In the future, we will use more plastics

Svenja: What is so bad about the single-use ban, aren’t many products really pointless or can they be better substituted by other materials?

Michael: What is worse about a coffee plastic stirrer than a wooden stirrer if it is properly rinsed or disposed of? Nothing. On the contrary. Due to its efficient production, the plastic stirrer should have a lower carbon footprint and can be materially recycled. The plastic stirrer can thus be turned into a plastic stirrer again. This will not be possible with the wood stirrer – unless plastic helps to bind the wood particles. This is just one example among many.

If one does not want to switch to ecologically worse materials, the single-use ban of plastics is practically equivalent to product bans. Do we want an eco-dictatorship? A race for bans? One person thinks straws, the other balloon holder or coffee capsules are unnecessary – in the end we will all miss many products. Wouldn’t it make more sense to respect the needs of the people and find the best materials and end-of-life options that have the least environmental impact? In many cases, these are already plastics today – whether PET bottles, shopping bags or packaging that protect food – and all the more this will be the case for future plastics based on renewable carbon, either from mechanical and chemical recycling, biomass or direct CO2 use.

The single-use ban fuels the plastic hysteria, but it’s not plastics we should do without. The aim is to quickly turn plastics into a truly sustainable material solution and set up comprehensive disposal and recycling systems that minimise the risk of plastics entering the environment and causing microparticles. Given the raw material situation, we have no other option. And consumers will learn that more sustainable plastics will be more expensive, but already today almost half of German consumers are willing to spend more money on sustainable products.

Svenja: And this will succeed?

Michael: I’m an optimist. The plastics industry can emerge from the current crisis new and strengthened like the Phoenix from the ashes – if it now does its homework and consistently tackles and solves the problems, and finally understands that they are not communication problems!

In the meantime, the first, long overdue steps have been taken: around 30 leading chemical companies that operate along the value chain worldwide have organized themselves in the “Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW)” and intend to invest around 1.5 billion dollars over the next five years to promote projects for waste management, the circular economy and new recycling technologies. 

Manufacturers of consumer products are finally beginning to produce their packaging from 100% recycled material and make it fully recyclable. The targeted collection of plastic waste is also starting with its first projects. In Haiti, for example, the inhabitants collect plastic waste, and this year the amount is expected to reach 300 tonnes. In return, Henkel provides benefits in kind such as charcoal for cooking, vouchers for children attending school and the opportunity to recharge their mobile phones, or simply cash. A good idea to buy collected plastic waste as a raw material. That should set a precedent all over the world.

Svenja: Thank you for the enlightening conversation.