Plastics recycling a key question for policy makers and end users

28 April 2017 12:46 Source:ICIS News

Focus article by Katherine Sale

VIENNA (ICIS)--Recycling was a hot topic at this year’s 6th ICIS World Polyolefins Conference, with a key question being whose responsibility it is to drive initiatives - policy makers or the end user?

The topic came up time and time again over the two-day conference, with questions being asked on everything from education to alternatives to microbeads for cosmetic use. (Nuts, salt and sugar are all viable alternatives, according to the versatile experts in the audience.)

Should recycling initiatives be driven top down by policy makers? Or to see actual global change does it need to be a bottom-up approach from consumers? 

"Education is key," said Linda Naylor, ICIS polyolefins editor for more than 25 years, speaking on the topic.

The role of the press in raising awareness of the issue was also addressed. It has been difficult for anyone to miss the attention given to the microbeads topic. The damage of microbeads on the environment, in particular sea life, is notorious. 

But what about the other key issues? Is the public educated enough on these topics to drive change?

"We live in a world that pays more attention to Kim Kardashian than Stephen Hawking," said one speaker, highlighting the difficulties in the end-user option.

Examining the African markets, plastics bag manufacturing has been banned in 16 countries, said Matt Tudball of ICIS, speaking at the conference.

"The plastic bag has been dubbed the flower of Africa," added Tudball, with Africa having a serious problem when it comes to plastics recycling. 

"Only 10% of global plastics are recycled," Xuesong Peng, of Nexant, said at the event, and with polymer demand growing it is a key issue that needs to be addressed.

Addressing waste, it was not just plastics that was examined. "Food waste does more damage to the environment than plastics waste," said Ron Marsh, the former chief executive of RPC Group.

Whether it is a question of infrastructure, education or funding, there were conflicting views as to the solution. 

"As with any serious topics, it is only when policy makers have imposed legislation that we have seen any real change," added Naylor, drawing comparisons with the smoking ban and driving racism out of football. 

And what about the middle man? Polymer producers and converters do not have the finances required to fund a campaign on the scale required for recycling, Marsh added. 

"Plastics save lives, and I would argue that with anyone," said Matt Baldock, founder and managing director of Vow Packaging Partners, who spoke passionately at the conference about both recycling and plastics. He discussed the impact on the medical industry and the food packaging industry, and the many ways in which plastics have helped to increase safety standards. 

Although it remains unclear who should lead the change, it is clear that action is required, including raising awareness on these key topics either through the press, education or policy makers. 

In a world that needs more plastics, there is a responsibility to address the issue of recycling.

By Katherine Sale