2020 food trend list also predicts that the grab-and-go food category will expand and grow at a fast rate. Along with that, regenerative agriculture and plant-based foods beyond soy, along with fresh snacking, will make great strides in 2020 and beyond.

Those who always avoided the frozen foods section in the supermarkets will now have the option to find something suitable there. Wholesome, fresh snacks with savory toppings and mini-dips and mini-meals like soups will be available in convenient single-serve packaging. Nutrition bars with fresh fruits and vegetables in them will be found in these sections as well.

Plant-based foods will move beyond soy and will showcase unique blends like grains and mung beans, watermelon seed, hempseed, avocado, pumpkin, and golden chlorella, among others.

These will be demanded by users who wish to avoid the top allergens and flexitarian eaters. Blended foods like syrups made from sweet potato; cauliflower flour; meat-plant blends; and sugars derived from produce like pomegranates, coconuts and dates will make waves in months to come.

Whole Foods also explained the growth of regenerative agriculture, where farming practices positively impact climate change. These methods seek to increase carbon capture to create long-lasting environmental benefits, restore degraded soil, and improve biodiversity.

Technomic’s trends report also points to the increasing use of CBD in edible products. As for the blends that everyone keeps talking about, Technomic goes a little deeper to explore possibilities. Be prepared to find seaweed in your desserts and drinks, while spirulina and butterfly pea may find a place in your daily teacup.

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Achieving the promise of reduce, reuse, recycle with chemical recycling

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There’s no consensus yet on whether chemical recycling is the silver bullet for the growing plastic pollution problem. What is clear, however, is that a solution needs to be found — and fast.

Plastic and the use of plastic are not going away anytime soon. This quintessential representation of environmental pollution is readily available and highly valued in product packaging.

Despite consumer calls for bans on single-use plastic and statewide legislation addressing these demands, plastic in all its forms has a large global market. Current demand for PET/PETE plastic and polyester fiber alone is nearly $130 billion with global production expected to grow 3-4% annually through 2022.

For the foreseeable future, companies will remain bound to plastics in their production cycles. This article will look at how industry can reduce the environmental impact of plastic, reuse material already circulating in the economic value stream, and create a circular recycling mechanism is at the heart and promise of chemical recycling.

How Plastics Are Recycled Today

Historically, the U.S. used two mechanisms for managing plastics recycling efforts: shipping plastic waste to China and Southeast Asia to recycle and discard; and mechanically recycling a small portion domestically.

In 2018, China stopped accepting plastic imports and other Southeast Asian countries like Thailand and Vietnam swiftly followed suit. Now, municipalities across the U.S. are collecting the full spectrum of “recyclable” plastics and promptly routing them directly to landfills or incineration sites.

Commonly used PET/PETE (#1) and HDPE (#2) plastics are still mechanically recycled in the U.S. but at varying levels of effectiveness due to the expense and energy required. Batch contamination from mixing incompatible plastic types (e.g., PET/PETE with PVC) remains an ongoing recycling challenge, too.

The most significant limitation to mechanical recycling is its ability to only downcycle plastic or to produce lesser-value plastic items. The result is that less than 10% of all plastic gets recycled in the U.S. today.

What Is Chemical Recycling?

Chemical recycling takes plastic back to the source. Plastics are polymers made by fusing two kinds of oil via chemical reaction. In the chemical recycling process, plastic is decomposed or separated into its essential parts: crude oil and natural gas. After the depolymerization process, contaminants like food or coloring are removed so that the material can be repolymerized and recycled into good-as-new plastic.

Chemical recycling offers several advantages to traditional mechanical recycling. First, plastic batch contamination is not a roadblock. Most low-value and waste plastic can be deconstructed, decontaminated, purified and repolymerized into recycled plastic resin.

Second, chemically recycled plastic can be recycled a near infinite number of times with minimal material loss. Third, it can be upcycled into products of same or increased value from its original use. Fourth, the “gold standard” in chemical recycling does not involve the use of external heat or pressure, which significantly reduces the energy intensity of operations.

Chemical Recycling Is Not a One-Size-Fits-All Cure

Chemical recycling is an umbrella term that conveys the different technologies for deconstructing and repurposing various plastic types to be used as raw material inputs for new products. The more than 60 global technology providers at various levels of commercialization fall into three main technology buckets:

Purification: a process that dissolves plastic in a solvent to separate and purify the plastic mixture and does not break down the polymer into separate monomers.

Decomposition: a depolymerization process that uses thermal, chemical or biological starter components to break plastic polymers into base monomers and purify the plastic waste for reuse.

Conversion: a process similar to decomposition with outputs of liquid or gaseous hydrocarbons to be used in intermediate materials and monomers to make new plastics.

Systemic Hurdles to Scaling Chemical Recycling

For chemical recycling technologies to meet the demands of plastic-use growth and create a circular system of upcycled plastics, several challenges need to be resolved in the coming decade.

1. The cost of recycled materials needs to be on par or less than the cost of virgin plastics. Today, there is little market incentive for companies to pay a premium for plastic material inputs. Crude oil prices hover below $60 per barrel, propping up our dependency on virgin plastics. The break-even cost for recycled plastics is closer to $100 per barrel.

2. Processing capacity for chemically recycled plastics must increase exponentially. Global market demand for polyethylene alone in 2017 was 80 million tons. Only a few chemical recyclers, such as Loop Industries and Carbios, are commercial and actively processing plastics, albeit at low-volume levels — around 10,000-15,000 metric tons of plastic per plant per year. Agilyx, with its Tigard, Oregon, facility, processes less than 4,000 metric tons of polystyrene annually.

3. Production scale is wholly reliant on facilities that exist and are operational. All major chemical recycling companies are planning new facilities or retrofitting existing plants between now and 2025.

4. Proving to the public that chemical recycling is more environmentally friendly than virgin plastics production and mechanical recycling. Doing so would go a long way toward making a value-added sustainability business case for pursuing these technologies.

Steps Industry Can Take to Adopt Chemical Recycling

Coca-Cola, Unilever and Nestle have pledged to source recycled plastic for their food and beverage and consumer product goods. Industry players in textiles, agriculture, construction and consumer electronics must quickly follow suit. Here are three ways companies can pair desire with action:

1. Build an internal business case for executive leadership that emphasizes the medium-to-long-term value of investing in chemical recycling technologies. Quantify how chemically revalorized plastics will optimize and streamline a company’s product design processes, material sourcing strategy, and value chain GHG emissions.

2. Partner with the right chemical recycler for your business needs. Focus on your company’s product waste streams and the regions in which they occur. Research the technology that best supports your company’s needs and engage the innovators that offer the capacity and willingness to partner with you.

3. Plan to co-locate manufacturing facilities close to municipal recycling waste streams and chemical recycling facilities. Without a clear strategy to maximize waste feedstocks into the system and minimize travel for processing, chemical recycling will not be market competitive anytime soon.

Chemical recycling can tackle the three Rs of sustainability: reducing material throughput of virgin plastic resin by creating a system of near-infinite plastic, and reuse within a circular plastic material system that prizes recycled content over virgin. With a focus on overcoming the systemic hurdles the process currently faces, a path to widespread implementation will open.

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