A longtime plastics and chemicals executive now is urging those industries to take a hard look at sustainable development.
Seetha Coleman-Kammula spent more than 25 years in various management and technology positions with Basell Polyolefins and its predecessors, Montell NV and Shell Chemical Co. In 2005, she left Basell and formed NextLife LLC, a sustainability-focused consulting firm in Newark, Del. Her husband, Brian Coleman, who is a former Shell executive, and veteran industry consultant Karl Loos joined her in co-founding the new company.
Speaking at Flexpo 2006, held Sept. 20-22 in Galveston, Coleman-Kammula said that industry practices have resulted in 3,200 pounds of waste being produced for every 100 pounds of product.
``It's time to believe that the environment is an inescapable part of the economy,'' she said. ``We can't grow one without bringing the other along.''
Coleman-Kammula added that only 6 percent of extracted material in the plastics and chemicals field becomes durable goods. The other 94 percent goes into the waste stream. She also pointed out that, by one estimate, the U.S. will be out of landfill space in 25 years, and that landfill costs in recent years already have doubled.
If European Union rules were to spread to the rest of the world, producers would be responsible for end-of-life for vehicles and for electrical/electronic waste.
``If [producers] have to take products back, they'll build them to last longer,'' she said.
Even a basic area like PET recycling has proved to be difficult, with the PET bottle recycling rate in the U.S. falling from almost 40 percent in 1995 to less than 22 percent in 2004.
``The time value of a plastic bottle is six to eight weeks, but the time value of PET in a landfill is decades,'' Coleman-Kammula said.
The situation has been further complicated by new designs for everything from cell phones to potato chip bags. These designs turn products into what she called ``complex consumables'' - items that ``eat energy and materials and make waste fast.''
``Major producers have an obligation to provide materials with a next life,'' she said. ``The time has come for [plastics and chemicals makers] to think about this without getting defensive about it.''