Feature

Nova Chemicals just got even more sustainable

With the new position of director of sustainability filled by Sarah Marshall, the Calgary-based polyethylene resin maker is walking the walk when it comes to advancing the circular economy.


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September 12, 2019 by Canadian Plastics

Sarah Marshall

Sustainability is the topic on everyone’s mind these days, and it’s now become an unavoidable part of any conversation about the plastics industry.

Polyethylene resin maker Nova Chemicals Corp. has been talking about renewability for longer than most however, so it’s no surprise that the Calgary-based firm has now created a new position – director of sustainability – to spearhead its efforts to promote the circular economy.

And the company selected Sarah Marshall, who has been with Nova since 1997, to fill the new role.

Marshall will oversee Nova’s portfolio of corporate investments supporting collaboration and promoting ocean health and serve on industry association boards and committees, a role she is well positioned for given her former tenure as chair of the board of directors for the Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA). A strong advocate for a plastics circular economy, she will work with supply chain partners, customers, government officials, industry associations, and others to help create innovative solutions for plastics recycling and recovery.

“Nova has been involved in the Responsible Care initiative since the mid-1980s, which mean that we’ve had a strong focus on elements of sustainability for over 30 years,” Marshall told Canadian Plastics. “The difference today is that we’ve looked at the headwinds that our industry is facing regarding plastics in the environment, and we’ve decided to focus even more energy into the plastics circular economy by developing new materials and redesigning packaging to make products more recyclable.”

Last year, Marshall noted, Nova announced a three-year investment of nearly $2 million to prevent plastic debris from reaching the ocean. The investment supports Project STOP, a global initiative to design and implement solutions to reduce marine plastic pollution especially in countries with high leakage of plastics into the oceans. “And earlier this year, Nova became a founding member of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, a group of almost 40 global firms that have pledged $1.5 billion to help solve the problem of plastic waste on a global scale,” Marshall said. “But there is still a lot of work left to do.”

EXPERTISE PAYS OFF

Which is where Nova’s – and Marshall’s – expertise in polyethylene development comes in. Previously at Nova, Marshall led teams of scientists, engineers, and technologists at the firm’s Centre for Applied Research and Centre for Performance Applications, which gave her valuable experience developing polyethylene products and applications to meet customers’ evolving needs. “Polyethylene is an ideal material because it brings a significant amount of value through lightweighting and by being cost-effective,” Marshall said. “Nova can work with our customers to show them what’s possible with the latest polyethylenes and help them to design structures they can put into commerce, as opposed to using multi-material laminates that are not currently recyclable in Canada. Sometimes we have an innovation that we share with the market, and sometimes it’s the other way around: a customer approaches us to help them with an application. Either way, it’s a highly collaborative approach.”

For example, Marshall said, Nova has recently developed a recyclable stand-up pouch film structure that can be used in food packaging traditionally made with nonrecyclable, mixed-material structures.

“In addition to selling materials, Nova has opportunities to shape, further downstream, how packaging is designed, using recycled material in packaging applications to help large companies like Coca-Cola and other signatories of the Ellen McArthur Foundation meet the sustainability goals they have set for themselves,” Marshall added.

Ultimately, Marshall said, Nova’s sustainability goals align with the goals of the CPIA and the American Chemistry Council to make all plastics packaging recyclable or recoverable by 2030 and to have all plastics packaging reused, recycled or recovered by 2040. “It’s going to require a tremendous amount of innovation in infrastructure and collaboration among all the actors in the value chain to shift from today’s recycling numbers to a situation where there is zero plastic waste going to landfill, but the industry had made real progress so far and we’re all committed to the goal,” she said.