What’s standing in the way of us closing the loop on plastics? Mark Vester discusses
PLASTIC is a valuable resource which should never be wasted. However, when used plastics enter our seas, oceans, waterways and ecosystems, it is a challenge to recover the material for reuse. SABIC’s aim for the future is that plastics should never end up in the environment or in landfill and instead are reused and remade into new products.
The company is on a journey towards creating a circular economy for plastics – but there is more that needs to be done across the value chain before we can achieve this. Industry needs to accelerate the conversation about the changes needed to become a circular global society for the good of people and the planet.
In recent years, there has been an increasing demand to reduce plastic waste, stop the use of single-use plastics and take action to prevent plastic litter entering the environment. Whilst the technology and desire for change exists, the obstacles in the way of a fully-closed loop lie in reshaping our society, industry, frameworks and governing structures to enable all of us to become circular. A challenge to our existing value chain and the technologies used in it, is to redesign it for a more circular, integrated and optimised business model.
Within SABIC alone, we have seen unprecedented demand from businesses looking for solutions that are commercially viable while also more considerate of our environment to help address the plastic waste challenge. The common unifier among these companies is the need to deliver the highest quality solutions without ever compromising on consumer safety, while still being able to meet the environmental and sustainability goals demanded by today’s society. Manufacturers need to be given access to more sustainable materials so that they and the end-consumer can feel confident in products with plastic packaging, with the knowledge that the material can be recycled and repurposed.
On a product level, we need to ensure that sustainability is embedded in product design and development to make sure the products on the market can be fed back into the value chain. Up to 80% of a product’s environmental impacts are determined at the design phase, so it is critical for manufacturers to work together with customers to design packaging solutions which can be recycled. This process should include a consideration towards reducing the complexity of materials and polymers used to create a specific product.
SABIC is starting to see a cultural shift away from the disposable culture and a realisation of just how vital plastics are for applications such as healthcare and hygiene. From lifesavers such as syringes, medical masks and personal protective equipment to consumer items including disposable wipes, bottles of hand sanitiser and packaging for restaurant meals, plastic has proved its worth across all facets of the global response to Covid-19. What is important is to demonstrate where plastic is the most appropriate material to be used and how it can be used responsibly.
Catch up on the latest news, views and jobs from The Chemical Engineer. Below are the four latest issues. View a wider selection of the archive from within the Magazine section of this site.