When Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2022, we talked about the impact it would have on the plastics industry. Early on, I wondered, "Would this mean that the push toward circularity would go on the back burner?"
At the time, Sustainable Plastics' Karen Laird predicted that the invasion would impact long-term thinking about sustainability and circular plastics.
We didn't know then how long the war would last (and we still don't), but she speculated that it could prompt Western Europe to move faster toward sustainable materials out of necessity because it was cutting off imports of natural gas and oil from Russia.
"Here in Europe, we're dependent on Russia for 40 percent of our [natural gas] and 25 percent of our oil," Laird said during our March 1, 2022, Sustainable Plastics Live. "The sustainable choice ... would be for us all not to be so dependent on a state that has invaded another state."
I still think she's right about that, but the move isn't happening very fast at all. We aren't seeing a big leap ahead in plastics recycling. Instead, the slumping economy — caused by the war — has meant lower demand for virgin resins, which has led to lower prices. That's slowed demand for recycled plastics.
"I'm very curious as to how many [recyclers] are actually going to survive and whether we're going to actually be able to generate the quantities we're going to need in a year and a half [to meet recycled-content requirements]," Laird said in our newest Sustainable Plastics Live, which we recorded Tuesday.
I'll take a deeper look into this issue next week in The Plastics Blog.