In the dynamic landscape of the packaging industry, the quest for sustainable solutions has become increasingly urgent. However, amidst the array of choices, chemical recycling has emerged as a last resort for many, sparking concerns about its environmental impact.

In this interview-based article, we touch on the potential risks associated with chemical recycling, drawing insights from an interview with Raffi Schieir, Founder of Prevented Ocean Plastic.

The environmental perils of chemical recycling

According to Schieir, “Chemical recycling creates many times more emissions than mechanical recycling.” This stark reality sheds light on the significant environmental consequences that accompany the process.

Despite its potential applications, successful and sustainable chemical recycling models are rare in the current landscape, posing a critical challenge for the industry.

Sustainable alternatives: Prevented Ocean Plastic’s approach

In contrast to the uncertainties surrounding chemical recycling, Prevented Ocean Plastic offers a beacon of hope.

Schieir emphasises the importance of “impact investment models” that prioritise the establishment of collection infrastructure in vulnerable coastlines.

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This approach, characterised by vertical integration and traceable processes, primarily leans on mechanical recycling to ensure the production of the highest quality materials. Schieir reinforces this, stating, “Consumers and brands can know exactly where their plastic came from.”

Government intervention for a just transition

The role of governments in shaping policies becomes paramount in steering the industry towards sustainability.

According to Schieir, achieving a “just transition” requires acknowledging and involving all stakeholders, from major corporations to waste pickers. Governments, in his view, should implement “robust regulations that put the responsibility back on to businesses.”

He highlights the need for increased penalties to drive funds back into supporting the circular economy.

Corporate responsibility in plastic management

Schieir places a significant burden of responsibility on corporations, urging them to be proactive in contributing to sustainable practices.

He emphasises the need for businesses to transcend minimal requirements, stating, “Rather than looking at bare minimums and the lowest common denominator, we need businesses that want to be thought leaders and trailblasers in the circular economy.”

Schieir underlines that taking responsibility at various levels of influence is the key to instigating tangible changes.

Public awareness and education

Public awareness, while crucial, needs effective education to drive meaningful change. Schieir stresses the importance of demystifying recycling choices and engaging thought leaders to influence consumer decisions.

He articulates this, saying, “It’s our job to educate them and help to demystify the reality of the choices they make.”

The push for better choices, at every step of the process, becomes a collective effort involving businesses, governments, and consumers alike.

Hopeful initiatives for a sustainable future

Despite the challenges, Schieir remains optimistic about the future, citing practical initiatives that make a genuine impact.

He shares, “This is why we’ve launched our 25 by 2025 campaign,” a proactive measure aimed at building collection centres in areas that need them the most.

Collaborations with heavy-hitters like Circulate Capital and initiatives like USAID’s Clean Cities Blue Ocean further exemplify progress and instil hope for a more sustainable future.

In the end, the cautionary tale of chemical recycling underscores the need for sustainable alternatives and collective responsibility within the packaging industry.

Schieir’s insights serve as a guide, urging stakeholders to prioritise environmentally friendly practices for a cleaner and greener tomorrow.