The announcement was much broader than plastics, but the plastics goal has generated intense interest in the U.S. plastics supply chain. President Joe Biden’s administration said it wants to develop technology that could replace 90 percent of fossil fuel-based plastics with bio-based alternatives over the next two decades.
The ambitious goal is aimed at addressing climate, food and health challenges.
“Practically, from a business perspective, the first question is, who’s going to pay for this?” said Conor Carlin, president-elect of the Society of Plastics Engineers and co-author of the book Plastics & Sustainability. “You know, 1 or 2 percent of global polymer production is from biobased sources. … It’s significantly more expensive.
“Everybody along the supply chain” will be impacted by that, Carlin said.
He added, though, that he supports the bioplastics initiative, even if they don’t look realistic at this point. Carlin called the White House proposals “big, hairy audacious goals.”
“I think fundamentally, you have to set big goals though, right? I mean, if we agree that the scale of the challenges is big, and generational, then if we’re not going to set big goals, we’re not going to give people something to work for over the next longer-term period. If it attracts more people into these industries, to work harder and find the breakthroughs.” Carlin said.
Kelvin Okamoto of Green Bottom Line Inc. put the necessary investment into perspective.
“The goals are important. But the other part is to think about it, it takes an average of anywhere from three to five years to build a 200-million-pound-a-year plant. We’re going to need tens, if not a few hundred of those, to really get to that goal. So work has to start now on a lot of those facilities to get to that 90 percent in 20 years, or even get to the 25 percent in 20 years,” Okamoto said.