Plastics: ban, keep, sort, or burn?


Engineers, economists, regulators and businesses are struggling with just what to do with hundreds of millions of tonnes of plastics emitted to the environment every year.  The solutions lay across a wide spectrum. Ban: The plastic bag bans by Australian supermarket chains were initially met with public outcry and heavy criticism, but after three months an 80% reduction has been achieved in single use plastic bags.

An estimated 1.5 billion single use plastic bags have been avoided. Currently, NSW is the only state in Australia that has not legislated to prevent the use of plastic bags.  

Don’t ban: Multi-disciplinary research team at Heriot-Watt University in the UK says that aluminium and glass packaging may actually be worse for greenhouse gas footprints.  

Sort: At the 13th Gulf Petrochemicals and Chemicals Association (GPCA) Exxon-Mobil says the world needs mechanical sorting of plastic.  Dave Andrew, Exxon vice president of sustainability said, “The world is losing $300bn-400bn of economic value through that waste” as 70m tonnes of plastic escape landfill and recycling capture to be lost into the environment and oceans.  

Burn: SABIC Saudi Arabia will pilot a plastics-to-fuel process in Holland: “We are supporting greatly the mechanical recycling of plastics but we believe that the long term sustainable circular economy will lie in chemical recycling.”  For more information, see the Warren Centre’s presentation on The Circular Economy 


This story is featured in the 7 December 2018 edition of The Warren Centre’s Prototype newsletter. Sign up for the Prototype here.