From less bad to good plastics

28 April 2008

Why do we still make plastic products that smell bad, that contain cadmium, bromine or antimony? The aspiration to use less of these substances is simply not good enough. We do not need chemistry that is less bad, we need chemistry that is good.

Accordingly, sustainability is dull: it leads to the minimization of emissions, but not to solutions that really matter. The production of polylactic acid from resources that are suitable for foodstuffs is therefore unacceptable. It can also be made from waste products. These points were made by Professor Michael Braungart at last year's annual meeting of the DPI in Maastricht. To reinforce his message he repeatedly sniffed at the plastic bag that he, together with all the participants, had received, and which emitted an unpleasant smell of plasticizer.

Professor Braungart is one of the two men who thought up the Cradle to Cradle (C2C) principle, by means of which products are prepared during their design phase for biological or technological metabolism, for a new life in the biosphere or technosphere. He used the example of T-shirts that can ultimately be composted, thus forming new raw materials for foodstuffs.

In comparison with biological metabolism, Braungart foresees technological metabolism for industry, in which products are, to the greatest possible extent, designed for reuse in the cycle.
He called upon the DPI to draw up a positive agenda on the basis of the C2C principle, in which the DPI could function as a ‘societal organization' for the polymer sector. Even though products containing, for example, antimony or bromine are approved by governments, companies should themselves take the responsibility of designing products that are good for the environment. Instead of making less bad plastics, we should produce good plastics, according to Braungart.