Michael Carus, managing director of the German nova-Institute, has stirred up the plastics debate. While plastic waste is piling up and the seas get filled with plastic soup, Carus makes a plea for the use of more plastics. A better use of plastics, properly speaking.
The age of plastic has just begun
In an interview published on the institute’s site, Carus starts out remarking that ‘no other materials have such a broad spectrum of properties and can be brought into any conceivable form with the greatest efficiency.’ Moreover, the material’s properties ‘can often be achieved with much less material input…. There are significant problems, but all of them can be solved and must be solved urgently.’ Some 20% of all plastics produced worldwide end up in the environment, of which 3% in the seas. And all plastics made from fossil sources eventually end up as CO2 in the atmosphere. Unsustainable conditions. ‘Completely unacceptable.’
Industry has long ignored these downsides, says Carus. They thought it best to downplay the problems. Why stir up a debate when there is no public outcry? But now, this strategy is no longer tenable. Industry needs to act. Particularly in view of the still growing use of plastics (4% p.a. worldwide). And considering that plastics are a very smart solution to many construction problems. ‘Sand for cement is already becoming a scarce commodity worldwide.’ Our future homes will rather be constructed of plastic. ‘The age of plastics has only just begun. And this is precisely why plastics must become sustainable as quickly as possible and regain a good image.’
Plastics industry has long neglected its obligations
For decades, the plastics industry has been asleep. Or worse, it has actively discouraged measures like a ban on hormone-active plasticizers. It ignored the message that microplastics were building up in the environment. It closed its eyes to false images conveyed by statistics. These marked transports of plastic waste to developing countries as ‘exports’; whereas everyone in the business knew that these wastes would just be landfilled. And industry ignored the fact that most plastics are still produced from fossil fuels. Nova-Institute has shown in its work that plastics can very well be produced from abundant resources: biomass and CO2. And from recycling. ‘There is enough raw material for the next millennia.’ So the industry should not be surprised on governments taking these issues into their own hands now.
Carus ends by making a plea for the use of the best materials available or any job. Often, this will be a plastic. But then, viable end-of-life options should be available, in the form of comprehensive disposal and recycling systems. ‘Sustainable plastics will be more expensive, but already today almost half of German consumers are willing to spend more money on sustainable products.’ And some companies are coming to the rescue already. Thirty leading chemical companies in the plastics chain have formed the Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW). They intend to invest $ 1.5 billion over the next 5 years in waste management, the circular economy and new recycling technologies. ‘The plastics industry can emerge from the current crisis new and strengthened like the Phoenix from the ashes.’