A sustainable plastics expert is in town to refute the belief that plastic is "a bad material".
Dr John Williams, who claims that plastic is "essential to the future of humanity", will be a key attraction at this month’s Australasian Waste and Recycling Expo (AWRE) in Melbourne.
“Let’s face it – plastic is here to stay,” Dr Williams, who is based in the UK, says.
“I do get very tired of the growing uninformed media and NGO stuff about plastics being a bad material and how we should move to ban them and use alternatives.
“It's the most functional material we’ve ever come up with. We depend upon plastics to such an extent that we would literally struggle to live without them. The fact that we are not very good at disposing of it shouldn’t stop us from using it. We need to move towards much more intelligent materials which are not only designed for front-end functionality, but also for back-end ‘circular economy’* principles of recovery.”
As the business development director for British tech company Aquapak Polymers, Dr Williams is heavily involved in sustainable plastics development.
The group is about to launch a plastic that’s 100 per cent recyclable, 100 per cent biodegradable, and non-toxic.
“The upside to this polymer is that it has all the credentials and properties of a conventional plastic, but its end-of-life behaviour is somewhat different,” Dr Williams explains.
“You can recycle it, recover it, and get it to dissolve. It will also biodegrade if it’s in the form of a lightweight film or multi-laminates. It’s compostable. It will go through an anaerobic system. We’ve also done marine tests which prove that it won’t do any harm to a marine environment.”
Dr Williams says the development of new plastics represents a critical facilitator in the drive towards a much-needed international shift to safer, more environmentally friendly iterations.
“The future of plastic is not only about increasing front-end functionality - we also need to start thinking about what kind of plastics we have to adopt in order to allow better recyclability, recoverability and disposability,” he says.
“What can we do to give it a chance of degrading properly or morphing into something else?”
When it comes to the inevitable widespread adoption of sustainable plastics, Dr Williams says the plastic packaging sector (rather than areas such as medical, automotive or aerospace) will likely be the early movers.