Supplier Q&A: Purecog

We catch up with managing director Paul Gandy who explains that not all single-use plastic alternatives are what they seem

Paul Gandy
Paul Gandy

Purecog managing director Paul Gandy talks to us about the company's solution can help hotels become more sustainable.

Would you agree that not all single use plastic alternatives are sustainable? 
Without a shadow of a doubt. As the battle against plastic pollution around the world intensifies, a whole new industry of companies selling plastic alternatives has spawned. Some of these efforts are legitimately sustainable and indicate a viable road towards a zero-waste future; sometimes however, what appears to be a game-changing sustainable solution at first glance, does not offer a net positive environmental gain on closer inspection.
The spectrum of plastic alternatives is huge and some products may appear to be sustainable, due to clever branding and selective truth telling.

What should procurement managers have in mind when looking for alternatives to single use plastic?
Decision makers within businesses and external patrons of those businesses, should be extremely careful as to what products they accept, support and endorse. Let’s focus in further on just one example, bamboo. People use a lot of bamboo items in the US, but bamboo doesn’t grow in the US, it grows in China, and the carbon footprint is phenomenal. Additionally, straws and other items made of bamboo often feature a lot of other materials. There are a number of bamboo materials that are marketed as naturally organic bamboo, but that not close to the whole story. We’ve been sent ‘bamboo’ product samples, only to learn that this bamboo product which looks, feels and behaves like plastic is actually 15% bamboo powder, 20% corn starch and then 60% resin, which is actually a chemically formed plastic that also contains formaldehyde. I have seen a huge number of products around that explicitly claim not to be plastic, or to be a plant-based alternative, with a similarly horrifying backstory.

How is your solution different to others available in the market?
We sustainably source ethylene from non-biomass (non-plant based) sources, where it would otherwise be discarded as a waste bi-product.
The base polymer is polyvinyl alcohol (PVOH) which is a refinery product originally derived from ethylene. Ethylene is converted to vinyl acetate (a very useful chemical, used as a base for many other polymers), which is then polymerised to polyvinyl acetate, and converted to polyvinyl alcohol. The polymer itself is not new, having been used for years in surgical stitches or laundry tablets, but the commercial production of multifunctional polyvinyl alcohol monolayers is the innovative factor.

Aside from looking, feeling and behaving exactly like traditional thin film plastic and yet being 2.5x stronger, possessing a unique set of advantageous behavioural properties and unique applications, the product has been independently verified by respected institutions such as The Open University, as being exactly what it is claimed it to be:
•         Water Soluble Above 63c (Temperature can be tailored)
•         Compostable
•         Biodegradable
•         Non-Toxic
•         Marine Safe
•         Recyclable

The product has both American and European standards certifications for the above, as well as ISO (International Organisation for Standardisation) numbers for product performance and behaviour in a multitude of specific tests and environments.

What makes your solution so well-suited to the hospitality industry?
Our products can be used in exactly the same way as transitional thin film plastics, at a comparable cost, whilst being much more environmentally friendly. Due to being water soluble, compostable, biodegradable and recyclable, the product can also be used in unique ways, which can increase process and waste management efficiency. Whilst niche, an example I like to give is in the processing of laundry where, as the product simply breaks down into colourless, odourless and completely harmless hydrogen, carbon and oxygen atoms, it is possible to throw laundry into a washing machine, whilst still in the bag.

The bag will break down immediately causing no damage to the machine or textiles whilst eliminating the opportunity for cross contamination (as laundry isn’t transferred in and out of bags) and also eliminates waste as no fabric or traditional plastic laundry bags are used. There are a number of unique application for the product such as this and we continue to research and develop new solutions the product can be used for, in collaboration with our clients.

How can hotels get in touch?

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