AN ECONOMIC AND LEGISLATIVE ENVIRONMENT THAT IS INCREASINGLY RESTRICTIVE.
The plastics industry has recently faced very serious supply difficulties, various shortages, and sharp price increases. These obstacles can be partly explained by the COVID-19 crisis, which has affected the entire global supply chain, the various weather events in the fossil fuel producing countries, and, currently, the Russo-Ukrainian war, which is greatly impacting natural gas and oil prices.
It is more important than ever for the plastics industry to be able to free itself from these constraints and to secure its future in the medium and long term which is possible thanks to innovation in materials, but also in the production methods themselves.
The plastics industry is still very linear. That is to say that its production system is the following: extract, manufacture, consume, throw away.
This mode of operation, although very efficient to produce great volume, is no longer adapted to the current economic and environmental contexts, and strongly risks damaging the sustainability of companies in the plastics sector. It also risks negatively impacting the economy as a whole since many companies depend on plastic for the design of their products.
In 2019, the European demand (EU28 before Brexit + Norway and Switzerland) for processed plastic came to 39.6% from the packaging industry, 20.4% from the construction sector, and 9.6% from the automotive industry for example.
And this is just the beginning. For example, the German VerpackG (packaging law) will be tightened in the next few years by obliging consumers and companies to provide reusable alternatives through deposit systems and an increase in the minimum recycled plastic content of polyethylene terephthalate bottles to 30% by 2025. However, it is the UN and its future “legally binding” text that will pose the biggest challenge for the plastics industry.
The UN will start negotiations in the second half of 2022 until 2024 on a global treaty to fight against plastic pollution.
It is, therefore necessary to be able to control the environmental impact in order to anticipate future constraints and to meet the growing demand of end consumers for less polluting products. A number of experts, governmental and academic bodies, as well as various stakeholders, agree that the circular economy should be promoted.
By increasing the share of recycled and eco-sourced materials
By reducing the energy needs of the production and its production of Co2
By reducing distances and using low-polluting modes of transport
By increasing the reusability of products and limiting their energy consumption
By using non-toxic, recycled and recyclable products.
It is therefore necessary to take into account the environmental impact of a product or service, from the first phase of conception and design. Innovation and R&D efforts can then help in the eco-design process. Plant-based concretes (i.e., biosourced) are a perfect example of this. Research has led to the creation of concretes made of hemp, wool, hemp/linen which are highly insulating and have a lower environmental impact.
The implementation of a circular economy and eco-design approach requires the implementation of tools that allow for good collaboration between the internal and external stakeholders of a company. Whether between buyers, suppliers, formulators or R&D managers a dialogue is necessary. We can therefore expect an increase in the use of knowledge management tools, as well as tools that facilitate the projection of various material characteristics. Plastic, the facts 2020 – plasticseurope.org
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