Düsseldorf, Germany — Battling negative public perception of plastics, Ineos Group Ltd. sponsored a panel discussion at K 2016 to highlight how styrenics can be a force for good.
The panel included Norbert Niessner, director of global R&D at Ineos Styrolution; Patricia Vangheluwe, technical director of PlasticsEurope, and Hans-Werner Schmidt of the University of Bayreuth.
Norbert stated that sustainability is becoming more and more important, especially for Ineos Styrolution.
“We are working on new lightweight solutions for automotive, but also for medical and other industries,” he said. “Composites are lightweight and strong; another example is lightweight injection molded parts saving weight and CO2. I would also mention about more durable materials being sustainable as well, so there are other ways to add to sustainability.”
Vangheluwe pointed out that the circular economy package has identified plastics as a key strategic priority area, and that a European road map is about to be published, by the end of 2017, that is to set out a strategy on plastics.
“There is an opportunity to show the contributions [by plastics] to society but also to address the challenges up front with the European Commission and the industry value chain,” she said. “For that it is important to look at how to use resources in the most resource efficient way.”
Innovation will be key, she said, and every part of the lifecycle of plastics is important in producing resource efficiency. Innovation can also lead to plastic waste being reused so at the end of its life to produce feedstocks. Packaging also preserves food and saves CO2, which are important to the circular economy.
Vangheluwe highlighted that litter is a major challenge. Product design has a role in making plastics more valuable and making the public less inclined to throw them away.
After the panel discussion, Vangheluwe said: “From the plastics Roadmap we would like to see a good debate. And what we in the industry see as missing are facts. … More things are being based on emotions or gut feelings, and when talking about the circular economy, I have the impression that they only talk about the materials, keeping them in a loop, but they forget the energy, and every system needs energy.
“So I think we have an opportunity to work together to look at full life cycle, what does it mean and how to measure resource efficiency. So if there were three guiding principles, they would be full life cycle thinking, environmental protection and societal well-being and awareness building.
“I think the plastic Roadmap will contain three elements — fossil fuel as a feedstock, recycling and reuse, and preventing leakage into the environment — but we will see.”
Speaking about the opportunities arising from plastics, Schmidt said: “Opportunities for employment and industrial collaborations require freedom and space and flexibility. And what we discovered with Ineos Styrolution is that we had the flexibility to target issues. As a group, we can push innovation.”
The panel discussed issues related to the aging global demographics, saying plastics will play a part especially in the medical market, creating safe, easy-to-use products.
Niessner said the plastics industry needs to pinpoint specific materials for specific medical applications. He highlighted materials research into making thinner bags and infused with antimicrobials.