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New Studies Bode Well for Future of Plastics’ Use Globally

Sweeping study looks at production, use and fate of all plastics.


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In July, the journal Science Advances published a study on the “Production, Use and Fate of All Plastics Ever Made,” by Roland Geyer, Jenna R. Jambeck and Kara Lavender Law, which was heralded by the Plastics Division of the American Chemistry Council’s (ACC) as very welcome by plastic makers.

Said v.p. of plastics Steve Russell:

“America’s plastics makers welcome this new look at global production, use, and management of used plastics, and we look forward to continuing discussions on why plastics use is growing and how these advanced materials contribute to our safety, health and quality of life. Demand for plastics has grown in parallel with population growth, particularly in parts of the world where large numbers of people are rapidly moving out of poverty. Perhaps more to the point, even as plastics’ use continues to increase, plastics are helping to significantly lower environmental impacts. That’s because plastics are extremely efficient materials that allow us to do more with less in everything from medical devices to electronics to buildings to transportation.”

Additionally, the ACC commissioned a study, conducted by Trucost in 2016, which found that plastics help reduce environmental costs by four times compared to alternatives. In packaging, for example, plastics enable significant environmental benefits, including reductions in energy use, greenhouse gas emissions and waste. ACC’s Russell noted that we all have an obligation to use materials—including plastics, as efficiently as possible, to use them wisely, and to recycle and recover as much as we can. Many experts agree that expanded waste management infrastructure in the key to addressing sustainable use of these resources.

Russell also noted that plastic makers are working closely with NGOs, governments, businesses in the U.S. and around the world to increase investment in waste management infrastructure, encourage the adoption of advanced recycling equipment, and expand opportunities for energy conversion where recycling isn’t feasible.

For example, in the United States, ACC supports a number of programs to improve recycling and recovery including: the Wrap Recycling Action program—a public-private partnership to increase recycling of plastic wraps and bags at stores; Materials Recovery for the Future, which is researching how to process more flexible packaging at recycling facilities; Keep America Beautiful’s I Want to be Recycled campaign, which encourages consumers to recycle; and, The Recycling Partnership, which works with communities and companies to improve local recycling. Per Russell:

“Lightweight plastics offer significant environmental benefits through the life cycle of many products and packages, but we fail to maximize those benefits if we don’t manage these resources after we use them.”