When traditional resources are running out, attention has to be turned to materials that can be salvaged and reused.
Not enough recycled PET
One of the biggest problems with recycled plastic packaging in the US and the UK is not processing problems as some might assume but the lack of recycled materials that can be used like recycled PET, explained James Clark at the Cosmetic Science Symposium held last week in the UK.
“We need to get better at setting it aside and recycling it,” he said.
In addition, a number of chemical elements that are used extensively either as raw materials or as catalysts during manufacturing are running out, claimed Clark.
“We need to ask where these materials are going. We are redistributing them by putting them into products but this does not mean they have become waste, we need to think about how to reclaim them,” he said.
For organic chemists, the question is how to find the carbon molecules needed, and for Clark the answer is biomass.
However, this does not mean using plants that could otherwise be used for food. Rather more sustainable sources, such as farm waste or waste from food processing could be used, he said.
Necessity is the mother of invention
For Clarke, there is also significant room for improvement in making processes greener.
“Oil refining is incredibly efficient; margins are so tight it is necessary. As you move down the value chain things become less efficient, with fine chemicals and pharmaceuticals coming last.”
However, it is not often easy to persuade people that meaningful improvements can be made.
Often people assume the way they have been doing something is the only way, and it can be difficult to get people to accept that there might be new more efficient methods, he explained.
“Tradition can be a terrible thing when it comes to chemistry,” he said.