Can we get rid of single-use plastic with technology?

A new partnership in robotics aims to solve a seemingly insurmountable problem: the scourge of single-use plastic.

Zume, a compostable packaging company that has pioneered high-performance, robot-assisted molded fiber packaging, is partnering with sustainable packaging company Transcend Packaging. Companies are joining forces to deal with the unfathomable power of the plastics industry.

Robots for compostable packaging

Single-use plastic is currently a $320 billion industry. Surprisingly, there is no economically viable alternative. The ease of use of single-use plastic (driven by longstanding consumer apathy) has led to a recycling crisis. About 130 million tons of plastic were thrown away in 2019, and almost all single-use plastic is made from virgin oil, not recycled materials. According to NPR, there are only 20 companies worldwide that produce almost half of these products, and among them are some of the most capitalized companies in the world.

“For global brands, maintaining the status quo around plastic is no longer a viable strategy,” said Alex Garden, President and CEO of Zume. “The proof will be in the hands of the brands that will develop the plan and see it through to the end. Zume is committed to giving businesses a way beyond plastic. »

But satisfying the huge global appetite is no easy task. The production of plastics depends on mature technologies and well-distributed capacities, which cannot be said about environmentally friendly alternatives, in particular molded cellulose containers.

Last year, Zume capitalized on the latest advances in machine vision and flexible automation with a new deal with robot maker ABB Robotics. The companies have signed an agreement whereby ABB’s robotic machines will help Zume accelerate and expand its production of 100% compostable packaging made from plant-based agricultural materials.

Future production site in Europe

The multimillion-dollar agreement with Transcend will expand production capacity with one of Europe’s largest specialty spun fiber facilities, which is expected to be fully operational by mid-2023. According to the statement, the companies have launched molded fiber “snap lids” for hot drink cups on the market with a target of 500 million units to be shipped by September.

The new manufacturing site in Europe will complement Zume’s global network, which includes factories in North America and India, as well as other planned factories in Latin America and Canada, to further expand the capabilities and meet the needs of global brands.

“This partnership with Transcend aims to expand our ability to drive real change and replace plastic with a cost-effective solution that works like plastic but without the inconvenience,” explains Alex Garden.

Of course, one company or alliance will not be enough to truly change the paradigm of plastic consumption. Consumer pressure and changing local and state laws have helped create a sustainable packaging market. Technology may be the missing ingredient to grow this market and truly reduce plastic consumption around the world.