Whitepaper on the future of the plastics industry
Fraunhofer UMSICHT and TNO have developed a white paper to serve as a basis for the transformation of plastics production and use.
The background paper by Fraunhofer UMSICHT and the Dutch institute TNO, "From #plasticfree to future-proof plastics", aims to provide insights into what a future-proof, circular and sustainable plastics economy could look like. According to the analysis, this could be achieved by striking a balance between plastic reduction and sustainable use of recyclable plastics. The increasing demand for plastics in high-value applications such as food packaging, automotive parts or synthetic textiles required a holistic change. In the White Paper, the authors formulate four strategic approaches on how the plastics industry could be transformed into a fully circular future. The fields for which individual strategies are named are "Narrowing the Loop", "Operating the Loop", "Slowing the Loop" and "Closing the Loop". For narrowing the loop, the researchers recommend, as a first step, reducing the amount of materials used in the circular economy. The field "Operating the Loop" reportedly refers to the use of renewable energies, the minimisation of material losses and the sustainable procurement of raw materials. In order to slow down the cycle, the authors believe that measures to extend the useful life are necessary. Finally, to close the loop, plastics should be collected, sorted and recycled to a high standard, the report says.
Jan Harm Urbanus of TNO explains: "A holistic change, as we envision it, can only succeed if science, industry, politics and citizens work together across sectors." This, he says, requires several changes, some of them drastic, at four levels: Legislation and policy, collaboration in the circular economy, design and development, and education and information. Innovations in design and development, in the researchers' view, should include, for example, the conversion of polymers into more oxygen-rich polymers based on biomass and CO2 use. Current recycling technologies needed to be improved to enable quantitative and qualitative recycling, Urbanus said.
In a next step, TNO and Fraunhofer UMSICHT want to establish a platform for plastics in the circular economy. Companies, associations and non-governmental organisations could use this to network, break down existing barriers and work together on solutions for a plastics circular economy.
Further information: to download "From #plasticfree to future-proof plastics"
- umsicht.fraunhofer.de, EU-Recycling Magazin 07/2023
- Image: © TNO, Fraunhofer Umsicht