Ineos Styrolution hosts panel on the future of plastics

Photo by Amanda McCormack Norbert Niessner, global R&D Ineos Styrolution (R) and Patricia Vangheluwe, technical director of PlasticsEurope

By looking at different perspectives in a panel discussion, Ineos Styrolution said it wanted to show how styrenics are playing their part in the future of plastics and its importance to the industry. Whilst on a wider topic the discussion aimed to show evidence for how plastics can be seen as a good influence in the world.

Public perception of plastics has changed in recent years, and Ineos wanted its panel at the K Show 2106 to highlight how plastics can be seen as a force for good. The panel included Norbert Niessner, global R&D Ineos Styrolution, Patricia Vangheluwe, technical director of PlasticsEurope, and Hans-Werner Schmidt, University of Bayreuth.

Norbert stated that sustainability is becoming more and more important, especially for Ineos Styrolution: “We are working on new lightweight solutions for automotive, but also for medical and other industries, one example is the stylight, composites are lightweight and strong, another example is lightweight injection moulded parts saving weight and CO2. I would also mention about more durable materials being sustainable as well so there are other ways to add to sustainability.”

Patricia Vangheluwe from PlasticsEurope pointed out that the circular economy package has identified plastics as a key strategic priority area and a European road map is about to be published, by the end of 2017, that is to set out a strategy on plastics. She said: “There is an opportunity to show the contributions [by plastics] to society but also to address the challenges up front with the European Commission and the industry value chain. For that it is important to look at how to use resources in the most resource efficient way.”

She went on to point out that plastics provide resource efficiency through things like lightweighting in automotive, meaning less fuel is used, but also through things like creating more energy efficient homes. She emphasised that innovations will be key to this and every part of the lifecycle of plastics is important in producing resource efficiency. Innovations can also lead to plastic waste being re-used, so at the end of its life it is re-used to produce feedstocks. Packaging to save food and save CO2 is also important to the circular economy, so plastics has a role to play there.

Vangheluwe highlighted that litter is a major challenge that the plastics industry is facing and the whole industry needs to work towards solving that, so that means things like product design changes and consumers seeing the item as valuable and being less inclined to just throw it away.

Speaking to Plastics News Europe after the panel discussion Patricia said: “From the plastics roadmap we would like to see a good debate and what we in the industry see as missing, are facts missing and more and more things are being based on emotions or gut feelings. When talking about the circular economy I have the impression that they only talk about the materials, keeping them in a loop, but they forget the energy and every system needs energy. So I think we have an opportunity to work together to look at full life cycle, what does it mean, and how to measure resource efficiency. So if there were three guiding principles they would be full life cycle thinking, environmental protection and societal wellbeing and awareness building.

“I think the plastic roadmap will contain three elements, fosil fuel as a feedstock, recycling and reuse, and preventing leakage into the environment, but we will see.”

Speaking about the opportunities arising from plastics Hans-Werner Schmidt said: “opportunities for employment and industrial collaborations require freedom and space and flexibility and what we discovered with Ineos Styrolution is that we had the flexibility to target issues. As a group we can push innovation.”

The panel discussed the problem of a global aging society, saying that there will be ways of dealing with it and plastics will play its part especially in the medical market as it needs an intelligent solution with plastics creating safe, easy to use products.

Niessner said the plastics industry needs to pinpoint specific materials for specific medical applications and pointed out that Ineos Styrolution’s focus has meant much more insight into the healthcare industry. He highlighted that constant research into materials is needed to always find something better, for instance creating a thinner bag is more efficient. He also touched upon the development of antimicrobials being put into the actual material, saying that the challenge is to find good non-leaching materials capable of this and teams are working on it.