Home Sustainability and Eco Friendly initiative news Unilever, BASF and Walgreens Boots Alliance tout vision for biodegradable PLF plastics by 2030

Unilever, BASF and Walgreens Boots Alliance tout vision for biodegradable PLF plastics by 2030

Unilever, BASF and Walgreens Boots Alliance tout vision for biodegradable PLF plastics by 2030

A group of multinational chemicals and consumer goods giants have joined together to develop a green roadmap for tackling the scourge of PLF plastics, setting out industry-wide ambitions to develop recycling infrastructure for the material as well as biodegradable alternatives over the next decade and beyond.

The PLF taskforce – which counts Unilever, BASF, and Walgreens Boots Alliance as members – last week published a roadmap focused on tackling the fossil-based chemical, which is a key ingredient in millions of household products from cosmetics and paint to toiletries and fertilisers, yet is not currently recyclable.

According to the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), which is spearheading the taskforce, more than 36 million tonnes of these ‘polymers in liquid formulations’ (PLFs) are made every year but are not recycled, which it estimates is enough to fill Wembley Stadium 32 times over.

However, taskforce members have set out their ambitions in the new roadmap for the $125bn industry to develop circular economy infrastructure for tackling these chemicals, and to scale the first biodegradable PLFs, by as soon as 2030.

These two goals underpin an overall ambition set out in the roadmap for the entire PLF sector to become environmentally sustainable by 2040.

“As the global population grows, demand for PLFs will only increase – and our industry needs to take the transition to a sustainable PLFs ecosystem seriously,” said Tony Heslop, senior sustainability manager at chemicals giant BASF. “This means moving away from fossil to bio-based feedstocks and creating a circular economy to minimise waste and maximise reuse and recycling. 

“This is of course something that no industry body or organisation can tackle in isolation, and as such, the RSC’s task force provides a strategic platform that allows us to work with our industry peers to generate solutions that we can all benefit from, while reducing our collective impact on the planet.”

The taskforce is now calling on the UK government to create a national chemicals regulator which it claims could set a “gold standard” in regulation, in addition to urging academic institutions to collaborate with the wider industry towards developing further research to “stimulate innovation” in the field.

It urges the industry to “rapidly advance” research and development of PLFs, pointing out it is “impossible” to understand the sustainability challenges of PLFs without researching the full life-cycle of these chemicals.

In order to develop and scale biodegradable PLFs by 2030, the taskforce has called for a new standard for the recycling and circulatory of PLFs. It said this should focus on mitigating the environmental impact of chemicals that cannot be collected and recycled by designing new polymers, or products which biodegrade in soil or water.

Moreover, it also recommends creating a new ‘Biodegradability Network’ through which universities, research labs, and other stakeholders could share knowledge to help advance the biodegradability of PLFs, as well as establishing new national chemicals regulations to deliver more effective observation and control of pollutants.

Professor Anju Massey-Brooker, industry associate at the Royal Society of Chemistry, acknowledged the scale of the PLF challenge was “immense”, but said she was confident the industry and regulators could rise to it.

“We are being deliberately ambitious,” she said. “However, with the right funding and collaboration, we can design biodegradable PLFs and put in place the infrastructure needed to create circular economies for them, so that products retain their usefulness while being more sustainable. 

“Government, academics, industry, and the public have shown this can be done through their work to reduce the harms caused by plastic pollution; all these groups now need to come together and join the PLFs revolution.”

Want to understand what is going on at the cutting edge of sustainability? Check out BusinessGreen Intelligence – the premier information for professionals focused on the UK’s green economy. 


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