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State of the Union and Changing Perceptions on Plastics (FREE)

How did the perception on plastic, bioplastics, recycling and chemical recycling changed over the last six years? This is a FREE article.

I have covered the news on bioplastics and chemical recycling on a daily basis as the chief editor of this website (BioplasticsNews.com).

I will try to give an honest and independent assessment of how my personal perception changed over the years. I will give my perception 6 years ago compared to today.

The scope is limited to plastic packaging.

Mechanical Recycling

  • 6 Years Ago

Mechanical recycling is “over” and “passé“. It’s a dirty business and they’re part of the problem. You could point your finger at them and shout: vade retro satanas

  • Today

They’re the only real and existing solution that we have for our plastic waste problem at the moment.

The mechanical recycling of PET bottles is the best example. However, this is limited to a number of countries such as Scandinavian countries, Germany, Switzerland and Belgium.

The mechanical recycling of HDPE and PP remains a great mystery for me. They don’t communicate as well as the PET sector.

In the name of humanity, I would like to apologise for how we treated you.

Chemical Recycling

  • 6 Years Ago

This is probably the best solution that we have to solve the problem of hard to recycle plastic packaging; multi-materials and flexible packaging.

  • Today

Chemical recycling equals “pyrolysis” or transforming plastic waste into fuel (waste-to-fuel). This is not really “circular” because the fuel will be burned. What is the point to chemically recycle plastic if we’re going to burn it afterwards? Chemical recycling is also highly energy intensive. The amount of energy that we need to collect, process and chemically recycle the waste may be higher than the amount of energy that will be generated by burning the fuel. Chemical recycling will also create toxic by-products. Then again, it’s important that we assess this technology independently to see whether it makes sense environmentally speaking. We should at least test this option once at commercial scale.

Advanced Recycling / Enzymatic Recycling

  • 6 Years Ago

This technology sound particularly attractive; maybe too good to be true. There are doubts if this technology can work at an industrial level.

  • Today

I’ve recently contacted the leading company on this technology and they were unwilling to answer my questions. My doubts are still standing, slightly enforced. This solution is probably highly energy intensive and limited to some applications. We should at least test this option once at commercial scale.

PET Bottles

  • 6 Years Ago

PET is part of the problem. They’re the biggest source of pollution on the planet.

  • Today

PET Bottles are probably the most circular plastic packaging that we have at the moment. It’s the best example of plastic packaging that is currently recycled and used for recycled content. PET is mechanically recycled into rPET. rPET is the worldwide champion in terms of circularity. However, PET cannot be indefinitely recycled. I was told only three times.

However, there are some problems:

Not all countries treat used PET bottles in a sustainable way. A lot of PET bottles are still landfilled or incinerated.

Some of the recycled PET is used as Polyester in the textile industry. Polyester is one of the most important source of ocean microplastics. However, if we switch the polyester volume to organic fibres such as cotton, we will commit an environmental crime. So it’s choosing between the pest and the cholera …

There are new studies that show that rPET (recycled PET) may be toxic for human health; this is the reason why many countries banned rPET in food contact applications. If the toxicity problem is confirmed independently, I would consider using only virgin PET for food grade applications as it’s the most sustainable materials for bottles. The PET industry doesn’t have to be lectured by any other industry as they’re the leaders in circularity at the moment.

Waste Valorisation

  • 6 Years Ago

The environmental valorisation of waste is a noble principle.

  • Today

When the industry refers to “valorisation”, they mean “economic” valorisation. Economic and environmental valorisation are two distinctive and different principles.

Fossil Oil

  • 6 Years Ago

Fossil oil is the source of all evil on earth. It’s one of the most destructive industry that we have. Oils spills, wars, pollution, global warming etc. are a consequence of this dirty industry.

  • Today

We extract approximately 14 billion litres of crude oil per day. Approximately 5 % goes to the plastics industry, 5 % goes to the chemical industry and the rest is used for transport / mobility and energy generation.

If we switch our fossil oil needs to “bio-based” feedstock relying on intensive agriculture, we will commit an environmental crime.

On the other hand, if we decide to stop using fossil oil, we’ll give up on one of the most important resource that we have on this planet. This would be the worse possible option in terms of efficient resource allocation.

We need to differentiate between oil companies who are led by greed and speculation, and the unique chance to have such an abundant and available natural resource.

Instead of forcing Oil majors out of business … which means selling everything to the Chinese … we may have to re-consider nationalisation of oil reserves.

Biobased Plastics

  • 6 Years Ago

Bio-based plastics are an environmental friendly solution if we switch the feedstock used for biofuels and biodiesels to bio-based plastics and chemicals.

Biobased plastics are better than biodiesels and biofuels because the first one could be recycled and the later are burned in combustion engines.

Bio-based plastics have a better carbon footprint than fossil-based plastics.

  • Today

Many Bio-based plastics play on the same playground as biodiesels and biofuels.

1st generation feedstock rely too much on intensive agriculture. Intensive agriculture have led to deforestation and the physical, biological and chemical degradation of our soils (Sustainable vs Intensive Farming)

The bio-based plastics industry only communicates only biogenic carbon intake; they do not consider the carbon footprint of fertilisers, pesticides and fungicides, agricultural operations (tractors), and their global supply chain.

The amount of available bio-based plastics is too small compared to our “plastics” needs. It would take at least another 30 years to come close to compensate our fossil-based plastic consumption. Then again, the million dollar question is: what would be the impact of scaling up industrially produced (intensive agriculture) bio-based feedstock on the environment?

Compostable Plastics

  • 6 Years Ago

Compostable plastics is a sustainable option especially when it comes to on-the-go food packaging.

I initially started this blog by believing it may well be a miraculous solution.

  • Today

We should make the difference between the small players who are not involved in politics and the large companies who run the show.

I have respect and admiration for the small players who are out there believing that they’re part of the solution. Sometimes when I publish content that is not in favour of compostable plastics, I always have a thought for them because they’re doing their best to make a living and they deserve it. However, I have to remain neutral and independent even if it’s not always easy.

The big players … that’s a complete different story. Morally speaking, I don’t agree with the methods used by some of those companies and industry associations. There’s a “trust” and “moral” issue and more than ever we need to remain on the side of righteousness.

OXO Degradable Plastics

  • 6 Years Ago

The first phrase that I was told when I attended my very first bioplastics event many years ago was: OXO degradable plastics are a scam. I remember thinking: what the hell are they talking about? Why are they telling me this? There must be some kind of civil war going on. I followed the flock without asking too many questions.

  • Today

There’s no such thing as “oxo degradable plastics”. The word is not a brand, trade mark or technology; apparently is just a marketing term coined by some marketeers… just like the word “bioplastics”.

There’s oxo biodegradable plastics but that industry has been literally pushed off the cliff by competing companies.

I would remain extremely careful by banning technologies that they rely on “oxygen” and “photons” as a trigger to start the biodegradation process. By banning those degradation triggers, I wonder if the bioplastics industry is not shooting itself in the foot… once again!

Bioplastics in General

  • 6 Years Ago

Although bioplastics are not the most sustainable option out there; the unique selling proposition lies in the fact that it’s a confederating movement … a social movement. They’re bringing hope to the equation.

Although fossil-based plastics may be more sustainable than bioplastics … bioplastics brings a wind a fresh air to the industry. The chemical and plastics industry need that movement to attract new brains and keep innovating. They need it to survive. The bioplastics movement can change the perception and image of the plastics industry.

  • Today

I’ve spoken to a couple of senior head hunters recently working for the bioplastics industry. They told me that they were looking for “public affairs” practitioners (lobbyist) but couldn’t find any candidates as most of them refused to work in this industry because … I quote … we don’t believe that these technologies work or are sustainable.

I almost fell of my chair ….

Maybe this problem may be present at other levels in this industry (in other positions) beside that of public affairs.

There’s an important factor that has always been overlooked: the difference between the B-to-B vs B-to-C perceptions and trends. The one thing that they shouldn’t have broken was the “trust” and “morality” factor … but apparently, that thin layer of ice has been crushed already.

Overall Conclusion

  • 6 Years Ago

We’ll be able to find a solution to our plastic waste and environmental problems.

  • Today

It’s difficult to know who’s telling the truth and who’s greenwashing.

There’s a trust and morality issue pending above the bioplastics, plastic and chemical industry.

I seriously doubt that we’ll find a way out of this plastic and environmental crisis.

It’s not about having an “emotional versus rational” discussion anymore; it’s about politics. It’s about commercial interests; it’s about money, it’s about greed.

There are maybe two or three “real” solutions out there to help us out of this plastic crisis; but from what I have seen … the power of money will prevail above the real solutions. The real problem is that the real solutions to our plastic waste crisis will bring many losers amongst the plastic industry.

We have crossed the “line of no-return” in the sense that we have irreversibly destroyed our planet, soil, oceans, atmosphere and eco-systems; and we’re nowhere close to changing the tune.

I give us another 25 to 50 years of “good life” before we switch to the next chapter: “environmental apocalypses” of biblical proportions. Living on earth is going to be “rock and roll” and I’m not referring to the music. It’s going to be “judgment day” everyday of the year.

Coincidentally enough, there will be justice in the environmental apocalypses … There will be no differences between the rich and the poor, the citizens and the politician, the activists and the lobbyists .. as the French say it so nicely “on sera tous logés à la même enseigne”.

After consideration, the poor may have a slight advantage in the sense that they have relatively speaking lower expectation in life and can sacrifice material things more easily; but for the billionaires and wealthy people it’s going to be harder knowing that they have all those billions on their bank accounts but nothing to spend it on. So the “environmental judgment day” may well bring a new kind of social justice amongst humanity. The world acts in mysterious ways.

“When the last tree is cut down, the last fish eaten and the last stream poisoned, you will realize that you cannot eat money.”

Native American prophecy

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