Sustainable plastics value creation within planetary boundaries?

André Bardow and his team from ETH Zurich and RWTH Aachen University are investigating impactful strategies to stay within our planetary boundaries.

The demand for plastics has increased in recent decades. From wind turbines and electric cars to blood bags and our daily supermarket shopping, plastics are an integral part of our lives.

The production and processing of plastics from fossil raw materials, particularly crude oil, also has ecological consequences. It contributes to the depletion of finite resources and is associated with considerable CO2 emissions. However, there are good alternatives to replace fossile-based plastics, with circular feedstocks.

Plastics without fossil raw materials

Plastics does not necessarily have to be produced from fossil resources. The carbon required for the production of plastics can also be obtained from biomass, recycled plastic waste and CO2 captured from CO2-emissions or plain air.

Intelligent product design saves resources

Intelligent product design also helps to produce less plastic waste. Through so-called “design for recycling”, products can be manufactured in such a way that they consume less material and are easier to recycle at the end of their life. As part of the European Green Deal, European plastics manufacturers are therefore investing heavily in these technologies in order to significantly reduce the amount of fossil resources applied in plastics production.

How do we stay within planetary boundaries?

André Bardow is Professor of Energy and Process Systems Engineering at ETH Zurich. In the study “Towards circular plastics within planetary boundaries”, he and his team investigate the planetary impact of various strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the global plastics value chain.

The most important finding of the study is that there is no silver bullet. It will take mix of various technologies and circular feedstocks, and increasing recycling rates to reduce the planetary footprint and enable a climate-neutral circular economy with plastics.

The study demonstrates that a circular economy with plastics is possible. Nevertheless, companies investing in circular technologies still heavily rely on the support of policymakers and a suitable legislative framework to quickly scale up their production of fossil-free feedstocks.


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Headerpictur: © ETH Zürich, Jakob Ineichen




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