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Comment PDF Environment, Health, Safety & Security

Embracing a circular economy

By Dorothy Lozowski |

Last month, for the first time, U.S. plastic resin producers publicly committed to measurable targets toward complete recovery and recycling of plastic packaging. The American Chemistry Council’s (ACC; www.americanchemistry.com) Plastics Division, which includes 15 of the leading resin manufacturers, announced the following ambitious goals: 1) 100% of plastics packaging is recyclable or recoverable by 2030; and 2) 100% of plastics packaging is re-used, recycled or recovered by 2040.

To reach these ambitious goals, the division outlined the following six focal areas in its announcement: 1) design of new products for greater efficiency, recycling and reuse; 2) new technologies and systems development for collecting, sorting, recycling and recovering materials; 3) simplification for more consumers to participate in recycling and recovery programs; 4) expansion of the types of plastics collected and repurposed; 5) product alignment with key end-markets; and 6) increased awareness that used plastics are valuable resources.


A global issue

A study reported in July of last year in Science Advances (www.advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/7/e1700782.full) states that as of 2015, only around 9% of plastic waste had been recycled and 79% was accumulated in landfills or the natural environment. Plastic debris has been found in all of the oceans, and an estimated 4 to 12 million metric tons of this debris entered the marine environment in 2010 alone.

In its current June issue, National Geographic magazine (www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/06/plastic-planet-waste-pollution-trash-crisis) brings awareness to the environmental impact of plastics, and in particular to the marine environment. The striking images in the article emphasize the findings of the report. ACC’s vice president of plastics, Steve Russell, commented on the article, saying “Marine litter is a serious global problem, and we appreciate National Geographic’s thoughtful and compelling coverage.”

And this month, sustainability and recycling will be a focal topic at the Polyethylene-Polypropylene Chain Global Technology & Business Forum (www.ihsmarkit.com) in Düsseldorf, Germany. While demands for plastics are growing, so are consumer expectations for sustainability. According to Nick Vafiadis, vice president of plastics for IHS Markit (the host of the forum), “The issue of sustainability is perhaps the most critical influencer for the plastics industry as a whole, both today and in the future.”


Supporting technologies

Developing and existing technologies are poised to support the move toward a circular economy. For example, in April, Agilyx (www.agilyx.com) began polystyrene recycling operations, said to be the world’s first commercial-scale closed-loop chemical recycling process. And numerous companies, such as Vadxx (www.vadxx.com) and Greenmantra (www.greenmantra.com), are working on creating value from waste plastics.* The goals announced by the ACC Plastics Division and the worldwide efforts to move away from a linear economy with disposal as an end result, to a circular economy with reuse and recycling, are welcome initiatives that can ultimately benefit us all. ■

Dorothy_LozowskiDorothy Lozowski, Editor in Chief


*For more, see our report on “Advanced Polymer Recycling” (Chem. Eng., March 2014; www.chemengonline.com/advanced-polymer-recycling).

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