Commitment for the Future

20. Dec 2021 | Commitment for the Future

Industry for the future

There are these iconic moments that shape narratives, initiate discussions and bring about change. The climate debate has also experienced three such moments: A Swedish schoolgirl starting a global movement with her protest in front of the parliament in Stockholm. An Australian prime minister presenting a piece of coal in parliament and advocating for the exploitation of national coal reserves. A koala drinking from a water bottle while devastating bushfires rage in its natural habitat. Our industry may also have one of these iconic moments to effectively address climate change: The opening of the first plant to use carbon dioxide for plastics production. Plastics are essential to achieving our ambitious climate goals. And now the industry is setting out to make their production greener and more sustainable!

 

Old increasingly becomes new again

Even Corona could not stop this development: For example, the numerous investments made by the plastics-producing industry in mechanical recycling where plastic waste is shredded and reprocessed into products. By acquiring collection and recycling companies, plastics producers want to secure their access to recyclates and increasingly become suppliers of materials with recycled content. In recent years there have already been several acquisitions of this kind, for example by an Austrian plastics manufacturer, a French petrochemical group and a family-owned plastics and chemical company in Hamburg – all three part of the plastics producers’ association Plastics Europe.

What do these companies have in common? They all want to become important players in the circular economy. And the path to this goal goes far beyond such acquisitions and initiatives by individual companies: the production of plastics with green electricity. The greenhouse gas CO2 as a raw material for the production of polymer building blocks. Pilot plants to promote the chemical recycling of plastic waste and the first products derived from it. And expanded design-for-sustainability solutions thanks to which more packaging, electrical goods and other products become recyclable. The direction is clear, as this contribution from the “We are plastic” initiative shows.

Climate neutral? Yes, please – but how?

Many plastics-producing companies in Europe have set themselves the goal of becoming climate-neutral in the next 15 to 20 years. In addition to the processes and advances already mentioned, this requires further technologies such as CO2 capture and usage (abbreviated to CCU) as well as heavy investment in green electricity. The latter in particular is becoming increasingly important, since parallel to the promotion of the circular economy, more and more process steps in the chemical and plastics industry are being electrified.

It is fitting that three large companies are working together to realise the world’s first electrically heated steam cracker pilot furnace in Germany. Compared to conventional plants, this would make the production of basic chemicals for plastics almost CO2-free. The operation of a pilot plant is planned to start as early as 2023. However, this transformation of our industry and further such success stories also need the support and will from politics since industry will not be able to carry the high investments required for climate neutrality on its own. Thus, it is necessary to achieve even more momentum in the expansion of renewables and to keep electricity costs competitive. And politicians and society need to be more open to new technologies, having more confidence in societal and technological progress. If this is achieved, investments can flow into sustainable value chains in an even more targeted way than is has been so far.

Facts for the sustainability debate

At the end of 2021, the latest edition of “Plastics – the Facts 2021” was published. The annual publication provides the latest European data on plastics production, demand and waste management – and is thus also an important compendium for the discussion on how to achieve more sustainability in the industry.

Titelbild Plastics the Facts