Posted on 01 February 2021

Michael Kramer, President of Stolt Tank Containers, gives an interview to HCB Magazine

Michael Kramer, President of Stolt Tank Containers, spoke to HCB magazine about the need for the industry to say farewell to unsustainable flexibags for good. 

“I refuse to use flexis,” says Mike Kramer firmly. Kramer, president of Stolt Tank Containers (STC), is no fan of flexitanks which, he says, present safety and environmental risks that are not acceptable, particularly at a time when senior figures across the chemical industry are arguing that the sector must become more sustainable.

“The tank container is the safest mode of transporting liquids, quite apart from environmental aspects,” Kramer insists. Flexibags might be only used to carry non-hazardous products but their frequent leaks can present significant cleanup and disposal problems. Even if they do not leak, can they be properly cleaned of their contents once emptied and sent for disposal? The indirect environmental impact of flexis is also a major concern for Kramer, who says that 4 to 5 per cent of all plastic material manufactured ends up in the world’s oceans, contributing to the growing problem of plastics pollution that has become such a hot topic recently.

Each flexibag weighs around 40 kg and it is estimated that around one million flexis are manufactured each year for a single-use trip; that means that, if flexis receive the same sort of treatment as other single-use plastics materials, around 2,000 tonnes of plastic is being added each year to the problem. But if flexis are costly to the environment, they are undoubtedly cheaper to use than a tank container – and this is part of the problem if industry wants to address their widespread use. Kramer thinks the conversation needs to be escalated in the client industries: procurement people will always be looking at the bottom line and, if they can find a cheaper way to move their product, that’s what they will choose. But corporate leadership often has a wider view and, if sustainability is what they are looking for, then a more sustainable means of moving product should be their goal. And that is just what tank containers offer.

A way forward?

To counter competition from low-cost, disposable flexitanks, tank containers need to become more competitive, Kramer reasons. In particular, there needs to be a broader network of tank cleaning and repair depots where tanks can get cleaned so they can pick up return loads at places where the lack of such facilities currently makes that impossible. Indeed, he says, such locations are precisely where flexis have a natural market, as they are just thrown away and do not need to find a return load. As the tank depot network expands, Kramer says, the size of the natural market for flexis will shrink, so it is in the interests of tank container operators to promote the development of the necessary infrastructure. 

Kramer also says that the container lines have a role to play. If a flexi leaks while aboard ship, the cleanup can be problematic and costly, especially if the ship needs to be held in port for days. Similarly, when the side walls of a container bulge because of the weight of the cargo in a flexibag, it can lead to problems in unloading containers, again leading to vessels being delayed. If the lines wake up to this issue, they may start to take a dim view of flexis. But ultimately, it’s about plastic, says Kramer. “Supermarkets have got rid of single-use plastics bags, and it’s time that industry did the same.”

Article in Tank Container Magazine with Mike Kramer

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