Published 2 years ago.
About a 6 minute read.
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As issues caused by plastic waste and climate change come to a head, finding new uses for end-of-life plastics and other materials will be vital to achieving a low-carbon future.
The world has a trash problem, and it’s impacting our planet’s health. In recent
years, there has been a promising surge in awareness and drive toward devising a
solution — from young
to coalitions of business leaders investing in collective action, such as the
Alliance to End Plastic
But what if our work to reduce plastic waste in the environment and advance a
went a step further to also tackle greenhouse gas emissions?
As an industry of material science leaders, we are just scratching the surface
of packaging solutions that can deliver a more sustainable planet. In fact,
plastic is the optimal material for transporting goods due to its light weight
that helps keep emissions low. My colleague, Mike
Witt, recently explored how
plastic is an unlikely warrior in the fight against climate change in this
Environmental + Energy Leader
opinion piece. Mike has identified the following key thought processes in
rethinking plastic waste to curb CO2:
What if products and materials that often end up as trash instead found
multiple lives as new
while also reducing emissions? Scientists, practitioners and young innovators —
working side by side through collaborations such as the World Economic
Forum’s Global Plastic Action
— envision a world where every material is threaded into a circular cycle of use
and reuse. This concept is already taking shape. Multiple lives for
are being realized through same cycling for flexible packaging, as with Kashi's
and upcycling plastic feedstocks through
pyrolysis, for example.
Investment in expanding these circular solutions is key to climate action.
from McKinsey & Company and C40 Cities points to waste management as one
of four key pillars that cities can act on to reduce 90-100 percent of their
emissions by 2030. As issues caused by plastic waste and climate change come to
a head, finding new uses for end-of-life plastics and other materials is vital to achieving
a low-carbon future.
What’s more, a circular economy is critical to creating products that support
human life in addition to a sustainable planet.
recently shared the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s findings that humans have
the potential to eliminate 45 percent of all
by 2050 by building circular economies for
steel, plastics and
To that end, Unilever has
a steady reduction in its volume of plastic used, from 700,000 tons in 2017 to
690,000 in 2020. This work is integrated with a ramp-up of post-consumer
recycled (PCR) plastic use, currently at 11 percent and projected to be 25
percent by 2025. It’s smart business: Circular supply chains represent up to
$120 billion a year in economic value.
Reduction in the level of emissions can be achieved by working across industries
to invest in collaborative circular solutions. For example, other packaging
materials such as paper have a significant impact on carbon emissions due to
high water usage in production. Waste streams from these paper manufacturing
process can, however, provide benefits to other end markets. Biotech companies
such as Finland’s
are working to create alternative, renewable sources for plastic through waste
materials that produce biofuels such as bio-naphtha — which demonstrates a
significant impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. What’s more, the
residue that UPM utilizes comes from sustainably managed forests.
Finding new solutions for other types of material waste is just as important. In
fact, food waste feeds climate change and contributes to 8 percent of our
planet’s total GHG emissions, according to a recent UN Environment
Research from the EPA found that food waste makes up 28 percent of municipal
solid waste in these landfills. Additionally, methane gas from food and organic
waste is 86 times more potent than CO2 to the atmosphere.
Plastics companies are critical partners to mitigating the food waste
considering approximately 25 percent of residential food waste is related to the
size and design of packaging. Advanced packaging designs are capable of
salvaging 280,000 tons of food
worth an economic value of $882 million. And business collaborations across the
food and packaging industry — such as
— are poised to tackle food waste and climate change in a two-fold solution:
upcycling groceries delivered with sustainable packaging.
Mike Witt’s call for courage in new technologies is the foundation for any
sustainability-minded engineer that is looking to revolutionize climate action.
It’s a mindset that we bring to our work at Dow every day;
and most recently, to our investment in a new technology called advanced
Advanced recycling (aka chemical
aims to enable all plastic categories to be readily recycled. Imagine if we
could go from 10 percent of recyclability with our current systems, to 90
percent of recyclability leveraging both mechanical recycling and advanced
recycling to capture all of our plastic waste. The sum of these plastic parts,
now recycled, could be a game-changer for reducing carbon emissions on the whole
and providing new pathways to manufactured articles.
As a packaging industry, we are working tirelessly to identify innovative
technology to improve recycling infrastructure, product design and alternative
materials to advance circularity. Dow’s drive for science and invention is at
the heart of our product development. Our efforts will not only reduce waste in
our environment, but also give our planet a fighting chance to mitigate climate
Published Jul 26, 2021 2pm EDT / 11am PDT / 7pm BST / 8pm CEST
This article, produced in cooperation with the Sustainable Brands editorial team, has been paid for by one of our sponsors.
Everyone has a role to play in creating a more sustainable world: Dow is taking action to address the full scale of challenges, collaborating with partners to improve the industry’s processes and through innovation to help communities become more sustainable.