During the Corona pandemic, we have been able to see how the society’s and environment’s well-being are connected with each other. We have been able to come up with quick solutions to societal problems caused by the changing state of the world and new innovative solutions to help people to manage in the ‘’new’’ everyday life. After seeing concretely how fast we can come up with helpful solutions for the everyday life, why not try to do the same thing for environment; trying to find quick solutions to the many environmental problems that cause our small blue-green planet’s slow destruction.
It is not the 1760’s anymore
Since the Industrial Revolution, the strategy of companies has been to produce products as much as possible, as cheaply as possible to get consumers buy more products. This has led to the emergence of terms, such as fast fashion. Unfortunately, this kind of industry promotes the use of cheap materials such as plastics in mass production. The problems of plastics have been recurring topic in various media in recent years, especially what comes to single-use plastics. It is proven that plastics cause great problems to animals and environment when ending up to the environment.
Hope for the future – From material choices to final disposal
Fortunately, it looks like the ‘’as much as possible, as cheaply as possible’’- way of thinking is starting to change in various companies in EU as they are moving towards circular economy and sustainable development. Circular economy drives the world towards waste free economy, where the whole lifecycle of product is paid attention to from material choices to final disposal.
The transition to circular economy is driven by societal pressure from consumers who want more sustainably produced products as well as from companies that have taken the first steps as becoming the leading companies in the field of circular economy. The EU is leading by example in the form of pilot projects and research, as well as new circular economy strategies, in which finding solutions to the problems posed by plastics is also a key theme. For example, the goal of single-use plastics packages being 100% recyclable or reusable by 2030 is one of the main plastics goals the EU has set for the future.
Several projects, including project Bioplastics Europe, have taken its goal to answer the problems caused by plastics, especially single-use plastics. Bioplastics Europe executes research for bio-based plastics as well as concretely seeks to increase peoples and companies’ awareness about the disadvantages they can cause, however understanding the possibilities sustainably produced plastics might offer. Bio-based plastics are made partly from biological materials. However, this does not mean that they are necessary biodegradable. The use of biomaterials in plastics reduces the need for fossil raw materials. They reduce CO2 emissions and they can be recycled such as conventional plastics. Because of the continuous research on bio-based plastics, they have the same performance in many applications than conventional plastics.
Let us go forward
It must be understood that plastics have a role to play in a sustainable future, for example because of their light weight they can reduce CO2 emissions from transport, or they can play a role in reducing food waste. This still requires strategies of making the plastics products reusable, repairable and recyclable as well as promoting services that promotes for example sharing and renting.
So, with the Corona, we have had opportunity to notice that people and companies have every ability to adapt to the ever changing state of the world by coming up with new innovative solutions so our everyday life would not get too hard. This has been done in a matter of months, I might add.
We have the know-how, technic and the will to go forward, so why wont we. Apparently, we only needed a global pandemic to see the drawbacks of our current economy and what is the impact of change in industry, transport, and human consumption for the environment. Now that we have seen the clear skies in China and clear waters in Italy, we know in which direction we need to go. Forward.
What comes to the manufacture of plastics and the use of plastics as a material in products, all companies need to start operating in line with circular economy strategies. By setting an example of sustainable design, the use of biomaterials and cross-sectoral cooperation with every industry of the economy, we can reduce CO2 emissions from production, reduce the overuse of raw materials, save our planet from climate change and avoid many major disasters. So, what if we went forward instead of going back to ‘’normal’’?
Read more about the opportunities that the circular economy brings to the plastics industry and companies from my thesis ‘’Circular Economy strategies in plastics companies – evidence-based case studies from Finland’’.