Jayanthi Rangarajan, Waste-to-Value Expert, explores the amazing potential of waste plastics in the circular economy

What do you see as being the greatest opportunity or barrier to plastics circularity?Jayanthi

Greatest Opportunity:

If we can cost-effectively recover the carbon in waste plastics and biomass to make new plastics, waste becomes the new “oil”, the gold mine vs being a burden, a scourge, a climate concern. If waste carbon is valuable, it can be transformative to developing nations that can harness this resource, achieve community hygiene and end ocean pollution. If waste is valuable, would you bury it or burn it or ship it to China?

In 1868, Charles Dickens wrote that the Thames was “a deadly sewer … in the place of a fine, fresh river”.  Similarly, plastic pollution is a nascent challenge of the last 20 years and plastic circularity provides the impetus for the next phase of planet “clean up”.

Greatest barrier to plastic circularity:

Solving real-world waste plastics to achieve meaningful circularity is believed to lack technology, be cost-prohibitive and require large investment in complex waste infrastructure! I believe technology innovations can remove these hurdles and achieve meaningful impact by 2030.

How is innovation enabling the move toward circular systems? Which initiatives or technologies are you most excited about?

Corporate initiatives abound to achieve net zero. One corporate example specific to plastic packaging is the airline industry globally, reducing its footprint, proactive collection of its own waste, using the most applicable technologies to recycle, and putting it in front of mind for customers. This type of accountability and initiative is exciting.

Why is the Rethinking Materials summit an important date in your diary? Who are you looking forward to meeting?

Plastics circularity will enable continuing use of the last 25 years of innovations to leverage plastics as a miracle material and stop living in “fear of plastics”. However, reducing the unnecessary use of plastics is important for climate change, hence I am interested in learning more.

The legacy of recycling is based on separation of materials like glass/aluminium/paper/batteries etc. Recycling plastics needs a different approach because plastics are not all equal (comprising of glues, fillers, dies, mixed material like cotton blend textiles, paper, foil etc.). The technologies available to process the different plastics should drive the collection and sorting infrastructure. Equally the understanding of alternative materials and their “recycling” process. Dialogue is a driver for attending this conference.