Exploring Alternative Feedstocks for a More Sustainable Plastic Industry
The demand for sustainable plastics shows no sign of slowing down. We have hit a point as a society where environmental sustainability and economic sustainability are closely intertwined. Businesses involved in the manufacturing industry need to focus more heavily on creating plastics that are less harmful, as consumers become more and more aware and concerned about the nature of their products and plastic consumption. Getting the plastics industry to a place of true sustainability is not going to be an easy process. But there are a few different avenues that the industry can take, that together, have the potential to create a sustainable plastic industry.
Stop Developing Plastics from Non-renewable Feedstocks
If you are unfamiliar with what a feedstock is, it is by definition, the “raw material to supply or fuel a machine or industrial process”. In terms of plastics, feedstocks can come from any number of areas. Most plastics are currently being developed from feedstocks that are not renewable and often petroleum based (oil, coal, etc.) This usage of fossil fuels is not only damaging to the environment due to carbon dioxide emissions, it’s also simply not sustainable in the long term. As our planet’s supply of fossil fuels continues to deplete, its is necessary for manufacturers to look elsewhere for their plastic feedstock.
The good news is that there are already several natural materials available that have proven to be viable alternatives to the fossil fuels being used as plastic feedstock. Some natural alternatives are starch, sugar cane, corn, natural fibers, and in some cases, salt. The real battle lies in getting companies to change their manufacturing process to work with natural materials.
Explore More Options Involving Recycled & Biodegradable Feedstock
The realm of recycled feedstock is already on the radar of most manufacturers, and is divided into two sub-spaces: pre-consumer and post-consumer feedstock.
The pre-consumer recycled matter comes from plastics that the “extras” in the manufacturing process (shavings, scraps, etc). These materials are gathered and then immediately reintroduced into the manufacturing process.
The post-consumer plastics are created from plastics that have already been used. These are the plastics that are collected for recycling around the world.
Recycled plastic feedstock has a huge amount of potential, but there is much to be done in terms of efficiency. As a conglomerate, we as consumers and manufacturers have not yet come up with an efficient way to collect or (more importantly) sort the recycled plastics. This lack of process has prevented tons of recyclable plastics from being used as plastic feedstock.
Biodegradable feedstock addresses a different aspect of the plastics & sustainability issue. The incorporation of biodegradable plastics will help to reduce overall waste. Despite efforts to recycle, it’s currently inevitable that a large portion of the plastic that is used will end up in landfills. The incorporation of biodegradable materials in plastics will waste that won’t sit on landfills for hundreds of years before they decompose.