Technological watch

Is there a cure for ‘plastiphobia’?

Every day, we in the plastics industry are being made aware of one major fact: Our industry is changing. This week I received an e-mail and a good editorial from Roberto Chiarotti of BCM Public Relations Ltd. in London. He attended Circularity for Polymers: The ICIS Recycling Conference in Berlin the week of Nov. 3, and notes in his editorial that the “general consensus among some of Europe’s leading plastics industry commentators—the very people working to re-shape the industry” is we must address the problem of “plastiphobia.”

That’s something with which PlasticsToday columnist and extrusion expert Allan Griff would definitely agree. He writes and speaks a lot about “plastiphobia” and how the industry should respond. Griff would very much agree with Chiarotti that “plastiphobia shouldn’t be a thing. Plastic should not be demonized.” Rather, he notes, it should be treated as the miracle of modern living that it actually is.

“The problem is not with plastic per se, rather recycling of plastic . . . and the regulators are cracking down hard on an industry that already faces a number of complex challenges,” writes Chiarotti.  

“The plastics industry has become acutely self-aware, and some might even say introspective. Directive targets must be met; new processes researched, developed and launched; consumer education delivered; and consumer expectations met. Looming over all of this is the spectre of sustainability, and the demonization of plastics,” comments Chiarotti.

In his editorial, Chiarotti reports that Paul Hodges, Chairman of International E-Chem, said there’s an awful lot of work to do in a very limited time. “It’s very clear there's a paradigm shift going on in the industry. Companies are waking up to the fact that waste plastics are a really big issue—one that’s not going to go away. Single-use plastics are going to be on the firing line for the next few years—and business models simply must change,” he emphasized.

Hodges added that at the core of the shift required is the fact that people don’t know how to recycle plastics, but they do understand why we need to, recounts Chiarotti. “We haven't got the technology available,” said Hodges. “We haven't got the collection processes set up. We need to move away from throwing rubbish away at waste sites and focus instead on developing resource centres based on a distributed network of local chemical recycling plants," said Hodges. These are more efficient and effective at separating out the different types of plastic to help better achieve the dream of a circular economy, according to Chiarotti, who adds that it is certainly on the horizon, but remains a nascent industry.

What are the pros and cons, challenges and opportunities of traditional and emerging recycling technologies? How effective are returnable packaging schemes in reducing plastic waste? Clare Goldsberry tackles these questions in "." The article can be downloaded free of charge or by going to the Whitepapers tab on the PlasticsToday home page.To my way of thinking, the plastics industry created this whole recycling mess with its creation of the “chasing arrows” and the seven most common types of plastics. What good has it done the industry or consumers to have seven numbers for seven different types of plastics, if only the first two are of any real value in the recycling stream? That means the other five are going to landfills or incinerators.

Publication date: 11/11/2019

Plastics Today

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Last update: 2022-01-31