“GREEN DEAL”, PLASTICS AND TRANSITION TOWARDS SUSTAINABILITY

Published: 17/12/2020

“GREEN DEAL”, PLASTICS AND TRANSITION TOWARDS SUSTAINABILITY

The European context

The world, and Europe in particular, is facing today a major turning point.
The “Green New Deal”1 launched by the European Community between 2018 and 2019 aims, within the next 10 years, thanks to a mix of investments, to mobilize 1 trillion Euro to bring Europe by 2050 to the complete elimination of greenhouse gases generated by industrial and civil production systems. The first goal is to reduce emissions by 40% within 2030, if compared to 1990.
The choice is ethical and technological. The ultimate purpose, which will forge the next generations, is to repair, with patience and dedication, the many damages to the planet created by man through ignorance, neglect and the search for materialistic economic profit.
Profit this until now has always been in conflict with the environment which also hosts our species.

This new model/paradigm positioning the environment at the center, is at the basis of the EC commitment (not only economic) toward Circular Economy; which is a very important pillar of this model.
That is the focus on the recovery, reuse and recycling of products placed on the market after their use and, not less important, with a focus also on reducing the need for raw materials used by industry.
In fact, from CE data2 it emerges that European industries are using only 12% of recycled raw materials in their products.
There is therefore a lot of space for the implementation of a virtuous recovery, recycling, project which now has become a must.

It could be said that finally, after more than 200 years, we will no longer be concerned only with producing with our heads down, but with imagining the entire life cycle of what is produced; with the ultimate goal of reducing the environmental impact (emissions) of all human activities.
This will mean taking care of everything that needs to be preserved in the natural environment: air quality, water quality and soil quality.
Also, and not least, to improve the quality of life of human beings3. For now, it seems the problem of electromagnetic pollution is not much emphasized and, for health purposes, it is no less important than what we eat, drink or breathe.

What is beginning and will increasingly impact our activities is an evolutionary process that involves us all directly, both as individual citizens and as companies.

It involves primary sectors such as:

  • the production and consumption of energy4,
  • the food supply chain, in the broadest sense of the term,
  • the construction industry (civil and industrial),
  • transport (road, air and water, which participate with 25% of total emissions),
  • connectivity products (computers, telephones, telephone networks, etc …),
  • semi-durable, durable and discretionary consumer goods (cars, sports, wellness, cosmetics, etc.).

 

When should I join the game?

This question, especially in the world of plastics, is being asked by many. By both producers and converters, as well as their final customers.
It is a question that can have multiple answers, as there are multiple market segments and sub-segments involved. Looking at the commitments made by the EC on the environmental issue and considering the investments on the table for the next thirty years, I believe there is only one answer: NOW!

We must all acknowledge as soon as possible that company policies which include the objectives of sustainability and reduction of dependence on fossil fuels indicated by the EC are rewarding both in the short and medium term. Obviously they are even more important in the long term, given that investing now will mean staying in the game or leaving the game permanently.
There is also an interesting financial factor to consider in the short and medium term.
The good practices implicit in the project have the advantage of making the company attractive both to its own market and to public and private investors who today, increasingly, judge the value of the companies in which to invest also based on their commitment on the environmental front.

In this regard, it should be noted that there are already hundreds of companies (about 20% of those in the packaging sector) that have signed the “New Plastic Economy Global Commitment” pact.5
A commitment that aims to eliminate unnecessary plastic packaging, also leading necessary packaging to become more and more efficient, less heavy, reusable, recyclable, recycled, or compostable. Anything other than a source of pollution for the environment.

The most important industrial groups in the food and personal care sector, as we will see later, have already declared in their medium-term business objectives the desire to use in their packaging from 30% to 100% recycled plastics.
The “super system” for its part, is adapting by introducing guidelines and regulations for the qualification of waste plastic materials such as: Waste, By-product or Secondary Raw Material (UNI 10667.1 / … 9 standard), with the aim of tracing the origin of waste and qualifying its identity (type, quality and risks).

This implies that anyone who deals with recycled plastic materials can no longer be there by chance (assuming this ever happened), but must have skills and tools suitable for their characterization and qualification that allow to certify their quality and authorship.
Not all recyclers, or processing companies, have adequate internal technical safeguards, so they can use external laboratories6 specialized in chemical-physical analysis and in the drafting of technical data sheets of the material of interest.
In this way, thanks to these external resources, they will be able to adapt their production to safety standards and directives, for the final purpose of the specific material.

As we said before, the large companies in the consumer goods sector have declared and pursue the goal of introducing large quantities of recycled materials into their production chain.
Italy, which is the nation with the largest number of companies active in the recycling and compounding sector at European level, today has another noteworthy flagship.
To develop a correct use and enhancement of recycled materials, an organization called “Institute for the Promotion of Recycled Plastics” IPPR7 (Istituto Per la Promozione delle Plastiche da Riciclo) was founded.

This private entity is the owner of the environmental certification “Plastic Second Life” which aims to promote, monitor and supervise the correct use of post-consumer plastics in items of any type.
The companies registered in the consortium undertake to operate with the utmost transparency, declaring and certifying the origin, quantity and quality of the recycled raw material used in their products, thus being able to use the “Second life” brand
The organization body is the guarantor of what is declared and verifies the consistency of what is asserted by the entire production chain by means of on-site inspections; as happens for quality brands such as IMQ, VDE, UL, etc…. on finished products.

It is the first initiative of this kind at a European level that fits perfectly into the circular economy for an intelligent and virtuous recycling.
We believe this model will soon find space in the rest of Europe as well.

 

Plastics in the new context

Market size

Plastics are still young, innovative and, with the advent of these new European directives/strategies for the environment, they are once again evolving to provide the necessary answers to new challenges.
The new environmental objectives, not only European, paradoxically allow polymeric materials to show once again their value, their flexibility and their systemic economy.
Certainly many things are changing and must change in the way they are produced, processed, applied and, above all, eliminated or recovered at the end of use. Nothing can any longer be left to chance, or in the hands of the “willing”, because this is what has led to their understandable bad reputation, given the damage caused to the environment.

Their function for our civilization is now indispensable. European estimates indicate that by 2030 the quantities of polymers produced each year could double compared to what has been produced up to now.
This means going from the current 360 million tons/year8 to approximately> 720 million tons.
If the growth trend is confirmed, it is clear that by 2040/2050 more than 1 billion tons would be reached. And it is equally conceivable that such a mass of raw materials could never be managed with the logic implemented up to now. The damage created by the lack of management by the whole supply chain is unfortunately in plain sight.
The planet (us included) could never withstand such an impact.

To be continued…

In the next publication: zero emissions goal! Biopolymers and industries – it is OK to get involved, but how should this be done in my sector?

 


Footnotes

  1. https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/it/fs_20_40
  2. https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/it/fs_19_6714
  3. https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/it/fs_19_6717
  4. https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/it/fs_19_6723  The energy sector is very important because it accounts for 75% of greenhouse gas emissions. It should be noted that energy production is now strongly oriented towards renewable sources, wind and solar in the lead; Hydrogen generated by solar energy is also making its way rapidly.
  5. https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/our-work/activities/new-plastics-economy
  6. www.superlab.it As an example, we cite the Italian laboratory Superlab Srl of Reggio Emilia specialized in analysis and physico-chemical characterizations of thermoplastic polymers, rubbers and thermosets.
  7. https://www.ippr.it/chi-siamo-ippr
  8. https://www.plasticseurope.org/application/files/9715/7129/9584/FINAL_web_version_Plastics_the_facts2019_14102019.pdf

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