The issue of plastic pollution is at the forefront of everybody’s minds and is high on the global agenda. Plastic has been become an integral part of our lives and is used for a multitude of applications, including; packaging, toys, furnishings and fabrics. In 2015, the world production of plastics reached 381 million tonnes, though only 19.5% of this was collected to be recycled, with 55 % discarded into landfills and oceans and 25.5% incinerated. Currently, the plastic industry is a linear, non-sustainable economy and the waste produced is having a huge detrimental effect on the environment. It is a fact that if the world is going to continue their love affair with this material, changes to the plastic industry have to occur. The solution to plastic pollution is certainly not a simple one, as many of the plastics we use are difficult to recycle, single-use only, and many countries do not have the recycling infrastructure to cope.
Pressure has started to mount on governments, manufacturers and industries which use plastic products to reduce the word’s plastic pollution problem. In the wake of this pressure, many companies, such as Adidas, Coca-Cola, Kellogg’s, and Nestle, have begun to take major steps towards a circular plastics economy. Adidas has vowed to use only recycled plastics by 2024. While Coca-Cola, Kellogg’s and Nestle are among 250 global brands that have promised to eliminate the use of all single-use plastic, use recycled plastics, and invest in new technologies so packaging can be fully recycled.
Governments around the world are also tackling the plastic pollution problem. The EU has established a strategy for plastics in a circular economy which was adopted in January 2018 to help reduce marine litter, greenhouse gas emissions and support a sustainable plastic industry. As part of this strategy, the EU plans to make all plastics packaging placed on the EU market recyclable or reusable by 2030. The EU, via Horizon 2020 funding, has also provided over €250 million to finance research and development in areas directly related to the plastic strategy. While plastic recycling rates have increased globally by 56% from 2005-2015, more is required to counteract the continuing production of new plastic.
Technology companies and research institutions are also becoming key players in the fight against plastic pollution, by offering innovative recycling methods and alternative plastic production methods that do not rely on diminishing fossil fuel supplies. One such technology company is Loop Industries which have developed a way to transform waste PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic, mainly used for water bottles, back into high purity PET plastic. With this technology, Evian has partnered with Loop industries and pledged to make all of their plastic bottles from 100 % recycled plastic by 2025.
The ISOPREP project (funded by Horizon 2020) has officially joined the fight against plastic pollution, with solvent based technology to recycle end-of-life polypropylene products back into virgin quality polypropylene. This process has been successful at pilot scale and the project aims to scale the process up to a 1 tonne capacity plant.
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