You could say Benny Mermans is in the middle of the action when it comes to policy debates about plastics sustainability.
The longtime industry executive and trade association leader, for example, has been a delegate and spokesman for the industry at the United Nations' plastics treaty talks.
He serves on committees within Plastics Europe and the American Chemistry Council and currently chairs the World Plastics Council, a group of 20-plus resin makers that, in its words, wants to address challenges facing the industry and advocate for change, while seeing that society continues to benefit from plastics.
He has attended treaty negotiations representing the WPC.
"We need to reframe the way we produce, design, use, reuse and recycle these valuable materials so that plastic waste does not end up in our environment and continues to deliver benefits to society," Mermans said in his written submission for this special report.
Mermans, who in his day job is vice president of sustainability for Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. LP, says plastics play an important role in helping the world meet the U.N.'s Sustainable Development Goals and getting to a lower-carbon future.
He's helped develop CP Chem's sustainability strategy around three key areas: climate change, product sustainability and circularity, and social responsibility.
The technology he said he's most interested in to make plastics more circular and decarbonize is chemical recycling. It's important to bring chemical recycling to scale, he said.
That echoes a point he made in a speech at a side event to the plastics treaty talks in late May in Paris, where he told delegates that global agreements like the plastics treaty and the Basel Convention on waste trade need to consider the technology.
"We need chemical recycling to be recognized as environmentally sound waste management," he said.
In the speech, he said the industry wants a plastics treaty that includes national action plans with recycling and reuse targets, design for recycling guidelines and financial tools to expand waste management to the estimated 3 billion people in the world without access to it.
"We need ... policies that incentivize further innovation and the investment in circularity that is absolutely needed," he said. "We cannot wait until we have all the answers before developing the supportive regulatory framework."
Mermans told other delegates that the industry wants a robust, implementable plastics treaty.
"Having been in the plastics industry for over 35 years, I'm passionate about what I do and I'm convinced about what can be achieved," he said. "And I absolutely believe that the industry can be a clear leader and a true catalyst for the change we need to see."
He said the industry has announced plans for $16 billion in investments globally, including in different recycling technologies, in areas like expanding recycled plastic in food packaging and building more plastics recycling systems for end-of-life vehicles.
"We recognize the need for faster systemic change," he said.
At times, Mermans, as head of the WPC, has questioned the direction of treaty talks. He said in September after negotiators released initial draft language that it included an "absence of options" for scaling a circular economy for plastics.
But after the end of the most recent round of talks in Kenya in November, Mermans said negotiators had made progress toward an "effective and practical" agreement, although he said it still needed stronger support for circularity.
Environmental groups and others analyzing the end of the Kenya round took a somewhat different tone, saying the talks ended on a disappointing note and that the treaty risked being held hostage by nations with strong fossil fuel interests.
He said the industry has a positive role to play in helping make economies more sustainable.
"The plastics industry has a unique opportunity to shape the future and be a key enabler towards a more sustainable future," he said. "We need to make plastics more circular, drive towards lower-carbon emissions and foster more sustainable use of plastics."
As influences, Mermans cites the book Net Positive: How Courageous Companies Thrive by Giving More Than They Take by Paul Polman and Andrew Winston, and the specific examples it offers for how business can thrive with that approach.
And, as inspiration, he cites his 6-year-old grandson and wanting to leave the world a better place for future generations.
Mermans has been in the plastics industry more than three decades but admits he "stumbled" into a job in quality assurance at a polyethylene plant after earning a degree in chemical engineering. But he said he quickly saw the value the industry brings to society, and today said he works in his sustainability job at CP Chem to elevate alternative opinions and find common ground.