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🧶 Future sustainable technologies will depend on plastics, Fact!

Plastics are frequently demonised, often for the waste and pollution they can cause – but they have huge benefits that need to be fully understood.

📈📉 We need to understand the true impact of plastics….

We use plastics because they can do things other materials just cannot. We have an opportunity and an obligation to think about how we can re-design plastics to make them fully sustainable and fit-for-purpose, both for existing applications and for those we will need in tomorrow’s world. The main issue is with our linear economic model: goods are produced, consumed, then disposed of. This model assumes endless economic growth and doesn’t consider the planet’s exhaustible resources.

What are the challenges for the future of plastics?

Technical solutions are urgently needed to ensure that in the future, plastics can retain and be at the forefront of promoting their useful properties, whilst having a reduced environmental impact throughout their lifespan.

Future technologies such as the electronic power, healthcare and diagnostics markets will rely heavily on the development of more advanced plastic materials and sustainable sources for much better recyclability and reusability into their design whilst preserving the crucial function they serve in society while introducing.

What does the next-gen polymer solution look like?

There’s nothing in the chemistry of PVC that can tell us whether it looks cheap and nasty but as a  design decision for use, even its detractors must admit that this is a hugely versatile and robust material that in the right place is hard to beat. Building a new future for plastics will require extensive collaboration across disciplines, including the chemical industry. They will need to play a central role in delivering these solutions to develop efficient ways to recycle the plastics we use today and, in the longer-term, create replacements that are made from sustainable starting materials, that are more amenable to recycling at end of life, and degrade more quickly to harmless by-products if they escape into the environment

Can we develop closed loop recycling of plastics?

Most people believe that plastics recycling is severely restricted: that only a few types can be recycled at all. This is unsurprising. The proportion of plastics that are recycled is minimal. The UK, for example, uses 5 million tonnes of plastic each year, and only 370,000 tonnes are recycled each year: that’s just 7%. But all polymers are, technologically, 100% recyclable. Some of them have the perfect cradle-to-cradle lifecycle: they can be used again and again to produce the same goods. Some plastics can be reused just as they are by shredding an object into flakes, melting it, and reusing, and here lies the next gen challenge of recycling.

Sustainability across the entire plastics life cycle must be a core design feature of the polymers of the future. It is also clear that a suite of materials will be required to meet the myriad of applications, just as different plastics are applied today. It is also essential to emphasise that no single solution is suitable for all scenarios, geographies or products.

In summary

So perhaps plastics are not necessarily the problem. They can be part of a pathway towards a more sustainable way of living. But hopefully the tide is beginning to turn, as a consequence of the increasing pressure from public opinion about the plastic pollution matter. Thanks to the engagement of government and industry to the idea of a circular economy, it seems that there will be an openings in the industry – to welcome plastic initiatives to replace conventional thinking.The Conversation

Published by

Neil Platt

Quality & Systems Manager


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