Could the COVID-19 pandemic catalyse a loosening of environmental protections in the name of public health?
That’s the subtext of lobbying efforts from the Plastics Industry Association and petrochemicals giants in the US, which attempts to highlight the public health risks of restricting single-use, oil-based plastics. They may have their work cut out.
As a recent social sciences study from The University of Amsterdam and Avantium highlights, consumers are increasingly aware of the environmental impact of the things they buy, and prepared to pay a premium for sustainable products.
The pandemic’s effect on our travel and working behaviour have revealed the positive effects of reducing greenhouse emissions more than ever. The irony is that plant-based polymers and intermediates are if anything superior to the petroleum-based substances they replace.
A good example is PEF (polyethylene furanoate) – a plant-based alternative to PET. Unlike most petroleum-based plastics, PEF is 100% recyclable and has close to zero gas permeability. Moreover, it can be produced, processed and recycled in existing assets, making it an attractive product for producers, converters and recyclers.
If today’s bioplastics had been available when plastic packaging first became mainstream, there is every chance manufacturers would have used them, rather than petroleum-based plastics. And our environment – on land and at sea – would look very different.