By 2050 the plastics industry will contribute massive economic and social benefits to society across the globe, as it will solve many of the issues surrounding sustainability, said Jonathon Porrit, Founder and Director of Forum for the Future, in his keynote address at the PVC 2014 conference in Brighton.
Presenting his views on the journey of the PVC industry, Porritt said it was “a fascinating one to follow from afar,” and that he deemed it a “yardstick material” to showcase sustainability.
“People may want to challenge that plastics and sustainability is an oxymoron, but they can absolutely co-exist, co-habit and co-create in the name of human good,” he commented.
Porritt’s vision for a plastics industry that has the “lowest possible dependency on carbon fuels possible” led to his suggestion that the development of industrial biotechnology would provide a more sustainable platform than fossil fuels, making clear his opinion that the use of fracking to explore shale gas reserves would only provide a “quick fix”.
This opinion, however, was later challenged by Roger Mottram, Head of Environmental and Regulatory Affairs at Ineos ChlorVinyls, who acknowledged the need for non-fossil fuels, but suggested that utilising shale gas reserves in both the UK and Europe would be a way of ensuring supply in the interim whilst alternatives are developed.
“Regarding what Jonathon Porritt said, we do believe that the EU should go down the route of shale gas exploration,” said Mottram. “We would argue that using shale gas actually helps to reduce CO2 emissions as it burns more cleanly than some of the other fossil fuels. We would like to go for the bio-feedstocks in the long term, but it will take a lot of research and innovation in order for us to get there."
During his presentation on critical success factors for the industry from the perspective of European PVC producers, Mottram made the case for de-regulation, less state intervention and lower regulatory compliance costs and also said despite clear progress in a number of areas, there is still no room for complacency.
Brigitte Dero, from the European Council of Vinyl Manufacturers (ECVM), highlighted some of these clear areas of progression, including the achievements of the Vinyl2010 programme, the voluntary commitment that saw the creation of both a new recycling industry and infrastructure, and also its successor, VinylPlus.
“VinylPlus was born out of Vinyl2010 as an ongoing commitment. It is more ambitious –aiming to address sustainability as a whole, to recycle 800,000 tonnes of PVC per year by 2020 and also look at the sustainable use of additives and reductions in emissions,” Dero commented.
The challenges of the new VinylPlus programme were also discussed, including the 20 percent reduction in energy consumption targeted by resin producers, which Dero described as "vitally important in Europe, but not easy.”
"We are not yet sure that we will reach this target,” she said when questioned about the reality of reaching such an ambitious target. “We might get close, or we might achieve it, but even if we do not, we are still reducing energy consumption and learning in the process about how we do it."
Dero also acknowledged the London 2012 Olympics as a "great achievement" in terms of the global platform the games gave to PVC in highlighting its use as a sustainable material, saying that its post-event recycling and re-use in applications such as garden hoses and flooring for schools suggests the industry is "heading step-by-step towards a circular economy."
"For many years as an industry we were quite shy. We were not used to sharing our achievements. However, now we have something to say. We want to share this experience and expertise with our partners and the PVC family all around the globe. We want to demonstrate that, dare I say it, this material can be green,” she commented.
Concluding and looking to the future in terms of sustainability, Dero said: "We are making progress in the PVC industry in Europe. We have achieved much, but we have not finished, certainly not. We are working on it, there is still a lot to do. We have to continue to work together.”