We interviewed the lead designer of a global packaging manufacturing and design company who are based in Portugal. They have been working to minimise the use of plastics for a number of years, through minimising the use and reuse of materials, through developing innovative products using IT software. They are part of a global movement to minimise the plastics that end up in our oceans and how the plastics that do can be used in new products.
The 2 hour-long interview gave us great insights into the reduction in the use of plastics. They are leading their clients to rethink how they package their goods, from branding through to technical design. As waste at the design stage was high, they have shifted to computer simulation of the technical design of the products that have achieved vast savings and reduced the need for large design labs.
It was shocking to find out that we use 350 different polymers in the creation of our plastics, with countries having different requirements for similar products. What is needed is to look to nature and green chemistry. The 12 principles (as proposed by the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry) are as follows:
1) POLLUTION PREVENTION
2) ATOM ECONOMY
3) LESS HAZARDOUS SYNTHESIS
4) DESIGN SAFER CHEMICALS
5) SAFER SOLVENTS AND AUXILIARIES
6) DESIGN FOR ENERGY EFFICIENCY
7) USE OF RENEWABLE FEEDSTOCKS
8) REDUCE DERIVATIVES
10) DESIGN FOR DEGRADATION
11) REAL-TIME ANALYSIS FOR POLLUTION PREVENTION
12) INHERENTLY SAFER CHEMISTRY FOR ACCIDENT PREVENTION
In addition, it was pointed out that the main plastic manufacturers are controlling the market, driving recycling companies out of business so they can sell 'virgin' materials to their customers. We are being led by this market to believe that we need to consume everything and replace our items at every turn.
What is needed is a long-term shift in behaviour by the consumers to make them understand the challenges faced and rethink the use of plastics. We will always need plastics in some form, it is a very useful material, but we can change the way it is manufactured used and recycled in the future.