ChE in Context: Recent Plastic Policy Initiatives and Opportunities for ChEs | AIChE

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ChE in Context: Recent Plastic Policy Initiatives and Opportunities for ChEs

The ChE in Context

With the United Nations (UN) Global Resolution to End Plastic Pollution, the world has expressly recognized its plastics problem. Chemical engineers play a central role in all aspects of plastic, from its design and production to the development of solutions to the plastic waste problem.

When it comes to solutions such as recycling, the diversity of plastics is a problem. Uniqueness of any particular, specifically engineered, polymer product is generally an unwanted variable in recycling. These variabilities, as well as the incredible range of plastic and plastic-containing products, significantly interfere with its recovery for beneficial use. Chemical engineers are best equipped to pare back unnecessary variation to allow more homogeneity in post-use plastic, thereby supporting beneficial recovery. Of course, recycling is only relevant for post-use plastic that can be captured before it is released to the environment. Recycling solutions ignore unrecoverable microplastic shed through use, such as tire shred, coatings, synthetic fibers, and other plastic products exposed to the environment. From a sheer mass perspective, contribution of waste from post-use plastic products is just the tip of the policy iceberg for environmental microplastics.

As pragmatic problem solvers, we recognize that successful plastic policy frameworks will necessarily acknowledge the value of plastic...

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