10 ways to rethink plastic through technology

Published on by in Case Studies

10 ways to rethink plastic through technology

To protect our natural capital and achieve net zero, we must figure out how to reduce plastic pollution. The United Nations recently took an important step towards that goal, as negotiators agreed on a roadmap for a global treaty on plastic pollution that would address the issue at the design and production stage1. Technology will be a key enabler of this mission, as we look for ways to consume less, recycle more, and clean up the plastic pollution we’ve already created.

Here are 10 ways to rethink plastic through technology.

Technology will be a key enabler…as we look for ways to consume less, recycle more, and clean up the plastic pollution we’ve already created
1. Next-gen water resistance
The UK alone uses around 2.5 billion disposable cups each year, most of which include a thin layer of water-resistant plastic that must be separated from the paper in specialist facilities before the cup can be recycled. As a result, only about 0.25% of these discarded cups are recycled2, with the rest ending up in landfills. Now, though, novel technology could make easily recyclable paper cups a reality. For instance, Finnish company MM Kotkamills has developed a new water-based, plastic-free coating that makes paperboard naturally resistant to liquids, which it uses to produce disposable cups and food packaging that can be easily recycled along with other paper waste.

2. Reinventing packaging
Most toothpaste tubes are essentially plastic-and-aluminium sandwiches. But while this makes for a squeezable toothpaste tube, the fusion of plastic and metal is impossible to recycle through conventional means, resulting in billions of empty tubes being sent to landfill each year. In an effort to tackle this challenge, toothpaste giant Colgate focused on High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE), which is widely recycled yet too rigid in its usual form to be used in squeezable tubes. Following a five-year development process, Colgate managed to find the perfect combination of grades and thicknesses of HDPE laminate, resulting in the world’s first recyclable toothpaste tube—a technology that Colgate has made freely available to its competitors.

3. Next-gen bioplastics
Bioplastics are a vital tool for reducing our dependence on petroleum-based plastics. But to make these biodegradable alternatives economically attractive, we need innovations that will reduce the cost of producing bioplastics while making them suitable for use in more applications. One such pioneering technology is AggiePol, a bioplastic platform from British company Teysha Technologies derived from renewable, sustainable, plant-based feedstocks that can be physically, mechanically, and chemically tuned for specific applications. Even AggiePol’s degradability can be tuned to ensure that it’s robust enough to survive a given use case before breaking down as quickly as possible should it end up in the environment.

Bioplastics are a vital tool for reducing our dependence on petroleum-based plastics
Read also: How can we tackle plastic pollution? 10 solutions for a greener future

4. Genetic modification
Alongside bioplastics, using genetic modification to alter the properties of natural fibres such as hemp and flax is increasingly enabling them to be used in place of petroleum-based plastics. One example is Flaxstic from Canadian company Open Mind Developments, which combines plant-based biopolymers with flax straw that is often burned as waste. The result is an eco-friendly alternative to plastic that also provides farmers with an additional source of income.