On December 7, 2021, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published a report intended to “enable the creation of inherently sustainable plastic products by integrating sustainable chemistry thinking in the design process.” The document is meant to support designers when they think plastic is the best material for a product.  It walks the designers through the considerations necessary during sourcing, manufacturing, use, and end-of-life to produce a plastic product with the lowest human and environmental health impacts.  

At each stage, the OECD encourages transparency in chemical composition. Other considerations include selecting a base polymer that “uses non-hazardous or the least hazardous chemicals during extraction and production,” selecting a manufacturing process that “minimizes worker exposure,” reducing exposure to chemicals during use “as much as possible” by mapping exposure scenarios, and to “match the polymer selection to the waste management operations in the intended market.”  

The OECD suggests four primary design goals that can be “added to depending on the level of ambition of the company:” (i) select materials with an inherently low risk/hazard, (ii) select materials that have a commercial ‘afterlife,’ (iii) select materials that generate no waste, and (iv) select materials that use secondary feedstock or biobased feedstock.  

The report clearly states that while economic and societal factors also play a role in designing a sustainable product “these are not within the scope of the report.” Even without these factors, the OECD grants that the design process will still “lead to trade-offs that will need to be carefully balanced in the decision-making process by the design team, but they are expected to promote transparency and reflection on the implications of making these choices.” 

Previously published studies have demonstrated how packaging design affects waste sorting behavior and material recovery (FPF reported, also here) and that plastic materials can have hazards throughout their entire life cycle (FPF reported). Organizations other than the OECD have published recommendations for product designers in the last year including the Consumer Goods Forum, Upstream, and SYSTEMIQ (FPF reported also here and here).  


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OECD (December 7, 2021). “A chemicals perspective on designing with sustainable plastics.”