Sustainability and plastics

Sustainability and plastics

Is plastics sustainable?

There are a lot of takes and a lot of news in the media about plastics, pollution, greenhouse gases and littering. The answer to the question above is not an easy yes or no, rather that it can be. Plastics is today almost always a raw material produced from fossil feedstock. Some materials are produced from renewable feedstock, but very limited volumes and this is of course one of the things that need to change.

We will also need to be more realistic in what we think is possible to recycle. Chemical recycling might solve a few of the problems with mixed materials, but not all. If we have proper LCA (life cycle analysis) in place it might turn out that mixed plastics is more environmentally friendly than monomaterials, even if they are not recyclable. LCA might show the very opposite as well. If bio-based feedstock is introduced in a mixed material stream the LCA will change again and must be reconsidered. For some products it could be a better idea to incinerate or recycle by pyrolysis, a method GPS feel is very close to incineration.

The problem of littering might seem trivial in EU, since all we have to do is to use the waste collections systems already in place. But if you think about what really needs to be done it might not be so easy after all. We need to change people and how they think about products, plastics and the environment. To ban certain plastic products will reduce littering, but it will not change people. GPS agrees that unnecessary packaging and single use plastics is bad most of the time and should be avoided. But, are these products not just the essence of overconsumption. How do we all consume less and how do we all decide what we need to consume. Plastic pipes for providing clean water is most likely necessary for all of us. Plastic bottles for providing clean water is necessary for some of us. Plastic straws for drinking water is necessary for very few of us. This kind of consideration can be done for all products, not only plastics.

Plastics from renewable feedstock needs to be developed and we have to look at it on a global scale. There have to be food for all, and we need to sustain the planet and its resources, and we need to free ourselves from dependence of coal, oil and gas. This transition needs to be fast, but we need to be realistic. Tell the industry to do as much as possible, and then some. GPS feel that most companies are willing to change, but there needs rules and regulations to support the transformation at a neutral cost.