In the last 50 years more than 8 billion tons of the stuff vilified as “plastic” has been produced. The ingenuity of polymer scientists & engineers, plus the ubiquity and variety of polymers, mean they are completely embedded in our lives. But the very properties of plastics that make them so useful, that they are durable and cheap, also means that they are almost worthless post-use, expensive to recycle and easy to discard. We have been focussed on delivering a circular economy for polymers, whether they are derived from fossil carbon or more recent biomass. A systems-based, multidisciplinary approach can solve the problem of plastics in the environment through a combination of reuse, repurposing and recycling. This work has led us to the conclusion that we need to turn the problem on its head. We need to make more single use plastic, but using C that has been fixed by photosynthesis and taken from the atmosphere this year, not C fixed millenia ago. Neo-carbon, not fossil-carbon, to turn into neofossil plastic and put it back in the ground through curated burial. The current emphasis on bio-based and compostable plastics is not inherently sustainable because their production can cause more greenhouse gas emissions than the fossil-based plastics they replace. Moreover, the fate of a compostable plastic is conversion back into CO2 and water. Bio-based plastics can only become truly sustainable when produced using renewable energy, not the current energy mix of >80% fossil. Life cycle assessment can identify the tipping point, as the energy system defossilises, when making durable bio-based plastics makes sense.
Announcement: Guest Lecture in December!
We are happy to welcome our friend Prof. Anthony J. Ryan for a guest lecture titled "Neofossils: bio-based plastics to sequester CO2" on Friday, 2 December 2022, at 11 a.m. (UTC +1).