A Practical Guide to Plastics Sustainability: Chapter 11 - Plastics Sustainability: Drivers and Obstacles

Elsevier, Biron, A Practical Guide to Sustainability, 2020, pages 557-593
Michel Biron

Main bottlenecks, potential boosters, and brakes for the growth of plastics are examined in this chapter.

Waste strategies range from waste minimization (the best solution) to landfilling through recycling and the lesser known repairing and reuse. Current or high-tech applications are involved, but in a different way, the refurbishment and modernization of processing machines according to Industry 4.0 criteria can contribute to the improvement of manufacturing.

Recycling and reuse in a closed- or open-loop offer environmental benefits for commodity or hi-tech materials (up to carbon fibers). Examples of global warming potential, energy, and other environment or economic indicators display benefits, but also some drawbacks, of plastics recycling, pointing out inconsistency between indicators. In fact, the right answer depends on the actual context.

Of course, policy, legislation, taxes, bans, and the green wave restrain the use of plastics (carrier bags) or boost recycling (end-of-life vehicles). Some technical reasons are also limiting to recyclate consumption.

Success story examples of natural-sourced materials display alternatives to oil scarcity, but the replacement of a fossil polymer can remain temporarily an unsolvable problem (e.g., acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene for Lego bricks).

Ecological boosters of plastics include function integration, design freedom, lightweighting, and related energy and resource savings and pollution mitigation.

Sustainable systems include full or hybrid solutions based on biosourced polymers, natural fibers, and also “unsustainable” composites saving weight, fuel, and pollution in promising mobility fields from automotive to aircrafts through railway and others. Insulation efficiency of plastic foams for “zero energy” houses is another example.