The plastics industry often cites science as an ally — there's a consensus in the industry among people I've talked with that if the public just knew more about the benefits that plastics provide, there would be less pressure to ban or tax some plastic products.
But how about when scientists suggest ways that the plastics industry should change to improve the environment?
The Guardian newspaper has an interesting story, “Scientists call for better plastics design to protect marine life,” where reporter Fiona Harvey interviewed experts at a briefing in London about specific ways that the plastics industry should change to reduce the volume of plastic that's ending up in the ocean.
Interestingly, the story doesn't just focus on banning plastic products, or switching production to new polymers that would degrade in the ocean. The scientists instead talked about making changes to materials to encourage more recycling, which they argue could prevent single-use containers from ending up as litter and marine debris.
For example, Richard Thompson, a professor of marine biology at Plymouth University, suggested removing pigments from plastic bottles in cases where the coloring is there only for marketing reasons, or to improve aesthetics — think of certain clear soft drinks packaged in green PET containers, for example.
Better design and changes in plastic materials are fairly simple ways to improve the environment, he said.
“The irony is that if most of these materials were better designed, they could be better recycled, and we could capture them. That would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We need to change the way we do this,” Thompson told the newspaper.
I've written a lot about plastic marine debris over the years, including some recent columns and blogs. I've made the point that the plastics industry is on board with efforts to fix the problem.
I recognize that the decision maker in plastics design decisions often isn't the plastics company — in most cases, processors make a part in whatever color, using whatever material, that the customer wants.
But plastics processors and suppliers play a role in some decisions. So I'm interested — what's the industry's reaction to these scientists' suggestions?