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Top Trends in the Plastics Industry Stemming From Global Megatrends

The Chemours Company

NORTHAMPTON, MA / ACCESSWIRE / November 1, 2022 / According to the United Nations (UN), five megatrends are shaping the world today:

  1. Emerging technologies

  2. Social and demographic change

  3. Rapid Urbanization

  4. Limited supply of natural resources and global climate change

  5. Shift of economic powers

Experts are seeing three forces emerge from these trends that are shaping the use of titanium dioxide (TiO₂) in the plastics industry:

  1. End-of-life management

  2. Fundamental applications

  3. Sustainable development

Let's dive into these forces and their impact in the plastics space.

End-of-Life Management:
A significant concern in the plastics industry is the growing amount of plastic waste. Plastics can be categorized as being non-durable (single-use, typically landfilled), durable (reusable), or uncontained and released to the environment (littering). Plastic waste accumulation has been growing rapidly over the last several decades, and consequently, so has the need to address and manage this waste. In the United States alone, nearly 30 thousand tons of plastic waste is generated annually. So, what can be done to combat this problem?

Design with the "End" in Mind:
Government, industry, and academic researchers understand that the end-of-life disposition of plastic -all depends on how it is designed. These teams are taking a new interest in not only designing plastic for its primary use phase, but also designing it for preferred management for end-of-life, be it reuse, recycling, or biodegradation.

In one such effort, the American Chemistry Council has identified five actions that can be taken to help decrease plastic waste going to landfills in the U.S. The first action is 30/2030 Plastic Packaging, a plan to recycle at least 30% of plastics by 2030. The second action is working towards creation of modern regulatory system to enable rapid scaling advanced recycling and mechanical recycling. Another action is to establish a national standard for recycling plastics. We'll also need to understand additional dimensions in managing plastic waste, such as the impact of greenhouse gas emissions produced during end-of-life management to guide the strongest policy.

In another program focused on managed plastics at end-of-life, the Department of Energy established the Plastics Innovation Challenge in 2019 with a goal to recycle plastic waste in the U.S. in a more economical and sustainable manner. The challenge includes initiatives like deconstruction, which creates pathways to separate components of plastic waste efficiently, while retaining their useful properties, or even enabling upcycling, the ability to reclaim the full or even higher value of the plastics in further use. Other important components of the initiative include goals to build recyclability into the design of plastic materials and efforts to scale and deploy collection and sorting technologies for both mechanical and advanced recycling processes, leading to supply chain efficiencies.

Remove2Reclaim Partnership:
Chemours is a partner in the Remove2Reclaim (R2R) project with a team of industrial and research university scientists. This project aims to develop solvent-based extraction routes to remove additives such as TiO₂ out of different polymer matrices and to reclaim both the TiO₂ and polymer for reuse in new products. R2R goals include technology development of methods and equipment to detect TiO₂ from different plastics waste streams, sorting mechanisms to distinguish between plastic waste streams with and without TiO₂, innovative extraction techniques tailored towards TiO₂, assessment of reclaimed TiO₂, and further processing of reclaimed polymers into high quality and functional polymers.

Visions and Actions to Create a Circular Economy for Plastics:
The plastics packaging value chain of the present day is linear, but the vision to shift towards a circular economy to manage these important resources has begun to form. One area of action towards this challenge is to eliminate and reduce problematic or unnecessary plastic packaging through redesign, innovation, and new product delivery models. In another approach, extending plastic packaging reuse models where relevant can reduce the need for single use packaging. Additional visions include ensuring all plastic packaging is 100% reusable, recyclable, or compostable, and all plastic packaging is reused, recycled, or composted in practice. Furthermore, the use of plastics should be fully decoupled from the consumption of finite resources. Finally, it should be ensured that all plastic packaging is free of hazardous chemicals, and the health, safety, and rights of all people involved in the plastics value chain are respected, all essential goals to reach a sustainable circular economy for plastics packaging.

Fundamental Applications:
The second force helping to shape the TiO₂ plastics industry is the growing service of plastics in fundamental applications for our world. Plastics will provide value supporting the needs created by the megatrends such as the demographic shifts and urbanization. Plastics will continue to support performance in applications for everyday life (home goods, food packaging, healthcare, and medical devices), where we will demand even more performance from them.

Food packaging is an example of how we are extending the role of plastics to bring value to fundamental applications. Food waste is both a global and climate issue with 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions coming from food losses and waste. Plastic food packaging can be a tool to prevent and limit food waste through food protection in distribution, retailing, and in extended life. For example, light-sensitive food ingredients in milk packaged in plastic packages comprising Ti-Pure™ TiO₂ enable an improved preservation of food quality (color, odor, taste, nutrients), thus demonstrating potential for reduced food waste.

Sustainable Development:
The last force shaping the plastics industry is sustainable development. It's important to address the needs of growing populations, but with a view to the finite resources of our shared planet considering sustainability and the future for generations to come. Some opportunities we see for the industry include the ability to design with minimal end-of-life impacts, yet to bring sustainable value in the use and performance of plastics in their applications.

Chemours designed EVOLVE 2030 in alignment with the UN sustainable development goals. In this framework, Chemours products and application offerings contributing to sustainable benefits have been carefully identified. One such application is agriculture films comprising Ti-Pure™ TiO₂ enabling the conservation of water in high-heat conditions or drought, maintaining cool root temperature optimal for growth and increased crop yields with gains by up to 20% seen. In building and construction applications, like roofing membranes, the use of Ti-Pure™ TiO₂ to helps to lower interior temps, reducing energy to cooling costs for buildings. Finally, in plastic packaging applications the light protection provided by Ti-Pure™ TiO₂ helps protect the packaged goods longer, leading to improved product quality and less waste. In some systems, the light protection benefits can even help extend the shelf life of food nutrients, keeping the foods nutritious and fresh tasting, longer.

The three major forces of end-of-life management, fundamental applications, and sustainable development are shaping the plastics industry. They are being addressed collaboratively by academic, government, and industry experts, like us. Chemours is one of the world's largest manufacturers of titanium dioxide using industry-leading processes, technology, and safety standards for almost a century. We're committed to building a more colorful, cleaner, and capable world with Ti-Pure™ titanium dioxide, and are invested in the future of responsible chemistry to ensure sustainability for future generations.

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SOURCE: The Chemours Company



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