In an article published on November 9, 2018, by regulatory news provider Chemical Watch, David Constable, science director at the Green Chemistry Institute of the American Chemical Society (ACS), explained why, in his opinion, “the chemical industry cannot simply carry on using toxic materials in its products, however safely it manages them.”
Constable thinks that “the way in which the global chemistry enterprise operates is completely unsustainable,” and “the industry will be existing on borrowed time if it continues to carry on with a ‘business as usual’ mentality.” For him, an important consideration with regard to the closed-loop economy is that “materials that are the focus of great environmental concern, such as plastics, . . . are made using a large number and volume of hazardous chemicals.” These include both the hazardous building blocks (monomers) that need to be managed during production as well as catalysts and additives. Constable observes that “the way industry makes things” is associated with “significant barriers towards change and the use of less toxic materials.” However, “if we continue to use the types of plastics that are currently in use, we will continue to be manufacturing a very large volume of very hazardous chemicals, some portion of which will find its way into the environment and into humans.”
Further, management of materials “after their useful service life” presents “equally vexing problems,” Constable comments, because “collecting, transporting and separating plastics streams involve enormous challenges and have a heavy impact in terms of energy, water and potentially materials, depending on how separations are accomplished.” Both mechanical and chemical recycling of plastics present unique challenges. Currently, no recycling technology exists yet that is “sufficiently robust and efficient to be viable from an economic and lifecycle perspective,” and it is unclear if such technology will become available any time soon.
These considerations led Constable to pose the question of whether people would prefer a future which “perpetuates the use of highly hazardous chemicals” or “one that is comparatively freer of substances that adversely impact the environment and society.”
David Constable (November 9, 2018). “Time to close the loop.” Chemical Watch