Plastic Waste and the Climate Crisis

Plastic Waste and the Climate Crisis

 

This bi-monthly blog series will focus on the growing global issue of plastic waste in the environment. In it, we will discuss the threat plastic waste poses to the environment and economies around the globe, solutions on the horizon, as well as companies and organizations that are, like Resinate, working to make a difference.

When we talk about lowering greenhouse gas emissions, clean and renewable energy is often the focus. While a shift to renewable energy can tackle about 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions1, it is an incomplete response to the global climate crisis. What about the other 45%?

That remaining 45% comes from the production of goods, and Ellen MacArthur has illustrated that implementing a circular economy in five key industries – cement, aluminum, steel, food, and plastics – can eliminate almost half of this 45%. That would equivalent to eliminating all emissions from transport.

In the plastics industry, many players still follow a linear economy model, in which they take-make-waste raw materials, especially with the more difficult to recycle plastics. Traditional methods of plastic recycling most commonly involve reheating the plastic. This is problematic because the quality and performance characteristics of plastic degrade each time it is reheated. Thus, most plastic is only reprocessed once before becoming waste.2 In order to reduce carbon emissions and stop the 8 million tons of plastic from flowing into our oceans every year, we must innovate to make the transition to a circular economy. Throughout the year our blog entries have discussed a few of the many organizations and companies working to do this.

At Resinate, this is what my team and I work on every day. Each of us is passionate about doing our part to address the climate crisis and the plastic waste problem. My team focuses on creating technologies and processes that allow us to break plastic down to the molecular level, rebuild it in a way that harnesses the inherent performance characteristics of that material, and create a higher value good with a longer lifecycle. What drew me to Resinate was not only the fact that I could help create new outlets for plastic waste, but also turn that plastic waste into materials like coatings that will protect and extend the lifecycle of resources like steel, cement, and wood.

Since joining Resinate, I have found that people are often surprised that a great solution that performs well, reduces emissions, and tackles the plastic waste issue is not necessarily an easy sell. I have realized that even when all things are created equal (performance, cost, physical properties), companies are often still reluctant to make the change to new, greener technology – but not without reason. One reason is that formulating with and testing a new material takes a lot of time and money, and so far there are not sufficient laws and regulations to provide an incentive to change.

This is the stage of innovation we are at – how do we incentivize companies to make the switch to greener materials? How do we make what seems like the natural choice the preferred and obvious choice?

Lama Alzuhd
Coatings Chemist

 

1. Completing the Picture – How the Circular Economy Tackles Climate Change, by Ellen MacArthur Foundation and Material Economics (V.3, September 26, 2019)
2. https://www.alexandriava.gov/uploadedFiles/tes/solidwaste/info/RecyclingPlasticComplications.pdf

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