Plastics rehab: Kim Ragaert on the science of materials

24 December, 2019 Sustainability

Plastics rehab: Kim Ragaert on the science of materials

Why are cucumbers wrapped in plastic? At first sight, it may look like a lot of waste and an endless source of pollutant emissions, but there are many small details behind this fact that should be taken into account before we discard plastic packaging as terrible waste.

Polymers Engineering Professor at Belgium’s University of Ghant, Kim Ragaert, gave a TEDx talk entitled ‘Plastics Rehab’ on materials science and polymer processing.

In the talk you can watch here, Kim Ragaert explains how, in the cucumber example, that ‘plastic skin’ could mean a fivefold reduction in CO2 emissions. How?

The idea is simple but also big. With the 2-gram plastic film wrapped around the cucumber, we manage to preserve it for double the time, from 11 to 26 days, which means a significant reduction in food waste and associated CO2 emissions.

The conclusions drawn by the on Kim Ragaert’s words are as follows.

‘Plastics are extremely light materials. They have half the density of glass and a density similar to paper but being very resistant they can be manufactured with minimum thickness compared to other materials. This means that in their manufacture, they consume much less resources and that they are much more efficient in their transportation. Thus, to pack the same amount of liquid you need 24 times more glass than plastic and twice as much fuel is consumed if it is transported. And it is true that it is possible to reuse a glass bottle up to 8 times, but even just recycling 50% of plastic bottles, we are still using 6 times more material in the case of glass than plastic. Additionally, the melting temperature of the glass is about 1,500 when the plastic temperature is around 300 , so the energy to make a glass bottle is much higher than that needed to make a plastic bottle. In conclusion, the plastic manufacturing and recycling system is, on the whole, infinitely more efficient than glass.

If someone leaves a car in the middle of the street, do we blame the car? Do we ban cars? The fault lies with whoever leaves the car and the fine should go to those who leave it. Studies show that 80% of abandoned waste, what we know as “littering”, comes from ourselves, from consumers.

If we focus on banning plastics the environmental effects will be devastating because to produce products that meet the same functionalities, the amount of material, energy consumed and CO2 emitted will be double or even threefold. That is, we will be substituting plastic for less sustainable alternatives and there will be a paradox that the impact on the environment will be much greater. Just the opposite effect that was looked for in the first place.

Consumers have the power to avoid this through the purchase of recyclable products which contain recycled material and providing these products with an appropriate end of use by depositing them in the selective collection containers.


Plastic, most eco-friendly raw material when optimally recycled

24 July, 2019 Sustainability

Plastic, most eco-friendly raw material when optimally recycled

We are absolutely convinced plastic is the most environmentally-friendly material for the exponential manufacture of packages and bags for just one reason: for more than a century we have been learning how to use it sustainably and have been constantly researching ways to recover and reuse its raw material.

Today’s recycling system is straightforward and efficient. That is why our efforts focus on developing 100% recyclable products and on using plastic waste as raw material. Just a few meters away from every home in Spain there is a curb side yellow bin where you can throw away, mind, not all plastic but only plastic packages. This measure makes the life of waste recycling plants much easier.

From an environmental perspective, the main problem with this material is the way it is used and then thrown away in the environment. If we all recycle and try not to generate new waste, the impact of every plastic bag and package on the environment would be much lower than that of making paper or bioplastics bags.

Which is why we support the #NoCulpesAlPlástico campaign launched by AIMPLAS, ANAIP, ANARPLA, AVEP, CICLOPLAST AND PlasticsEurope. We back their efforts to explain the benefits of plastics based on reliable data and to make people aware of the importance of using plastics the right way.

Society is not yet ready for biocompostable plastics as it has been shown that these materials encourage a bad use of plastic based on the false assumption that “it will decompose in time”. Unfortunately, this type of biocompostable materials decompose under specific temperature and moisture conditions that only special composting plants can provide.

The solution lies in the hands of us all and only through the combined effort of businesses and society can we find the best solution.


Circular economy: the most eco-friendly way to stop climate change

24 April, 2019 Sustainability

Circular economy: the most eco-friendly way to stop climate change

At CMSA we believe in circular economy and base each of our processes on the concept of reusing to generate zero waste. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a UK charity that is inspiring the younger generations to rethink, redesign and build a positive future within the framework of circular economy, has also been an inspiration for us all in this endeavour.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, in collaboration with Material Economics, has launched a paper that reveals the need for a fundamental shift in the global approach to tackling climate change. Moving to renewables can only address 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions. To achieve UN climate goals, the paper highlights the urgent need to tackle the remaining 45%, and demonstrates the potential of the circular economy.

With the title ‘Completing the Picture: How the Circular Economy Tackles Climate Change’, the paper centres on how to design with the aim of reusing waste, maintaining materials in use and regenerating farmland, which could reduce greenhouse gases by 9.3 billion tonnes. This is equivalent to eliminating current emissions from all forms of transport globally.

The document demonstrates that by building a thriving and resilient economy – businesses, financial institutions, and policymakers can play an essential role in achieving climate goals.

Read more on this paper here.

All the work of the Ellen MacArthur foundation on circular economy here.