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CURING OUR PLASTIC ADDICTION / 29 Mar 2018

Blog: Curing our plastic addiction - Substituting plastic with bio-based, bio-degradable solutions

We have an addiction. Plastic in itself is not the problem. The problem is that we are addicted to needs that can only be fulfilled by materials with some key properties that grades of plastics have. Plastic has only achieved its global status during the last sixty years or so, but now we are hooked. So instead of pictures of plastic on beaches, let’s think solutions.

Two major problems conspire to make things complicated. Firstly, fossil plastics contribute to climate change and secondly, non-biodegradable plastics are generating the ‘plastic ocean’. The innovative solutions that Pöyry is pioneering, together with leading Fortune 500 companies, will play a role in curing both issues. The cure? Substituting plastic with bio-based, bio-degradable solutions.

Fossil plastics should be substituted step-by-step. 330 Mtons of plastics is produced every year. We can only substitute a fraction of that at the moment, if we as consumers insist on having the same products with the same properties at the same price. Only a stepwise approach works.

There are four main areas to plastic substitution.

Reduce consumption of plastics: obviously, reducing consumption of the goods where plastics is needed is the first one and we see governments introducing various taxes and initiatives, such as the recently announced plastic drinks bottle deposit in the UK and the plastic bag bans in France, India and many other countries and cities.

For substitution, fibre-based alternatives, bioplastics and recycled plastics are the three key routes:

The fibre-based alternatives route already competes with and substitute plastics – in packaging the long-time battle is now in a situation where both sides have the same amount of territory.

The bioplastic route is emerging. Bioplastics such as PLA are already established on the market, other grades are climbing the ladder towards markets and growth.

The plastics recycling route is complicated and not without challenges. Different plastics grades usually don’t mix, and even a small amount of the wrong grade may pollute the whole stream of another. Plastics require appropriate collection and sorting. Multicomponent plastics recycling through mechanical or chemical means is either not yet possible, extremely energy intensive or too costly. Thus, new technologies and regulations need to be developed to improve recycling rates.

Pöyry and the forest and chemical industries are in a key position in the two main plastics substitution routes; fibre-based and bioplastic.

Packaging, construction, electronics and automotive are core plastics end uses. Fibre-based packaging is already a main focus of the industry. Bioplastics are being developed by forest industry companies. Forest industry biocomposites are already on the market.

To succeed, we need to think of the end uses, target the right ones, and develop the properties to substitute fossil plastics. What we call the ‘Pöyry Plastics Substitution Book’ is a complete approach, database and analysis tools, providing real solutions to help cure our addiction. Combining Pöyry expertise across the globe, we together are many parts of the solution to a fiendishly tricky problem.

If you can’t beat the problem, then substitute it!

Did you know that Pöyry experts are actively contributing to the next 60 years by substituting plastics with bio-based alternatives?

Founded in 1958 and with its deep roots in the forest industry, Pöyry’s experts have grown up as part of ‘Generation Plastic’. This year, we are celebrating Pöyry’s 60th anniversary. To mark the occasion, we are committed to making a difference through our #PlasticsToBio campaign.

Fundamental to Pöyry’s modern culture is the importance of empowering all 5500 intrapreneurs to create smart solutions, which build on the megatrends to add extra value to clients.

And exposed to the same shocking images of the ‘plastic ocean’, our passionate intrapreneurs got their heads together to help find a cure. Together, they are turning their deep knowledge and insight of the bioeconomy to pioneer bio-based, biodegradable solutions to substitute plastics.

At Pöyry, we are proud to be playing our part in curing the plastic addiction and improving society for the next sixty years and generations to come. We are #ProudToBePoyry.

Contact information

Petri Vasara
Vice President