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How plastics have 'saved the planet'

In the Wrap-Up this week ... How plastics have “saved the planet”. Resources to clear your climatic confusion. Flexible packaging's carbon footprint role. Plastic packaging and the war on waste. Navigating the route to a circular economy. And more …


How Plastics Have ‘Saved The Planet’

Earth Day provided plenty of food for thought last week, not least in terms of the role of plastics in our lives. Tony Radoszewski, President and CEO of the Plastics Industry Association, took the opportunity to tell us how plastics have been saving the planet and protecting the environment since the 1800s. 

For example, he shared:

  • In 1869, natural cellulose was used as a substitute for ivory, preventing the slaughter of elephants for their tusks.
  • Plastic has helped to avoid deforestation by replacing materials harmful to the environment.
  • Plastic piping that lasts more than a century saves water and energy.
  • The delivery of fresh food, water, and medicine in developing countries relies on plastics.
  • Advanced recycling is an environmentally safe process that returns plastic for reuse.

Radoszewski wrote that plastic is important to virtually every human activity today … a valuable thought for Earth Day.

Have a Break From Climatic Confusion

Nestle is aiming to make a big breakthrough by ensuring its KitKat brand is carbon neutral by 2025. But are you confused by "carbon sinks", baffled by "energy transition", and perplexed by "greenhouse gases"?

Have a break with these resources:

Animation 1 - Sights On Targets

The UK needs to set clear and ambitious targets to achieve a resource-efficient circular economy, says Green Alliance. For the first time, they have used animation to put forward the message that there are no targets to cut resource use, unlike the plan to eliminate UK carbon emissions by 2050.

Animation 2 - Flexible Footprint

With all this talk about saving the planet and targets, you might wonder what part flexible packaging plays in the carbon footprint of a food product. Flexible Packaging Europe (FPE) have animated the answer and, psst, on average it's less than 10%!

Animation 3 – Lightening The Load

We learn in another FPE animation released last week that the lightness of flexible packaging also contributes to a more sustainable future. That’s because the low use of materials saves transportation resources and energy.

Plus… Did You Know …

  • Less is more: Flexible packaging accounts for only 10% of all food packaging materials in Europe but packs more than 40% of the products.  
  • More or less: Flexible packaging is generally more resource-efficient than alternative packaging types. Less material used results in less packaging waste to collect, sort, and recycle.

War On Waste

The Food and Agriculture Organisation has reported that if food waste were a country, it would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world. 

The problem would be much worse if it were not for plastic packaging that prevents wastage by protecting food and extending shelf life, as we explored in "Lifting the Lid on Plastic: Food for thought on tackling food waste".

Navigating The Route To A Circular Economy

There are many twists, turns, and roadblocks in the circular path for flexible packaging. Dana Mosora, of CEFLEX, discussed the topic with Packaging Europe and the conclusions included:

  • Any path forward must include both mechanical and chemical recycling technologies.
  • The industry must design products with recycling in mind.
  • The proper infrastructure for collection, sorting, and processing plastic packaging waste has to be enabled.
  • Chemical recycling provides polymers with the right material quality for food contact.
  • With industry-wide support, pyrolysis alone could offer 1.5 million tons of recycling capacity in Europe by 2025.

Mapping The Way

  • Pole position: A CEFLEX Position Paper on the first of its five-Step roadmap - Collection Systems for Flexible Packaging in a Circular Economy.
  • 20:30 vision: The BPF Recycling Roadmap for dealing with plastic waste.

Steaming Ahead

Materials science leader Dow has entered into a partnership with Mura Technology to support the rapid scaling of the latter's new HydroPRS - Hydrothermal Plastic Recycling Solution using super-heated steam (backed by Sir David Attenborough, as reported in last week's Wrap-Up). 

Appliance Of Science 

  • Facts or fiction: In this video, “The Great Plastic Distraction – How environmental groups have misled us”, Chris DeArmitt shows startling information about plastics and the environment, with topics including materials use, waste, sea turtles mortality, microplastic dust, and more. Also, see his book, The Plastics Paradox, which claims almost everything we have been told is untrue about plastics and the environment.
  • Plastics perspective:  In her TEDx talk, Kim Rageart, Professor of Circular Plastics, offers some perspective on whether plastics are causing the proverbial end of the world.
  • Better still: Environment journalist David Burrows asks amid all the noise created around "good" and "bad" sustainability choices, what is wrong with striving for "better"? For example, better plastic, better meat, and better decisions.

Back Down To Earth Day 

  • Chain reaction: Supermarket chains in the US embraced eco-friendly initiatives for Earth Day, from recycling and conservation to greenhouse gas and food waste reduction.
  • Footprint failure: Most people fail to identify the best ways to reduce their carbon footprint, reports the Financial Times. For example, most wrongly rank avoidance of using a tumble dryer ahead of not owning a car to reduce individual emissions. 

Dates For Your Online Diary

From the KM team … stay safe, keep up the good work, and value plastic.

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