Thought in circle

27. Sep 2021 | Circular Economy

Circular plastic: Challenge and chance!

There’s really nothing quite like plastic. No other material commands the same reach and everyday level of use, nor the same level of versatility in how it’s used. For around 100 years, the world has been enjoying its benefits; safety, durability, flexibility. Plastics help us preserve foods, save lives, and provide power to homes. But today waste is a pressing and concerning issue; for all its great value, the tendency for plastic to be single-use in applications like packaging mean it’s often harmfully disposed of, creating pollution and damage to oceans, plants and wildlife.

The urgency of the climate crisis needs to power a wave of change. Plastic is too valuable to waste, so we need to re-invent how plastic packaging works; we need a future-positive circular revolution.

One mindset, many solutions

Creating a Circular Economy for plastics is complex; there is no silver bullet, it’s about exploring complementary approaches and scalable technologies across the whole value chain.

Firstly, if a material is valuable, then it needs to be produced in a way that is designed for eco-efficiency; maximising its value whilst minimising resource use and environmental impact. Reduction is key; packaging, for example, needs to be designed to minimise the amount used whilst maintaining functionality. Following this, packaging’s material value needs to be kept in the system for as long as possible, employing reuse systems and models that play to plastics’ strength in durability. In short, packaging needs to be all about multi-lifecycle thinking.

Resurrection & renewal

Only when a product or material is past its functional best should it be recovered and recycled. The great opportunity for recycling is in using complementary techniques; mechanical recycling, a carbon-footprint lowering method, followed by chemical recycling, renewing harder to recycle materials back to virgin-like quality for demanding applications like food packaging. 

Linz Catalyst Plant (c)Borealis

Circularity will also require that any materials entering the system to create more packaging are made from not just recycled feedstocks, but also renewable ones, such as biomass or by capturing the carbon from the atmosphere. Only then will we decouple plastic packaging from fossil-fuel consumption. 


Recyclinganlage (c) Borealis-and-Tomra

Together, stronger

Radical collaboration is the only way to supercharge progress here. It comes through partnerships like from a leading plastics manufacturer and a leading recycling plant company co-pioneering an advanced mechanical recycling facility in Germany, to regenerate post-consumer waste. A quite similar partnership between a plastics manufacturer and a recycling enabling company is scaling up Smart Chain Processing that can recycle multiple waste streams using complementary technologies under one roof, to leave no material behind.

Ever closer …

Whilst circularity is still a big shift, technologies are already in play and developing every day, to bring solutions for plastic packaging closer. Game-changing collaboration across the value chain will be instrumental in reaching the end-game. A challenge, yes, but an exciting opportunity for the industry and a must for the planet. That’s why we can’t waste it.