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Plastic pollution and the responsibility of the industry

In 1950, a global population of 2.5 billion produced 1.5 million tons of plastic. In 2016, the world population of 7 billion people produced more than 320 million tons of plastic. Most of it still exists in some form as plastic takes over 400 years to degrade. No wonder plastic pollution can be found on every beach in the world today, from busy tourist beaches to uninhabited. More or less all plastic ending up in our oceans is carried there by just 10 rivers, most of them from overly populated industrial cities. If present trends continue, by 2050 there might be more plastic in the ocean than fish, and the amount of plastic in landfills will be 35 000 times as heavy as the Empire State Building.

Addressing the problem

Around the world governments, businesses, organizations, global citizens and even kindergarten children are taking action to tackle this problem. Every other day we can read about good initiatives. From special garbage picking days to EU banning disposable plastic items by 2021. In some parts of the world, the use of plastic is already illegal and comes with a heavy fine.

The industry is responsible for the production of new plastic. What is positive here is that they also have the power and resources to make a difference. Many big companies have started to realize the benefits of keeping the plastic within their economy by reusing it in their production chain. Ikea plans on having its first prototype of recycled plastic ready by the end of this year and Adidas started reusing the plastic that Boyan Slat, the 24-year-old who created the world’s largest plastic vacuum cleaner, has collected.

Recently 250 organizations and companies, including PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Unilever, Colgate, SC Johnson and H&M, merged and signed a new agreement. The companies commit to eliminating plastic when it is considered problematic or unnecessary, and by 2025 they plan to make all plastic packaging either reusable, recyclable or compostable.

New materials for a greener and smarter industry

Scientists are creating a plastic that can be recycled indefinitely, experts are turning waste streams into clean energy and one of the hottest topics for a greener industry within the automotive business at the moment is bioplastics. Following are a few examples of how people are taking action and working towards a greener and smarter industry.

Marc Hillmyer, professor at the University of Minnesota, develops biodegradable plastics made from renewable sources like sugar. This new type of plastic can be used to make high-performance rubber, hard materials or foam. The foam could then replace the non-environmentally friendly stuffing that can be found in car seats for example. According to the professor, the inexpensive sugar-based polymer is both chemically recyclable as well as compostable.

Bioplastics has not only made its way into car interiors. As of last year, the first car ever made completely out of bioplastics was launched. The car, made out of natural material, is also fully recyclable in a fairly easy way. Natural material and recyclable plastic are two things that currently seems to be trending within the automotive industry.

Volvo Cars and Porsche are leading the way

In June last year Volvo Cars announced their ambition to use at least 25 % recycled plastic in cars and packaging by no later than 2025. Later that year, at the Volvo Ocean Race, the company showcased Volvo XC60 with many components made from recycled plastic. Porsche answered in July this year by announcing their new 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport featuring parts made of natural-fiber composite materials. Not only could this type of initiative contribute in creating a greener production in the long-term, but the use of these sort of materials will also make cars more lightweight, hence resulting in lower levels of fuel consumption.

The industry is taking responsibility

Some industrial companies do a full evaluation of their business and come up with solutions to drastically change their whole production process. Christoffer Wahlborg, the industry manager for Stena Recycling’s automotive manufacturing clients talks about a good example of a functioning circular flow.
– One of our large industrial customers uses the same type of hard plastic in all their solid packaging such as the trays and boxes used to send materials between their different companies, factories and suppliers. The trays are reused hundreds, if not thousands, of times. When they become worn and broken, they are sent for recycling and turned into new plastic.

Kenth Almqvist, CEO at OCS – specialists in overhead conveyor systems – believes that there are many things the industry can do, and is doing, to take responsibility.
– Plastic pollution, and pollution in general, is one of the most challenging problems we are facing today. The problem may therefore seem too big and too complicated for many to address. But the truth is, it doesn’t have to be. We are dealing with customers every day, mainly within the automotive, aerospace and surface treatment industry. For us, it is important to be well aware of the way our customers operate. And this works both ways. That also includes us being transparent in the way we do business and the way our overhead conveyor systems can contribute to a smarter and greener production.

One of OCS’ customers, Plastic Omnium, has its own in-house energy program since 2008 called Top planet. The program aims at reducing the impact of its factories and production through several certifications, which also involves and engages their suppliers.

– The fact that they have chosen us as their supplier is a great acknowledgement. Our ambition is to continue to develop our company in line with our lean, clean and green vision so that more customers with these types of environmental commitments and programs choose to work with us, concludes Kenth Almqvist.

For Lean Clean Green //Maria Lundkvist


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