In the second installment of our 2022 market trends and predictions series, we spoke with M. Holland’s Sustainability Market Manager, Debbie Prenatt. She reflected on having witnessed the evolution of sustainability from a contemporary buzzword to a global movement during her two decades working in the industry. Sustainability concerns are changing both the markets for plastics and industry operating models.
Pressure is mounting to reduce both plastic waste and the industry’s carbon footprint, according to Debbie. While there’s been longstanding pressure from environmentalists and governments to reduce plastic waste, market forces are beginning to take hold as well, with OEMs and manufacturers responding to growing consumer demands for sustainable solutions. Resin manufacturers and converters are being forced to rethink the raw materials they use, the supply chains to produce them, and the way they use them.
The biggest obstacle for the plastics industry is the complexity of the challenge. Unlike most competing materials, which are relatively easy to recycle, plastics come in a multitude of grades, and plastic products typically contain pigments and additives to modify the resin for discreet applications. Collecting, sorting and reprocessing plastics is costly, as is finding suitable applications for the reprocessed material. As a result, there’s no single solution to the plastic waste challenge. The task is further complicated by the plethora of state and local regulations governing plastic products.
The most obvious legislative target has been the packaging sector, which accounts for about half of all plastic consumption. Many localities were forced to suspend single-use plastic bans during the pandemic, as we were reminded of the importance of plastics to public health and safety. However, Debbie sees sustainability pressures accelerating in 2022 and spanning all plastic end markets, from electronics to automotive to healthcare.
But Debbie is optimistic about the outlook. She sees the number of companies declaring recycling and emissions goals as positive for the environment and the industry, amplifying the market pressure for industrywide change. She expects technology to help solve the waste problem and is especially encouraged by the many chemical recycling investments announced by industry leaders. She expects the number of commitments for both sustainability goals and initiatives to continue to swell in 2022 and beyond.
Meanwhile, design engineers and manufacturers will continue to face a maze of sustainability challenges and potential solutions — recycled materials, compostable products, product redesigns, etc. Debbie relishes her role in helping companies navigate the range of sustainable solutions while serving as an advocate for both the circular economy and the plastics industry.
Regardless of consumer pressures, impending legislation, the rush by brands to meet their target goals and market challenges, Debbie wants us to remember that sustainability is no longer just a trend. It should be embedded as a way of life, both personally and professionally, and it’s time to dig deeper and take meaningful action for a better future.
Market Manager, Sustainability
Debbie Prenatt is on a quest to foster smart product design that creates measurable and sustainable value. Her passion is enabling manufacturers to integrate greener material and polymer alternatives into their operations to drive a more ecologically balanced product lifecycle. As Market Manager for the M. Holland Sustainability group, Debbie is building a portfolio of material alternatives that align with industry trends toward sustainable new product development in packaging, automotive, electrical and electronics, and healthcare. Her commitment to social responsibility extends to her generous volunteer leadership in various community roles. She earned a bachelor’s degree from The Ohio State University along with two master’s degrees in organizational leadership and management from Colorado State University Global.