This is the first in a two-part blog series on over-specification in plastic product design and manufacturing. It’s part of what’s holding back the use of recycled content, and something Re|focus presenter Kevin Cronin, vice president of sustainability and R&D with Ultra-Poly, is working to change.

Plastics occupy the place they do in today’s world because they’ve been so effective at replacing more expensive, environmentally intensive and less efficient materials in many different applications. Industry pioneers have asked questions like “does that cue ball need to be made of ivory?” or “does that syringe need to be made of glass?” and the answer to these and other questions was “no, it could be made of plastic.”

Today innovators are asking similar questions, but with a different goal in mind: “Does that housing need to be made of virgin plastic?” or “does that shelf need to be made of virgin plastic?”

Increasingly, the answer to both of these questions is “no, it could be made with recycled plastic.”

Part of the process of creating a circular economy for plastics will involve aligning applications with material properties, and adjusting material specifications in all types of products to allow for the use of more recycled resin that delivers just as well as virgin material in the properties that matter.

“A lot of stuff gets over-specified,” said Kevin Cronin, vice president of sustainability and R&D with Ultra-Poly.“’Does that have to be virgin copolymer polypropylene (PP) or high-density polyethylene (HDPE) material?’ ‘Does that application really require all the inherent properties that exist with virgin material?’ The answer is, quite frequently, ‘no.’”

Cronin will speak at the Re|focus Sustainability & Recycling Summit about the importance of manufacturers and brand owners rethinking their material specifications, and the fact that the recycled plastics industry has become increasingly able to meet their needs with products that meet product performance requirements.

“There is some inherent skepticism by certain folks in the product design community [about recycled materials], and some of it is warranted,” Cronin said. “But the state of the industry has advanced significantly, even in the past five to ten years. We now have  compounds based on recycled streams that we can stand behind and that designers can count on.”

Learn more about how the plastics industry and the recycling industry are working hand-in-hand to educate brand owners and processors about the many ways they can work recycled plastic materials into their products at the Re|focus Sustainability & Recycling Summit, June 27-29 in Orlando, Fla.