We are working on tackling plastic pollution problems by enabling closing the plastic production chain and life cycle.
We work on the production side rather than consumer side. We focus on reducing future plastic production to avoid making the situation worse, rather than handling existing plastic waste which is indeed important too.
First we decided to focus on the compounding phase, and think of labelling or restricting additives to facilitate recycling. We found that most types of plastics are indeed inside the 7 types that are currently identified, and with a label it wouldn't be such an issue.
Limitations: Plastic production still runs free.
Depends upon addressing evasion of waste export to other countries.
The purchasing and inspection power of the government matters a lot.
What about policies such as green procurement and subsidies in those countries that are still receiving plastic scraps that previously went to China, and try to create green procurement and long term business contracts there? Actually, plastics simply go somewhere else when it is too expensive to go there.
Then we decided to think about the recycling phase. What's happening here maybe sorting, technologies and chemical recycling. We ended up figuring out that the links between disposal, recycling and compounding are broken, i.e. from disposal, plastics do not go to recycling; when they are recycled, they are not a significant amount of production. So plastics after use never come back to compounding.
Finally we looked at the source-the production of the raw material for plastics, the way it is used now will never lead itself to human fabrication. Because the extraction of natural resources is feeding into this circle, we would never close the loop. Even if we recycle every single plastic, it still would not be a circle; it would be a spiral. We are increasing the quantity.
They are both made from petroleum, natural gas and coal. Around 70% goes to combustion fuels, which produces air pollution, and air pollution in turn produces environmental and health impacts. Whereas plastics currently takes 6-8% but is projected to become 20% of fossil fuel use in 2050.
As bad as air pollution is, and as big a challenge it is, if you plant enough trees, you will capture CO2 and other greenhouse gases back, however, with microplastics we have no idea what to do.
How much of fossil resources will become plastics in the future? We don't know. Whoever makes the policy should think about that. The problems of plastics might double, triple or quadruple. Then all the initiatives, substitutes or bans are flooded in this overwhelming overproduction of plastics. We need to make sure that we are not going to drown in the excess of plastic production in the meantime, otherwise these initiatives may be mute.
We are still putting together the fragmented information we can get at present, trying to depict a whole picture of the problem so that the knowledge and information base of plastics can be accessed to policy makers and activists on this problem.