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Digital Transformation and the Circular Economy

Keri Keinath
September 6, 2022

Five ways digital transformation can turn the tide against plastic waste

A circular economy isn’t just a pipe dream anymore. New sustainability regulations are expanding and accelerating faster than ever. As new plastics and packaging policies continue to roll out across the globe, companies ranging from startups to massive corporations are investing in defensive reformulation and new product development in order to comply with new regulations. However, new challenges around reducing plastic waste are continuously arising. Governments and corporations alike are quickly realizing the complexity of the challenges around reducing plastic waste, impeding momentum and making it difficult to address in an efficient manner.

We all have an obligation to continue to reduce plastic waste and ultimately the goal is to eliminate it entirely. The benefits to a circular economy are as plain as they are numerous. But the 400 million-ton question is: how do we get there as quickly as possible?

1. Drive New Product Development through Enabling Researchers and Chemists

Researchers and chemists spend an infinite number of hours in the lab developing the next generation of materials, whether it be new bio-based polymers, composites, packaging, or more recyclable versions of traditional petroleum-based plastics. A myriad of factors can alter the outcome of experiments, making it difficult to identify what went wrong and why. And when failure cannot be narrowed down to a single cause, experiments have to be repeated over and over again, using the same process steps with slight modifications. If lab staff are able to duplicate experiments at the click of a button, they can claw back hours of time they would otherwise spend retesting.

2. Track and Source Raw Material Data

Global supply chain conditions are fragile at best and have resulted in catastrophic disruptions in recent years. Raw material suppliers also face other challenges, including natural resource shortages and scalability of new raw materials in order to meet demand. Implementing a strategy to quickly adapt to supply chain burdens by swapping out approved raw materials within formulations in a database reduces the number of testing iterations performed throughout the commercialization process.

3. Accelerate Time to Market and Decrease Costs

The world needs recyclable plastics and bio-based alternatives to be the mainstream packaging solution across all industries immediately. Digitizing projects, work flows, lab work, testing, and formulations allows for a single source of truth from which all teams involved in product development can operate. Accelerate time to market and decrease costs by increasing visibility across the entire commercialization process.

4. Adapt to Consumer Behavior and Demand

Consumers are highly concerned and rapidly changing their behaviors. The market has reached a tipping point where buyers are willing to pay more for sustainable packaging, making product and packaging transparency more important than ever. Using a platform that allows you to share real-time results and feedback with customers allows companies to adapt to changes effectively and efficiently.

5. Harness AI and Optimize Data Implementation

The bottom line is it will be difficult to achieve both climate change and new product development goals without structured data and analysis. Once data is cleaned and organized, it has the potential to facilitate assessment of material compatibility and manufacturability as well as speed our understanding of cause-and effect relationships in the formulating process. AI is no longer optional, but necessary in order to maintain pace with rapidly evolving requirements.

The road to a circular economy is no easy path but for the first time since plastic’s invention, it is a clear one. Plastics companies with the courage to move decisively towards plastic waste reduction stand to benefit — and so does the planet.

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Separate single purpose tools result in incomplete and inconsistent data. Alchemy combines features of ELN, LIMS, and PLM, eliminating the need for several platforms and tools. To tailor to our customers in the plastics and packaging industry we have over 80 test methods specifically for plastics and packaging, including characterization tests, mechanical and optical properties, and analytical testing.

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- Coatings R&D Director

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“Translating what was learned during the one-on-one sessions and actually doing it in Alchemy was awesome.”

-  Coatings Application Expert
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