By Wim Roels
CEO, Borouge Pte Ltd
Chairman, Singapore Chemical Industry Council
Plastics are an indispensable part of our everyday life, and are used in a multitude of applications that add convenience, comfort, health and safety to societies across the world
Most plastics are based on organic chemicals which offer a huge range of physical properties. Plastic materials can be tailored physically and chemically and molded, laminated or shaped into various forms, offering unbeatable versatility and opening up huge potential application opportunities and benefits.
Indeed, innovative material formulations for creative new applications are being discovered and developed day after day, driven by advancements in technology, artificial intelligence, smarter processes and human imagination.
Today, strong and lightweight plastics solutions already helping to address global challenges, by enabling better management of the world’s limited resources, reducing carbon emissions and food waste, and improving the safety of drinking water.
Plastics are used in critical infrastructure such as utility pipes that deliver gas and water to industries and homes, and in cables that deliver electricity.
In buildings, plastics are used within roofs, walls and insulation as they are durable and help improve energy efficiency. Plastics in carpets, blankets, and pillows keep us comfortable in our homes. Several brands of high efficiency LED light bulbs are made from recycled plastic.
In the transportation sector, plastics have revolutionised improvements in safety, performance and fuel efficiency. Trains, airplanes, automobiles, ships and even satellites and space stations all use plastics extensively.
There are many other interior, exterior and under-the-bonnet components in vehicles that help to make them lighter and hence more fuel efficient, which translates into a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
In the healthcare sector, plastics increase efficiency and hygiene of patient treatment. Sterile and clear plastic intravenous blood, fluid, and medicine bags enable healthcare workers to view volumes and dosages more easily. Plastic heart valves, knee and hip joints and catheters make patients’ lives more comfortable.
Plastic is the ideal material for both food and non-food packaging as it can formed into any shape. Rigid plastic keeps fragile items secure and flexible plastic makes easy-to-carry bags. Foods stay fresh longer when packed in plastic, and the light weight of the packaging also helps reduce export shipping costs.
Countless lifestyle products are also made with plastics. Plastics are used in key components in electronics such as smart devices that we rely on every day to access the Internet or communicate with family and friends on the go, and in sports equipment for athletes.
At scale, there is currently still no viable alternative feedstock to create plastics other than hydrocarbons.
And given global macro trends including the rising world population, expanding middle class and increasing urbanisation in developing countries, the demand for plastics to power economic development and societal progress will continue to outpace GDP growth.
The challenges of balancing global economic growth with our planet’s finite resources has led to greater attention on how a circular economy can be developed and sustained.
Governments, industry and consumers have a joint responsibility to work collaboratively to find sustainable solutions and implement fundamental business model changes across the value chain.
Our industry is continuing to develop innovative new plastics solutions that are even stronger and lighter and which will help improve sustainability.
We are also looking into the development and introduction of new disruptive packaging, designing packaging for recyclability, and working with key partners to integrate recyclates into high performance packaging material.
Currently, too much valuable plastic material is ending up in landfills and the oceans as waste, and more needs to be done to build sustainable waste systems that enable more effective plastics after-use collection and recycling processes.
Several important industry initiatives have been launched to stem the rising tide of marine plastic waste. For example, Project STOP aims to partner with governments in Southeast Asia to build effective and circular waste management systems that eliminate leakage of plastics into the environment and ocean.
I would like to urge my fellow petrochemical industry members to be more actively involved in initiatives such as Project STOP and stay true to our industry’s Responsible Care commitments.
Let us join hands and increase our efforts to partner across our value chain and enhance our industry’s environmental performance by ensuring sustainability in all our processes, products and solutions, and help bring about a zero waste circular economy.