Environment and Sustainability
Polymers and polymer technologies have made a profound positive contribution to the quality of human life, and to the growth of the modern economy. This is reflected below, where some drivers for growth in the usage of polymers (thermoplastics, thermosets and elastomers) are illustrated.
The European Green Deal, which has been described as Europe’s new growth strategy, is really a set of policy initiatives by the European Commission with the aim of making Europe climate neutral by 2050. According to the EC (2019), the Green Deal is “a new growth strategy that aims to transform the EU into a fair and prosperous society, with a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy where there are no net emissions of greenhouse gases in 2050 and where economic growth is decoupled from resource use”.
To support the commission’s goal of a toxic-free environment, and as part of the Green Deal, the Commission has also presented a Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability (CSS). This strategy is intended to “protect citizens and the environment better against hazardous chemicals and encourage innovation for the development of safe and sustainable alternatives”.
The new Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability (CSS) was published on the 14 October 2020 with the aim to boost innovation for safe and sustainable chemicals and increase protection of human health and the environment against hazardous chemicals.
Crucially, this sub-strategy defines how the Green Deal is related to REACH Regulation, and importantly, how CSS will enhance and extend the implementation and scope of REACH to polymers. REACH regulation currently relates to substances of very high concern (SVHCs) rather than the base polymers themselves. In other words, to date, duty of registration for evaluation has related only to substances added to or incorporated into polymers. Under CSS, the duty of registration will also extend to certain polymers of high concern.
It is therefore expected that inclusion of a polymer on a Candidate List may be a precursor to Authorisation and/or Restriction procedures under REACH Regulation - meaning that such polymers may become difficult, or impossible, to procure in the future within the EU. In a similar fashion to current legislation, it is expected that once a polymer on a Candidate List becomes subject to Authorisation, it could not be used after a given 'sunset' date, unless authorisation is granted through ECHA (European Chemicals Agency).
The manufacture, use and disposal of these products, however, impacts on the environment due to their consumption of material resources and energy; with additional penalties of CO2, other gaseous emissions, low-grade heat, liquid and solid waste. These challenges are compounded by increasing strains on global resources for the collection, sorting and reprocessing of material. Flexible plastics packaging, in particular, poses a significant challenge and according to some estimates accounts for the bulk of leakage into our oceans.
GPC has conducted extensive research into the environmental impact of polymers and backs this up with decades of experience in the reprocessing, testing and validation of engineering materials and products, as well as having specific relevant knowledge and experience in the manufacture and recycability of single- and multi-use plastics.
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