Plastic management and future scenarios

Riciclaggio plastica
The continuous research and shared policies between States are the only solution to solve the plastic problem on a global level. The risk is that within twenty years we will have seas covered with plastic.

A plastic future

According to a recent study, at current production and disposal rates, without immediate and sustained government action, the annual flow of plastics into the oceans will triple by 2040.[1]

To reduce the volume by more than 80% using technologies already available today, key decision-makers must be prepared to make system-wide changes.

Circular economy on a global scale

Unfortunately, very often, private interests prevail over common welfare. As is all too often the case, wealthy countries dispose of their waste in less technologically advanced countries.

Recent research has once again verified this bleak process.[2]

This new study estimates that between 1 and 7% (32,000 – 180,000 tonnes) of all European polyethylene exported to Asia ends up in the ocean.

Polyethylene is one of the most common types of plastic in Europe, and the results have shown that countries such as Belgium, the UK and Slovenia are exporting a larger share of their plastics outside Europe and see a larger share of their recyclable plastic waste end up as ocean debris.

 
Loss of polyethylene into ocean

 

Reducing the possibility of waste

Thermosetting materials, such as epoxy plastics, polyurethanes and rubber used for tires, are used in products that must be durable and heat-resistant. Unfortunately, precisely because of these characteristics, they cannot be easily recycled.

To overcome this problem, MIT chemists are developing techniques to modify the chemical bonds of thermosetting plastics to make them recyclable and reusable, without losing their valuable mechanical strength.[3]

 

 

This is to remind us that collaboration and the development of synergetic models of circular economy are essential to improve conditions, not only in Europe, but worldwide.

[1] Winnie W. Y. Lau, Yonathan Shiran, Richard M. Bailey, Ed Cook, Martin R. Stuchtey, Julia Koskella, Costas A. Velis, Linda Godfrey, Julien Boucher, Margaret B. Murphy, Richard C. Thompson, Emilia Jankowska, Arturo Castillo Castillo, Toby D. Pilditch, Ben Dixon, Laura Koerselman, Edward Kosior, Enzo Favoino, Jutta Gutberlet, Sarah Baulch, Meera E. Atreya, David Fischer, Kevin K. He, Milan M. Petit, U. Rashid Sumaila, Emily Neil, Mark V. Bernhofen, Keith Lawrence, James E. Palardy. Evaluating scenarios toward zero plastic pollution. Science, 2020; eaba9475 DOI: 10.1126/science.aba9475

[2] George Bishop, David Styles, Piet N.L. Lens. Recycling of European plastic is a pathway for plastic debris in the ocean. Environment International, 2020; 142: 105893 DOI: 10.1016/j.envint.2020.105893

[3] Shieh, P., Zhang, W., Husted, K.E.L. et al. Cleavable comonomers enable degradable, recyclable thermoset plastics. Nature, 2020 DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-2495-2

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